4/25/2013

c.1935 Czech/German Laminate 3/4 Upright Bass



This is a most curious and strange upright. I picked it up last week from an 80-year-old bass wheeling/dealing fellow in Northampton and subsequently started taking it apart and putting it back together over our "off days" of Monday and Tuesday. The remaining parts came today (strings, tailpiece cable, endpin) and I was able to get it setup after I'd gotten some normal work finished.

It's a laminate instrument but while the back and sides have the (typical) laminated flamed maple veneer, the top has laminate mahogany veneer instead of the more-usual spruce. After chatting with some folks over at TalkBass, it seems that this is a mid-late 1930s Czech or German instrument with Czech-style tuners. Thanks for the tips fellas.

Compared to my Epiphone, the neck is much faster (especially with the unfinished rear) though the nut width is still the same size (nearly 1 3/4"). The board itself has some scoop to it and I dressed it up (it was really, really pitted and gouged from some round-wound string use). This bass is excellent for arco (bowed) with a really big, rich, fundamental voice. The A string is glorious for a laminate instrument. It also sounds great for folky and bluegrass plucking, too. Clean warm voice for recording use.



The big-honking ebony-shafted tuners are great! Three are original and one is a (same-period, I believe) replacement. One of the ebony shafts was replaced, though, with an "ebonized" one (the D tuner).

The original rosewood nut was slotted pretty wide in the past for use with big old gut strings. The set on here right now is a light Corelli rope-core set that has comparable tension to most gut sets.


This has an E-string "ledge." Note that I added side-dots and then a few face-dots under the G-string to mark the octave position.


Check out the exterior lining as well as the protective edging at the corners.


I re-used the bridge it came with, which in this case is not high quality but gets the job done. I had to remove layers of putty on the feet and fit them better and while I was at it I added some adjuster wheels. The top is sunken a bit under the treble-side foot but stable. This must have been over-strung at some point in its life.

Update: the top has been 100% stable since first working on this and this bass actually holds tune very, very well with travel.


Just like the fingerboard, the rosewood tailpiece had been varnished with something or other so I sanded it down and polished it back up. Much healthier!


The most bizarre feature of this bass are the almost Kay-guitar-like segmented f-holes.

Inside the f-hole is a label that reads "George's Musical Supply" and a number of upstate New York towns. No pings on Google from that!


I forgot to mention other repairs!

For starters, both the top and the back had at some point been tack-nailed and tiny-screwed to the ribs in some sort of repair effort. This, of course, is no way to fix a bass and the futility of this repair was starting to show at a number of seams.

Long story short, I pried open every last seam, sanded down the edges, cleared gross putty and other random refuse away, and reglued all of the seams (including right at the heel). Since many of these tack-nails were stuck pretty well into the top and back plates, I simply left them in and pounded them back into place. They're not very visibile, anyway, until one zooms in on them like in the above photo (and those are the biggest ones).


It's a respectable-looking, grizzled old bass. The back is arched, too.




Here's some of the flame on the sides. Check out how chewed-up the edges are from years and years of use and moving about.





Here you can see some of the more recent/exposed tack nails just along this top edge. These brightened up when I cleaned the area. The wheat penny/screw head are simply filling a void that was left there by a previous screw. Ya know, a penny for luck! It can be removed with no issue.



Since the original endpin unit had an "ebonized" rather than ebony tailpiece, I ordered the same sort when replacing what was left of the original. The tailpiece hanger (tailgut) on this is simple steel cable with a crushed-together cable clamp.

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