Stepping Up the
After playing the bass for a few years, a beginning player often upgrades parts of their instrument, like the strings or bow. This initially helps them improve the sound from their student-level instrument. However, if the student has already done this, is taking private lessons, or playing more advanced music, it may be time to upgrade the entire instrument to a performance-quality, or “step-up,” bass. Step-up basses are specifically handcrafted to improve the tone, response, and projection. The upgraded wood, along with a longer aging process, helps create more stability from temperature and humidity changes. The better tonewood also helps to create a richer tone quality. Internal carving helps to improve resonance and fine-tunes the response of the instrument. More delicate varnishes allow the sound to project better. Customized finish options make it possible to tailor both the look and sound of the bass to the player’s liking.
Characteristics to Consider
Upgraded Wood: Many student basses are made with laminate, not fully carved wood. A fully carved instrument will make a drastic improvement in sound. Wood is the most important aspect of the instrument. It must be cut, stored, and aged properly to make the best sounding instruments. Violin makers prefer wood that comes from the higher altitudes and cooler climates. That makes harder, stronger wood. Spruce is used on the front or top of the instrument, maple or poplar is used on the sides and back of the instrument. Ideally wood is aged for at least 7 years. Some wood is aged 50 plus years before it becomes a bass!
Customized Features: Once the instrument is handcrafted and glued together, then fittings are chosen. Fingerboards are made of Ebony wood. This is the most stable wood and least resistant to climate changes. The tailpiece is often made with ebony, boxwood, or rosewood. Boxwood and rosewood make for different aesthetic looks. Tailpieces can vary beyond different woods, composite materials can be used as well to make the instrument lighter, allowing for more sound production. There are endpin options as well. There are traditional metal endpin rods or carbon fiber endpin rods that lighten up the bass tremendously. The difference in weight can change the sound of the instrument. Some bassists prefer a bridge with adjusters. The adjusters allow you to change the bridge height depending on the season. There is some variety in machine tuning pegs as well. Some are built on a metal plate with both tuners on 1 plate, or you can have individual mechanical tuning pegs.
Strings: Step-up basses are strung with better quality strings. Bassists select strings according to the style of music they play most. Many prefer stranded steel core strings to give a better bow response and clear tone for orchestra repertoire. Some prefer synthetic strings for jazz or rockabilly styles. There are many brands available on the market to fit any style of playing.
Varnish: There are 2 main types of varnishes, spirit, and oil. Spirit varnishes are made using resins (tree sap) and alcohol or turpentine. Spirit varnishes dry quickly but are more difficult to apply. Oil varnishes are made with linseed or walnut oil and other ingredients and are much easier to apply, however, take much longer to dry. These varnishes are more delicate than the varnish on student instruments. Spirit and oil varnishes allow the sound to come out of the instrument and project more easily, showing off the instrument’s tonal richness.
It is important to consider these features when choosing an upgraded bass, but the best way to decide is to come in and try out these upgraded models for yourself! At Menchey Orchestral String Gallery, we have a great selection of upgraded basses from Shen, Christopher, and more. One of them is sure to be the perfect match for you!