Bass Journal 

  

2015-2016

Over Christmas Ed and I managed to find some time to continue working on our double bass. The next two big tasks were: (1) making and carving the neck, pegbox and scroll  and (2) purfling. While we didn’t complete either of them, progress was made on #1, and, in the last week or so, also  (minus Ed) on the purfling.

Neck and scroll:

Regrettably, I wasn’t able to locate a suitable maple blank for the neck. The required dimension would have been 4”x10”x42/48”. Moreover the  piece needed to be quarter-sawn with the growth rings parallel to the fingerboard, free of any defects, and also sufficiently tough to withstand the tension of the strings; this last requirement made the  choice of Western Broadleaf Maple a rather doubtful option, even if I could have found a piece which satisfied the other requirements. (Obtaining a blank from an instrument wood supplier was  also an option; Lemuel Violins offers a “Balkan Maple neck block, well flamed” for CA$515.00, as well as backs for $1400.00 and $2000.00 (flamed and “better flamed”).

So it was time to break with 18th century Italian tradition, and look further afield. In the end I did manage to find a decent piece of Honduras Mahogany, although not quarter-sawn on the desired face. Honduras Mahogany is very stable, strong, not excessively heavy, and also a lovely wood. 

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However, by ripping and then rotating the resulting slabs 90° we now had a neck blank with the grain/growth rings perpendicular to the fingerboard surface. A small extra piece had to be added to one end where the neck will join the body of the bass.


After planing:

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Last Christmas we acquired the tuning pegs and gears. The Chandler plans needed to be modified in order to follow the curves of the brass mounting plate:

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There no longer seemed to be any remaining excuse to avoid sawing it out:

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After drawing in the layout lines for the plan view of the fingerboard, peg box and scroll  we went away to consider scrolls for a while, and how to begin the carving process. We had Norah’s violin scroll as a guide and I also spent some time examining a visiting bass, resting quietly in the Anglican Church sanctuary following a jazz recital. To reduce the likelihood of making an irremediable error, we cut an old block of blue styrofoam to the correct profile, and then marked the neck and scroll layout lines, after which things became much clearer….

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That’s as far as we intended to go on the neck, but we didn’t manage to get to the edge purfling on the front and back. After thinking it through, we decided to make up our own purfling strips, using ebony and maple. The ebony has to come from the piece earmarked for the fingerboard, so to avoid future  regrets it seemed a good idea to first cut the fingerboard blank out of the ebony board, and then (if possible) use what remained for the purfling veneer.

Next: Making the purfling.



2014-2015


2003-2013

I think that the  building of a double bass deserves its own account, and this is it. I'll update it whenever anything significant happens, and try to keep things chronological and more or less complete. 

I was quite taken aback the other day to find that I'd written the date on the template for the front: March 2003. That is ten years ago, almost exactly. What happened? No wonder my friends send me ironic pictures of stand-up basses that are in fact liquor cabinets, as well as other good-natured reminders that progress is quite glacially slow.

The bass under construction is made from full-size plans supplied by the late Peter Chandler; his measurements were taken from a bass most probably made by Matteo Gofriller c. 1720. Chandler’s accompanying book, “So You Want to Make A Double Bass” is a straightforward “how to” book, and when supplemented by additional on-line resources (You-Tube can be especially useful) it seems to be an adequate guide, although we won’t know until we finish the instrument—and even then there may be some faults that only age reveals. (I say this because Chandler basses have a few critics among professional luthiers—but on-line forums are not always known for their objectivity.)