Five String Double Basses

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Extension or No Extension?

Five-string double basses seem to be the alternative to adding a C-extension, or a B-extension, to a standard double bass. The player can reach those floor-shaking deep bass notes on an instrument that is still able to fit in a bag or a travel-case. It also is less fragile and less unwieldy. But of course, such things are matters of choice…and having choices is something that most people like. So, I can put an extension on a regular bass, or I can build a five-string double bass; and I will acheive the sane goal with less trouble.

By the way: did you ever wonder why the double bass is called a “double” bass? In French, the old word for a violoncello is “un basse”. Today, the double bass is called “contrabasse” in French, but the old name was simply that it was “twice as low,” hence, a “double basse”.

Not many luthiers are even willing to build a bass, since they are a huge project, and take a great deal of time, effort and money. None of my teachers ever built one at all. I found a book by Peter Chandler, called “So, You Want to Make a Double Bass.” It had nearly all the information I needed to build the bass, but not a great deal about set-up. I bought another book by Chuck Traeger which explained more about set-up, called “Setup And Repair of the Double Bass for Optimum Sound.”

One of the things that impressed me from the beginning, is that, inside the front page of Mr. Chandler’s book is a photograph of all the raw materials with which he started out, in order to build the bass whose building is chronicled in the book. The stack of materials weighed 115 pounds. The finished bass weighed 20 pounds. So he had to carve away 95 pounds of waste wood, to make that bass! No wonder luthiers balk at building a bass! Not only that, but, if one is limited for shop-space (and I am) then the bass monopolizes the entire shop while it is in progress.

But! Having built one, there was a hankering to build another, so I bought wood, and tuning machines, and fingerboard, etc., and began another bass. Unfortunately, there were enough other demands on my time, for smaller instruments as well as just ordinary family responsibilities, etc., that a start is as far as I got, for quite a while. The new bass is my own design, and for the last three years, it has been sitting in my shop, silently sneering at me, every time I see it.

But I did go back and finish it, and, I changed course, slightly: it is a five-string double bass, with a low B-string (thus, no extension needed.) (See the featured photo above.) The fingerboard is Ipé, as is the tailpiece.

It also has a removable neck for easy, safe transport, and a side access port for easy access to the single bolt for disassembly or reassembly…and, inevitably, re-adjustment of the soundpost, as the soundpost is very likely to move during travel.