Following a 'full on' summer in the workshop things show no signs of quietening down which is nice!
Over the summer,beside the normal run of bass repairs, set ups and restoration work, I had a mountain of violins and cellos to repair and set up for the wonderful people at Wandsworth Music Service. (They do an amazing job at bringing music to the children of Wandsworth on a truly daunting scale...Hats off to them for their energy and committment in bringing the possibility of playing music to a new generation.)
I also had the chance for a short holiday to southern Germany and was able to visit several historic and hugely important towns in the history or instrument making. The most famous of these is Mittenwald (right on the border with Austria). There is a superb museum of violin making and if you ever happen to be there I highly recommend it!
I can't believe that I've failed to post an update here for over a year. Very slack. However, I think that's a pretty good indication that things have been keeping me busy in the workshop!
I've had quite a selection of instruments here so far in 2017 with plenty of smaller ones as well as the basses! I've also been trying to get a couple of my own long term restoration projects to completion. Slowly but surely they are getting there so keep an eye on the instruments for sale page if you are looking for something.
Following a busy autumn sorting out my new workshop I am now up and running and have had a busy December.
I have just embarked on a major restoration of an old German three stringer which is in a very poor state. You can follow the work and see how it transforms from a wreck to a gem (hopefully!). It's going to take a while but I will try to post regular photo updates at 'the facebook'. Click here to see progress.
Over the past five years or so things have gradually been getting tighter and tighter in the workshop as the number of basses I am working on has increased and the range of tools, clamps, jigs, books etc etc steadily grows -it's amazing: no matter how many of these you have there is always need for a new one to meet a specific situation! Consequently the time has come to re-locate and building work is now underway -I hope to be moving to the new workshop during September. It will be significantly bigger than my current 'shed' will have a separate room for machine tools meaning considerably less time spent cleaning the dust off basses in the main room.
Anybody who fancies a day of all things bass should consider treating themselves to the Jeff Clyne Bass Day, to be held this year on the 17th May. More details can be found here and I will be in attendance giving my thoughts on the double bass from a repairers point of view, offering help and advice, and I will also have a selection of accessories to view, try, or even buy!
The event happens in Northamptonshire and is organised by the renown jazz pianist, bass enthiusiast, and friend of the late great Jeff Clyne, Nick Weldon.
Only February and already my plans for the year have been blown apart! I was assuming that January would be nice and quiet, leaving me planty of time to make a good start on a couple of long planned projects. Oh, well... maybe next year!
I have recently had a (not uncommon!) job of sorting out a bass that someone had purchased privately and then realised that in order for it to reach its full potential it was going to need some attention. The trouble is that people often severely underestimate quite how much work might be required.
I have over the last few years been called upon to do quite a few of these jobs and some of them have run well over £1000. In a couple of instances the owners decided that either they couldn't afford or the instrument wasn't worth the extra outlay. It really can mean the difference between buying a bargain and buying a bit of a turkey!
Imagine if you were buying a car: you may know how to drive a car (play a bass) but that doesn't mean you understand how they are made, whether an annoying squeak (or buzz in the case of a bass) is serious, or whether that slightly dull patch of paint indicates a serious bodge job underneath. Would you buy a car that pulled to one side as you drove it? You might well buy a bass without realising that the neck was incorrectly set or even loose. I could go on, but I'm sure you get the point!
I have also come across plenty of examples when sellers have claimed an instrument to be something that it clearly isn't.
I tend to think that people are generally honest, but they can quite often be mistaken. It is quite common for people to mis-understand or mis-remember something they've been told. Other people are just too optimistic and convince themselves about things that they really don't have the knowledge of or facts to back up.
I am happy to appraise any instrument you may be thinking of buying-send me some photos and I'll probably be able to give you some basic info; bring the bass to my workshop and I'll give you a thorough run down on its points good and bad! This may seem like a hassle and unnecessary expense but it could save you plenty of time and money in the long run.
Even better, if you thinking of buying a bass come and check out what I have to offer. All the basses I sell are guarenteed as I have either restored, set up, or at the very least thoroughly checked them over. I tend to only have a small number available, but if I don't have anything that suits you I will be happy to recommend other shops, dealers etc.
