Friday, September 09, 2005

WANTED: Aluminum Double Bass

Sometime very-late-at-night on Derby Day, over pate and burgundy, the discussion turned to how we can improve our very-late-at-night riverside guitar pulls. Aside from the obvious (bring Bob, keep Rob sober) the comment was made that the Club would really benefit from a little more low end to go with its high lonesome. In no time at all we had unanimous support for the acquisition of a Rebel Rivers Canoe Club upright bass.

Taking a large, delicate wooden instrument to a remote, wet gravel bar might seem impractical now, but it doesn't with enough burgundy. Someone suggested, and may even have seen, a double bass made out of metal. Everyone agreed that if we could find a metal one our problems would be solved, because the RRCC can handle large, just not delicate.

Following up, it seems there is a small (really small) niche for old aluminum basses. First, here is a little history of the "aluminum bass violin". In addition to having a "tonal quality and responsiveness that is as fine as the basses made by the old masters", which we don't really need, the article points out that "The aluminum bass has many advantages over the wood bass, in that it cannot crack, split or warp, and is made to last forever." The article also might have mentioned that an aluminum bass can be paddled, portaged, carried on the roof of a car, and is completely recyclable.

Here's an example of what we're looking for, found at

"...A very rare and very cool late 1930s upright bass made out of aluminum. 3/4 size- 42"scale length. This instrument was made by the Buffalo Aluminum Company in Buffalo NY in the late 1930s. (After WWII, these folks eventually became Grumman and focused on the airplane and boat business.). It has an original "faux" woodgrain painted surface on it. The top has a simulated cremona spruce effect and the back even has a vintage figured maple like pattern. The entire body, neck, and scroll are a fine example of very good metalwork and craftmanship- much better than I ever anticipated. It has an ebony fingerboard, tailpiece and endpin. There is a maple bridge and a wooden soundpost installed. There is also a welded aluminum bass bar on the inside. This instrument will be featured in a couple of vintage instrument magazines in the late spring / early summer..."

The fact that this bass was a predecessor to the Grumman canoe is just too poetic to ignore. The RRCC happens to own one of the very first aluminum canoes ever made by Grumman after WWII, a seventeen-foot 1948 model with wooden floorboards and a sailing rig. Here's a photo of it new almost 60 years ago.

The museum quality instrument described above is probably out of our price range, unless it can double as a canoe trailer. Will anyone volunteer to head up a search committee to find one from some jug band in Kentucky or something? Here is one lead, although it may not be for sale yet:

Hi, I recently purchased an old aluminum bass. Since I'm not a musician, I bought it planning to use it as a sculpture. It sounds like there may be players looking to pick one up, so I'll probably list it on Ebay before too long. It has a wood neck, so maybe it is one of the Fords that I've read about. It's missing the finger board, and would need a new gear on one of the tuners. The front is bright aluminum, and the sides / back retain partial woodgrain finish. It is marked "NW3" with paint, making me think that it was used at a university. Shows it's age with dings & repairs, but still looks cool. See link to Double Bass Forum

Two more compelling reasons why we need a double bass:

(1) When we ride it down the river, "bass boat" is a great heteronym. Get it? Bass boat…bass boat…?

(2) Sometimes Rob would appreciate only having to play four strings.

"I started out on Burgundy, but soon hit the harder stuff..."


RRCC said...

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RRCC said...