Bass Buyer's Guide
Some of the Questions Answered Below
The double bass is the largest member of the string family and an integral part of the symphony orchestra. The double bass is also used heavily in jazz, big band, bluegrass and folk-rock. It has four strings, producing the lowest tones of the orchestral-string family. The double bass is also called an upright bass, bull fiddle, or string bass.
Double basses are made in full and fractional sizes. Due to its cumbersome size, most bassists play 3/4-size instruments. While determining the appropriate instrument size for violin or viola can be fairly simple (basically a function of arm length), proper sizing of a bass is more complex, as it is a function of both arm and body length.
Engelhardt ES1 Supreme Double Bass
Student basses are designed for beginning students and are often produced by machine. Laminate plywood is used for the body because it is very durable. Black-dyed maple is sometimes used for the fingerboard to resemble more expensive ebony, which is found on most instruments. Rosewood is also occasionally used in place of ebony for the fingerboard. These basses are excellent for the early stages of development and are priced to fit into most budgets.
Intermediate basses feature better quality wood and workmanship, most (if not all) done by hand. The result is a stringed instrument that sounds better and will accommodate a more advanced player. The fingerboard is usually made of ebony. Laminate, solid wood or a combination carved top with laminate back and sides (called a hybrid bass) are all acceptable constructions for intermediate basses. If quality wood is used and the luthier has paid attention to the necessary details, some intermediate basses may even approach the professional level of performance.
Professional basses are made from only the finest woods and built with near-fanatical attention to every detail of construction and appearance. Because of the relatively few craftsmen skilled at this level, the number of hours required to craft an upright bass of this caliber, and the cost of select, premium wood, the price of these double basses is considerably higher than intermediate basses.
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Straight-grained spruce is the only material used for the top of a bass. Most of the sound is produced by the top, and straight-grained spruce is the only material strong enough to handle the heavy tension of the strings and ensure a resonant sound. The longer the natural aging, the better—5 years is the minimum preference of bass makers.
The neck, sides and back are generally constructed from maple, which strengthens stability and enhances beauty.
The fingerboard, tailpiece and endpin are usually made from ebony. This dense, dark wood is strong but light enough that it will not make the instrument feel top-heavy.
Rosewood, boxwood and a few other exotic woods are also used for the tailpiece. These woods are chosen as much for their beauty as they are for their individual sound characteristics. Poplar and willow are also occasionally used in place of maple for the back and sides.
Strings, rosin, endpin rest, instrument stand and a padded bag are critical accessories for bass players.
Anatomy of a Bass
A decorative piece at the top of the instrument.
Typically constructed from a very dense wood. Pegs are used to adjust the tension on the strings, resulting in tuning.
Machine Heads or Tuning Machines:
Typically made from brass or nickel. Machine heads are geared and used to adjust the tension and tune the strings.
A box between the scroll and nut that secures the machine heads.
Typically constructed from quality hard maple. A lot of stress is placed on the double bass' neck. When brought to proper pitch, there can be over 200 pounds of tension on the neck.
A long piece of wood glued on the top of the neck. This stiff, dense wood adds strength to the neck to prevent it from warping. Quality fingerboards are scooped inward towards the center and made from ebony.
The bridge is held in place only by tension; no glue is used. Quality bridges are hand-fitted against the body to ensure proper sound transmission. The bridge is higher where the lowest string crosses. Some bridges are height-adjustable, which makes raising or lowering string action quick and easy.
Two holes precisely cut in the top to permit it to respond more freely, and sound to be projected from the interior of the instrument.
Found near the bottom of the double bass, the tailpiece anchors the bottom of each string. Generally made of ebony, it can be made of any dense material.
Tail Gut (tail piece gut, tail piece adjuster):
Originally made from animal intestine, now constructed from nylon, this piece holds all the tension from the strings into the endpin, across the saddle.
The endpin serves a few purposes. First, like the button of a violin or viola, it holds the tail gut. The endpin also includes an adjustable rod that allows the bass's height to be adjusted to proper playing position.
Located on the inside of the body, the sound post provides structural support and transmits sound from the top to the back.
On the inside of the body, a small piece of wood that is glued under the lowest string. The bass bar strengthens structural support and distributes the sound over the entire length of the top of the instrument.
Building a bass is as much art as it is science. Manufacturers employ luthiers, or stringed instrument makers, at different levels of experience. The least experienced crafters typically work on less-expensive student basses. As the luthier's experience increases, so does the level of bass they craft.
Manufacturer's employ "set-up" technicians to prepare the instrument to play at its highest potential. Detailed shaping and shaving of components, fitting the bridge, adjusting proper depth and shape of the notches at the bridge and the nut, and fine tuning are all responsibilities of the "set-up" technician.
Flaming is a popular technique to enhance the visual appeal of a stringed instrument. However, this technique does not necessarily enhance the quality of sound produced.
Most instrument backs are "book-matched," or constructed from two pieces of wood glued together. This process gives the instrument a uniform appearance, but does not necessarily improve the sound quality.
Basses may have a laminated top, basically a thin piece of plywood. This process strengthens and stabilizes the instruments.
The single most influential factor (after skill) of sound quality produced by a double bass is the choice of strings. There is no absolutely correct type of string for all players under all circumstances. Each type of string has qualities that make it more appropriate for different situations (i.e. solo vs. orchestral performance; country vs. classical performance). Other factors such as cost, the bass players' individual preferences, and the way a particular string sounds on an individual upright bass also come into play. See The Woodwind & Brasswind's string selection buyer's guide for more in-depth detail.
Buy Your Double Bass with Confidence from The Woodwind & Brasswind
In choosing a double bass, you need to consider your musician's age and skill level, and the kind of use (school band, orchestra, etc.) to which they will put their stringed instrument. If for school, consulting with the band teacher is a good idea.
Whatever bass you select, The Woodwind & Brasswind's 100% Satisfaction Guarantee means you have 45 days to be sure it's right for you. If it's not, just return it for a full refund.* And you don't need to worry about paying too much. Our 45-Day Lowest Price Guarantee means that if you find the same double bass advertised for less elsewhere, we'll make up the difference. When you buy a bass from The Woodwind & Brasswind, you can buy with complete confidence.
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