Design work on two new contrabasses is complete, and molds and templates are nearly finished. The large sub-contrabass has been joined by a smaller 3/4 orchestral bass with a few innovative wrinkles. This bass, requested by Paul Unger, assistant principal bassist of the Fort Worth Symphony, is intended to serve multiple roles. Unger requested a short-scale neck to ease fingering for players like himself who tune the bass in fifths. This dictates that the body of the bass will need to be large enough to support a low C string. At the same time, Unger wanted to use the bass for chamber player and specified a fifth string tuned to E, which suggests a smaller body size. Stay tuned folks. This ought to be interesting!
Work has started on improvements to my dungeon workshop. It's a bit tight in there at the moment, and many instruments under construction have to be moved out of the room to ensure they don't get damaged by work material. No turning back now!
Some construction work scheduled for my Dungeon workshop will be starting at the end of the month. This will result is much better lighting at the benches, which will be welcome as the daylight hours get shorter, but it will slow down a couple of projects since I will be reduced to working at one bench. The rennovations will proceed in phases until all are complete by the end of the year (he said, hopefully). This disruption will primarily affect work on the larger instruments that require more than one bench, so I am working on standard and experimental violas in the interim.
Work has begun on the template and molds for the redesigned sub-contrabass. It has gone slowly due to the obligations I had in August with the Summer String Orchestra. The concerts we gave in August marked the debut of the chamber bass (see picture, left), and I am happy to say that it has fulfilled all my expectations. There will be video and audio clips on the new web site later in the fall.
I now have imported tenors and baritones available for sale, including cases. One of the new baritones was put into service in the summer orchestra, and I have been impressed with how good it sounds. Pricing information should be going up soon, but probably not until the new web site is functioning in a few weeks. In the meantime, please inquire by email if you have any questions.
I have finished the design for the next big bass, which I'm calling a "sub-contrabass" since its target frequency will be from a low G to a C when tuned in fourths. That's basically three octaves below the violin. Ergonomics rules when it comes to instruments of this size, and it was no easy task to keep it violin-like with rational proportions and still keep a string length of 41.5" inches. With a body length of nearly 49", this is a big boy, but I have tried to answer the requests of bassists for something less tiring to hold than the original models with broad, violin-shaped shoulders. I mentioned this project to the participants who attended our session at the bass convention in June, and everyone in the room started cheering and applauding. You gotta love it!
Work should begin on templates and molds by the end of the month. This bass will have the same tuning as the original small bass, low A-D-G-C, but an octave lower. Both basses will be fitted with a one-note extension to bring the lowest note to G. A common tuning for both basses will allow players to more easily transfer from one to another without having to have a different set of string positions for both of them plus their conventional contrabasses.
I've also been working on another small viola similar to #116 to see if the acoustic results are consistent. If so, I'll make a viola either 16.5" or 17" to see if they can be handled as comfortably as a significantly smaller viola. I plan to exhibit them at the Viola Congress next summer, if the fates allow. :-)
The next baritone ("Barantonio") is nearly ready to varnish. I just can't seem to find enough hours in the day to get it finished! Also in varying stages of completion are a standard cello and another experimental 16" viola. I've received a shipment from China that contains, among other things, two baritones. These should be set up sometime in June and should be available for sale shortly thereafter.They came in very nice and light cases custom-made to fit their larger proportions, solving what could be a very stubborn problem. A dealer ordered a soprano, a mezzo, an alto, and a tenor in the white that he will regraduate and varnish. I've seen some of his antiqued instruments, and they're quite nice. All the alto cases from the last shipment are gone, and I will be upgrading the cases for the next order. Several customers have indicated they would like four bowholders instead of two, and everyone has bemoaned the lack of an accessory pocket inside the case, so these are two changes that will be made.
The chamber bass is largely finished, except for some adjustment and a bit of retouching. I'm just waiting for the next packet of prototype strings, which I will report on when they get here. On my bench now is "Barantonio," my second model of the second-generation design of the baritone violin. The name comes from pushing together the words "baritone" and "Antonio" (as in Antonio Stradivari), which I did because the revision of my original model, which turned out more like a long Strad-type model, has been changed to make the present model more like Stradivari's marvelous "Servais" cello, only with much lower ribs. The body is in the white. I set the neck Friday and have spent quite a bit of time over the last few days carving the neck, chin, and foot of the scroll. Not a job for the timid on the larger instruments, and very hard on the hands.
I also have a completed rib garland for a standard cello with a jointed top and back roughly cut to shape. There's a second experimental viola (on the same pattern as viola #116) that is being graduated in whatever moments I can find between the other jobs.
The chamber bass has produced its first sounds! In the photo (left, you can see it in playing condition. It needs only a few final adjustments, retouching, and setup tweaks. The tuning in fifths (G-D-A-E low to high) has worked out fairly well, given that I had to use a set of strings for a standard bass and tune them up to pitches higher than the ones for which they were designed. Mr. John Cavanaugh of the Supersensitive String Company, is working with me to develop a set of strings specifically for this instrument. The bass is easy to play-- and fun, too.Shifting on such a short string length is a blast. The low G astonished me. It is robust and sounds like it's coming from a much larger instrument. I'm teaching myself how to play it using a pivoting thumb technique in the lowest postitons. Old habits die hard, if they die at all. The presentation of the bass at the ISB Convention is still a go, and later in the summer the bass will take its place in the Summer Strings orchestra of New Family instruments.