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|Acoustic Resonance - jazz band playing jazz, latin,
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functions in Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, London
I am very fortunate to be able to play on a really fine double bass made by Malcolm Healey (of M & J Healey Violins).
The design is based on the Lorenzo
Storioni attributed corner-less double bass at Ken Smith Basses.
I chose this instrument as a starting point mainly because the
shape supports excellent tonal characteristics and ease of playing
(particularly the shape of the upper bout) - and also because it
Dimensions and shape (including the depths of the bouts and curve of the rear plate were copied from pictures of the 'Storioni'. All dimensions were slightly scaled up to give a bass the same body length as Malcolm's own 5 string bass, but keeping all proportions the same as the 'Storioni'. Slight viol-shaped corners were added to together with a handle to help portability (at the insistence of Jane). The neck was proportioned to give Malcolm's preferred standard string length (shorter than the original 'Storioni", which has a very long neck and string length). The head shape of the original was followed as closely as possible.
Malcolm used finely figured wood seasoned over many years in his store. His meticulous craftmanship has resulted in a very fine bass which is very responsive, very comfortable to play and has an fine warm strong tone.
The double bass is fitted with:
machine heads: ebony turners with brass cogs
The strings are tuned in fifths (rather than 4ths) and are as
A (high) - Pirastro Evah Pirazzi, Solo A, medium
When B5 low string is tuned up to C, the extra tension
counteracts the lighter guage giving a very responsive bottom
string that is balanced with the other strings and blends very
well. The overall balance and responsiveness is really good,
much better than I dared hope for!
I like the response and sound of these Evah Pirazzi strings. I play lots of orchestral music and the occasional solo, as well as jazz and big band gigs; the strings seem equally well suited to all these (conflicting) styles.
Also I'd like say a big thank you to Pirastro for their help in suggesting and providing strings to try out.
From the above, its clear my bass is unusual in that its tuned in fifths, the same as a cello. I started playing the double bass with normal 4ths tuning and continued that way for a number of years, during which time I tried out a 5 string bass and looked at extensions as a way to get the lower notes below bottom E.
None of these was really satisfactory and I finally investigated 5th tuning. A brief trial with my normal strings re-tuned showed it was possible and I spent 3 months learning to play fifth tuning on my 4 string bass (with the de-tuned strings) whilst playing gigs and orchestral sets on my 5 string bass with 4th tuning. At the end of 3 months (which coincidentally was 1 January) I could play all my practice exercises and music on the 5ths tuned bass pretty well, so I formally switched to 5th tuning.
A couple of days later at orchestra rehearsal was real eye-opener. Trying to sight ready a relatively straight forward Brahms symphony was terrible - my brain just couldn't go fast enough. With perseverance, however, after another 3 months the fingering started to settle down as the benefits and limitations of 5th tuning became apparent. Most of these are well described by Joel Quarrington on his website.
For me the biggest benefit was to make the instrument much more playable across its entire normal orchestral range. Here's a few of the more interesting pros and cons:
+ range to low C is part of normal playing
+ notes on top (A) string two positions lower, a big plus for most playing!
+ bass sounds better with 5th tuning (more resonant)
+ tuning same as cello (good for small ensemble playing)
+/- the different finger/string positions aren't apparent when
playing in a section
+/- harmonics are different (so some written harmonics don't work)
- overall, slightly more shifting
+ forced me to improve my technique
+ some music easier (eg Pictures Gnomus)
- some music harder (eg Beethoven's 7th symphony)
- it took me a couple of years to become really settled in 5th tuning
- to play other basses I need to revert back to 4th tuning
- teaching requires pupils learning in 4th tuning
To me, the benefits far out-way the disadvantages and its now become a totally natural way of playing.
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Copyright © 2006 Philip Bishop. All rights reserved.