Would a Symphony Music Director Hire a Four-String Double Bass Tuned BEAD?

Discussion in 'Orchestral Auditions [DB]' started by Xanderzb, Oct 5, 2017.

  1. Xanderzb


    Dec 29, 2014
    This may or may not be the place to ask, so I'll delete and repost if necessary.

    I've been pushing BEAD-4 on the electric bass guitar for years now, and I'm precipitously close to having a custom acoustic double bass built using the bottom four BEAD strings from a set of Spirocore five-strings. It is going to happen anyway, but I just want to know if there are any symphony music directors for whom the lack of a G string is grounds for immediate disqualification.
  2. Sam Dingle

    Sam Dingle Supporting Member

    Aug 16, 2011
    Nashville TN
    Theres so much music you would probably be unable to play without the G string easily. Even though the high note of the D string would be around a G and most orchestral pieces don't go that high (I assume), its impractical to have to go to thumb position every time you want to play an F...but disqualification? No, its just not practical imo
    punchdrunk likes this.
  3. Xanderzb


    Dec 29, 2014
    That's really my biggest concern about getting involved in orchestral music with this bass - I am sure a very significant percentage of these pieces were written assuming the existence of the G string. In all the other musical areas of my life, the addition of those super low notes easily outweighs the loss of the high notes, and I greatly prefer the feel of four strings over five.

    Recently, I read a thread about a bassist working somewhere on Broadway, where the director seemed to be saying that C-extensions were not allowed. It got me wondering if it is common for music directors to get hung up on the details of the workings of their bass sections' instruments.
  4. Carl Hillman

    Carl Hillman

    Jan 1, 2010
    Common? No.

    Unheard of? Also no.

    I got fired from a show for not having a C extension, even though I could have covered the part by tuning down for one cue.

    I was a young spud and didn't know any better. I went up to the conductor on a break and told him that I could could make the low notes happen without an extension.

    Rookie mistake. He probably wouldn't have noticed at all if I hadn't opened my mouth.

    My advice it to play the part whichever way you can, and to NOT volunteer any information about the limitations of your set up.
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2017
    Luigir, gnypp45, petrus61 and 5 others like this.
  5. Xanderzb


    Dec 29, 2014
    See, that sounds like some very solid advice. Thanks!
  6. Neil Pye

    Neil Pye

    Apr 13, 2016
    Horsham, UK
    I don't know why you'd want to lose a very commonly used part of the range just to have a bad approximation of the low end. C extensions are the best solution in my opinion. The extra string length means they speak better. I certainly wouldn't be spending to money necessary to have that bass built, but each to his own I guess. Sounds like an expensive way to make an orchestral bass player's life difficult!
    old spice, robobass, ReiPsaeg and 2 others like this.
  7. the_Ryan


    Jul 10, 2015
    Bronx, NY
    Bass parts tend to double the cello an octave lower, which includes not only the low notes, but also notes above the octave G (which are much harder to play without a high string).

    I have an extension on my bass to hit the low notes, but I also know players who use five-strings or even fifths tuning as well. In the US and UK it's more common to see bassists use extensions, and in mainland Europe it's more common to see five-strings; fifths is a bit of an oddity and the only people I've met who successfully play that way have had some sort of contact with Joel Quarrington.
  8. MonetBass

    MonetBass ♪ Just listen ♫ Supporting Member

    Sep 15, 2006
    Tulsa, OK
    There are a handful of passages I can think of that would be impossible to play effectively without a G string. Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, Trepak (Russian Dance) comes immediately to mind. But if you were playing on the D string and everyone else was playing on the G string, it would be immediately apparent to the conductor that your bass didn't have a G string.
    pjbassist likes this.
  9. ReiPsaeg


    Dec 1, 2012
    Rochester, NY
    This is probably a thing to ask your section leader about. Even if you can technically play all the high notes further up on the D string, it's not going to sound the same as it would on the G, and I would imagine some principals and conductors might take issue with that.
    thmsjordan likes this.
  10. LowG


    Dec 8, 2006
    Milwaukee, WI
    Might also help to know your professional goals, current proficiency, and timeline. If you just want to play around in community orchestras, you'll probably be fine if you're really great in thumb position. They might just be happy to have another bassist regardless. But if you have ambitions for paid orchestral work there is no way that setup will fly.

