finding plans, books, how to make a double base
I’ve been thinking of learning a musical instrument (double base to play rockabilly music). As a woodworker, I think it could be kind of cool to make my own double base. Any idea where I would look to find plans, how to, etc? It’s not a pressing project at the moment. Just want to start the research part. Many thanks.
Here's a couple searches that list a how-to book, videos and few other related things that may be of some help.
Start at stewmac.com... lots of luthier info, not sure about double bass, but the massive hoarde of build info applies across the (fret) board. I used them a ton for two ukulele builds.
A double bass is a big undertaking. You would save money and time buying a Kay, which would be fine for rockabilly. Learning to play is going to be a significant thing, too!
It is a lot of work and luthiery is a world of different skills compared to other woodworking endeavors. Plan for 300+ hours to do it right.
Peter Chandler wrote a book on this. It has been about 15 years since I read it, but I remember it went into some interesting details and he had a number of jigs that he had come up with.
Thanks for the info. I could very well end up buying one. Yea, learning to play will take time but that's fine. If I can practice a little bit each day (like 30 min), little by little I will get better. Plan to take lessons.
Super encouraging User 6901980, good job! I'm going to sell my tools and head for Ikea.
Fair enough, but I think it is also reasonable to let people know that what they want to do is complex and technically challenging.
One thing that has not been considered is the possibility of making an electric bass. From a pure woodworking perspective that is a lot easier to achieve and the instrument would be more portable. The hard bit (I understand, never having made one...) is the frets have to be super-accurate.
Stringed instrument making is an extremely deep topic. Just adjusting an instrument to make it playable requires a lot of understanding of physics, ergonomics, instrument construction, and technique.
Making even a 'playable' bowed string instrument is going to be an enormous challenge for any woodworker who hasn't done it before. It's easy to screw it up and end up with something that is not usable, or where the top ends up cracked along the grain. I say this as a former professional double bassist who has tried a lot (1000s) of instruments and seen a lot of them go wrong. I've seen students develop hand and wrist problems from poorly adjusted professionally made instruments. I want the OP to succeed at their pursuits, and people generally have more success when they can anticipate the obstacles ahead of them and formulate a plan to deal with them.
If the OP is serious about doing this, they should be aware of the path they are going down. Buying a Kay or Shen is a completely acceptable path forward in learning how to play. Even if they decide to pursue making an instrument later on, it would be better for them to develop familiarity with playing the instrument first so they can better understand what it 'should' feel like.
Thanks. The potential hand and wrist issues caught my attention. It not sounding great but just ok wouldn't bother me. Screwing up my hand or wrist would be an issue. I had an ergonomics issue that took me a long to resolve not that long ago on my left elbow and I don't want to screw up a joint.
Learning or knowing how to play an instrument is probably a big advantage before building one but it's not a prerequisite. I had a friend who built pretty good guitars,learned it from apprenticing to a famous guitar builder. He didn't play guitar , he knew two tunes, and not very well at that ,and only learned them so he could hear how the guitar sounded! It's also probably possible to pull off building a double bass without it costing you thousands. The hardware is going to be pretty expensive and probably difficult to get around that. A matching curly maple back and sides with a German silver spruce top will cost you somewhere between an arm and a leg and your first born but you could ,and I think others have, use poplar. It's not for the philharmonic, it's a bass ,it goes TRUMP- THUMP! Some place like International Violin can supply parts and possibly tonewoods. I know they'll have wood for violins,violas. I don't know about for bass violins. There may even be kits available , not a bad way to go to get your feet wet.
There has to be a forum somewhere of double bass enthusiasts.
This is a big project from scratch, with specialized jigs and tools but why not? Hey man,go large! Dont punk out and build an electric bass, its not the same thing!
I don't know of any instruction books myself for constructing a bass violin. I peeked online there are lots of plans available. The trick is to figure out which are the right plans. I play guitar and mandolin and have built both. The guitar with instruction from my luthier friend. The mandolin from a book but not just any book, a really GOOD book! On a site - Mandolin Cafe.com in their forum there is a builders section. It's a very active forum and lots of people that actually know a lot about instrument building. You should ask your question there.
Another place to research.... Guild of American Luthiers.
Thanks for these links. Book and plans will run me about $130. Like the fact that the author says making a bass exquires less skill than what required for making furniture as curves more fogiving. I'm not intimidated. Worse I can do is fail and I've had that happen on a few projects. It's not the end of the world.
The book is free in .pdf , I would be more concerned about the carving and bending tools and specific materials such as air dried veneers that can be bent and ebony if I were to be concerned about money. I would build a violin first, or maybe a electric bass guitar.
Thanks all for the feedback.
I don't want to spend a fortune on the wood for the reasons Pantaloons868 outlined. In fact, I won't. I don't know the materails I will use per se as I have to research it. Generally speaking, I like cherry wood and maple. Not sure how it would sound but what Pantaloons868 pointed out is how I feel about it. Should this become something I get very into, I can always make a second one out of nicer material.
Mentally, I've budgeted about $1,000 for materials. Why that you ask? For the bigger projects I've worked on (or have wood equilibrating in my shop) that is about where I feel comfortable balancing a hobby and life expenses. Often $1,000 worth of wood has enough extra in it so I get another one or two projects out of it as well.
These are all good problems to have.
