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Summary: Finding the best instrument means finding the proper size for your body, the right material, and investing in complementary accessories.
The double bass cello is a great instrument for beginners through advanced musicians. It produces a much deeper and more robust sound compared to the traditional cello. But how do you know how to find the best cello?
Here are my main dos and don’ts:
Do: Pick the right size for your body. The double bass cello is played standing up, and if you get the wrong size, you will have a hard time managing it.
Do not: Pick a carved double bass cello just because it is the more expensive material. Pick something that works for your musical skills and budget. More expensive does not equate to “best.”
What is the Double Bass Cello?
The double bass cello differs from the traditional cello or a fretted cello in size, tuning, the sound produced, and how it is played.
When you look at the cello and the double bass cello, they look very similar, but they are not. Firstly, they are tuned differently. A traditional cello is tuned in 5th, from low to high so the strings are C, G, D, and A. By comparison, a double bass cello is tuned in 4ths, from low to high, so the strings are E, A, D, G. For these, E is the lowest string, not C.
So, a cello can play 5 octaves, but the double bass cello can only play 4.
In this video, you can hear both playing together:
The double bass is substantially larger than the traditional cello. The double bass is usually 6 feet in length. Both instruments rest on the floor (with help from their end pins), but the upright bass is usually played standing up or sitting on a tall bar stool.
The sound you get from the double bass is much deeper and richer. A traditional cello produces a tenor range, but the double bass can give a much deeper, lower octave sound.
When you hold your double bass cello, you stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and adjust the instrument so that your fingerboard is about the same height as your eyebrows. It should rest casually on your left side or hip while you stand and play.
Different Double Bass Cello Parts
When you look straight at the instrument, you can see many parts, the measurements for which can influence the size you buy.
- Starting at the bottom, you have the rounded part of the body called the “lower bout.”
- The bottom of the strings section is called the “tailpiece.”
- Then there are the “strings,” which rest over the “bridge” right at the point where the “lower bout” curves into the top part.
- This top part of the body is called the “upper bout” and carved on either side of the strings is the “C-bout” on the left and the F-hole” on the right.
- Where the top or “upper bout” curves to a thin close are called the “shoulder.”
- Above the “shoulder” is the “fingerboard,” on top of which is the long, thin “neck.”
- At the opposite end near the very top of the double bass cello, you find the “nut,” the “peg,” the “pegbox,” the “tuning machine,” and finally, the “scroll.” The “scroll” is called this because it curves like a scroll and represents the instrument’s topmost point.
If you look at the instrument from the size, you will see the side panels called “ribs” at the top and “lining” at the bottom. The part directly behind the fingerboard, which curves slightly downward, is the “heel,” which ends in the “button.”
Knowing the names of the parts is important because it will help you determine how to measure or size your instrument to your body. I didn’t know the names of the parts when I first started buying instruments. The result was me crying in frustration at my computer because all the features and sizing references had to do with names I didn’t understand. Take a few minutes to know the parts, and picking the best double bass cello will be much easier.
Who Should Play the Double Bass Cello?
Double bass cellos are great for a range of musical genres, including jazz, bluegrass, country, and rockabilly. Each instrument can produce different sounds suitable for the music you are playing.
Needs of Different Musicians
If you or someone in your family is taking up the double bass cello, the needs will differ from an intermediate musician who is looking to upgrade their instrument or a professional who needs a stage-worthy instrument.
Beginners need something simple. Beginners need an instrument that responds well and lets them focus on developing their skill and technique while holding the instrument. The quality of hardware and material is less important at this point. Beginners need to learn how to read music and move their bow across the strings the right way.
Intermediate musicians have enough practice under their belts to notice different tonal qualities. At this level, you can appreciate the projection and characteristics afforded by different wood or materials. Different laminates like maple, spruce, or mahogany create slightly different sounds from the instrument you play, and at this stage, you can start to test different materials to find which one produces the sound you want.
Advanced musicians are playing regularly, with established playing styles and techniques. Advanced performers often have a specific musical genre they play as well. This is the level where you need more versatility in your instrument, like higher quality Pernambuco wood rather than brazilwood for your bow, and a carved instrument rather than laminated.
How to Find the Best Double Bass Cello
Finding the best double bass cello means understanding how the instrument differs from the cello, what materials you want, and what size you need.
What Size Do I Need for a Double Bass Cello?
The standard adult size for a double bass cello is a ¾ size. It is very rare to see a ⅞ or 4/4 size. You would only need a full size if you:
- Were taller than 6 feet 5 inches
- Had unusually wide hands
¾ is recognized as the universal size for a double bass cello. If you need something larger, it will be labeled as “XXL” or “jumbo”.
