About The Double Bass

viola da gamba

The double bass with a scale length of more than one meter is the largest instrument of the violin family. Yet looking at its origin it cannot really be called a family member. Forerunners of today’s double bass, which arose in Germany at the end of the 16th century originated in the family of the violas da gamba (picture left). At first glance violas da gamba resemble violins but they differ in some of their most important features. Gambas are also bowed but are kept between one’s knees while being played. This is why they are also called knee violins. Partly they had frets made of gut strings bound around the neck and the fingerboard. There were a lot of different variants in regard to tuning, string length and the amount of strings. In the course of the centuries they were replaced by the violin, the viola and the cello and are only of historical significance today. Some features of the gambas however have been preserved until today: the sloping shoulders, the flatback and the so-called German bow being held from below. In Italy around 1600 double basses developed which resembled violins in regard to their form. They had a curved bottom and pointed corners at the center (C-) bout typical for violins.

BotessiniThe development of the double bass got an important impulse around 1650 when wound gut strings appeared for the first time. This development made it possible to produce strings with a diameter less extensive than before enabling the player to grip and bow more easily. From now on it was not necessary for the instruments to have such an enormous size in order to produce the desired sound volume. This made the double basses really playable.

While frets were completely disappearing around 1800 it lasted until the twenties of the 20th century until the four string double bass and the E-A-D-G tuning became successful. Until then double basses only had three strings. A lot of older double basses which are still played today were re-equipped from three to four strings. Besides the ordinary standard, the so-called orchestra tuning (E-A-D-G) you can also find the solo tuning today. It is put also up of fourths but a whole tone higher (F#-B-E-A) and is used above all in the field of classical music. Moreover there are some double bass players (Joel Quarrinton, Jazz bassist Red Mitchell and others) who tune their double bass in fifths as it is usual with the cello, violin and viola.

fingerboard extensionIn order to extend the range of the sound some double basses have even five strings – a low B- string or a high c-string. Alternatively there are special fingerboard extensions reaching above the nut helping to extend the vibrating string length (picture left). The tone E is then fingered at the nut. Some of these extensions are equipped with an additional mechanism to finger the strings.


db models

In comparison to other string instruments the double bass appears in a lot of varieties in regard to its shape. Although a lot of luthiers copy well-established shapes and measures developed by old masters the sizes and proportions are less standardised than you can find them with violins and celli. Until today the shapes of the violin and the viola da gamba has been preserved. In addition to this there are variants such as the Busseto shape ore more seldom the shape of the pear or guitar. After the WWII some manufacturers (e.g. German manufacturer Framus, picture below) made double basses with a cutaway in order to make it easier to play in higher positions similar to the jazz guitar.

Framus CutawaybowsIndependent of the shape of the body double basses have either a flatback deriving from the viola da gamba or a curved back which is typical of the violin. Both have their advantages and disadvantages – but flatbacks are less expensive to make. In regard to bows there are also two shapes which have been established: The German bow which is held from the bottom as it is with the viola da gamba and the French bow which is held from the top as it can be found with the cello.


The standard size which is common today is the 3/4 size. This corresponds to a body length of about 114 cm and of (swinging) string length between 104 cm and 108 cm. Further sizes which are common are besides 4/4 also 7/8, 5/8 and 1/2. A double bass of 1/2 size is however not half as big as a 4/4 double bass but it has a body length of about 96 cm.

Double bass sizes (cm; as found by Henry Strobel)

dbass size chart

Größenbezeichnung A B C D E F
7/8 190 116 106 52,2 40 69,6
3/4 182 11 105 49 36,5 67,8
1/2 167 102 96 47,1 34,6 59,5
1/4 156 95 90 43,6 32,1 55,3

vibrating string lengths (as found by different string- and doublebassmakers):

size string length (cm)
1/16 70
1/10 71
1/8 80,5 80 80
1/4 90 90 87 90,5
1/2 97,5 97 99 96,5
3/4 106 104 104 106
4/4 >107

Besides the use of the characteristic wood – spruce for the belly, maple for the rips, neck and back – today new experiments are made with other woods as alternative material. So besides spruce for the belly you can also find cedar and pine being occasionally used, and the ribs and the bottom are sometimes made of wood of poplar and beech.

Again and again experiments with completely different material than wood are made. In the USA of the 1930s double basses were made of aluminium. They were meant for military orchestras and similar occasions. (More about aluminium instruments at www.condino.com/aluminum.html)

In recent times graphite or carbon composite fiber have appeared. Besides fingerboards and bridges you can find meanwhile also complete double basses and bows out of composit material. But only bows made of carbon composite have reached the status above being an odd thing.

Electric Upright Basses

Rickenbacker 1936With the appearance of electrical amplified instruments in the 1920s and 1930s the first electrical double basses were produced, commonly called Electric Upright Bass or EUB (picture: a Rickenbacker EUB prototype from 1936, with amp). These double basses merely have a reduced, mostly massive body. This makes them less sensitive in regard to feedback and are also easier to transport. The idea is already older: already in the past centuries there were “mute” double basses or violins without a full sounding body.
Eminence portable upright bassWith the means of the electronic sound reproduction however musicians as well as the manufacturers of instruments developed new possibilities. For a long time the quality of sound of the EUBs left a great deal to be desired because it took some decades until pickups and double bass amplifiers had matured. Meanwhile there are a lot of manufacturers who produce EUBs as special orders or in small series. While some people only see in a EUB a comfortable alternative to the acoustic double bass easily to be transported, it became for a lot of others a new independent instrument. The various approaches to their construction differ therefore a lot: whereas some EUBs orientate towards an acoustic double bass in regard to its sound and how to play it and are getting very close to it (e.g. the Eminence Portable Upright), other EUBs deliberately tread new paths.

