1/25/2013

c.1941 Epiphone B-4 3/4 Double Bass



Update: this post was updated Aug 2014. I've been playing this a lot in and out of gigs for 2 years and it's held up well and delivered the goods.

You can also hear this bass throughout my album "Has Been Framed" -- click here for a link to the SoundCloud playlist for the album to listen.

As well as throughout my album "Magic Beans" -- click here for a link to the SC playlist of that one.


This is a 3/4 double bass ("standard size") made by Epiphone in New York. The serial stamped into the base of the scroll reads #622 which dates it to 1941, and per this excellent website, it specs out as a B-4 model. Had that site not existed, I would have assumed this bass was probably a mid-50s, early-60s West German instrument, even though I knew better!

The B-4 was just under the highest-flight model offered by Epiphone and these are well-regarded basses and for good reason: this bass has a huge, wide-open, jazzy tone -- especially with the lightweight Corelli rope-core strings installed on it right now (these have roughly gut/nylon-core tension but react well under the bow and have a more modern tonality).

This is a bass that really, really wants to be played all over the board and sounds really cool in a jazz or early blues context. It has a good fundamental tone and plenty of sustain and sweet "extra harmonics" throughout its range. It gets good volume with a fairly light touch and will get even more volume with heavier-gauge strings (though I prefer the light touch, myself).


Fancy flamed-maple laminate adorns the back and sides and this has that outside lining on its ribs that adds surface area and structural support to the side seams. The edges are chipped out here and there but still sturdy.



When I got this bass, it was definitely in need of repair, and I had to reglue about 1/3 of the seams on the top and back edges. This is sort of typical of unrestored old basses, though.


The top itself is a 1/16" layer of spruce backed by several layers of thinner laminate. I think this spruce topper is probably what gives it such a unified, big tone. Compared to basses that are more "veneer" spruce I feel like this edges it more into a category of definition that carved-top basses have. The top end can't compare with a true carved-top instrument in the high register, but it sounds lovely and it's loud. I don't have to work hard to get good punch with this guy.

The arching on the top is also steeper than many other laminate uprights I've played (steeper arches are sort of typical for Epiphone guitars, too) which certainly helps to give the instrument a heck of a lot of focus and forward punch.


I didn't thin up this Texas-made bridge too much but I did fit the feet at an angle to resist tipping while traveling about with it. The adjusters help so, so much with weather changes and when setting up the instrument for different strings. In winter I expect the action to drop so they need to be adjusted "up" but in summer the action goes up and it needs to be lowered.

I've tried a number of different strings on this particular instrument -- Helicores (too tense), various perlon/nylon-core "synthetic gut" strings which warmed-up the instrument and gave it that old-timey feel, and finally this lightweight (gut-tension) Corelli rope-core set, which I like best so far. It provides a good jazz pizzicato sound with some growl and works well under the bow, too. It's also super-easy on the fingers.


I have a Wittner composite tailpiece installed with a steel "tailgut."


Epiphones have big-old scrolls and headstocks. The tuners are modern big brass German types and work great. The fingerboard is rosewood and so is the nut. I've dressed the board a while back and it's held up nicely. It has a pretty mild radius to it which is useful for plucking but not as useful for bowing. It makes double-stops super-easy, though.


There are pearl side-dots added for easy marking of position.

Epis have wider, bigger necks than your average Kay and they feel great under the fingers.


The joint shows some of the leavings of old repairs -- three dowel-marks. They don't interfere with playing. You can also see the "spoons" from my repair work on the neck...


As you can see, the whole instrument has that sort of interesting 30s sunburst pattern throughout. The back and sides look extra-nice in the sunight, too. The finish is all-original (thankfully!), though I did clean it up. There are, of course, tons of scratches and little knicks and whatnot all over but it still looks grand.




Here you can see the biggest repair: this bass had the neck split in two when I received it. Someone had attempted a dowel-and-glue job but this failed and the bass sat for 50+ years in a school's back room. It had gobs of glue in the break area and the break had been left to get worn out over time.

My solution was to remove all the old glue and carve the joint to fit well. After that I epoxied it for extra strength and installed some mending plates to add extra compression to the joint. Though the mending plates aren't necessary (I'd taken them entirely off while replacing them with these cut-down old spoon handles) I like the extra insurance they provide if bumped against a doorway or something.


The purfling is all truly-inlaid rather than painted-on. This model has that elegant "hoop" right below the heel.


This pressed-in serial dates the bass to 1941.


New, nice-quality ebony endpin. At some point I also added a ball-style endpin holder which is the bomb... it works so well... no sliding!


The end of the fretboard on the treble side has this replaced piece cut from dyed maple. Weird, huh? It makes no difference... but it's there.


This instrument comes with an Ingles stand ($55 value)...


...a String Emporium Pfretzschner-style German bow ($150), a nearly-new tub of Kolstein rosin (love this stuff!), bow holder (sans-leather-ties -- I use wire myself -- $20), and used but in-good-shape TKL gigbag ($100-125 new). Not a bad haul, I'd say. The strings are also nearly new and run about $100-125 new which is inexpensive-ish for bass strings but I just like these Corellis so much I can't help but stick with them.

3 comments:

Jennifer Mckingley said...

Great reading! I enjoyed reading this post. I love staring at those photos as well. This is such a nice blog.

-CassandraStrings.com

Antebellum Instruments said...

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

is this bass for sale?