French upright bass
are several "schools" or styles of upright bass making and
French double basses have a very special and unique history.
Soon after I got my first carved upright bass (back in 1980), I was
intrigued how my bass luthier could simply look at a bass and quite
quickly announce what country of origin it was from or even the maker
that made the upright. My first upright bass was supposedly
French. I say "supposedly" because now (almost 30
years) I remember some things on that particular bass that were more
Bohemian than French. More about that later.
French upright basses
French basses for sure, are the most under
rated (and highly undervalued basses in the world.) While
anyone that has spent even an afternoon searching for information
about upright basses will quickly ascertain that Italian basses
are King! With all the celebrity status that Italian basses enjoy,
in the past 20-30 years, English basses have really almost equaled
their prestige and have caught up to about the same prices.
Italians never really mass produced basses. The English, made
many basses (often some Italian copies) and liked to make the same
models. (See our
English upright basses page for more about them.) The
French, had several things going in their favor. For one,
they had a whole industry of bass making. They made basses
for everyone: students, amateurs, king's courts, and professional
orchestra and ballets as well.
The Mirecourt upright bass
there are some really fine French bass making to this present day,
this page will dedicate more of a historic perspective of French
upright bass. Really, the center of French violin making has
have be Mirecourt, France. In the 18th Century, Mirecourt
was classified as a "department" of France rather than
a city. A region, found far northeast. There are several
folk tales about exactly who or when the first violins were made.
One being that a maker named Tywersus (an Italian
none the less), appeared in Mirecourt and taught a small group of
men how to make violins, and that was the birth of the Mirecourt
school! Only problem is that there was never any mention or
instrument ever made or discovered by such a maker. Mirecourt
was churning out instruments of all sorts in full swing as early
as the mid to late 1760's. The real rennaisance period (or
golden age period) would have to be considered the 19th century.
Primarily the dates, when Jean Baptiste Vuillaume lived and died
Upright basses made in Mirecourt were just
normal extensions of demand for all stringed instruments.
Mirecourt was a huge production, with the whole region making instruments.
While it's not possible to list all of the important bass makers
(or firms) that made French upright basses, here is a short one
just for interest and reference:
French upright bass makers:
Jean Baptiste Vuillaume (pronounced: Vwee-ohm')
Gustav Bernadel (son of Auguste, started
a business with Gand and actually married his daughter!) henceforth
some of the world's best basses came out of: Gand-Bernadel (and
model for the present day, Wan-Bernadel
- Charles Nicholas Gand
Francois Jacque Barbe
Joseph Pierre Hel
Gabriel Xavier Jacquet
are just a few French upright bass makers. Most interesting though
is the method and business practices of how French upright basses
were produced, marketed and sold. There were entire (huge)
firms that made instruments. One firm is legendary, called
Jérôme-Thibouville-Lamy. They made some good French
basses, but also lots and lots of violins and bows as well.
(they first made woodwind instruments in the 1760's). Also
there were firms that specialized in making upright basses, then
selling them in the white (unfinished) to Parisian shops that then
put their own labels inside and varnished them. Some shops
had special models that they either designed or modified, but were
still made in Mirecourt. Another really famous firm was the
Gand-Bernadel firm. Besides Vuillaume, G&B
made the most well known and sought after basses to this day.
There are many present day makers that still make basses in this
model: (see the Wan-Bernadel upright basses,
Charton and Jean Auray. Another big firm that made great basses
in France towards the end of the 1800's to very early 1900's, was
the Laberte-Humberte firm whom made and sold some very famous basses
to named violin shops/makers in Paris who again, put their own labels
and finished the basses with their own varnish recipes.
Common characteristics of fine French
cut scrolls and f-holes (in the Strad pattern)
maple two piece backs, sides and neck.
The wood found on a lot of French basses are ravishingly beautiful
with heavy tiger flamed grain particularily on the back, sides
and neck. The tops, (of spruce) have a nice straight grain
violin outline which would include the
violin corners and even sometimes an outline of the violin/cello
carved and purfled into the back which served no purpose other
than keep the symmetry intact.
another really interesting style trait
on most French upright basses, is the great fantastic steel
and brass tuners. The Gand-Bernadels and Vuillaume basses had
recessed metal tuners which were reliable (to this day!) and
were a huge improvement over the old ebony "hat-pegged"
style used through out the world until then. The ebony
tuners creak, break and do not tune as finely.
more "reasonable" dimensions.
Which might be part of the reason why the French basses and
bassists really took off in the middle 1800's. While one
can easily ask: Which came first, the chicken or the egg...?
An easier bass to play which allowed the player to evolve upwards?
Human nature is the same today: Upright bass players are always,
always trying to make things easier AND sound better at the
Lastly, French upright basses tend to be
very focused and project better. It's a characteristic
that comes from the maple sides and back. There is more
power with maple because the wood itself is stronger and not
as soft as poplar or walnut.
most of the incredible lions head scrolls
were done in France.
raised edges in front or back
sometimes edges of top, back and scroll
have a very fine back paint trim
more playable and moderate in size (there
are some 7/8 basses, but mostly fuller, 3/4 size that are much
easier to play and get around on
On some French basses, tops are thicker
Whether you are looking for a great, French
upright bass, or a new Wan-Bernadel, it's time to
email us a double bass question.