Resources: Instruments: BassThe bass (double bass, doghouse) is the largest and lowest-pitched member of the violin family. Like the violin, the bass evolved in Europe from the viol.
Fine basses are made from solid spruce (for the front), maple (for the back, sides and neck), and ebony, boxwood or rosewood (for the fingerboard, tailpiece, and tuning pegs). The front and back of the instrument are carved into a shallow bowl-like shape. The front and back 'plates' of the instrument conform to exacting thickness specifications. Such 'carved' solid-wood instruments have a richer tone, but are more expensive than instruments that have a carved spruce top and sides and backs made of a high-grade plywood that's molded into shape. Even less expensive instruments consist entirely of high-grade plywood that is molded to shape.
Bass strings are typically fine metal wire wrapped around polymer or silk. The string type depends on the style of music that the bassist wants to play. The strings fasten to a tailpiece, pass over a carved piece of wood (called the bridge, usually a very dense maple) and over a raised portion of the fingerboard (called the nut) at the head (or scroll) of the instrument. From the nut, the strings pass into the 'peg box' where wooden tuning pegs or metal screw machines tighten them. Unlike the fingerboard of the viol from which the bass descended, the fingerboard of the modern bass is fretless.
A full-sized bass is a little over 6 ft tall, and has four strings numbered 1 to 4, with the 1-string farthest from the player. The most common tuning for the bass from the 1-string to the 4-string is E, A, D, G. Some basses have a lower fifth string, generally tuned to C below the E string. Other instruments have a 'c-extender' on the E string. A mechanism to clamp off the extra length keeps the intonation of the string at E unless the player releases the mechanism to play notes down to C. Basses are also available in 3/4, 5/8, and 1/2 scale. The most common size in folk-style music is 3/4. Three-stringed basses, common in the 18th and 19th centuries, are still used in Eastern European folk music. Four-, five-, and even six-stringed basses existed in 16th and 17th centuries.
Modern bassists have also adopted the 5- and 6- string bass to expand the number of notes that they have available to play.
Bassists pluck and bow the strings with the right hand. Jazz and bluegrass players use the plucked technique almost exclusively. Classical performers use the bow more than folk players. The original bows looked a lot like an archer's bow--with the center of the stick curved away from the bow hair. The two most prevailent modern bow sticks (developed in the 19th century) curve toward the bow-hair; one evolved in France, the other in Germany. This change in bass-bows occurred in the 19th century, long after the in-curved bow was standard for the violin, viola, and cello.