Choosing the right size for this instrument can be tricky because it is a relatively new instrument, one which does not have the same standardization as other stringed instruments. Usually, you would choose one size smaller than your violin size based on your age.
For example: If you play a ¾ violin based on your age and size, then you should choose a ½ size double bass cello. If you play a 4/4 violin, you should choose a ¾ double bass cello.
Smaller double bass cellos have shorter string lengths, making them easier to play. The shorter the strings, the less far your fingers must spread to reach them all.
|Age||Approximate Size for a Double Bass Cello|
|5-7 years old||1/8|
|7-9 years old||1/4|
|9-13 years old||1/2|
|13 to adult||3/4|
Beginners who are in elementary school should usually start with the smaller sizes, like the 1/4 size bass. Some students can transition in middle school or high school to the ½ size, but most students will go from a ¼ size to a ¾ size once they reach high school and skip the intermediate size.
Tip: If your child is starting with the double bass cello, consider renting the first few instruments rather than buying because your child might outgrow them quickly, and over the span of a few years, go through two or three sizes until they matriculate to the ¾ size at which point you can buy the instrument they will play moving forward.
Other sizing considerations:
- When your arms hang comfortably at your sides, the bridge should be at the same level as the largest knuckles on your hands.
- Your right arm should be able to comfortably move the bow midway between the fingerboard and bridge.
- When in the first position, your left hand should be level with your face
In this video you can see how to hold your instrument and where it should stand next to your size:
I have always been on the short side. That made finding instruments based on age alone rather difficult. The things that were meant for my “age” were always a bit too long, wide, or tall, so my movements were clunky and painful. I learned at around 14 that I could get instruments based on physical measurements, not just age. What a difference that made! This piece of knowledge enabled me to rent instruments for music classes that finally fit. So, if your child is not an average height for their age, consider measuring based on how tall they are and where the instrument should fit accordingly.
Below is a table of average sizes for different instruments to help with this:
|Full height from the bottom of the body to the top of the scroll||74.8 inches||71.6 inches||65.7 inches|
|Body height from the bottom to the shoulder||45.7 inches||43.7 inches||40.2 inches|
|String length from the nut to the bridge||43.3 inches||41.3 inches||38 inches|
|Scroll to the shoulder||29.1 inches||27.9 inches||25.5 inches|
|Width of the neck at the nut||1.8 inches||1.7 inches||1.6 inches|
Best Materials for a Double Bass Cello
The material used for your instrument is important and can be divided into two categories:
No material is better than the other. They each serve different purposes and produce slightly different sounds. I have played on a laminated double bass cello for years and even use it with my classical quartet. I love the sound and the durability (I am known to be a bit clumsy; the minor dents along the edge of my instrument can attest).
Carved wood double bass cellos have been carved from a whole block of wood. It takes an intricate hand to do this, so carved instruments are often used by intermediate and advanced players because of the quality and cost.
Laminated double bass cellos have been made with veneered wood. Veneered wood is thin slices of wood, usually only a few millimeters thick, which are glued to a core. These are much more durable and affordable. For these reasons, beginners and intermediate musicians often turn to laminated double bass cellos.
Pick for Double Bass
Double bases are gorgeous, impossibly large instruments with an incredibly deep rumble. My favorite thing about these instruments is how deep you can feel the vibration from the music on your feet. Play barefoot at least once, friends!
I chose these double basses based on their brand reputation, ton quality, playability, and reviews from experienced bass players. Remember, if you can, always try out these instruments in the store to get a feel for how the instrument plays and feels.
Top Pick: Samuel Eastman VB95 Double Bass
I’ve been using Eastman String instruments for years, and I’m a massive fan of both the quality the price of their instruments. Their double bases are no different. While they are more expensive than some competitors, they are beautiful and high-quality instruments that you can depend on through years of playing.
The VB95 is a solid student bass made from laminated maple and spruce with hand inlaid purfling. It comes setup with a Despiau bridge and D’Addario Prelude Bass String Set. What I like most outside of the deep rumbling tone is the beautiful shaded varnish that gives this bass a nice antique look.
You have the option of purchasing it in Gamba, Busetto, and Quenoil, with Gamba being the cheapest. You can also purchase it in sizes ½ to ⅞ and with or without an outfit. The outfit includes the option of a German or French bow. Along with a basic gig bag and rosin.
