Bass Care

Top Five Free Things You Can Do
  1. Periodically “push down” the front edge of the bridge with your thumb, loosening the strings if necessary (be careful that enough tension remains to keep the soundpost from dropping).
  2. Train your bass students not to store their bows in the “f” holes; it chews up the bow hairs and breaks bows (necessitating frequent & expensive re-hairs!) – storage under the “E” String is O.K.
  3. Make sure your students know to loosen the bow end screws after every session. Assign a student to serve as “monitor” to assure compliance.
  4. Keep basses’ strings and tops, plus bowhair, free of excess rosin. It seems obvious, but students love to over-rosin their bows! If problems persist, relegate the task to one of the students in the section… confiscate rosin for a month (or thereabouts) if things are still out-of-hand! A typical beginning bass student will often try to substitute too much rosin and an overly tightened bow in a clumsy attempt to force a big sound out of the instrument. (In countless studio encounters, I have had Young Einsteins swear that this way was better, I just didn’t understand, etc.)
  5. See to it that students keep their stands at eye level to prevent poor posture. Additionally, it will help them to keep an eye on you, their fearless leader! This may require buying new stands or placing a “booster” underneath your present stands to accommodate taller students.
Top Five Cheap Things You Can Do
  1. Install crutch (or cane) tips on the endpins – the ones with the worthwhile steel washer inserts will not poke through. I prefer the ones with an inner diameter of 3/4″. Reinforced hose, such as garden hose segments), or plastic tubing of the proper diameter and/or duct tape will increase the outer diameter of the endpin if it is too narrow. (I’m still looking for the perfect kind of adhesive – right now, I’m using rim cement for sew-up bicycle tires.)
  2. Clean rosin off the strings first with 000 fine gauge steel wool, and then with a rag. Discarded terry cloth washcloths, or terry cloth towels torn into smaller segments, work just great. Do you know any doctors? Medical scrub cloths, which by regulation cannot be used again (by the hospital/medical staff), make great bass cleaning rags.
  3. Clean “grunge” off ebony (& solid hardwood) fingerboards with 000 fine gauge steel wool (inferior quality fingerboards might get worn down with this treatment – you can test the wood’s quality and integrity by gouging out a small bit underneath the fingerboard with a penknife). Isopropyl alcohol can also be employed as a mild solvent, but don’t get any on the varnished spruce or maple finishes.
  4. But humidifying inserts (“Dampits” is one brand name) and use them in the Winter. Fill them regularly, but not too often, or you will be growing enough mold inside your basses to host your own science fair. Sometimes the unhumidified air from elsewhere in the school, rushing through open doors of your orchestra rehearsal room during passing periods, is enough to overwhelm even a large output humidifier running in the room! Those cracks are expensive to repair!
  5. Buy decent rosin. Generally speaking, the type in the wooden slide is unacceptable. This issue is subjective; perhaps you might check with a professional in your area to get her/his opinion.
Top Five Things You Can Do With a Budget
  1. Good strings, less than twice as expensive as the cheapest varieties, will produce better than twice the results!
  2. Dress the fingerboards of your basses.
  3. Employ a professional to do the set-up on your instruments, and be sure they have periodic check-ups. Good instruments with carved tops often require biannual soundest switching – between a slightly longer “Summer” post and a slightly shorter “Winter” post.
  4. Replace unsuitable tail guts with “aileron cable” type.
  5. Install a quarter-sawn bridge with adjusters.
Top Five Things You Ought to Avoid
  1. Synthetic bow hair.
  2. Storing basses next to a radiator or in a boiler room.
  3. (!?!) Certain brands of inferior strings.
  4. Putting adjusters on “bevel-matic” (DeJacques) bridges.
  5. Slab-cut (as opposed to quarter-sawn) bridges.
Retrofitting a Cheap Bass
  1. Strings this will produce, in most cases, a more playable, better sounding instrument than a more expensive instrument with poor set-up!
  2. Aileron Cable Tailgut
  3. Bridge Adjusters
  4. Endpin
  5. Quarter-sawn Bridge
Storing Basses
  • corners
  • racks
  • on sides
Sizing Basses to Growing Students
  • When is a 3/4 size accessible? [in most cases, 5’4″]
  • Why do they call the largest size of bass I’ll probably deal with a “3/4”?
  • What are “7/8” & “full-size” basses and how common are they?
  • Is a “5/8” size rare? Who would use one? Are there specific musical applications for these instruments?
  • What is the smallest size of bass readily available? [1/10, if there is a good supplier in the area]
  • Are the older Kay and newer Engelhardt instruments owned by my school district really 1/2 size, or 1/4 size? What does “Junior Bass” mean?
Expert Bass Advice

