3 string double bass and me
always been fascinated by them, it’s difficult to say since
why, maybe it’s because of the wonderful photos of Bottesini
his Testore and the marvellous daguerreotype of Dragonetti at the
Edinburgh festival. Whatever it was that originally piqued my
interest, these days I’m even more interested and fascinated.
think seeing the amazing giant 3 string bass in the V and A museum
might have had something to do with it. I have two, the first is an
original and unrestored Bohemian blockless wonder 3 string, the
second is a small Czech bass from the early 1900’s converted
strings from a 4 stringer.
My first experience of playing a 3
string was in the 1990’s, when on an unstoppable whim I
my main 4 string bass to a 3-er simply by removing my E string and
tuner and fitting a new nut. I just took it out to work without
really practising on it or telling anyone. What amazed me was that
nobody seemed to notice! Not one musician I was working with even
mentioned it. A few audience members came up to me and asked me about
it, but that was it.
I was pleased that nobody noticed because
it meant that the music hadn't been adversely affected. I loved it, I
had got rid of my troublesome E string and my A string in particular
sounded better. Best of all, the bowing was so much easier and the
bass was louder and easier to play. Not easier to walk, I suppose
because I was so used to walking down low, using my now unavailable
low notes, but easier to make my individual note choices speak. I
didn't really miss the low notes, but for a while I missed the
familiarity of 4 strings and would go for the missing string! There
were some familiar lines that sounded strange with the lowest notes
up an octave but I think other musicians thought it was just my (odd)
Disaster struck when my fingerboard became
detached on a gig (*1), it was probably my fault because of the way I
used to carry the bass, pleased note “used to”.
Anyway I had been
thinking of changing my instrument and that was the impetus I needed,
I had the fingerboard repaired, the E string reinstated and part
exchanged it for a “better” bass. It of course
wasn’t a better
bass and put me into a spiral of instrument changes which I
seem to be able to escape. But that is another story.
days I use my Czech 3 string for free-improv and sometimes Dixieland
or Traditional things. It doesn’t work so well for mainstream
boppy stuff where I use my faithful plywood workhorse, a bass
incidentally that has never let me down and saved my skin on numerous
The little Czech bass has a lovely thinned down
neck and a wingless bridge but is just as temperamental as it was as
a 4 string. One day it is divine and the next very difficult. There
seems to be no reason, I have had to accept that this is its
3 string basses somehow have a purity that other
more multi stringed basses don’t have for me, particularly if
an unrestored example. I fully accept the downsides but they
worry me. When I see a five string or heaven help us, a six-er (*2),
I get an involuntary shudder of incomprehension. Probably very like
the incomprehension some others experience when they see me using a
three string double bass.
(*1) Believe it or not, I gaffer
taped the finger board in place and got through the gig, but it was
very scary and incredibly stressful.
(*2) I'm not being
“sixist”, the amazing American bass player Ratzo
Harris plays a
six string double bass and I think he and it sound wonderful.