54 Responses to About The Double Bass

  1. Pingback: My Framus has been stolen | Double Bass Guide

  2. Someoneonwindowslivw says:

    this is fucked up

  3. Someoneonwindowslivw says:

    srry about what i wrote this is actually awsomeness

  4. Sara Jones says:

    what does the d string on an upright 4 string bass sound like i cant tune correctly? help!!!

  5. Allybabes says:

    god this is no help to my homework write a bit bet stuff tht will help kk …

  6. Allybabes says:

    soz just got a bit annoyed coz cant find anything interesting aboot double bass rrrrr soz again

  7. Isaiahcallahan says:

    thx, this helped me with my report

  8. lolqwert12 says:

    thx for writing the article

  9. Lisa says:

    A big help for us

  10. Mckirk57 says:

    Interesting , I have a Framus with cutaway I bought in 74 I think cost then 200.00 . Still have it , but play my Chech daily !

  11. Maylene says:

    Ok, so I’m 12, almost 13, I play violin at TG grade 3, 160cm tall with longer than average arms, would I be able to play Double Bass? My orchesra offers lessons for free, and I love music, but would it be physically too hard?

    • MrsJMWatson says:

      Go for it! You will find that your fingers are sore to start with because the strings are much thicker than that of a violin but the skills are completely transferable. Most schools keep Double Basses in school that are a sensible size for students (eg 3/4 size) so all you need is a good teacher.

    • Ashley Hines says:

      There’s no need to start sentences with “so” – it doesn’t mean anything. People will think you are inarticulate.

  12. Pingback: Bass basics | Kamimoto Strings

  13. Boo says:


  14. Bob says:

    Lots of great info though it did not answer my question of what the strings of a double bass are made of.

  15. kai says:

    u all suck

  16. Zoloo Zoogii says:

    double bass nice music

  17. doc says:

    i am in my late fifties and have been playing electric bass guitar several years. i want to learn to play upright but have severe back problems. can anyone recommend a decent eub?

    • Alberto says:

      Check out the NS Design line of instruments. I have their 6 string electric cello. They are superbly made, and a lot of pros use their electric upright basses. Check out their Omni Bass too. It’s an electric upright but with a string length of a bass guitar (34″ as opposed to 41″). If you have small hands that may be of interest to you. Their 3/4 uprights are second to none. They have a minimalist look.

  18. Caornelia vi Britannia says:

    this didn’t help me on my homework….. u have to add something that helps students….. like- where and when the double bass was first made and how the instrument has changed over time.
    THAT would help a lot of people.

  19. Julie says:

    How much does a stand up base weigh?

    • Nick says:

      Not as much as you’d think. Mine is a 7/8 German bass, approx. 130yrs old made with quite thick bits of wood. It weighs exactly 10kg. Weights vary massively from instrument to instrument, simply because a good instrument is hand made by a luthier. Different grains and quality of wood will change how the instrument plays – thinner wood, finer grain = quicker response because it vibrates easier. Also, different designs for different purposes. e.g., a Chamber bass is different to a symphony bass. A soloist will want a smaller bass for ease of getting around it and also for the quality of the sound.

  20. laurence says:

    what is the shape of a double bass?

  21. Sam says:

    a “0” cero is missing in the messure B of 3/4 Double bass (aka. 110 instead of 10)

  22. BelKelly says:

    Could this please add a diagram? It would be really useful. I cant find ANY diagrams of the double bass for my music assign. If anyone finds one, send me the link? PLEASE!

  23. davidbteague says:

    The canard that double bass is not a member of the violin family has been propagated too much. If you examine the internal construction of the double bass, you will find that puts the double bass squarely in the violin family.
    It has tuned table and back, it has bass bar and sound post, and if you understand Carleen Hutchins’ work it can be made in a way that it projects like a cello or violin and responds as readily as a cello.
    There are many players who tune their basses in FIFTHS as every other self respecting member of the violin family does. Joel Quarrington, one of the two principal double bassists in the LONDON SYMPHONY tunes his bass exclusively in fifths. Jazz player Red Mitchell tuned in fifths.
    The ONLY thing the standard double bass has in common with viol is the sloping shoulders. One of mine has shoulder that are square to the neck, like a large cello.

  24. Hi I am interested in buying a double bass and I am an intermediate player but I am on a budget of 3000 dollars. Would anybody recommend somewhere to buy basses with an extended fingerboard . Thanks

  25. Lars Olof Månsson says:

    Why is i called – in English, no other languages – “double bass”? It sounds very strange if you translate it to other languages… (It is for sure a German and Italian instrument.)

    In Swedish the name “double bass” sounds very odd…

    Any explanation?

    Lars-Olof Månsson, Stockholm, Sweden

  26. Neve says:

    Does anybody Know who invented the double bass and what year? thank you it would be a big help.

    • David Teague says:

      No one individual invented any of our stringed instruments. The each evolved through many makers, players, and commissions for instruments and kinds of instuments.
      Basses (double basses) are said to have evolved from the gamba family, others (I’m in this camp) argue that they originated as the true bass of the violin family.

      Look for a copy of Paul Brun a New History of the Double Bass. That has a wealth of information. You will hear that the double bass is a gamba, it is related only in that the string are tuned in 4ths and the shoulders slope. Internal constructon put is squarely in the violin family.
      I wish there were more space and I had more time to discuss this.

      • David Teague says:

        You asked for a date. The earliest true double basses that I know about were made circa 1600, but exactly what a double bass _is_ makes the date quite difficult to fix.

  27. Jason says:

    So, my little brother got a hold of my Bass last night and he was able to break off my bridge, get some sand in it, get some indescribable brown stuff in and on it, got it somehow wet and sticky at the same time, and put all of his batman stickers on it, how much do you think this would cost to clean and repair it?

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