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Changing/improving double bass v lowering value

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I have a Hawkes Parnormo from 1901. It has a great tone, loud and deep but for an amateur like me virtually unplayable because of the action. It may have been set up like this but I have seen pics of similar instruments with ‘normal’ action. I am thinking of addressing this...had a new jazz fingerboard put on my other (German) bass and it improved it ten fold.

My concern is a bit Shallow Hal! If I change the bass radically will it lower the monetary value of the instrument. I don’t intend to change the fingerboard as such...possibly change the bridge (If the sound quality can remain unaffected) or maybe put a wedge under the fb. I have a very good luthier called Bill Kelday who will do a good job but I don’t think that he could comment on the resale value....btw I have nil intention of selling....just something in the back of my mind

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Seeing the interest and potential commercial value in these basses, I think I'd recommend getting some real expert opinion on this, before committing. Obviously, if it's only for playing it yourself, you can get it to suit your style, no problem. If, however, it wipes out a large chunk of a possibly high 'collector's' value, then it may be worth either learning to play 'as is', or keeping as an investment, but playing a 'lesser' bass.
Just my (inexpert...) tuppence-worth, hope this helps. B|

Disclaimer : Subject to completion, correction and/or contradiction from others...

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Surely if it plays better it will be worth more ..... Am I being naive?

Seems unlikely that a very high action is what a pro would want either; I've played a few really good basses owned by pros or set up in a shop for maximum resale value and they all had a nice (easy) action.

My own bass is rendered playable by its low bridge and raised fingerboard.  Go for it!

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Posted (edited)

Orchestral, concert, basses, played by bowing mostly, have, I believe, typically a significantly higher 'action' than plucked basses. It doesn't sound that abnormal to me. In 1901, there was a little less rockabilly being played than nowadays. B|

Edited by Dad3353

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Second getting an expert opinion.

We’re not owners of double basses, we’re custodians with our job to leave them on the best condition to enjoy many more years of playing pleasure.

The DB community of shops and luthiers are all as committed to preserving these incredible instruments as we are and as such are always happy to share their views and opinions. 

Hope you find the bass you want.

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Posted (edited)

I've never got the impression that double basses attach as much importance to the originality of things like fingerboards and bridges as people do in the guitar world. Looking at the listings of instruments at a high end dealer like the Contrabass Shoppe, it seems they're almost all set up to modern (orchestral) playing requirements with whatever work is necessary to achieve that.

Since bridges are easily swapped and fingerboards are attached reversibly with hide glue, I think I'd just have the work done and retain whatever parts are changed to pass on to any future owners. Bill knows his stuff and won't do a hack job on it!

Edited by Beer of the Bass

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The amount of Hawkes I have seen in the Luthier's being repaired, improved or totally restored just to enable playing is quite considerable. When discussing with the Luthier the term 'worthwhile investment' always comes into the conversation.

No, I'm no more learned than anybody else on this subject, but if I was buying a bass, I would want it set up to my playing requirements more than originality. Apart from the main body - everything else is adjustable or replaceable!

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Tis true.... if you buy a bass from a reputable dealer, they will set it up however you like, undoing whatever the last owner had done if required.

Orchestral basses do generally have a higher action as it allows you to dig in more with the bow without the strings clattering on the fingerboard.  My bass is set for jazz but I play in an orchestra too.  Discussing this issue with the bloke at Thwaites, he said to stick an adjustable bridge on it, crank down for jazz and up for classical.  I never bothered, just bow with the low action ( the bass is loud ).  Meanwhile, another bassist in the orchestra has such a high action, she can't play in thumb position at all.

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On 04/01/2020 at 09:52, philparker said:

The amount of Hawkes I have seen in the Luthier's being repaired, improved or totally restored just to enable playing is quite considerable. When discussing with the Luthier the term 'worthwhile investment' always comes into the conversation.

No, I'm no more learned than anybody else on this subject, but if I was buying a bass, I would want it set up to my playing requirements more than originality. Apart from the main body - everything else is adjustable or replaceable!

I agree. And the scroll, which seems to be a kind of signature of the individual maker. But they can be grafted onto a new neck without much problem, it seems. 

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There's no benefit in keeping a bass in an 'unplayable' state, either financially or historically.  Having a new-to-you bass set up to your preference is absolutely the norm for double bass players. The only barriers would be if the bass is already in such a bad state that the cost of getting it to a playable state is greater than the cost of a new bass or if the person you pay to do the work has no idea of how to do the work properly.

If it's a nice bass inn good condition and the only issue is a high action I wouldn't hesitate for a moment have the bridge re cut or replaced and the fingerboard shot. There are normal occurrences in the lifespan of a double bass and don't detract from their value all if done correctly.

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4 hours ago, Duckyincarnate said:

I agree. And the scroll, which seems to be a kind of signature of the individual maker. But they can be grafted onto a new neck without much problem, it seems. 

Yes, of course, the scroll as well - and I have also seen that done on restorations. I think it is much different to a 50s/60s(even 70s, nowadays) Fender bass, where originality does affect value. How many old 3-string basses have been restored that are now worth 5/6-figure value? Personally, I don’t think it will affect the value negatively, but it’s not even worth keeping if you can’t play it?

+1 for the Rev’s comments as well!

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