    But maybe if you're just starting on upright anyway then it doesn't even matter - you'd be years away from paid orchestral work and by then maybe you'd just get a second, "standard" bass.
  11. shadow_FIX


    Feb 23, 2010
    Are you describing a scenario of losing your current job, or in an audition setting?

    For auditions you might get lucky and have a rep list that doesn't necessitate the G string, but it's highly unlikely. You're almost guaranteed to see Heldenleben on a list, and while you could probably manage to play the top notes on a D string, it's just not going to project enough to compete.

    Feel free to prove me wrong, but if I were MD and you were in my orchestra I would recommend a change of setup.
  12. Xanderzb


    Dec 29, 2014
    These are all great replies! I mostly play adult contemporary originals, and the parts I wrote for them on electric bass guitar frequently require the low B string - far more than the more northerly reaches. I intend to play roughly 60/40 percent pizz to arco. I also intend to use amplification when necessary. This bass is being constructed with these considerations in mind.

    My wife got really excited when she realized that I would be getting a professional-grade instrument soon, like I was fixin' to audition for the Oregon Symphony or something! And while I certainly think that would be an awesome long-term dream, I don't really know how to break it to her that's not the primary direction I am going with this particular instrument. She has a certain image in mind of what a successful professional bassist looks like, and hasn't yet grokked the details of my plan.

    But her enthusiasm got me wondering if the weird beast I'm having built would automatically be disqualified from symphony work ...
  13. LowG


    Dec 8, 2006
    Milwaukee, WI
    We'll then, you have plenty of time. Make the bass the way you want, and if the time comes then you can just get a 2nd bridge and nut fitted for it to convert to "normal" if needed.
    Steve-Mo, ReiPsaeg and Xanderzb like this.
  14. shadow_FIX


    Feb 23, 2010
    Oh man, for your current bag I think it'd be a really fun instrument to play with. Curious to hear how it turns out.
    Xanderzb likes this.
  15. csrund

    csrund Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2011
    Bloomington, Ind.
    Take a look at excerpts like Ein Heldenleben and Shostakovich 5, and you'll get an idea of why an instrument configured that way isn't really practical for the symphonic literature. ;)
    Neil Pye likes this.
  16. I would spend some time with a normal double bass and see what happens. The instrument tends to have more depth and substance in a single note than bass guitar. You would probably not need to make all the problems and expense you are setting up for yourself - not to mention basic study of the instrument.
    In any case, a five string or an extension is going to be a far better solution anyway. The bass you are describing is going to shut more doors than it opens and does not really make sense.
    Neil Pye likes this.
  17. salcott

    salcott Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    NYC, Inwood.
    ".....I just want to know if there are any symphony music directors for whom the lack of a G string is grounds for immediate disqualification."

    Yes. All of them.
  18. ILIA


    Jan 27, 2006
    Disqualified? No.

    But you would not get the job, regardless, because you would not be able to play the standard audition repertoire on a BEAD double bass. That would be humiliatingly apparent at a normal professional orchestra audition.
    csrund, pjbassist and salcott like this.
  19. Xanderzb


    Dec 29, 2014
    Thanks, guys; I feel this has been sufficiently answered. The bass I commissioned isn't somehow radically different from any other bass; I'm simply having it made with a very responsive carved top and strung BEAD-4. If I don't like it, I'll simply get a different nut and bridge and a G-string, and take it to Pete for a soundpost adjustment - none of which are too great of an expense to warrant abandoning this experiment.

    I will also come back and tell the naysayers "you were right once again!" and you can get more bragging rights and pats on the back :)
  20. robobass


    Aug 1, 2005
    Cologne, Germany
    Private Inventor - Bass Capos
    I find it a bit crazy that you are commissioning a bass specifically for this. Why not just find an existing 4-string with good bottom and string it as you describe? Secondly, what are your aspirations for orchestral performance, and how much classical rep have you studied? I suppose you could play in a hobby orchestra with this setup, but you would never get a professional job because much of the standard audition list would simply be impossible, or at least not competetive with the other candidates. And, even if you did make your way onto a professional stage, both the conductor and the rest of the bass section would find it quite distracting having you way up in thumb position when everyone else is not. There was a school of thought at the end of the 19thC that the basses should divide their tuning, with half the section playing BEAD and half normal, but the low tuners would only play the lower stuff. This idea was abandoned as 5-stringers and extensions came on the scene.
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