David's Corner was originally created to feature the articles that David wrote for Bass Player Magazine. However, we expanded it to include a series of articles written especially for our newsletter on topics of interest to bass and cello players. 

David's Articles

The 3 H's from Hell, Part I: Heat and Humidity read
Call it the doghouse read
On Setting up the Bass, Part I: Strings  read
On Setting up the Bass, Part II: Bridge, Bassbar and Soundpost read
On Horse Hair and Bows  read
The 3rd H: Handling read
About Neck and Fingerboard Alignment  read
On Changing Bass Strings read

Newsletter Articles

Injury Prevention and Recovery for Bassists read
Understanding "STRESS"  read
Self-Care for Injury Prevention and Recovery  read
Warm-up exercises for Injury Prevention and Recovery read

Call it the doghouse

David Gage

Call it the doghouse, an upright, a bullfiddle, a slap bass, string bass, contrabass, bass violin, floor bass or double bass - it is one big air moving device that supports and holds up the bottom of a symphony orchestra like the foundation of my neighbor the World Trade Center. Why is it called the double bass? - because it doubled parts in the orchestra an octave lower. Why the doghouse? - I won't go there.

But I'm proud to have opportunity to discuss the 'dog house' in this contemporary forum. Through economic competition between the established acoustic players and the upstart electric players of the '60's, a wall was put up between the "thumpers" and the "noodlers" that like the Iron Curtain will start to crumble at the end of the millennium. It's time to get together and find the ways we can all gain as we broaden our understanding of the bass community. With roots going back to the beginning of this century, it doesn't make sense to plead the fifth and deny the continuum of the fretted double bass to the fretless electric.

Our noble instruments share a history. In the beginning both had frets. The string bass originally had gut frets and single gut strings that had to be long and very wide to work at all. It was a cumbersome instrument that no one of note played and of which Mozart complained in a letter " rumbled generally out of tune." It was not until the late 18th century when virtuosi started appearing in the Viennese school and composers started writing good things for the double bass. A Golden Age of Virtuosity was underway and was concluded with the two greats Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846) and Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889). It is significant that during this period came the invention of wound strings allowing an increase of linear mass while keeping the same elasticity allowing cleaner articulation at the lower stops. The bass, evolving through the years, giving us a grounding which we now stand on. We are undoubtedly in a Golden Age of Virtuosity for the bass right now. I'll discuss this phenomenon in future columns. It involves both electric and acoustic basses, rooted together in harmony.

This renewed virtuosity has required a new look at the instrument's setup. This setup will be different for 'classical' and 'jazz' playing. First is the arc of the strings on the bridge. Unlike the electric bass, the string bass bridge top has a substantial arc so that the player can play one string at a time with a bow. Classical players generally need their strings to be higher off the fingerboard with more arc to the bridge top than jazz players as they are required to play louder acoustically. The higher the bridge, the louder the instrument across the board. The g string has to be at least 7 millimeters (the e string 10mm) off the end fingerboard to avoid string slapping on the board when playing the loudest. A lesser arc enables the jazz player to make those lightning quick rotations across the strings with the right hand. In either case, the fingerboard needs to be curved across the board all the way to the nut to facilitate easier playing in the lower positions.

There is no truss rod to create a curve along the fingerboard. This curve must be planed into the more rigid string bass fingerboard. The old school of setup planed a deep curve in the board with high strings to ensure no string slap. Ouch! The high technical abilities of today's players demands a friendlier setup to articulate cleanly the demanding lines. In my opinion, the curve should be the same for jazz and classical - minimal. It takes much longer to shape this finer curve as the tolerance between the board and string excursion is so close. I highly recommend bridge adjusters (wheels with a threaded axis) to raise or lower bridge height according to volume versus facility demands of the player.

Obviously strings are a major contributor to style of playing. String bass strings are expensive but really effect the attack, sustain, timbre and decay of the note played. There are strings that are designed for arco or bowed playing, for pizzicato or finger playing and some that are supposed to do both. The manufacturer's concept is not necessarily a reality to the player. The qualities inherent in a particular string bass will dictate the player's choice. For example, a dark almost muddy sounding Italian bass may require a pizzicato string in the bottom to enhance articulation for an arco player. Later I will get into player's string choices and why.

The soundpost is that stick you see under the g side foot that not only holds up that side but also dictates in part how the top plate vibrates. We start by putting the soundpost below the g foot by the width of the post and centered on the trunk of that foot. To a degree the soundpost can effect the string feel, string volume balance and the breadth of tone quality. Every bass reacts differently. Generally the closer to the bridge the more focused and thinner the sound, away from the bridge the warmer, less defined the sound. We move this to meet the players' demands - a quick example may be the classical player who wants the bass to speak more quickly and the jazz player may want more front end to the attack. It is noteworthy that sometimes the instrument doesn't have everything a player wants and a compromise is necessary. Such is life. Just don't compromise the effort.