Full-sized bass with included bow and gig bag. High-quality oak fingerboard and tailpiece. Adjustable bridge with simple dial controls. 10mm endpin with hardwood plug.
Not very resonant. Needs significant setup for best performance.
Sized for students but also professionals and adult amateurs. Beautiful finish. Oak fingerboard and tailpiece. Includes bow, gig bag, and rosin. Agreeable sound.
May need more setup than expected. Not full-sized.
A solid choice for students, as in many cases it’s cheaper than renting. Professionals say it has a solid build and lasts for years. Excellent for country and bluegrass music.
Factory strings aren't ideal. Some bridge assembly required. Bow not included.
Innovative design uses electronics instead of acoustic resonance. Crafted of maple. Custom bridge minimizes extraneous vibrations for purer sound. Great for experimentation.
Not quite the same sound as a full-sized acoustic bass.
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The upright bass, sometimes referred to as the double bass or bass, is the lowest-pitched string instrument in the modern orchestra. It has four strings tuned to E, A, D, and G and can be plucked, bowed, or slapped to create different sounds. Its uses include everything from jazz to classical music, and it provides a rhythmic foundation for many styles. The upright bass is part of the violin family of instruments and is the only one to be tuned in fourths.
When shopping for an upright bass, there are several factors to consider: size, timbre, materials, accessories, and space. Upright basses are not small instruments, so having the proper space to play and store your purchase is important.
One of the first things to note when shopping for an upright bass is how large they are — and how large you are. As with other string instruments, basses come in various sizes, with popular sizes including 1/4, 3/4, and full size. A good rule of thumb is that when standing, the bridge of the instrument should be approximately parallel to the player’s right knuckles. Depending on the size of the instrument, its volume and timbre may be different; since the upright bass is so low-pitched, it can be rather quiet on its own. If possible, play before you buy.
For a child, a 1/4-size bass (around 61 inches tall) is a good place to begin, though you would likely have to upgrade the instrument to something larger as the child grows. Basses of 1/2 size are also appropriate for children. Basses of 3/4 size are considered standard and are what most adults play, though 5/8 and 7/8 basses can be found. Sizes are not universal, so measure or have a professional help you when determining the correct size.
The “mensure” (string length) makes a difference as well. The length from nut to bridge on a 3/4 bass should be about 40.5 inches. Any longer and your hand might need to stretch to reach high notes. Mensures are not standardized, so measure before you buy.
Finally, because of the large size, an upright bass is not the easiest instrument to transport, especially for children playing in a school orchestra. If your child is taking lessons at school, make sure they can safely store the instrument in the band/orchestra room. For adults or professionals, cases are available for transporting the bass, ranging from soft carry cases to hard cases with wheels. There are also small carts available to assist in rolling the bass from one place to another.
Upright basses are made of materials carved or cut into shapes and glued together. The sound can vary when bowing or plucking based on the materials and their quality. There are three main categories when it comes to the materials used to create upright basses, and their quality levels overlap depending on the construction of the instrument.
Laminated/plywood: Laminated or plywood upright basses are made of pieces of plywood glued together. Their sound is the least resonant of all types of basses, but their construction is preferred by those playing certain styles of music. Most student basses are laminated.
Hybrid: Hybrid upright basses have carved tops and plywood sides and backs, which are glued together. The sound can be described as more resonant than that of laminated basses since the material of the top has the most impact on tone. Many professionals opt for hybrid instruments. Notably, they tend to be expensive.
Carved: Carved basses are the priciest of the bunch and can still be of inconsistent quality. Some may be called “spruce top” and only have a spruce veneer, whereas others are pressed layers of wood instead of carved wood. Since these instruments are fully wooden, they produce a richer sound. Of course, since wood expands and contracts, it’s prone to cracking in different weather conditions and must be properly cared for. Experienced players and professionals play fully-carved basses.
Maple, spruce, and ebony are used for other parts of the instrument, including the fingerboard and neck.
