The double bass goes by many name, but one thing’s for certain, no matter what you call it, this viol descendant plays a large role in the world of music. Tuned in fourths as opposed to violins, violas and cellos (which are tuned in fifths), the bass’ shape is often sloped, as opposed to rounded, has gamba-style corners and has a flat back, giving it a distinct appearance and tone. Designed to be played in larger settings, as part of a collective, these deep-sounding instruments are loved all over the world.
The double bass wasn’t always a mainstay in orchestra arrangements, often playing second fiddle to the violin, viol, cello and gambas due to their availability. Today though, the bass is an essential part of many ensemble types, appearing in string and full orchestras, as well as big band jazz arrangements, smaller jazz groups and concert bands. Depending on how it’s intended to be played, the bass can actually differ quite greatly, meaning there are many options available to you when choosing a string bass.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” bass, so knowing what you’re after will definitely go a long way. By focusing on your needs and the features you require in your instrument though, you’re sure to find a bass you’ll love.
As with most instruments, cost usually denotes quality. Lower cost string basses are often made of laminated materials and hardwood, while higher-end “fully carved” basses use better quality wood and construction techniques. Surprisingly though, if you’re traveling a lot and durability is a concern, laminated basses are considered the toughest, giving them an advantage over carved counterparts. And with an upgrade to the strings and components, you can give your laminated bass a more expensive feel without the higher price tag.
Fully-carved double basses also require more upkeep to ensure their mature sound strong, so that’s also a consideration musicians should take into account. Genuine inlaid purfling will increase the durability, but details like the corners, the edges and the top and back plates can all be affected by things such as the general environment alone, making repairs quite a regular occurrence. Ensuring your double bass is always in playing-shape is crucial, so knowing what you’re getting into ahead of time is a must.
Balancing the cost of the instrument with the quality, tone and construction you are after is probably the hardest part of choosing a bass. Take your time with your decision and do a lot of research… you’ll definitely be glad you did.
If tone is most important to you, then you will definitely want to explore fully-carved bass options as they are considered the best sounding by far. On top of that though, there are other characteristics of string basses that you want to reflect on that pertain directly to the sound, like the strings, body and fingerboard shape, bridge style and the size of the instrument itself.For example, if you choose a concave shaped fingerboard, you should expect a more focused one, while a flatter one produces more of a “growl”. Materials of all parts also play a huge role, with various metal details being used to complement the tonewood of your chosen string bass.
From adjusting wheels in the bridge to the strings to the types of electric pickups used, every double bass sounds different, and knowing how each part works in conjunction with each other will help make your decision that much easier. As well, you should know which genre of music you plan to play most, as some basses are designed to suit specific styles of play. It’s all about finding the perfect tone.
In the end, the string bass with the features most important to you should be the one you select. By prioritizing your needs, be it cost, quality, construction materials, sizeor tone, you’ll ensure you’re happy with your decision. Let’s be honest, it’s very difficult to get the best of everything when searching for a bass, but by knowing what you want out of your instrument you’ll ensure you enjoy it for years to come.