How to look after your double bass.
Why look after your double bass? Does it matter if it’s caked in rosin and dirt, the scuffs and scratches and missing pieces of wood from the edges and corners adds character?
The value of most stringed instruments relies upon not only their sound but importantly their condition. Values continue to increase and so maintaining your instrument is vital to help preserve this.
Remember the actual value of an instrument or bow is mainly determined by its condition.
Many owners of instruments and bows consider themselves as custodians wishing to preserve their beloved instrument or bow in order to pass on to a new owner eventually.
So hopefully this explains why it is important to look after your cello and bow.
How to store your double bass and bow.
You can store your double bass on its side or lean it into a corner with the bridge first, facing the wall to not put unnecessary stress on the neck and avoid the bridge being knocked. You do not need to loosen the strings for storage. Loosening the strings could make the soundpost fall (the internal post that connects the front with the back and sits behind the treble foot of the bridge) the tension from the strings also keeps the bridge in position. This is also why we recommend only changing one string at a time.
The edges of a double bass can wear down and become frayed and rough over time when stored on its side, runners (wood, leather or similar) strips are sometimes fitted to avoid this happening.
Rosin! Keep rosin away from heat and sunlight. It melts easily and is difficult to clean up.
When you store your bow always reduce the tension, this will help stop it stretching and needing a new hair. It’s a good idea some kind of PVC pipe large enough in which to keep the bow and to store this in your double bass cover whenever you’re not playing.
Put the endpin all the way in when it’s left for long-term storage as well as for transport. The endpin is potentially dangerous, left extended when not in use can cause your bass could be accidentally knocked over if some careless person kicks or trips on it sending your bass rolling. The tip can be very, when not in use apart from retracting it back into the body if you have a protective rubber cap use it. It can cause a nasty scratch or cut, equally a sharp endpin is bad for lots of floors, we recommend an endpin holder. We sell several good, inexpensive models.
If your pickup has a battery and you are storing the bass for a while, remove the battery.
Other things to bear in mind.
Keep it away from heaters, central heating, and direct sunlight, even when it is in its cover or in transit.
Always loosen the hair of the bow when not in use.
Never lock a case. If the key is lost, entry to the case could cause extreme damage to your bass.
A bass bib can be a useful accessory to help protect the back from scratches off any belt buckles.
Always have a clean microfibre cloth in your cover to wipe your bass down after playing.
Climate and humidity – Keep your bass humidified
Of all the orchestral instruments double basses because of their size suffer more, the wood can move tremendously between summer and winter with changes in temperature and humidity. The effects on a bass can be dramatic changes in the string action or height, sound tightening or becoming flabby due to a too tight or too loose soundpost. Seams (where the back or front are glued to the sides or ribs) can pop open, worse still cracks may develop if your bass gets too dry! A good bass should not be used outdoors. Try to keep your bass at home in a room with an even temperature and humidity, if possible. A lot of bassist’s place humidifiers inside their instruments, through the f-holes, there are also models available which are highly effective designed to live inside your case or cover. Avoid excessive temperature and direct sunlight, drafts are not good, nor is leaning against walls that border the outside. Interior walls inside your house are fine.
We sell a range of humidifiers suitable for use in your bass by Trophy, Dampit, Stretto etc
Opinions on the correct levels vary, in our opinion kept between 40-50% seems to be the best. The theory is that correctly humidified wood can take the stresses and strains from changing temperatures and air humidity levels, for example when you take your bass out on a gig or play a concert, and manage this more successfully than dry wood, consequently the probabilities of popping seams and cracking wood is reduced.
If you want to precisely know the humidity level of a room, you will need a digital hygrometer, some of the above humidifiers include one. If the humidity level is too low leaving a bowl of water in the room or using a cool-mist humidifier can correct this. Don’t put too much humidity into the air as this can cause other problems with the construction of your bass, animal glues are typically used in their construction and they are dissolvable in water!
How to handle your double bass and bow
Avoid touching the body of your bass with your hands, try to handle it by the neck and sides only, supporting it at the middle bout rib joint. Never pick up your instrument by any part of its body e.g. the fingerboard. The fingerboard can come off or snap, typical basses can weigh about 15kg.
Do not lift or carry it by the F-holes. The area around the F-holes is relatively thin and weak. If you lift your bass using the f-hole it’s highly likely, you’ll come away with a fistful of wood!