Following a busy summer I now have a couple more basses for sale so please have a look! I have also just finished a restoration of a Juzek bass which I think the owner will be offering for sale in the near future. They are not very common in this country but a very well known in America. The Juzek company was a major importer of basses to the States from what is now the Czech republic. Starting in the 1920s or 30s, they bought basses from a variety of workshops in the Schonbach area (now known by its Czech name of Luby) and sold them through their shop in New York. Watch the 'For Sale' page for more details.
Also coming soon will be a lovely bass made by French luthier Maurice Bourginion in Bruxelles. He worked with and took over the business of Georges Mougenot, a respected maker, who in turn had taken on the business from Nicolas Francois Vuillaume, younger brother of Jean Baptiste Vuillaume one of the formost luthiers of the 19th century. I'd have loved to spend some time in their workshop.... Anyway it promises to be an absolutely superb instrument when it's had a few jobs attended to and a set up with new bridge and decent strings. Another one to keep an eye out for.
Over the summer I had the honour(!) of having a bass by Carlo Antonio Testore in the workshop. A truly magnificent instrument but one that wasn't performing at its peak. After trying various tweaks and adjustments it was sounding considerably better and its owner was more that happy with the improvements. I also took the opportunity to make a note of the instruments dimensions -maybe they'll come in useful one day when I eventually find the time to make a bass.....
I have just received a reminder (by way of a new restoration job) about the dangers of trusting to luck especially in relation to courier firms!
The unfortunate instrument in question was being transported in a soft cover encased in bubble wrap. More than enough to protect it from minor knocks and scrapes but not even close to protecting it fron the harsh treatment the courier firm dealt it. The bass now requires an extensive programme of repairs to its body -belly, ribs and back including a large chuck of the belly which has dissappeared, sections of rib that are no longer attached and a sizeable piece of the back which is loose. Thankfully (and possibly amazingly) the neck and pegbox were unharmed otherwise the bass would have probably been beyond economic repair. Let this be a reminder and lesson to all who read this: personal collection is always advised and if there is no alternative to a courier the only safe option is a full hard case or to pack the bass in a crate. This may seem like a lot of effort and expense but it could save much money and heartache in the long run.
If you want to see some photos of the unfortunate instrument click here....
The archtop guitar is now totally finished. Click HERE for more details. I spent quite some time varnishing it as I decided to use a tradition oil varnish and create a 'sunburst' effect. I think it received about ten coats of varnish in the end -each one having to be left for a few days to harden up before rubbing down and applying the next. The result is pretty pleasing to the eye and should age 'gracefully'. I already have an order for another one so I will be off to my favourite wood supplier to select the raw materials for the next one. I intend to make two concurrently this time so if you're interested let me know!
As for other jobs in the workshop, since finishing a major bass restoration in December it has been various bits and pieces. I now have a restoration of a 1904 English violin by Longson, an ancient bass which has been in pieces for far too long and various of my own restoration projects tocrack on with.
Despite being fairly flat out with bass repairs and restorations in the summer I decided that I really had to press on with the archtop guitar build. I thought it would be too depressing to pass the two year mark and it is fast approaching! (The preoject got underway at the start of last year, but fairly quickly ended up on the back burner as more pressing work intervened.)
Work has been progressing in fits and starts but I finally got it strung up last week, all be it in an unfinished state, just so I could hear how it sounded. Pleasingly, it sounds much how I imagined it would - a classic 'middle-y' and powerful sound. Just the thing to cut through a big band which is pretty much what it was developed for. After playing it breifly (and also having a quick 'grope' of a friends favourite Gibson L5) I decided that the neck was still a little chunky but other than that and some fret buzz from the (unlevelled) frets all seemed good. So after the neck reshaping it just remains to varnish the instrument and them do the final fitting up and fettling. All should be done by Christmas and I will be able to celebrate the two year anniversay by playing it. Hoorah. What next though.....
After a busy summer another of my stock of dilapidated basses has been returned to its former glory and is now ready to make music once again.