Strobel’s: an expert’s guide
Henry Strobel, Violin Maker & Publisher
(503) 749-1742
10878 Mill Creek Road
Aumsville, OR 97325

Determining the Size of the Instrument for the Student
  • Student’s height: the most important variable
  • Student’s arm, leg, torso, etc. length
  • Slope of the shoulders of the bass
  • Depth of the instrument
The Importance of Set-Up

Bad Set-Up will make almost any instrument difficult to play. If the student is on the short side of the size range for that instrument, it will more certainly wipe out their hopes for making music on that “axe”!

Bass Variations
  • Sloping shoulders which do not (with the occasional exception) meet the neck at right angles as in the rest of the string family.
  • Either Gamba or Violin (or Bussetto… or no) corners.
  • Either Swelled or Flat Backs.
  • “D” or “Eb” (or, rarely “Db” or “E”) necks.
  • Wildly varying string lengths, body depth, table length, etc.
Buying Strings
  • Avoiding cheap strings.
  • Installing strings: string winder or cordless drill with special chuck.
  • Begging used strings from area professionals and installing them after boiling and lubricating.
Fingerboard Tapes

O.K. for beginners, but the student should know that in the not-so-distant future, he or she will be weaned from them. For example, once a student starts taking private lessons, the burden of weaning the student off the tapes can be assumed by the private studio instructor. Aural and tactile cues should be stressed. It will leave their eyes free to read music and to admire their director! Furthermore, tapes (or other adhesive stick-ons) will shift due to the heat or constant friction with young bassists’ fingertips – half the time that kids play precisely with fingertips on the tapes, the notes are still out of tune! This can also be due to hurried or inaccurate initial application of the tapes (by the private teacher or orchestra director).

French or German Bow

Neither is Superior! I strongly advocate skepticism whenever you encounter a teacher who claims otherwise. Each has slight inherent advantages, which must be exploited; each has slight ingerent disadvantages, which must be overcome.

  • Bow rehair: black, white, or salt & pepper.
  • Rosin.
  • “000 fine” steel wool.
  • Xylol/Xylene.
  • Hide glue preparation.
How to make simple repairs yourself
How to locate a qualified repair person in your area.
Transporting Basses
Buying new instruments

Helping students to learn that a new, shiny instrument is probably not as good sounding as an old, scratched instrument.

  • Especially for carved instruments.
  • “Dampits” (or other brand) humidifying inserts.
  • Room humidifier
  • Instruments sent home (!).
Borrowing instruments from neighboring school districts/orchestra directors

Just imagine you are trading Pokémon cards. Find a colleague who has lots of viola players and only one or two bass players that year and could use some of those nice violas your school owns. Of course, your own school’s instrument will go home with the child, and the borrowed instrument will remain under your unwavering vigilance at school.

School Owned Basses for Home
  • schools need an instrument for each bass student to keep at home plus enough instruments at school to arm the largest ensemble.
  • Student cannot be expected to transport an instrument of that size back and forth to school. (Even if the appearance is kept up, my experience tells me that practicing drops off precipitously in these situations.)

Remember: the violin and viola are descendants of the viola da braccio – the ‘cello is a descendant of the viola da gamba (“of the arm” and “of the leg” respectively). The term “Bass Violin” is a misnomer – our instrument is correctly called a Bass Viol. It is truly the “Neanderthal” cousin of the string family!

When dealing with basses:
Expect the Unexpected!