Double bass buyer's guide

Double Bass Buyer’s Guide

9 minutes

Looking to buy a bass but unsure where to start? This double bass buyer’s guide will take you through the main considerations and help you to make the best choice.

What is a double bass?

ONE

Also known as an upright bass or acoustic bass, the double bass is the largest and lowest-sounding member of the string family. It is an incredibly versatile instrument, and double bass players can be found across all categories of music: not just classical (including chamber music) but jazz, folk music, and country music too, as well as rock and pop.

The double bass is played either with a bow or by plucking the strings, and can be amplified or played acoustically.

Things to consider when buying a double bass

TWO

Size

Student 3/4
by Gear4Music

$ 650
/£500
  • Ideal for: Budget-conscious buyers
  • Includes: Bow, Rosin and Hard Case
7/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  7/10

Double basses are big! However there are many different size basses available, making the instrument accessible to bassists of all ages. A specialist bass shop or your bass teacher should be able to offer some expert advice, but as a starting point a bass should ideally be a little taller than the person playing it, and when in playing position the left hand should be comfortably at eye level in the first position.

Bigger double basses sound best in the lowest register and are often preferred by orchestral musicians, but a slightly smaller bass can be easier to play, especially in the higher register. Many adults choose a ¾ size bass because of this.

PROS

CONS

Material

Westbury

Perfect for more advanced player
$ 3000
/2400
  • Type: Fully-carved
  • Ideal for: Adult beginners
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10

The sound of your upright bass depends greatly on the types and quality of the wood from which it is made, and therefore it is worth spending as much as you can afford to achieve the best tone.

Plywood basses are made entirely from laminated plywood, while others (known as “hybrid” or “solid top” basses) have a spruce top and plywood back and sides. The finest double basses are made from fully-carved tonewoods. Plywood basses have the advantage of being very durable, and make excellent student basses.

Both hybrid and carved top basses are more expensive but generally produce a better sound and are a good choice for the advancing player.

At the higher end of the price range, fully-carved basses are generally viewed as the “gold standard” of construction but are susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity which can cause warping and cracks. They require careful maintenance to keep them in good condition and avoid expensive repairs!

PROS

CONS

Strings

Thomastik Dominant
196 3/4
Double Bass String Set
Great, reliable choice
$ 330
/£240
  • Sound type: Warm and mellow
  • Construction: Wound / synthetic core
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10

While there is no substitute for construction material, a good set of strings will enhance the sound of even the cheapest double bass and make a massive difference to your playing.

Jargar or Thomastik Dominant strings are a reliable choice for a student bass or an all-round musician. Thomastik and Pirastro also offer a wide range of specialist strings for particular genres, making it easy to find something perfectly suited to the type of music you want to play.

PROS
CONS

Construction

Make sure you check the construction of your double bass carefully. Some instruments are vulnerable to cracks on the front and back, and open seams at the sides. These can be expensive to repair!

Also ensure the neck of the bass is secure where it joins the body of the instrument, and that the finger-board is not loose.

With expensive basses it is well worth asking a luthier to give a second opinion on the instrument’s construction, and any double bass will benefit from a professional set up in order to make the most of its potential sound.

Sound quality

This is very much a matter of personal preference! As an orchestral musician I like to have a full and resonant tone when bowing on the E string, but for jazz bassists a strong and clear sound when plucking the strings is much better.

A good starter bass should have a strong and even tone across the instrument, both when playing with the bow and plucking.

If possible, ask to borrow the bass “on approval” so that you can see how it sounds in the groups or genres that you wish to play

Playability

A professional set up will improve the performance of even the cheapest bass, and it is important to ensure that the bridge placement and string height is suited to the kind of music you wish to play.

In general, setting the strings closer to the finger-board will make the bass easier to play and assist left hand technique.

Higher-set strings are favoured by many jazz and popular bassists as they project sound much better when plucked. However, they can be a challenge to play comfortably.

Neck/fingerboard

The finger-board is usually made of ebony which, although slightly more expensive, is a quality hardwood and therefore best able to withstand the wear caused by regular playing.

On cheaper basses the finger-board may be made of rosewood, which is softer and may discolour with heavy use over time.

Whichever wood it is made from, the finger-board should be securely attached to the neck with no gaps or movement while the bass is being played.

The neck itself should be wide enough to enable the strings to sit at a comfortable distance from one another along the entire length of the finger-board, and securely joined to the body of the bass.

Back panel

The back panel of a double bass can be either flat or curved. It can be made of a single piece of wood or two pieces joined together. Regardless of construction, the back panel should be free of any cracks and securely joined to the seams around the ribs of the bass, and between either part of the back panel if applicable.

Check carefully along the entire outline for any gaps, as these can affect both the sound and the value of the instrument as well as being expensive to repair.