It's a pretty standard mid 19th century German instrument. Originally a three string bass, I have brought it up to modern standards with a complete restoration. This included replacing all the 'dodgy' old repairs (of which it had acquired many), fitting a neck wedge and new ebony fingerboard, all new fittings -tuners (its now a four string bass!), bridge, tailpiece, endpin etc., new bass bar and soundpost, and revarnishing to the pegbox and scroll. The result of all this care and attention is a very playable instrument with a nice even sound and an aged but tidy look. I have been trying various strings on this bass to see what suits it best. So far the Evah Pirazzi are winning....
Talking of strings I recently fitted a set of D'Addario's Kaplan strings to a bass I had restored. I had not come across these before (the customer had them sent over from the States) so was interested to see how they felt and sounded. Certainly on that bass they played nicely and sounded good. They felt less tense than the average steel core string (though I see from their website that they are the same tension as their Helicore strings) and responded well to both pizz and arco. Unfortunately as they weren't mine I didn't have the opportunity to try them on other basses and do comparisons but if I get hold of another set I will do so and let you know the results!
A couple of the basses I was selling have recently found new homes which is nice for a number of reasons; firstly, a bassist has a new instrument which will hopefully inspire and delight them for years to come; secondly, I have a bit more room in the workshop! (it's always at a premium); thirdly, it encourages me to get on with some of the restoration cases I have hiding in dark corners of the workshop (and several other rooms in the house!); and fourthly, I have sufficient funds to purchase anything interesting that comes my way in the form of an old and dilapidated double bass! Let me know if you hear of anything...
A few months ago I realised that my stock of bass bridges was running a bit low. I try to keep a wide range to hand so I will have something suitable for most instruments. After shopping around at various suppliers I am now happy with my selection. (See here for my stock of 3/4 and 4/4 bridges) It's amazing how much variation there is in basses and the exact dimensions of bridges that are needed to fit them.
Typically, last week a bass turned up in need of a new bridge, and, despite it looking like a very standard instrument it needed a very peculiar size bridge which entailed a trip to one of my suppliers to trawl through everything they had available as nothing in my stock would quite do the job. Oh well, can't win them all!
I have finally had a chance to update the website so if you are looking for a bass please visit the 'for sale' page as there are some new (old!) basses listed. There will be more appearing over the summer.
I have recently beeen experimenting with different tail wire materials and methods of creating more string/bridge vibration and less tailpiece/tailwire damping. Different basses respond differently to these variables, but I think I'm making progress in my research. If I come to any hard and fast conclusions I'll be writing more about it here.
Work has finally started on the archtop guitar. Unfortunately it has also stopped! Things have started to hot up in the workshop and so that project has had to take a back seat. I am now busy with varnish work having two instruments in need of total revarnishing. However once done they will both be ready for sale and hopefully proud new owners very soon.
The two basses I was working on are now finished and being enjoyed again by their owners (I am told that the Opera House bass is sounding and playing much better, which is always nice to hear) so I am taking things a little easier in the workshop and allowing myself time to practice my newly acquired cimbalom(!) and get on with some composing and arranging I have to complete for a couple of projects next year.
Over the past six months I have also sold a couple of instruments so I am trying to press on with sorting out one or two of the basses from my stock of wrecks! Hopefully I will have at least one ready in the next few months.
If anyone has a bass to sell, I'm always looking for instruments that need renovation (and occasionally ones that don't). Also I am happy to advertise instruments on my website (for a small fee...) One of the basses that was advertised on my site this year was purchased by a bassist with the Taipei Symphony Orchestra. You never know whos out there looking...
I've realised that it's sometime since I updated this page. Rather slack on my part but an indication that other things have kept me busy this year!
I am working flat out in the workshop right now (besides having a busy month of gigs all over the country). I am working on a lovely old English bass for one of the bassists at the Royal Opera House. The instrument has had some rather unsympathetic repairs over the years and the build up of different repairs over the course of 170 years has lead to rather more wood being added than is necessary or desirable! Once this has been attended to and the bass bar has been replaced with one of more usual dimensions and positioning we're hoping theat the bass will open out and start to 'sing' a bit more....