There are three different styles when it comes to the body of an upright bass: gamba, violin, and the far less common busetto. The look of the bass is more of a personal choice, though there can be some physical differences between the styles.
Upright bass players use either a French bow or a German bow, sometimes called a Butler bow. The difference lies in how the bow is held. French bows are similar to other string instruments in size and shape and are held in an overhand position, with the palm facing the bass. Those who use a French bow say it’s easier to play certain kinds of notes, such as staccato notes.
The Butler bow is the older of the two styles. It’s a wider and longer bow, and the player holds their palm angled upward in a “handshake” position. Proponents of the Butler bow claim it gives the arm better leverage to play notes with more weight.
Students may be given one style of bow over the other, but for experienced players, it’s a matter of personal preference.
The style of music you intend to play may influence your choice of instrument, especially in terms of materials. People in symphony orchestras generally choose fully carved instruments because “pure” sound is paramount. Players performing rockabilly and bluegrass go with plywood due to the more intense nature of their playing; they “slap,” “crack,” and pluck the bass far more aggressively. Hybrids are appropriate for many styles of music and provide a happy medium in terms of resonance (with their carved tops) and durability (with less likelihood of cracks due to their plywood elements).
Though most upright basses are wood tones, you can find custom instruments that have been painted. Some electric upright basses are vibrantly colored. If you want to add a bit of flair to your playing, there are multicolored strings available.
Not all instruments come with a case, but for wooden instruments of any kind, it’s important for safekeeping and temperature control to have a case. Many players utilize soft “gig bags,” some of which are padded and provide space for the bow. Padded gig bags with backpack straps are available to carry the bass on your back. Professionals often have hard travel cases, which may cost thousands and are not necessary for the more casual player.
Endpin rest: Trophy 4080 Rock Stop Bass Endpin Rest
The endpin is a small but sturdy pin descending from the bottom of the instrument that can be adjusted to the player’s height so they can comfortably hold and play the bass. An endpin rest is a small disc made of grippy material that holds the endpin in place on the floor. TROPHY’s endpin is reasonably priced and designed to keep the instrument stable.
Strings: Thomastik-Infeld Spirocore 3/4 Upright Bass String Set - Medium Gauge
Upright bass strings can be made out of different materials and are available in different tensions, or “weights,” be it light, medium, or heavy. The tone differences are negligible, so choose what feels best to your fingers and bow. We like this medium-gauge set from Thomastik.
Stool: Odyssey Adjustable DJ Chair
Not all players sit while playing, but it can be useful while practicing for longer intervals. Choose a stool of the right height — you still want to be able to reach the whole fretboard and comfortably bow, if needed.
Many upright bass players can easily transfer their skills to the electric bass guitar.
Inexpensive: Between $800 and $1,500, you can find beginner basses and those made of plywood/laminate. Student basses are included in this price range.
Mid-range: From $1,600 to $3,000 are hybrid instruments of solid quality. Instruments in this price range may come with gig bags, strings, and a bow.
Expensive: For $3,000 and over, you’re likely to receive a professional-grade, fully carved, or excellent-quality hybrid upright bass. You may or may not find strings and a bow included because, at this price, players have specific accessory preferences. These instruments may come in a high-quality gig bag.
A. It depends on your size. You want to be able to comfortably reach both low and high registers on the neck, whether you’re sitting or standing while playing. If you’re unsure, visit a music shop in your area and talk to someone who knows string instrument sizing.
A. Yes. Renting is a great way to get familiar with the instrument and decide if it’s right for you. Buying an upright bass is a huge investment, so consider renting and taking lessons before purchasing your own.
A. Yes. Learning how to bow is part of learning how to play a string instrument. Moreover, many styles of music utilize the bowed bass sound, so it’s beneficial to know how to do it.
A. An electric bass is an upright bass that must be plugged in and amplified to be heard. Its resonance and construction materials differ from those of an acoustic instrument, and they tend to be physically smaller. An electric bass guitar is just that — a guitar. It is held on the body and played by pick or finger and cannot be bowed. It, too, must be amplified to be heard.
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