Bass Café
Giovani Battista Rogeri Basses
(Italian model, $4950)
Wan-Bernadel Deluxe Basses
(French model, $4950)
Basses Under $3,000: Thompson Plywoods, Hybrids, Emile Gillet, starting at $1,485
Bass Bows
Upright Bass Strings
Bass Sheet Music, Methods
& Etude Books
Bass CD / DVDs
Bass Accessories (Rosin, Pickups, Metronomes, Tuners, Amps etc...)
Bass Covers & Bow Cases
Bass Flight Cases
Bass Teacher Directory
Violin, Viola & Cello Cases
Gift Certificates
About Us
Contact Us
New Videos
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Join Email List
For Email Newsletters you can trust

Viennese Tuning

Today's upright bass was not always tuned E,A,D,G as it is now. Still even now, there are some players that have different tunings.  Some, (a few) tune their basses like a cello, with a low C, G, D and high A., but this is rare.  Others, especially in European orchestras will play on 5 string basses with a low B string.  More than 200 years ago though, there was a bevy of bass concertos written for the bass using the tuning, FADF#A.  So many of these concertos were written in D or Eb Major.

Vienna was a huge musical center.  The basses then were tuned FADF#A and with 5 strings. While one normally assumes that with many years of playing and instrument evolution of basses it is "better" today, in fact, these wonderful concertos written then were actually much easier to play on their original Vienna tuning than on our present way of tuning. The official name or the type of bass played then (in Vienna) was actually a Violone.  (Vee-alone-y). 

For those now familiar with traditional bass concertos by Dittersdorf, Vanhal or Sperger, playing them on basses tuned in fourths sometimes require adaptations to make them easier to play on today's basses, though one might think that it would be easier today. While the integral music (melodies) are retained, the original performance practices such as "easy" double stops can become pretty akward using today's common tunings.  Another distinct characteristic often noticed by the Viennese tuned basses is that they tend to sound vibrant, 'open' and more resonant than the typical steel, 4 string basses. 

Johann Matthias Sperger lived from 1750-1812.  He was not only a 'bass' virtuoso, he was also a prolific composer who wrote as many as 18 bass concertos (with orchestral accompaniment), solo sonatas as well has duos and trios.  Again, while there are mainly only a few of his works actually performed today, one major reason that there are not many editions to play today lends itself again to the tuning cross over which actually made them too hard to play or ruined the flow that the original tuning achieved. 

Why are some concertos (like Dittersdorf) written in Eb?? It is because the orchestra woodwind instruments were geared and made to play in Eb.  The basses were simply tuned up 1/2 step, 'solo' tuning.  For those not completely familiar with solo tuning ideas...while the soloist played in D major on his bass, the actual sounding pitch was tuned to Eb.  Tuning this way not only solved the most obvious writing and arranging problems with the rest of the orchestra then, it also gave the bass a kind of 'cello like' response and timbre that would make the instrument stand out more.

Even today, most bass recitals tend to be played with basses played in solo tuning.  For the most part, solo tuning today consists of F#BEA.  Solos strings today are slightly thinner (not usually too noticeable) but need to be a slightly thinner diameter and gauge so that the bass can tolerate the raised and higher tension that is added this way.  Orchestra strings tuned up (as solo tuning) will not only be very tight to play on, but can actually damage the top of the instrument. Today, some players will actually specialize or perform music using the historic Viennese tuning. 

In the present age, most all orchestra bass players use metal strings on their basses and the strings are far lower to the fingerboard than they were 200 years ago.  Because of the much higher tensions achieved with the metal strings, they are loud, responsive and do not require as much vibration distance (oscillating string room) as the old, 'looser' set ups needed.  Before reading about the history of bass tuning, I often wondered how any bass players in Mozart's day could ever manage something so difficult as his Symphony #35 (fourth movement) using their gut strings and played with a fast tempo.  Only now do we realize that it might not have been such an incredibly impossible feat when using their Viennese tunings.  In some respects, the passages could have been playable.  On the other hand, Mozart's Symphony #35 is hard no matter when you were (are) alive!

More about the history and different tunings.  If you would like to get into more about the historical evolution of the bass, it's body, tuning, construction and well, just everything about them, check out "A New History of the Double Bass" by Paul Brun.  It is an incredibly interesting book and for anyone serious about the bass, it is a great reference tool packed with information.