I am also busy with a restoration of a wreck which the owner had as good as written off. This work includes major repairs to the front, pegbox, tuners, new fingerboard, bridge etc. and a complete re-varnish (it had previously been stripped and painted black....). Luckily the recent spate of good weather has allowed the varnishing to proceed rather more quickly than I had anticipated and the bass will be finished a couple of months earlier than my original estimate; Now that's something that doesn't happen often!
January being January (gigs? what gigs??) I found myself with a little time to spare and managed to get the bass guitar designs completed and the instrument built. I am very pleased with the result -it is everything that I had intended! More details and pictures can be seen on the bass guitar page.
I have had a few interesting bass 'hirings' recently including for a recording of the forthcoming album by the up and coming band Skinny Lister. If you're of a folky bent and enjoy a good time I recommend checking them out at a festival near you this summer!
All sorts of jobs have been through the workshop during the Autumn including setup work on both acoustic and electric guitars. I have also been mulling over designs for an electric bass guitar. I picked up some lovely wood earlier in the year so I am now just waiting for a final design and a couple of quietish weeks in order to get the project under way.
Well the last three months have been pretty non stop with one thing and another. I have sold a couple of the basses that I had and now need to get a couple of others that have been languishing in the workshop into playable and saleable condition.
The work on the 'flat fronted' English bass is coming on. When I originally collected the bass for repairs I casually asked how long the fingerboard had been off for (expecting the answer to be in days or maybe weeks at the most) I was told that it had been like that for several years! Rather alarmingly the strings were still at playing tension!!! I was forseeing all sorts of problems and the worst scenario could have entailed fitting a new neck after weeks spent trying and failing to straighten the current one! Amazingly though, the neck had not warped at all and only minimal work was required to true up the surfaces before gluing.
Here's a tip worth remembering: If the fingerboard ever comes off your bass (which can happen if it gets a big knock) it's always a good idea to slacken the strings. The fingerboard provides a lot of strength and resilience to the neck and without it the neck is likely to warp and is far more likely to crack or break if it gets knocked. Keep enough string tension to keep the bridge and soundpost up.
After a somewhat disrupted winter the new workshop is at last up and running. I've had a couple of big jobs on hold since the autumn and and last I can crack on with them! One of them is a very ancient (and very very dilapidated) English bass. It is currently sporting a patchwork back and what must be (judging by the way the pegbox has been hacked about!) at least it's fourth neck graft! The other bass is also English, but this time from the latter 19th century. This one is unusual in that although there is some arching round the edge of the front plate, most of it's surface area is flat. I will be very interested to see how this sounds and plays once I have reunited it with it's fingerboard and addressed the open centre back seam.
Over the past couple of years I've been wishing I had a lathe for numerous small jobs in the workshop but, largely due to lack of space, have resisted the temptation to buy one! I always managed to find a way of completing whatever job was in hand without one, but often with the thought that a lathe would have made the task easier and quicker! Over the summer I finally relented and ordered a smallish, but high quality one. Due to the aforementioned lack of space the thing was still languishing in it's packaging until last week when overhauling a set of 'top hat' style tuners with wooden pegs presented me with a job that there was no way round... one of the pegs had been replaced with a plain wooden rod which didn't match the originals at all and was also badly fitted. The challenge was set -to produce a replacement that matched the originals.
After an hour or two setting up and trying out the lathe I managed to produce a perfectly acceptable copy to match the other pegs and after staining (the pegs are 'ebonised' beech wood) it's now pretty hard to tell which is the replacement. (In fact, from about three feet away it's impossible!)
These wooden pegs can often be in need of repair or replacement. They can get damaged, split, or just wear out as the strings or mechanism bite into them. I can now offer a replacement service which can match the original pegs if they are damaged or worn out. The originals are often made out of stained beech or maple -for a really hard-waring replacement they can be made out of rosewood or ebony.
As an aside to all the violin family work that I am constantly engaged in I have recently been researching the design and construction of instruments from the guitar family. I have a number of ideas floating round in my head which include designs for an archtop guitar (in the classic Gibson/D'Angelico tradition) and several concepts for bass guitar design. It's an interesting path to explore as choice of materials and overall design is much freer and open to innovation and personal preference than the more traditional string instruments. I'm not sure when I will find time to get either of these projects underway, but if anyone fancies a custom built instrument that might well spur me into action -get in touch!
