The Bass

I've been reorganizing my My Documents folder on my desktop for the first time ever - i just had everything that i ever wrote or saved in that one folder - and i came upon this story from a tour to Jamaica a few years back. I thought I'd share it; it's pretty epic! :)

The Bass

This is the story of the bass I used in Jamaica. I finally received it on Sunday afternoon (we arrived on Thurs.). I got it off the truck, brought it inside, and the first thing I noticed was that the case was the most decrepit and bogus piece of junk you ever saw. The zippers were ruined, and the case was a pain to put on and take off. It was made out of really heavy rubber, and only opened the minimum needed to barely get it off the bass. When I got the case off, the next thing I noticed was the bridge had hugely deep grooves for the strings, about a half an inch deep! While Danielle, Preston, and I were trying to figure this out, we started to straighten the bridge because it was crooked, and Preston noticed that the bridge was really high on the bass. It was positioned near the top of the “f” holes! So we decided to move it down. We looked inside to find the soundpost so we could set the bridge properly, and there was none!! (I found out later that it was stuck in a corner, because it rattled loose after a while. We obviously couldn’t reset it, however.) We found that we couldn’t move the bridge to the proper locality because of the deep grooves in the bridge: if we put it in the right place, the strings were hitting the fingerboard. So we had to set it up with the bridge high on the bass so the strings were the right height. I nervously tuned it up, hoping it wouldn’t collapse, which it didn’t. The other problems were discovered over a longer time. The fingerboard had a finish on it, which was partially flaked off. The fingerboard was on slightly crooked, so it stuck out from the neck a little on one side. The bass itself was wider than normal overall including the inner bouts, making it hard to bow on the E and G strings. The neck had been broken at the base at some point, and was held in place with two nails and a bolt. The upper bout was extra wide in proportion to the lower bout, so the bass felt farther away than normal. The endpin was immoveable and the wood plug was halfway out, so the bass was perpetually about one whole step too low—whenever I would put my hand up to start playing, it would inevitably be about a whole step flat. I finally figured out the reason it felt so soft to play: since the bridge had to be so high, the strings didn’t have to be under so much pressure to tune to the same tone, causing them to feel extra soft and to hit the fingerboard from time to time. During the first concert the bass developed a loud buzz on A and D notes, so the next day I had to tighten all the screws on the scroll. The bass was plywood, really heavy, and extremely abused. All the edges that touch the ground are broken off, and when I looked inside, I could see daylight through one of the joints. I don’t know how it sounds so much without a soundpost, but the A and E strings are really loud and the D and G strings are somewhat quieter, but still reasonably strong. The strings are badly in need of replacement, and are unraveling in places. Since the case’s zippers are broken, I leave them open and carry the bass by holding onto it through the case instead of using the handles-very awkward! The endpin, in addition to being unmovable, was really not a real endpin at all, just a rod with the end flattened, presumably to keep it from falling into the bass, though it never moved. Thus, it has no point, and slides around with great suddenness during concerts on a stone or tile floor.

Evidently i didn't add to this epistle the account of what happened at the Jamaica Grand Hotel, so I shall append it here:

About halfway through the concert, I believe during the Hoe-Down, I was happily plucking along, when suddenly i was startled by a huge snap or crack! I looked down and saw that the bridge had fallen, right in the middle of the song! Dr. Rittenhouse looked up, as did most of the rest of the orchestra, and I believe saw what happened, and I left the stage when the song was over, to try to put it back to rights. Luckily, Rittenhouse is very long-winded in her introductions to pieces, and i was actually able to stand the bridge up again without even loosening the strings! The deep groves in the bridge were helpful for this, because they kept the strings in place while i was trying to stand it up. Since I did it this way, it only took a minute or two, and I was back onstage before she was half done with her intro. When she turned around and saw me back onstage, she looked rather surprised... all in all a rather hilarious occasion! :)


Ali said...

That bass sounds horrid, but those tours sure do sound amusing!

Johonn said...

they were, for sure! :)

barry said...

Well done! I enjoyed reading this. Wish I could have come along for that tour

Anonymous said...

I heard something awful happened with the bass but I never heard the whole story! Thanks for posting this. :)

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