Also never put your bow in the through F-holes, this could lead to an accident which snaps your bow in two and may also damage the wood around the F-holes. There are methods for placing the bow under a string, or between the tailpiece and the body of the bass that are safer, these methods may also cause damage to the top of your bass and/or the fingerboard. The best-case scenario is to carry the bow separately.
If you bow, a bass bow quiver or ‘holster’ is a great accessory to hold your bow safely and close to where you need it, easy to grab for some bowed parts or just that long last bowed note on a Jazz gig or for the orchestral arco and pizz switches.
Keep it clean.
Wipe down the strings, fingerboard, bridge and top of the bass with a microfibre cloth after you have finished playing for the day.
This helps keep dirt, dust and, if you use a bow, rosin from building up on the varnish, many varnishes are made with rosin as one of the constituent parts therefore when rosin that you use for your bow is left for too long on top of the varnish it can start to fuse with the varnish! Avoiding rosin build-up will keep your bass functioning well and looking great and avoid costly repair bills. For instance, excessive rosin build-up on top of the bridge can lead to a warped bride as the rosin inhibits the practice of pushing your bridge back into an upright position.
If you already have a build-up of rosin and dirt do not use harsh chemicals or water to remove it. Using alcohol will dissolve the varnish, too much water is bad for the instrument in a variety of ways. Never try using commercially available cleaning products. There are several specialist polishes available for stringed instruments, we do not recommend using them. If there are open seams (where the front or back are glued to the sides or ribs) or open cracks these cleaners make repair doubly difficult, on some more delicate varnishes they can damage the varnish.
Our advice is to bring your bass in for a professional clean and check-up.
To remove finger marks and light rosin/dirt a microfibre cloth wiped gently will work well.
Give special attention underneath and around the bridge and other areas where rosin deposits have gathered, beneath the fingerboard, the fingerboard surface, and the ribs.
If you do not touch your bass’s body, then there is no need for any cleaning process other than your microfibre cloth. After about a year to eighteen months, your bass may begin to look ‘dull’, now is the time to bring it in for a careful clean and check over, wood moves with humidity and temperature, seams can open as well as cracks, often invisible to the untrained eye!
Keep the bridge in place.
The bridge can and should last a long time if it is looked after well. Bridges can easily warp or bend if they are not kept upright, they can even be pulled over and fall by the tension of the strings if not upright. Check it once a week or so to ensure that it is still perpendicular to the body of the bass, if it’s leaning too much, that’s when problems start. If you need to adjust the bridge, loosen the strings slightly and gently push with your thumbnail between the G and D and the A and E strings, this will move the bridge back, if uncertain or nervous please bring it in and we’ll do it for free and show you how to do this. Looking at the feet and how they sit against the body, If the feet are flat there should be no gaps, but if the bridge is not straight, you have a warped bridge and should have it replaced, bring it in and we can advise you.
Once a bridge has warped it starts to underperform and the result is poor tone and loss of tone, the bridge is responsible for about 23% of a Bass’s sound so it’s a major factor in tone, equally if the bridge moves or isn’t sitting well then the same happens and the whole tonal quality of the instrument will change.
Check the endpin.
The endpin is potentially dangerous, put your endpin all the way in when laying your bass on the ground. Left extended in use can cause your bass to be accidentally knocked over where some careless person kicks or trips on it sending your bass flying and massive damage could ensue. The tip can be very, very sharp, when not in use apart from retracting it back into the body if you have a protective rubber cap use it. It can cause a nasty scratch or cut, equally a sharp endpin is bad for lots of floors, we recommend an endpin holder. We sell several good, inexpensive models.
Endpin Anchors and floor protection
The spike or endpin is pointed and on certain surfaces can be slippery. To keep your bass in place an anchor, floor stop, or rubber endpin ball will be needed.
Anchors are straps that you put under a leg of your stool on one end and place the endpin at the other end. These will all help stabilise your bass and prevent damage to floors and carpets.
Endpin floor stops come in a variety of styles from the black hole to the Stoppin these are a bit better as they do not rely on a stool or chair but tend to get lost easily.
Look after your bow, and your bow will look after you.
