Ephemera: 3 String Upright (c.1910)

One curious historical fact for you all: you could order any number of 3-string (rather than 4-string) upright basses from most musical instrument catalogs from around 1880 through 1930. Finding true pictures (rather than drawings) and extant examples, though? Far harder!

My guess is that aside from the cheaper "street price" on these basses out of the catalog, you may have the advantage of a narrower nut and neck width as well. Since most players make most use of the E, A, and D strings in backing folks songs, anyhow, I'll bet that missing high G wasn't such a problem, too.

My guess for the precedent, though, would be the various folk basses from the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and Russia, though, many of which had 2 or 3 strings as well.


Anonymous said...

Lovely picture, nice bass.
Could use a bassplayer like that.


Bruce Morrison said...

Saw an excellent Ukrainian folk trio at Northwest Folklife in Seattle this year: three (gut) string bass, three string viola with a flat bridge sawing out chords, and standard fiddle playing melody. A terrific band! Thanks for more cool photos and factoids Jake!

Blackthorn said...

Three string basses were very common in the 18th and 19th centuries, even in orchestras. The missing string was the low E, not the G. The lowest notes were hard to produce with the wound gut strings of the time. The tuning varied depending on the era and country, but the most common tunings were (low to high) A-D-G, G-D-G and G-D-A. By the 20th century, four strings had become standard and most of these basses were converted.