From Electric Bass to Upright Bass by Maureen Pandos… So, you’ve been playing electric bass now for some time and you’re thinking about maybe trying your hand at the upright bass. Maybe you’ll even get a bow and mess around with that a little bit. I mean, how different can it really be? EADG. Let’s do this.
But first, let me introduce myself.
Hello. My name is Maureen Pandos and I am a luthier. Just in case you’re unfamiliar with that term, I am a person who makes and/or repairs stringed instruments. You may more commonly know me as a “bass tech” or “guitar tech” but what makes me a little different is that I specialize in bowed instruments, and, more specifically, the upright bass. I own a little violin shop in Portland, Oregon where I spend my days building, restoring and repairing bass violins.
I fell in love with the art of violin making when I was a student at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. I would schlep my bass downtown to David Gage String Instruments for tune ups and was time-after-time mesmerized by what was going on in that shop! I managed to procure an apprenticeship with Jack Havivi of Havivi Violins, which continued until I moved west in 2001. I then managed to get my first real job with Schuback Violin Shop in Portland, Oregon. Here I quickly learned the ins and outs of a high volume, fast paced shop. I also found out that Portland had a heck of a lot of bass players and needed someone to help tend to their needs! In 2004 my business, MDP Bass Works, was born and I’ve been surrounded by basses ever since.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get to some FAQ’s about the upright bass….
Where are the frets? How am I supposed to know where the notes are?
Nope. No frets. And the fingerboard (notice how I did not call it a “fretboard”) is curved and concave (there is no truss rod either so the fingerboard must be shaped with a slight relief in the middle). The string length is also quite a bit longer than what you’re used to on your electric bass (average string length from nut to bridge is 42”). But don’t fret! (Haha, sorry), with a proper hand position and some diligent practice you will learn to rely on your finely tuned ear and muscle memory to nail those notes every time. You can do it. I believe in you.
What is the difference between the Double Bass, Contrabass, Upright Bass, Stand-Up Bass, Doghouse Bass, Bass Fiddle, String Bass, Acoustic Bass, Orchestral Bass, and Jazz Bass?
Nothing. They’re all the same instrument just known by different names depending on what style of music they’re being used to play. Double Bass, or just simply Bass, is commonly used in the Classical community. It gets the name “Double Bass” because the pitch literally doubles the bass line. Technically, the cello is the bass since it ‘sounds’ where the bass line is written on the staff. Since the double bass sounds an octave lower than what is written on the staff it has adopted the name “double bass”. Contrabass is what they call it in Europe getting its origin from the Italian Contrabasso. Since Italy is the country where this instrument was conceived and birthed, we use this as the first and authentic name of the instrument. Upright Bass refers to the fact that the thing stands upright. Nuf’ said. Same goes for the Stand-Up Bass and the Doghouse Bass. Stand-Up because well, duh, you stand up when you play it and Doghouse because I guess it’s big enough to put your dog in it. String Bass is most commonly used to separate the low brass bass section in an ensemble from the string bass section and Acoustic Bass is used to differentiate it from the Electric Bass. Bass Fiddle? Another self explanatory one. It’s a big old version of your old-timey fiddle. (I often have people ask me what’s the difference between the violin and the fiddle and the answer is once again, nothing. It all depends on who’s playing it and how the instrument is set up to be played.) Orchestral Bass and Jazz Bass are often used just to differentiate between the player’s style of playing but can also be referring to, again, the particular set up of the instrument.
Next installment? Let’s talk about set-ups!