Less Bass(es) is More

Decluttering is liberating. I’m down to my main bass, travel bass, Coda bow, and compact amp; and I am as content in life with what basses and accessories that I have, as I have ever been in my life. I’ve come full circle.

Like most bassists, I love trying “better” (i.e. more expensive) basses and products. There has to be a reason why something costs more right. If it costs more, it must be because most people want it, therefore supply and demand say that it’s worth more. If it costs more, it must be better. Even when I had a good bass, it wasn’t too long before I’d start eying more expensive basses. I went from an old plywood bass, to a French bass, and it perpetuated to the point that I had a nice 19th century Italian bass, unlabeled, but still a beautiful instrument.

My first good bass was an unlabeled 19th century French bass. There were some “appraisals” about who the luthier was, but it’s all just an educated guess. I had it later in college and it was a fine bass, but it needed work to get it to its potential. Unfortunately work=money. When it finally was where I wanted it to be I was pretty much broke (being broke is synonymous with being a young musician anyhow). When one of life’s big tragedy hit, the family came first and ultimately I had to give up the bass. It’s not all altruistic, I made some regretful decisions to trying to keep the bass, but to the point the bass was the only thing I had of monetary value. I was sad to see it go, but that’s part of life; back to a plywood bass.

Years later, when things improved, I had my appetite for an Italian bass. I fell in love with an unlabeled early 19th century Italian bass. Having the Italian Bass was nice for the first few years, but having one can actually be a burden. It was temperamental; sometimes it would sound nice, other times it woke up on the wrong side of the bed. It felt delicate, which can be a good thing, but also a bad thing. I loved how it sounded, it wasn’t the most playable bass because it was both temperamental and its violin corners were beautiful but not the most ideal. This is not representative of all old Italian basses, but it’s not unusual that each have their own character for the better or worse. As the orchestral auditions and low paying orchestral gigs lost priority, so the Italian bass started seeing the outside world less. No way was I going to take it to any of the tight “stages” for the club and restaurant gigs; basses that have endured that circuit have their share of battle scars, so instead, it gradually became a museum piece than a instrument.

When I was fully committed to other genres of music, I decided to get a nice German Bass that I could take anywhere. The bass is a workhorse; a circa 1920’s German bass with no history associated with it. No label, no heritage. Plays well but probably need a new fingerboard soon, but it can wait. It looks lovely and has a beautiful grain, but it won’t stand out in a bass shop. It sounds very nice, but nothing spectacular; not much different than any other good quality German bass out there. I’m sure that other people tried this bass before moving onto purchase other basses which they preferred. I had intentions of buying a different bass that sounding good on paper, but didn’t make the cut. When I tried the bass, I didn’t immediately think “I’ve got to have this bass”. I set it aside and moved on to try other basses. At decision time, I was wrestling between this one and another for a couple of hours. I finally decided upon this bass, and was giddy about having another bass to get acquainted with.

When another of life’s difficult situations arose (which usually coincides with bills and payments) I decided to sell the Italian bass. To my surprise, I didn’t miss it nearly as much as I thought I would. Yes, it’s hard parting with any bass, but nothing feels amiss. The German bass actually pairs with me nicely. I try to take care of it as well as possible, but I don’t feel like a historic preservationist as I did with an Italian bass; I can go out an be a musician. It can go wherever I need to be, whether that is a small corner of a cafe or a nice concert stage. I don’t doubt that this is a keeper for many decades to come, maybe until it’s time to lay down a bass for the last time and I would have no wants of another bass. Even though I’ve owned “better” basses, this is my favorite. The reason isn’t quantifiable, it just is so. Sometimes you have to go full circle to figure out what you want in life, but it would have been far cheaper had I figured it out at the beginning.

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