Chinese Bass Project

I play music quite often here in Bisbee with various local musicians. My main instrument is the fiddle, and playing fiddle is second nature for me these days. Bisbee has quite a few fiddle players, and sometimes there are more than enough fiddlers at a music session — but good upright bass players are in short supply.

Pondering this less-than-ideal situation it occurred to me that if I had an upright bass I could probably get up to speed on the awkwardly-large instrument and even things out a bit. After all, a double bass is just a fiddle writ large, and the tuning and intervals would be close to what I’m accustomed to.

So — off to the internet to see what might be available. I had recently decided to give up on the button accordion. I realized that I would never become a good player of that free-reed contraption. The dealer in Massachusetts from whom I’d bought the accordion agreed to buy it back from me, so I had some money to work with.

My options soon became clear. Buy a beat-up plywood student bass, or look to the Chinese workshops, actually small factories with CNC capabilities, and see what they had to offer. The violin I play these days was made near Shanghai and I’m more than satisfied with it. I looked at the Ebay store of a dealer who handles the output of the same factory which produced my violin and found a tempting deal.

I found an Ebay auction for a partially-completed 3/4-size upright bass. It has plywood sides and back, made seemingly of some species of poplar, a solid-spruce top, a maple neck, and an ebony fingerboard. No bridge, tuners, tail-pin, or soundpost, though. The price was right, even including the necessary accessories which I got from other Chinese vendors on Ebay.

Last week I walked down to the Bisbee post office to check my mail. I had Dingo, my dog, with me on a leash. After attaching Dingo’s leash to the bench out in front of the post office I walked in and unlocked my box. A notice within told me that I had a large parcel to pick up.

I walked up to the desk and spotted an enormous cardboard carton, six feet tall and three feet wide, standing near the shelves full of parcels. What else could it be than a bass?

I walked back to the apartment, indicated to Dingo that she should jump into my truck’s cab, and we drove back downtown.

The clerk at the PO let me use their dolly and I backed out of the building with the carton. A friendly man helped me to load the bass into my truck’s bed.

Once I had manhandled the large box up twenty-five steps and into my apartment I quickly opened up the cardboard carton, which had been very well packaged. Amidst a litter of cardboard prisms and sheets the body of a bass was soon revealed, along with a massive neck with the fingerboard glued on. All I had to do was put it together!

I enlisted the help of my co-tenant C-Sharp a day later. I bored a one-inch hole in the bottom of the bass while C-Sharp straddled and steadied it. I had a foam pad under the bass. Then I carefully reamed the hole to a taper which matched that of the end-pin. Being unwilling to spend hundreds of dollars for the proper reaming tool, I made do with a round surform rasp and a half-round file.

The next task was to glue the neck to the body. The neck came unattached so that the bass could be shipped via air freight to Bisbee for a reasonable sum. C-Sharp helped me with this task, and here is how it looked after a frenzied scramble with hot hide glue, a bar clamp, and a band tie-down:


After the clamps were removed and the bass had been restored to its more comfortable upright position:


The bridge and soundpost are the next challenges!


10 comments on “Chinese Bass Project

  1. bev says:

    Looking good! Such an interesting project. Can’t wait to hear it being played!

  2. bill says:

    What an interesting package to send yourself!

  3. Lawrence Hargis says:

    Do you need strings? I happen to have a set of 3/4 scale bass strings that I bought for a project that is going in a different direction, now. Unused…unopened, in fact.

  4. Rain Trueax says:

    Great article and interesting to me especially since my mother played bass in the all girl orchestras where she traveled around the country in the 30s. They are, to me at least, pretty instruments and your reasoning on this sounds good.

  5. Mitch says:

    Nice work. I hope to see and hear the finished instrument.

  6. Larry Ayers says:

    Interesting about your mother, Rain! You don’t see many female bass players.

    Lawrence, I’d love to take you up on your kind offer, but I’m tuning the bass in fifths, CGDA, an octave below a cello. I had to piece together a custom set of strings to make this scheme work.

    Bill, it was the biggest package I’ve ever received!

    Mitch, I’m sure you’ll get a chance to see and hear the finished bass one of these days.

  7. Joan says:

    Larry, I can’t seem from the photo if the piece is finished in blond or has yet to be. In the latter case, do you have to varnish before putting on strings?

  8. DARRELL says:

    Love this endeavor, good luck and if you need help, and extra hand give me a call. Looks like you are close to finishing, though.

  9. Larry Ayers says:

    Joan, the finish is untinted. The yellow-amber shades come from the shellac and overlying varnish.

    Darrell, all that is left is to fit the sound-post. I’m not looking forward to that!

  10. Hey Larry,

    Please let me know if you ever need
    any double bass in fifths help. I have
    tons of info about this.

    Best Regards,

    Montclair, NJ

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