As a former bass player, I have a special place in my heart for the lowest voice of any ensemble and the largest instrument with the deepest voice. Althought I do not play very much anymore, I continue to have urges to play and every few years, have felt compelled to make another bass. For violinmakers, there is a great deal to be learned acoustically from the double-bass. Historically, basses were seldom made by the very greatest of makers. Basses use up inordinant amounts of wood and varnish, not to mention the enormous amount of energy required to make one. Consequently, many basses were made by possibly slightly less skilled makers and often rudimentary wood workers and furniture makers. So the style of basses ranges from the comically peculiar basses resembling crude folk art made by those who seemingly barely understand what they were making to the wonderfully elegant, though briskly made basses by professional makers who had to rush through the job to get it done before starvation set in but clearly knew what they were doing. This latter style is very inspirational because it shows great skill, used with abandon and often results in a very free spirited kind of style.
The sheer size of a bass, awkwardness in working it, the space required, the wood required, the tooling-up necessary to make it, all these factors work against most professional violinmakers and, in this case, my peers and colleagues ever wanting to make a bass. It can be a daunting project but it can also be wonderfully sporting and exhilarating to make a bass. There is even derision directed at basses and those who make them. Perhaps some of that is based in the history of lesser workers having been relegated to making and repairing basses. However for myself, I have always railed against that. It has been my strongly held belief that every great maker of our era should make a bass or two in their lives and contribute their best effort to this part of our field. Most are very far from receptive.
As I would finish a bass and have it in my possession, surprisingly, someone would ask to buy it. I reasoned that I could always make myself another bass later so I would sell it. After making 5 other basses, the one pictured in this series was the first in which I was officially commissioned to make the bass. Jon Lane came to me, tried my guitar-shaped [cornerless] bass and asked me to make him a more standard bass with violin corners. Below are some selected images of the bass in various stages of progress, both before and after it was finished. While I have always enjoyed the free spirited approach to the bass style, often with many tool marks and somewhat rough construction, I work more towards a style that gives each step a bit more refinement and spend time giving care to details. I prefer to make a bass to the same level of quality as a violin or cello. For that reason, it probably takes me longer to make a bass than most bassmakers .
Jon’s bass was made over the course of some months during the winter of 2002. Some selected images of the progress are available to view below.