Double Bass FAQ's

Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ’s form an important part of our ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning the Double Bass’ series.  Please let us know if you have more questions, and remember to sign up for 4 Feature Friday

Double Bass FAQ's

Choosing An Instrument

What size double bass should I get?

Like any instrument, a double bass comes in different sizes. Children and young teens from 5 to 13 years old should play the 1/8, 1/4, or 1/2. For adults, it is recommended that they play the 3/4 or 4/4 size. 

But that’s not the end of double bass sizing. When choosing an instrument, a player must also consider the height of the double bass including its spike. When the instrument is upright and the arm is hanging down, the large knuckles should be parallel to the bridge. This allows for comfortable playing and ensures that the player won’t need to reach too far up and down the instrument. 

How much does a good double bass cost?

A double bass is a fine, elegant instrument. As such, it also commands a fine, elegant price. You can’t expect to pay much less than $1000 (£700) for a good full-size student double bass, for instance. That’s the typical low-end, but still good quality. If you’re looking for the absolute best, expect to pay around 5 figures or more. Double basses are expensive because of the amount of work required to craft these huge instruments. Their size also makes them fragile and very hard to ship, leading to monumental shipping costs. 

What makes a good double bass?

The very best double basses are made of fully carved wood. They produce the best sound quality you can find in the market, unrivalled by lower-quality alternatives. These cheaper ones barely feature carved wood or not at all, sometimes mixing it with plywood or going full plywood throughout. Double basses that are all-ply are often mass-produced and produce, at most, a respectable sound, but nothing at all that even comes close to the sound of a carved bass. Overall, a good instrument must produce a rounded, balanced, powerful tone on all strings with excellent resonance and sustain. 

Should I buy or rent a double bass as a beginner?

It depends on your age and level. Again, double basses are very expensive. For children who are just starting to learn, it’s a very wise decision to rent an instrument as they will outgrow theirs over time. For adults, renting is still a good choice because a good double bass is basically an investment. You can’t expect to go cheap on your first double bass without it sounding average at best. A rented instrument will often sound better, will be better maintained, and be properly set-up unlike a cheap double bass. 

Maintenance

How do I clean a double bass?

Seeing as how massive a double bass is, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the idea of cleaning all of it. Don’t feel discouraged! Because all you need to use is a clean cloth to wipe off all of the built-up dirt, grime, and excess rosin. If you have a specialized instrument cleaner that you can put on the cloth, that’s even better. That’s just for cleaning the body, though. You should use a different cloth to clean the strings. 

How do I transport a double bass?

It’s no secret that a double bass is big. As such, transporting the instrument (more so if it’s a very expensive carved bass) is no easy feat. 

Let’s get the most obvious thing out of the way: you need a vehicle. And not just a basic car. You’re going to need something bigger, like a van or a full-size SUV. Inside, you MUST lay the instrument on its side, with its back secured to the wall. This prevents the instrument from rolling over when you navigate tight corners. And remember to always, ALWAYS put the double bass in a heavily padded gig bag or case to protect against bumping and shaking that may damage its most delicate parts, specifically the neck. 

How often should I replace the strings?

Unlike violins, violas, and cellos, the double bass features durable strings. So durable in fact that you only need to replace them every 1 to 2 years. Considering that double bass strings can also be quite expensive, this is a very welcome fact. There are bassists, however, who say that you can afford to keep your strings for as much as 5 years before replacing them. All in all, it seems like string replacement is down to personal preference and need. If you feel like the strings don’t sound as good as before, then it’s time to change them out. 

Technique

Is it easy to learn double bass if I already play electric bass?

The short answer is yes. You can definitely learn to play double bass as an electric bass player. The concept is the same, but there are several key differences that you must consider. For instance, the double bass is fretless, meaning your hand must be accurate with the notes on the fingerboard. Next, a double bass’ strings are quite heavy and high, meaning you won’t be able to only pluck it with your hand. Your entire arm needs to do more work. All in all, consider the double bass as the juiced-up gym-bro counterpart to your electric bass which needs way more energy from you to learn to play it properly. 

How is a double bass played?

You can play the double bass in two main ways: using a bow (arco), or by plucking the strings (pizzicato). Most orchestral pieces require that you learn both arco and pizzicato as the music often switches between the two. The instrument’s massive size also means that you have to play it standing up, with it resting on the floor. 

In order to be considered a good double bassist, you must be able to produce a good tone with both arco and pizzicato. That takes years of dedicated instruction and practice.

How long does it take to learn double bass?

Players with prior musical experience and/or instruction in bass can pick up the double bass quite fast. In as little as 6 months, a player with good baseline musicality can perform in a gig. It’s not uncommon, however, for someone to get a good feel of how to play the instrument in as little as 2 months. Then again, there are two major playing techniques that you need to at least get a good grip off (bowing and plucking) before your intonation gets up to par with modern music standards.

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General

What exactly is a double bass?

The double bass is the largest (and lowest in pitch) of the bowed string instrument family. The name “double bass” itself traces its roots to early church organs which needed “doubling” on the bass frequency by installing pedals by the pianist’s feet. 

Its purpose is clear: play the lowest frequencies and give the musical foundation for an entire orchestra. The sheer size of it (sometimes larger than the average person) allows it to play notes far lower than what a typical person could sing. Without the double bass, the orchestra would sound flat and incomplete.

Is there a difference between a bass and a double bass?

Not much, because they work pretty much the same and serve similar purposes. The term double bass, however, is more commonly used in classical music circles. It also refers to how low the instrument can go. For instance, in an orchestra, the cello technically plays the bass notes, but the double bass is an octave lower than what the cello can achieve. Meaning, it’s about two times lower than the cello’s frequencies, hence the name double bass. 

What are double bass strings made of?

To produce the lowest notes in an orchestra, double bass strings must be thick and durable. They’re often made with cores of steel and nylon. These steel and nylon core strings are the toughest in the market, meaning you won’t likely need to replace them for a few years. There are also strings made entirely of nylon, and the most expensive ones are made of gut. These strings come from the fiber found in the walls of animal intestines. They’re not as durable as steel and nylon core strings, but they produce a traditional sound that can never be replicated by steel or nylon ones. Some musicians also say that the feeling of playing on gut strings is unlike anything else.

Can I play a bass left-handed by stringing a right-handed one in reverse?

No. Like violins, violas, and cellos, double basses are made differently according to players’ dominant hands. Most of the instruments are specifically intended for right-handed players, and as such feature hardware oriented to that dominant hand. If you install strings in reverse in a double bass, they won’t sound good. Fortunately, you can still find a lefty double bass in the market, though you’ll need to look far and wide to find a good one. 

Why should I learn double bass?

Because it’s critical to the success of a modern symphony orchestra. Think about it: without the double bass and its booming foundation, the sound will be left for dead. There would be nothing “solid” underneath all those melodies, and the music will just sound flat. This is why during auditions, double bass players tend to be a hot commodity. Everyone’s either a violin, percussion, or cello player. Double bass players are not rare, but they’re not as plentiful as the others. And orchestras will always look for good ones. 

Double Bass FAQ's
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