Some Thoughts on Setup and Sound

The bass is unique because unlike the violin, viola or ‘cello, it doesn’t have as rigid of a standard for dimensions or setup. This is due in part to its bastard ancestry. The bass is a cross between the violin and viol da gamba family. Features that harken back to its viola da gamba roots are flat backs, gamba bouts or corners and perhaps tuning in fourths.

Violin family attributes include round backs, violin corners, “F” holes, four strings, no frets, and the characteristic violin type scroll.  The general shape of the bass, string length, number of strings, and construction characteristics could vary quite a bit from bass to bass depending on vintage, country of origin, intended use, etc. Things finally settled down in the late 19th and early 20th century and now sizes and shapes are more uniform, although they still vary more than violins, violas and ‘cellos. The bass is also unique in that it finds a place in almost every form of Western (and even much contemporary non-Western) music. As a result, there is a tremendous variety of playing styles and sounds that players demand from their instrument. So what we consider “good” or “bad” (within reason) in terms of sound and set up is somewhat subjective. For example, an old laminate may posses a sound that is very desirable for certain types of music. It’s not an inferior sound, it’s a different sound!

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