DGSI has been matching musicians with the right instruments for over 30 years. Instruments are shown on the second and third floors of our shop. Appointments are highly recommended for rentals, repairs, appraisals, and the showroom.
Looking for a new instrument is like looking for a life partner: what you want is "someone" who understands you, supports you, challenges you, minimizes your weaknesses, and generally brings out the best in you. So our first piece of advice is: don't be shy! Knock on all doors, visit all nearby dealers, spread your net wide, let everyone know you are on the lookout, because you never know where love will up and bite you. Our second piece of advice is: get as much information as you can. Look up instruments online, ask your teacher, talk to your stand partner, or visit your local library.
We've created an Instrument Buying Guide that we hope will provide you with some useful information for your search. And if you've already found your life partner and just want to know how to care for it, check out David's articles in David's Corner.
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
About Neck and Fingerboard Alignment read
On Changing Bass Strings read
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
The 3 H's from Hell, Part I: Heat and Humidity
Acoustic string basses, even more so than electric basses,
are greatly affected by the 3 h's from hell; heat, humidity and handling.
The string bass is a high maintenance instrument. It seems appropriate
that as I write this article for the November issue, it is 98 degrees
with humidity over 80 percent. When the issue hits the stands it might
be freezing with less than 5 percent humidity. That's business as usual
for magazines and basses. A string bass simply staying in the same town
in Michigan can go through extreme humidity change over the course of
a year. Unfortunately, for the string bass this change presents a dangerous
As the seasons change over weeks the player can adjust and
protect the bass through humidity control. When an instrument is dry,
it is much more susceptible to cracking from bad handling. What happens
when your instrument undergoes rapid humidity change? For example, when
it is traveling in January from the moist tropics on a dry airplane to
Denver Colorado where the humidity is extremely low. Certainly the feel
and sound of the instrument will vary with the humidity change. A well
fitting sound post will minimize this effect. But more about this later.
There are other considerations in keeping your bass healthy
during climatic changes. If your bass is actually cold do not expose it
to a hot and dry place all at once. Leave it in the soft case with at
least two instrument humidifiers inside. There are commercially made instrument
humidifiers that are simply sponges in rubber tubing intended to be inserted
in the f-hole. Two of these are better than one but be sure to wring out
the sponge well before inserting to avoid water damage on the inside of
the instrument. These are only effective if the instrument is kept in
a cover or case while the humidifier is in. Remember-cold air holds less
moisture than warm air and heating systems further dry out the air. It's
an excellent idea to get a good room humidifier for the room in which
your bass is kept They make good ones for a lot less money than they cost
a decade ago. The sonic humidifiers are effective. If you get a sponge
or open reservoir mist type, make sure you clean it monthly with bleach
or vinegar to avoid a bacteria buildup. Vinegar will help remove mineral
deposits left by the water evaporation. It is a good combination to have
both the room and individual instrument humidifiers. I have seen several
basses come from South America to New York where they are literally ripped
apart as they dry in the New York winter. The worst cases are the basses
made of South American woods such as mahogany and rosewood as opposed
to the tradition string bass woods spruce and maple. It is my feeling
that wood which lives in varied climates is more impervious to climate
change. When an instrument comes into my shop from years of being in a
humid place, I will open all of the seams except the corner blocks so
that the parts can dry and shrink without pulling the rest of the instrument
Furthermore, the instrument will sound better if the humidity
is not too high. A symphony orchestra will sound 25 percent louder in
the same amphitheater on a crisp dry day than on a hot muggy day. The
thick humid air actually mutes the orchestra by creating resistance to
the vibrations traveling through. Many players find the change in sound
due to humidity more distressing than the actual physical damage to the
bass. When the humidity changes, the possibility of buzzing from the body
emerges. Increased humidity sometimes brings with it a persistent body
buzz. Optimally a bass in excellent condition should not buzz but eventually,
it will. Attitude is everything; one New York recording veteran told me,
"you just have to play louder than the buzz".
Generally, instruments do not crack from humidity but rather
they crack from the change from wet to dry. Carved bass backs are almost
always made of hardwood, which is more susceptible to cracking during
water transfer. Never do major back work on a string bass during humid
weather, unless stringent dehumidifying is observed. When the weather
dries, the work will get stressed and will not be as stable.
With the humidity string height changes as the sound post gets
tighter or looser. Strings get higher in the winter and lower in the summer.
In the winter, use a room humidifier to keep the humidity at about 30-40
percent. Too humid and the CHANGE will be too much when going to a dry
hall to play. The adjusters or wheels that are very commonly installed
in the legs of bass bridges are intended to compensate for this string
height change. Often a bass will feel tighter simply because the strings
are slightly higher than that to which the player is accustomed. The fit
of the sound post changes. The sound post is the dowel or stick that is
located just behind the bridge between the top and back of the instrument.
The sound post is crucial in dictating where and to what degree the top
plate (the spruce top on which the bridge sits) vibrates. As the humidity
changes, the space between the top and back changes; the more humid, more
space and therefore the looser the post will get and vice versa. Because
of the size of the bass (the more wood the more movement) we often recommend
two different sound posts. One for winter and one for summer. This keeps
the bass sounding consistent throughout the year.
My next article will cover the third 'h'-handling, including
traveling safely with your bass.