Hi Joel, I hope you follow through and pick up double bass. I am a full time double bass maker in Texas. Many people have brought up good points about the difficulty of the job/project. Speaking of materials: you can make a bass out of anything. A friend of mine completed a "home depot" bass during covid lock downs due to boredom. However a decent bass spruce top is about $500, back and sides around $1000, ebony fingerboard $500, maple neck 300, Strings $300, tuners $150 to $600 and not to mention other little detailed parts needed. My basses have a material cost between 3-6k depending on the level of the commision.
Good luck with whichever direction you go, whether to purchase or build yourself
Anecdotal Bass Story :
Joe Venuti the great jazz violinist as a practical joke called every bassist in the NYC musicians union directory to meet him for a gig that didnt exist on a particular corner at a particular time and watched the results from his hotel window. The Union had a fit and made him pay them!
I thought about your project and thought about it as if I was going to build one. Old Kay's are kind of an industry standard. They were cheap and could take a beating and probably the only upright bass that I ever got to fiddle on. They were also pressed plywood. To do that in plywood would require some industry , good forms and pressure and seems to me would probably be too difficult to do as a one time thing. So,your left to carving the plates. It's time consuming and exacting. I did it on my mandolin but a bass is really big! There are thousands of German basses that have flat backs and that saves trying to carve the back out of hard maple. That leaves the top and a good plan would give you the dimensions for thicknesses for carving a good sounding top.. though plywood would be the same everywhere across the top so maybe that isn't that critical for a bass. You can possibly find commercially a billet for a top but that might be expensive. I came across and still have a really old really tight grained douglas fir board that when I came across it I thought it would make great guitar tops. I wouldn't think twice about using something like that for a sound board on a bass. Your into finger planes and scrapers for this. Preferably you want something that is really well seasoned old growth ( tight grain ) and has acoustic properties. Spruce comes to mind. Cedar maybe. It's enough work that you might splurge on a good top. Building a form for the ribs ( sides) wouldn't be THAT difficult and you could laminate them from veneers that you buy or make. I'd probably opt for a 3 piece form, make all the pieces a little long then cut down to size. The ribs take all the tension so you want no creep glue like hot hide and you want hot hide everywhere anyway so you can take things apart for repair. Build them up to speck from your really good plan. The sides are kind of wide so steam bending might be tricky but could be done. I didn't know but I do now that you can buy pre cut sets of the neck, fingerboard , bridge and tailpiece -and tuners ,strings supplied as well. Maybe not carving your own neck is a bit of a cop out that's a personal call. Getting the dovetail and the neck block to line up so the neck is staight is a bit of a trick so practice makes perfect. On many old budget guitars the fingerboards were made with dyed pearwood, it appeared as ebony ,was hard and worked. The tuning machines on my mandolin cost almost $500 and the best so I figured for a bass they would be more but it turns out I was wrong - the prices I saw weren't bad, you do want to do some research there to find a good or good enough brand. Bracing on a bass I know nothing about, I don't know if basses use tone bars ( like a archtop guitar or mandolin)or a sound post( like a violin). That's something to find out. The placement of either is important though. Things are done for a reason...traditionally the back and sides are maple on most better basses. I'm a big believer in not trying to reinvent the wheel until I know how a wheel works. Non figured maple shouldn't cost more than anything else though.
I feel like Saul but -I know a guy--- his name is Steve Swan ,he knows everything there is to know about basses. steveswanbasses.com
Helpful info. The more I read about this, the bigger of a commitment it is sounding like. Starting to lean towards buying one to learn how and if I like it and stick with it, then make one. Having a commercial bass in hand would no doubt help.
@joeleonetti I think learning the instrument first is the way to go. You've picked something pretty hard to learn -- you can measure the time required in years, even if you're very musical already. You might consider electric bass, as others have mentioned.
Meanwhile, I'm not that knowledgeable about the orchestral strings, but I believe a standup bass is, unlike a guitar, disassemblable. It's made to allow the top to be removed because there are some posts inside that support it that need to be replaced or repositioned over time. So if you found a beat up old one, you could take it apart and see how it works. I think it would be just a matter of heating up the hide glue that holds the top to the sides.
You can also rent instruments.....and from places that give lessons. New Shens can be quite inexpensive to buy I noticed,much less than I would have thought. Used? All over the map! If you start gathering everything you need to start a build and also acquired a working bass and maybe took some lessons - by the time your actually ready to start building you might be able to play! By the way,to comment on someone else's post-- of all the ways one can hurt oneself learning to play an instrument has to be pretty close to the bottom of all possibilities! Don't over tighten them strings you might put an eye out!!!!
A double bass isn't that much different than an electric bass in terms of difficulty. I have and can play an electric bass and have messed around on acoustic basses when ive been around them. My Mom was a professional violinist and had the distinction of being one of the first women to play in a major orchestra. I had some background there on none fretted instruments. No frets is in some ways easier...you can slide into the note- with frets a miss is a miss. Bowing is a trick but thumping along on simple stuff. If your goal is play like Milt Jackson you have your work cut out for you but rockabilly or any billy is not hard to learn. It's a sense of rhythm and timing, you can learn that with a stick a rope and a wash tub!
Thanks All. Almost certain I will buy or rent the first one. I guess where there the stand up bass caught my eye was in high school my senior year (86). I needed to take a music appreciation class and the only one available was big band. I fell in love with the song Big Noise from Winnetka. It must have made an impression because to this day, I'm still thinking of the stand up bass. Not rockabilly but my musical tastes are fluid. While poking around sites I see there is even an electric stand up bass that looks cool. No decisions to be made today. All good problems to have.
Here's another resource for you: the Musical Instrument Makers Forum- https://www.mimf.com