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BASSES- PARTS, GLOSSARY of Upright Bass terms
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Not Just A Glossary
of Upright Bass, Double Bass, String Bass, Bass Viol, Contrabass, Bass Fiddle, Bull Fiddle, Acoustic Bass, Standup Bass, Doghouse Bass... terms (there is no difference among these, they're just different names for the same thing).
The images at right are labeled with parts of the bass, and the entries below may also include comments to help familiarize yourself with the parts and their purpose.
- Afterlength: This is the part of the string that travels from the bridge to the hole in the tailpiece.
- Bass Bar: This is a piece of spruce (usually) inside the instrument, glued to or carved into the top running parallel to the lowest string. It reinforces the top so it does not collapse under the pressure of the bridge. (interior view)
- Belly: The top, or front of the bass, usually spruce. The back and sides of basses are usually maple.
- Bout: These sections of the bass are defined by the shape of the top: upper, "c" (the middle, indented section), and lower.
- Bridge: The bridge supports and shapes the strings
- C Bout: See bout
- Dowel: See soundpost (interior view)
- Endblock: The wood at the bottom of the bass that provides the heft necessary to handle the pressures exerted by the endpin assembly. (interior view)
- Endpin/Endpin Assembly: The endpin assembly consists of a shaft and sleeve, and in most cases with some sort of mechanism to tighten the shaft. The Endpin Assembly also has a groove or some sort of arrangement to hold one end of the Tailgut (tailpiece wire). There are many variations of endpins, they are not interchangeable, and the endblock and/or endpin assembly must be modified to mate. The endpin shaft often comes to a sharp point; this allows a (usually orchestral) player to "stake into" the floor in order to couple with the stage (but always ask first!) For most players, the bass is played with the point covered by a non-slip rubber cap or screw-on cover.
- Extension (not pictured): An optional mechanism that is installed to the headstock, to extend the lowest string in order to produce notes below E.
- F-Hole: Also Sound Hole - an opening in the bass table (top) which allows the sound produced by the bass vibration to project outward.
- Fingerboard: The "fingering" surface attached to the neck, usually made of ebony or another hardwood (don't call it a fretboard, there are no frets!!). Ebony is traditional due to its hardness, but even it will eventually begin to groove and need planing to return it to playing condition. Does your fingerboard have a sharp angle between the E and A strings? See Romberg Bevel.
- Flatback: The back of the bass, when it is flat, not rounded like the top of the bass.
- Gamba shape: The C bout (center section of body) edges are shaped as in the illustration, as opposed to violin corners, which are pronounced and pointy.
- Headstock: The top portion of the neck, consisting of the pegbox, tuning machines and the scroll.
- Lower Bout: See bout
- Machines/Machine Heads: Also Tuning Machines, Tuners - the gear and post mechanisms which allow for tuning the strings to their open (base) pitch.
- Mensur: The sounding (vibrating) part of the string between the nut and bridge. AKA "playing length."
- Neck: Usually made of maple, the part of the instrument which attaches to the top of the body and supports the fingerboard and contains the pegbox and scroll.
- Nut: The block of wood at the top of the fingerboard, usually ebony or whatever hardwood that is used for the fingerboard. The nut is cut to hold the strings in place, with slight indents that are smooth and no deeper than half the size of the string.
- Overstand: The distance from the bass' top to the bottom of the fingerboard.
- Peg Box: The squared-off opening in the top of the neck where the strings are wound onto the tuning machine posts.
- Ribs: The curved "sides" of the bass that create the body's depth.
- Roundback: The back of the bass when it is rounded, like the front of the bass, rather than being constructed with a flat piece of wood, as in a flatback bass.
- Romberg Bevel/E-Bevel (not pictured): An optional flat-planed area of the fingerboard beneath the E string, which allows for more area for the large E-string to vibrate, so it doesn't hit the board. This is a tradition dating from when E-strings were larger in diameter and "floppier" - the "need" for the bevel has diminished with more modern string technology. However, some basses are still made with one because they are a "tradition" and some players prefer them.
- Saddle: The block of wood, usually ebony or a stained hardwood, located at the bottom of the bass top. The tailgut (see below) runs over this block to the endpin assembly.
- Shoulders: They develop below the neck joint; more sloping shoulders can be useful to soloists and other thumb position players, for easier access.
- Scroll: The traditional ornamental spiral shape at the top of the headstock.
- Sound Hole: See F-Hole
- Sound Post: This round "wooden dowel", usually made from seasoned spruce, spans the top to the back inside of the bass. It is not glued in, but is held by the pressure of the strings and bridge. The location is usually in vertical alignment with the high string side bridge foot, a bit below it. Typical placement is from one to two inches from the foot, but location is determined by the desired effect on the sound. Warning: Loosening/removing the strings will often result in the sound post falling out of place. (interior view)
- Table: The top or front of the bass, usually spruce.
- Tailgut: The length of material around the base of the endpin assembly that loops through and secures the tailpiece. These are made from a variety of materials, such as gut, solid and stranded cable, synthetics, and specialized rope.
- Tailpiece: This device anchors the strings through the keyholes at the top, and is held in place by the tension of the Tailgut at the bottom. Usually made of ebony or whatever hardwood matches the fingerboard. Its weight can be a critical contributor to the sound of the bass, so light ebony is often favored, but as with most parts, it depends on the instrument. Tailpieces are can also made of composite materials, metal, exotic woods, and there are even devices that use nothing but wire in order to eliminate the mass of the tailpiece.
- Tailpiece Wire: See Tailgut
- Top: The belly, or front of the bass, usually spruce.
- Tuning Keys/Tuners: See Machines
- Upper Bout: See bout
- Violin Corners: A structural difference where the C-bout has a slightly wider construction and pointed edges like a violin.
Contact us if you have a term you feel should be added to the list!
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The Fine Print:The information contained herein is based on what's in my brain — and/or my observations and opinions from my personal experiences (and those of Bob, before me) — as of this moment today, and is subject to change. I'm sure that a great deal more information and detail could be added — but the intent of these writings is to present easily understood, quick FAQs, to address common questions and improve the reader's general knowledge.
What's written here is by no means any kind of authoritative absolute answer, for I am not the world's greatest authority on bass (not even close), or on much of anything else, for that matter. So, by all means, get a second opinion, and know that all the information provided here is for general informational purposes only. I am not providing professional advice; be aware that, where applicable, any information acted upon is at your own risk.
I simply and sincerely hope the information and opinions here are helpful to you on your quest for knowledge about the bass and related subjects... that's the point!
I welcome email with dissenting and additional viewpoints/information/updates that help improve my personal awareness and these content pages. If you have a question that you think belongs here, please let me know.