Bridge

When buying an instrument, whether it’s a basic plywood bass or the finest hand-carved model, it should always be set up professionally before you complete your purchase.

The curved front of every bass is unique, and the feet of the bridge need to be carved or sanded in order to fit exactly. If this is not done correctly, the pressure of the strings holding it in place will cause the it to warp and eventually fall down.

The height of the bridge also determines the height at which the strings sit above the finger-board, which greatly affects how it plays.

It is possible to buy a bass with an adjustable bridge, enabling the player to change the string height to suit different types of music. If you are hoping to play a variety of genres this will be great for you!

Budget and value for money

As with many things in life, you get what you pay for, and it is well worth spending as much as you can afford for a quality double bass. String instruments retain their value well, and when well looked-after can even increase in value! However, with an awareness of the considerations I have described above you will be able to choose the best instrument regardless of your exact budget.

Budget and value for money

THREE

As with many things in life, you get what you pay for, and it is well worth spending as much as you can afford for a quality double bass. String instruments retain their value well, and when well looked-after can even increase in value! However, with an awareness of the considerations I have described above you will be able to choose the best instrument regardless of your exact budget.

Accessories for the double bass

FOUR

Xeros Double Bass
Anchor
A must-have for seated players
$ 25
/£19
  • Features: Adjustable strap
  • Suitable for: All double basses
8/10
The TedScore™ is our unique system of scoring products. The professional musician who wrote this article combine many things, from the product build, manufacturer's reputation through to feedback from other users, to create our famous TedScore™.
The TedScore™:  8/10

A new bass can often be purchased as a complete “outfit” designed for beginners including bow, rosin, and a soft cover- sometimes these packages even include a stool and sheet music!

Depending on the music you wish to play, you may need to purchase some or all of these items separately when buying a more advanced instrument.

A double bass anchor, to stop the instrument from slipping during a performance, can also come in useful!

PROS
CONS

New or used

FIVE

Since tonewood generally improves over time, many of the finest and most expensive double basses are ‘used’! A second-hand instrument in good condition will generally have a stable, well-developed tone and be properly set-up to ensure playability.

Used beginner instruments can also provide a good value for money option when buying smaller-sized instruments for middle school children, who will change instruments as they grow.

On the other hand, new basses often come as complete “outfits”, with everything you need to get playing straight away. They often come with a guarantee from their supplier in case of any problems, and the consistency of modern construction methods means you know exactly what you are buying. They can also be more hardwearing than some older double basses. Just make sure they are set up properly!

Buy or rent

Many instrument shops offer a rental scheme. This is a particularly frugal option when buying a model for a child, who is likely to need to change instruments several times as they grow.

Some suppliers also offer a significant discount to rental customers when the time comes to purchase a double bass.

Renting an instrument is also a good option for the beginner bass player of any age who wishes to see how they get on with their playing before committing to a purchase. However, renting a full-size instrument for longer than a few months is unlikely to be cost-effective, and you will have a smaller selection of instruments to choose from.

When thinking of an instrument for life, I would always recommend buying a bass as soon as possible rather than committing to an extended rental period.

Double bass buyer's guide
Summary

I hope you have enjoyed this double bass buying guide and found it helpful! Having described the most important considerations when buying a new double bass, I hope it will help you to choose the best instrument for your musical journey.

FAQ's

How much does a good double bass cost?

A good quality beginner bass can be purchased for around £500 / $700. More advanced players might wish to spend up to about £5,000 / $7,000 for a suitable instrument. However, professional quality double basses often go for up to ten times that!

How do you know what size double bass to buy?

The correct size bass should be comfortable to play, and many adults play a 3/4 size bass for this reason. As a basic rule, when standing upright next to your bass, the bridge should be about level with your right hand.

How much does a beginner double bass cost?

Approximately £500 / $700, for a new outfit including bow and cover.

What is the best double bass?

The best double bass is the one you enjoy playing the most! This will depend on your experience and the type of music you play. The considerations above will give you a useful starting point when choosing an instrument.

Does Size Make a Difference When Buying a Double Bass?

Yes! A double bass that is too big will be difficult to play and can even cause physical problems to the player. A small bass will not be able to produce as much or as high quality a sound, so while they are excellent for children to learn on, it is worth upgrading when they are fully grown.

Should I Get a Student Double Bass or a Regular Sized Instrument?

Always get the correct size double bass for your height, in order to achieve the best sound.

What are the Different Materials used in Double Basses?

Most double basses are made of wood, usually spruce or maple for the neck and body, ebony or rosewood for the fingerboard and other fittings. The spike and tuning pegs are metal.

Should I Rent or Buy a Double Bass?

Renting a double bass can be cost-effective for a short period, or for children changing instruments as they grow. However, for good long-term value for money it is better to buy one as soon as possible.

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