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Italian Double Bass

Giovanni Battista Rogeri, circa 1690. Compare this to the our new Rogeri model.Italian double basses are the most esteemed and most sought after upright basses in the world.  Just why are Italian basses so popular? Who are the most important makers? What makes the Italian upright bass different and special?

There is certainly an "aura" surrounding Italian basses.  Let's make a list of some noteworthy, distinctive characteristics that tend to pertain to Italian upright basses.  First of all, there is a huge spectrum of parameters that these basses fall within.  It's even more interesting that so many of these traits found also overlap into other bass makers and country of origins.

Some noteworthy characteristics of Italian double basses:

  • Unlike the big, broad, flat backed, English double bass, Italian basses come in all shapes and sizes.  Most Italian basses tend to be on the medium to larger side when comparing to other double basses. (For instance, you are less likely to see too many 7/8 sized French, Czech, Bohemian and while they're are some bigger German basses, not nearly as many as the English and Italians.
  • Italian double basses have both flat backs and carved backs, but most Italian makers still made their basses in a modified violin form.  By violin form, that is, still using the violin corners as one would normally find on violins or cellos.  Still, the upper shoulder forms of these basses were rarely "full" formed (as a violin) because of the overwhelming mass in size.  (Anyone that has played a cello of a violin model bass (with the shoulders straight out) will know how difficult it is to play these basses. Many Italian upright basses still have (or had) very broad shoulders, but through the years have been modified (or actually "cut down") to make it easier to play on.  Also, up until the early 1900's the necks were still set deep into the bass.  Not like today's double basses, the necks were set deeply into the bass neck block.  While this gave the it less tension on the bass top, they were also harder to play on and around.  Almost all Italian basses were built this way, and most all of these basses today have had their necks pulled out and re-seated (brought out about an extra 1/2-1") to make the bass easier to play on and to also bring out more projection of the sound.  (All the Strad violins where built like this and only one Strad (today) remains with the neck seated as it was originally.

Woods used on Italian upright basses:

By and large, still the most popular woods used on Italian basses, would be maple.  Like their best violins, violas and cellos, maple was "saved" for the best instruments. Historically the upright bass seems to have always been considered a "2nd class citizen" by other makers.  This topic alone can be better served in a separate article, but suffice to say there were many factors that surely "added up" for Italian double bass makers.  For one, no matter when or where you lived (throughout) history, good wood, has never been cheap.  (Some things never change!)  In fact, even then the Italians imported their wood from Bosnia.  The Bosnian maple is most noted for it's sound and tonal characteristics as well as its beauty. The colder climate was perfect (for maple) in Bosnia.  Still so, Italians used different woods for their larger instruments.  They used more local, (cheaper) woods and to be fair, many of the basses using softer woods like poplar and walnut, tended to have a slightly different tonal character as well.  Here is a contemporary model Giovanni Battista Rogeri upright bass made in China. (These basses worked in the 18th century...and the same shape, form works today.)  Today, the most popular Italian models to copy are still  the Rogeri and Cerruti models because of the sound depth and tone, as well as the size being more playable.

Noteworthy Italian bass makers

It's well documented that Antonio Stradivarius never made a bass.  That's too bad and I am sure that many bass makers throughout history have wondered what one would have been like.  Just like their violins, Italian basses command the highest prices, but it is still interesting that makes often most noted for their violins (that are credited with making basses) don't always have the best made or sounding basses!  There are lots of obscure Italian bass makers that made incredibly great basses and that was their specialty.  For example, while Testore violins are special, (mostly noteably CG Testore), the violins are not especially acclaimed as are the basses or cellos.  >/p>

The most expensive Italian basses today, are from Cremona, Italy (18th century): Giovanni Battista Rogeri, Nicola Bergonzi, Giovanni Battista Ceruti, Giovanni Paulo Maggini, Gaspar da Salo, Matteo Gofriller  Others include: the Testores (Carlo Antonio, Carlo Giuseppe, Gennaro, Giovanni, Paulo Antonio).  For the Testore name, there's been lots of abuse by people selling "Testore" basses throughout history.  When in doubt....just calling it a Testore!

Just to name a few other makers: Amati, Albani, Antoniazzi, Baldentoni, Balestieri, Bracci, Cavallini, Corain, Cristofori, Degani, Fiorini, Gagliano, Guadanini, Grancino, Guarnerius, Montagnana and Panormo. (Panormo is really one of the most sought after basses as they are built really well, sound great, and made by an Italian in England...which makes is an Italian/English bass!)  There are just too many names to list here, but there are some really interesting books to collect: Duane Rosengard's Cremonese Double Basses, Richard Elgar's Looking at the Double Bass, as well as subscribing to the International Society of Double Bassists which always highlights some great bass with a good description of the bass, measurements and any historical background of the maker.

Got a question about any of our double basses? Give us a call (800-600-2689) or email Steve.