On the bass front I am hoping that by the end of the summer I may have got one or two of my stock of restoration instruments finished and ready to play. If you're looking for an instrument let me know and I'll keep you updated as and when these or any others become available.
Having fitted various designs of bridge adjusters over the years I now recommend those produced by Franz Moser in Austria. They are, I believe, unique in the fact that they are a 'floating' system and do not have the normal spindle passing from the bridge legs to the bridge feet. This means that they allow the geometry between the feet and the main body of the bridge to change and ensure that the feet are always in best possible contact with the top of the instrument even if one adjuster is considerably higher than the other. There are many other benefits that these adjusters provide and in my experience can noticeably improve the sound of some instruments! I can supply and fit these for around £65-70. I wouldn't fit any others to one of my basses!!
The autumn seems to have flown by and there are numerous jobs which I had planned still waiting their turn!
Various basses have been through the workshop and jobs have included making a stop for an E string extension, several new bridges, a couple of fingerboard shootings (luckily no one was injured!), some sound improvement/set up work and a couple of major ongoing restorations.
There are a couple of little jobs that crop up very regularly and can make a huge difference to how easy a bass (or any instrument) is to play which I would like to draw your attention to:
1) The Nut. This (as I'm sure most of you will know) is the wooden block at the top of the fingerboard that the strings pass over going into the peg box.
There are many aspects of the nut which need consideration and adjustment but probably the most common problem is that the strings are too high above the fingerboard. This can make an instrument quite a lot harder to play, especially in the lower positions. Basically if the strings are too high you're having to press them down harder which expends more energy, will slow you down and, if the strings are not pushed firmly against the fingerboard, will lead to a poor tone and less sustain when playing pizz. This can generally be remedied fairly easily by filing the string slots and then refinishing the top of the nut. Often when a fingerboard has been shot with the nut in place there is a curve (or little ramp) at the top of the fingerboard just below the nut. This in itself is not normally a problem but if the string heights have been set from this they can easily end up being higher than is necessary and causing you extra work!
2) String spacing. Again, as with most areas of instrument design there are many aspects to string spacing that need to be considered; however the most basic one and the one which the player will notice most directly is how far apart the strings are at the bridge and nut. I find that the spacing is often greater than it needs to be and playabilty can often be increased by adjusting this at both the bridge and the nut. There is also a theory that if the strings are spaced too widely at either the bridge or nut it can have a detrimental effect on the volume and tone of an instrument.
Following a busy summer playing, the workshop is once again full of basses. One is a nice 3/4 German bass from the mid C.20th. It has had some rib cracks and a broken pegbox repaired and is currently awaiting a set up. This is a really nicely proportioned instrument and I think will sound good when it is properly set up. Whilst it was open for the cracks I also thinned the top which was excessively thick in places. The only drawback with this bass is it's total lack of varnish! From what I can ascertain it has at some point been given a covering of green paint. This has then been removed and also the original varnish with it! Until I move to bigger premesis There's not much hope of it getting varnished so if anyone is interested in it as is let me know and I'll put you in touch with the owner.....
For the past couple of months I have been using the modern bass that I currently have for sale as my main instrument. It is now sporting a set of Evah Pirazzi strings and is sounding really good -I am sorely tempted to keep it, but can't really justify having three basses for my own use. If anyone is interested come and try it -for the money I really don't think you'll find a better sounding or feeling bass!
I now have a new bass for sale -details are on the For Sale/Hire page of this site. After replacing the fingerboard, saddle, and nut, fitting a new set of string and doing a full set up including a new bridge and soundpost this bass is sounding great. It has a big body, but is not heavily constructed so it is nice and light and speaks quickly. I've been using it on gigs for the past couple of weeks and have already had some interest in it so you may need to get in quick if you're interested!
Following the decision of the BBC to discontinue their web access service I have had a couple of late nights transferring this site to a new host. Please note also that my contact email has changed.