- High quality
- Lifetime warranty
- Fully set up and playable out of the case
- From a well-known label of Orchestral Strings
- Will be a musical friend for years
- Expensive for a first bass
- Padded gig bag instead of hard case
Budget Pick: Ren Wei Shi Academy
The Eastman is excellent, but admittedly, it’s expensive. The Ren Wei Shi is affordable, especially for a student-level instrument. For way less than half the cost of the Eastman, this double bass will satisfy a student for several years. It comes set up with a height-adjustable bridge and is made from laminate tonewoods for extra durability. It comes fully set up and adjusted, so it’s ready to play out of the case.
I love how inexpensive this bass is compared to quality and tone. It’s hard to find affordable instruments the bigger they get; this is definitely a steal for the price. You can buy this bass in ¼ to ¾ sizes, and it comes with a gig bag and basic brazilwood bow. I’m not a fan of gig bags, but hard cases of this size are expensive, so I understand the practicality. I just don’t feel they are strong enough during shipping.
- Great for new students or those who want to buy a bass instead of rent
- Holds a tune well
- Comfortable playability
- Comes with a gig bag, but they package well, so it’s not as big of a problem.
Step-Up Pick: Strobel MB-300 Recital Series
The Strobel MB-300 is a gorgeous bass with a nice deep rumble. Its made with a spruce top and laminated sides for extra durability. This is definitely an instrument meant for a growing musician and not a beginner. Everything on this bass is terrific, from the quality of the craftsmanship to the setup and included accessories.
It’s set up with a Despiau bridge and upgraded Helicore strings. In addition, they include a Prest gig bag and a French-style BB301 Carbon Fiber bow. The bow is made by Eastman Strings and is of excellent quality and worthy of a few re-hairs. It’s also durable, which is ideal for those who are on the go a lot or play gigs.
- Beautiful antique finish
- Moderately priced
- Ebony fittings with solid brass tuning machines
- Available in various sizes from ¼ to ½ for every size bassist
- Upgraded bow from Eastman Strings
- Fully set up and ready to play with Helicore strings
- Only comes with a gig bag
Expensive Pick: Andreas Eastman VB105
If you want something you may never want to upgrade or just looking for a more excellent bass for college or further studies the Eastman VB105 is a great pick! Its made from solid spruce and maple with laminated ribs. The purfling is hand inlaid for durability and to protect against cracks. Similar to the MB-300, it is set up with a Despiau bridge and Helicore strings. The tuning machine is Rubner Brass brand known for being good quality and easy to use.
Overall I chose this base for its quality and longevity. Eastman strings strive to make great instruments, and that’s why you often find them in rental lineups for new students. I also see their higher-end instruments in Orchestras and College programs as well. You can’t go wrong with one of their instruments. You can get this bass in ¼ to ⅞ size with or without an outfit. The outfit includes a French or German bow, rosin, and a gig bag, so it’s pretty basic but will do the job.
- Made from top quality materials and backed by the Eastman reputation
- Life warranty
- Gorgeous dark antique finish to match its deep rumble!
- Capable of providing years of musical entertainment and learning
- Expensive and not suitable for a beginner
In conclusion, knowing how to find the best double bass cello comes down to your skill. Beginners can make do with laminated materials and Brazilwood bows while more advanced players need a carved instrument with horsehair bows. Whichever make and model you choose, be sure to measure appropriately so that it fits your body. As this instrument is played standing, you need to ensure you can hold it, move your bow, and control the sound.
Answer: Traditionally, the differences between the strings and notes the double bass cello and cello play respectively mean that the two instruments play in octaves apart from each other but can be played at the same time. In symphony orchestras, you might have both instruments playing, but the basses are an octave below the traditional cello. That said, if you play the double bass cello presently, switching to the cello is fairly easy, and vice versa. They have different notes, and you stand with the double bass rather than sit, but otherwise, yes.
Answer: The right size is based on your size and age. With the double bass cello, you must stand while playing the instrument, so it must fit your height and arms. You must be particularly tall to play a full-sized or 4/4 double bass. This is reserved for people with large hands that are a height of over 6 foot 5 inches. From end to end, a 4/4 double bass cello is an average of 74.8 inches tall, while the ¾ size is only 71.6 inches tall. Most people, adults, and teenagers, play the ¾ size double bass cello. Children ages 9-13 typically play a ½ size double bass cello, which is 65.7 inches tall.
Answer: Many reputable brands produce high-quality double bass cellos. Some specialize in beginner models, while others focus on intermediate/advanced models. Cecilio, Grace, D’Luca, Palatino, and Rata Band offer top-of-the-line options for beginners. For intermediate players, Maple Leaf Strings and D’Luca have good options. For Advanced players, D’Luca Flamed and Merano String models come highly recommended.
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