Bows need more looking after than the cello, all it takes is a lack of care and some bad luck, and you have got a bow that’s snapped in half. Never touch the hair as the smallest amount of grease will stop it working in that area. If you have a soft cello cover inserting a PVC pipe or similar into the bow pocket, just large enough for your bow, this will protect your bow from a bad knock when you are travelling. Never engage in play sword fights with other cellists. Do not tap your bow on your music stand as a form of applause. You may very easily crack or break your bow. When the music says “col legno,” use a cheap bow, not your good one. You should clean your bow in the same way you clean your cello. Loosen the tension on your bow when you are not using it. Never over-tighten your bow, tighten it just enough that in the centre of the stick there is a gap of approximately 1cm.
Bass wheels, these come in a variety of shank size depending upon what you have fitted to your bass. The best type has a pneumatic tyre which most players use almost deflated as this provides much more cushioning and less impact to your bass. Be careful though we have seen damage-causing cracks and fractures to this area because too much force was used on uneven surfaces or curbs.
The stroller, attaches to your bass once inside its cover, incredibly practical and popular.
It’s worth investing in a good protective cover if you gig a lot or go to lessons regularly, thin, weak ones will let you down, a handle that snaps or a seam that fails while walking a staircase, you drop it and it’s potentially quite bad.
Things to look for in a good bag:
- Lots of handles – convenient for carrying and lifting your bass in and out of your car with ease.
- Backpack straps – they should be wide and have a connecting strap in the front, look for double stitching for added strength.
- Check for sturdy seams and lots of handles.
- A closable pocket to slide your bow into.
- A pocket for tuners, metronome etc and another for your sheet music.
- Quality thick padding that will not wear down quickly.
- Canvas-type material is better than nylon and stronger.
Watch your tuners when travelling.
It is easier than you might imagine to accidentally knock one of the machine head tuners and bend or even snap it off especially when loading and unloading a bass from a vehicle. Take care.
Watch the rear hatchback door on your vehicle.
If you are putting the bass into a hatchback or loading through the boot, make sure the instrument is clear before closing the door! Too many basses have been suffered from a hole in the side caused by a door which came crashing down through carelessness.
Attaching strings to your tuning machines
One of the most frustrating problems for any string player is the slowly slipping peg.
Often the machines are blamed, this may be true, but often a poorly fitted string is the cause.
Only change one string at a time to avoid problems with the bridge changing position or worse the soundpost falling over.
After removing the old string apply soft pencil e.g. B or 2B to the top nut string slot and the bridge string slot, this significantly helps strings move without being trapped in their slots.
It is essential to correctly fit and wind the string onto the machines. Push the string through the hole in the brass peg so that about a cm protrudes, start winding the machine, the first turn is to the opposite side of the pegbox, as the string passes the protruding section try and trap this section beneath the winding as you continue to now wind toward the peghead side of the pegbox, the aim is to keep the string running straight without any bending to the right or left.
The correct order of stringing a viola is to start with the E 4th, G 1st, A 3rd and lastly the D 2nd string, make sure your bridge does not begin to lean forwards or backwards.
Changing a complete set of strings
If you are putting a new set of strings on your instrument, never remove all four strings at once. Remove and replace each string separately. Follow these steps.
- Step 1. Lower the pitch a little on each string in the following order: for double bass D, G, A, E.
- Step 2. Remove and replace the E string first, bringing it almost up to the pitch.
- Step 3. Remove and replace the remaining strings in the following order: G, A, D.
Changing a string
- Step 1. Remove the peg from the pegbox.
- Step 2. Thread the new string through the hole in the peg, allowing no more than roughly 1 cm to protrude through the other side.
- Step 3. Begin to turn slowly, make sure that the one cm of the excess string is trapped and held securely in place by the advancing string.
- Step 4. Continue turning the machine until the string has been wound onto the peg. If this procedure has been successful, your string should run over the top nut (at the end of the fingerboard where the strings locate) and onto the peg with no change to the left or right-hand sides.
Scratches and scuffs are at some point virtually unavoidable. Do not worry too much about small scratches in the varnish. The only time to be concerned is if the scratch is deeper and more pronounced, or the wood beneath the varnish has been exposed, now’s the time to bring it into us we will be able to touch up the damage. If it is a crack, however, then bring it in as soon as possible!
Cracks and openings
If your bass has an open seam (the joint between the front or back and sides or ribs) or worse a crack bring it in immediately and ideally reduce the tension on the string s enough just to hold the bridge and post in place.