The latest arrival in the workshop is a well proportioned and nice looking C.19th instrument with birds eye maple back and ribs. Whilst birds eye maple has a lovely look to it unfortunately it is not best suited for instrument construction. In order to get the birds eye figure the wood has to be 'slab cut' (rather the preferred 'quater sawn'). This means that the wood is more prone to distortion, shrinkage, and cracks over time. This bass has suffered quite badly and has many shrinkage cracks in the back and ribs. Alongside this are plentiful cracks in the front and quite a lot of edge repairs to do and a new bass bar is needed. When the instrument is back together it will get a new soundpost, bridge, endpin, nut, saddle and strings.
A word of warning:
This instrument was fitted with a Selmer aluminum bridge. These were quite popular at one time but can often cause damage to the front of the instrument. These bridges have three metal 'feet' which rest on the front. These feet require a pad of some sort between them and the bass otherwise they will dig in horribly. On this instrument they were fitted with leather pads which had perished and were disintegrating. Luckily no major damage had occurred on this bass but it wasn't far off happening. If you have one of these bridges on your bass I recommend you have it checked by a repairer and fitted with wooden pads (or replaced with a standard bridge!).
The 'travelbass' is born! I have just returned from a week in Dubai where the 'travelbass' proved itself a fine and very useful instrument. I am very pleased with the overall design of the bass -it is easily transportable (in a standard size keyboard case), when amplified sounds almost identical to an amplified double bass, can be assembled/packed away in about five minutes, feels just like playing a double bass and is perfect as a practice instrument for hotels etc.
There are several minor revisions that need to be made; the body support I was using was a temporary one which proved very effective, but having used it on gigs I can now improve it further. Also I need to devise a way to hold the soundpost in place during transit.
Everyone who has seen the instrument has been both intrigued and impressed with it and whilst abroad it was featured on the magazine programme 'Her Say' on Dubai One TV channel.
It has been all go in the workshop over the past month!
Following the launch of the website, a sudden rush of jobs ensued which have now all been finished. I have a couple of (hopefully) quite minor repairs in the diary which will leave me plenty of time to proceed with what I have decided to call the 'travelbass'.
I eventually settled on a hollow body design which will have both bass bar and soundpost and drew up plans during January, and am now engaged in the construction. As this is a prototype and speed is of the essence I am using materials that I had to hand in the workshop. (I didn't want to sacrifice a day with a trip to my wood supplier.) This means a two piece belly of unmatched spruce and a maple back which will be slightly thinner than I would have liked. Also I will be using a pre-carved neck and scroll, though I may well have to lighten this to balance the instrument.
If the design proves successful I intend to refine it and then offer it as either an 'off the peg' or a custom instrument with the option of modeling it on the customer's preferred double bass.
It appears that I may have need of a 'stick' bass (EUB) for some work abroad where there is little chance of hiring a usable acoustic bass.
This has got me thinking and depending on time I may build one.... I have a various ideas about construction which I am mulling over and contemplating how best to approach various aspects of the design. I definitely want as much an 'acoustic' sound as possible so I will either make a hollow bodied instrument or one with a 'soundboard' that is free to vibrate under the bridge and use an under bridge foot pickup. A good friend of mine who has a degree in acoustics and is a very fine bassist himself has been considering similar issues so I will consult with him when I have a more defined design!
I am currently repairing a King 'Mortone' bass. It's a plywood instrument (from 1957) but a rather nicely made one.
The front and back plates are constructed from 5 ply maple, with the face layer on the front being spruce. The back is made to look like a traditional carved two piece back (inside as well as out!).
This instrument has obviously had a hard life and needs much edge work and a new fingerboard. It arrived in the workshop with a stained mahogany fingerboard (I believe originally it would have been ebony) which had reached the end of its useful life so I'm putting a nice new ebony board on. There are a few cracks round the ribs which I will repair as well as is possible without opening the instrument up.
This poor bass has suffered some calamity in its history and the front is heavily repaired with several major splits and a patch where it looks like the soundpost came through (eeek!!!). However all seems reasonably solid and the instrument has a good full tone so is worth an overhaul. Previous repairs to the front have been touched in (or out!) with a brown opaque varnish or possibly even paint which is a shame, but I think it will have to stay as budget and time don't allow otherwise.
Things are pretty busy playing wise between now and the new year, but I'm continuing work on the 'flat pack' bass: time to finish repairs to the belly and fit the new bass bar.