Acoustic archtop bass guitar

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Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby Brian Evans » Sat Jun 16, 2018 3:08 pm

If you were to design an acoustic bass guitar, what changes from a typical archtop would you look at? I am thinking a 17" non cutaway, normal arched spruce top, a deeper arched maple back (I have some 6/4 rough stock) for more interior volume, and maybe 4" - 5" sides (you still have to be able to play it). 30" scale length, join the body at 14th of 15th fret so the bridge is in the diametric center of the lower bout, pay attention to string break angle and tension to keep the bridge downforce reasonable. Any other ideas?

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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby John Clifford » Sat Jun 16, 2018 5:07 pm

Not that I want to discourage you, but have you ever heard an acoustic bass guitar that really sounded good without amplification? I haven't. There is a reason double/upright basses are as big as they are, and they still need to be amplified in most situations when played finger style. Given that, I would design it more for playing comfort than acoustic sound production and plan to include a pickup. Think about where your right hand playing position will fall on the strings (and in relation to any pickup) when the instrument is played either standing or sitting, and how comfortable it will feel - that's critical for bass players.
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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby Beate Ritzert » Sat Jun 16, 2018 6:21 pm

I am also planning for an acoustic/electric archtop bass, and i have also started a brainstorming thread on that subject here in this forum.

There are a few - very few - instruments around which seem to be acoustically capable: the beautiful bass by Moll, the bass by Stefan Sommer (http://sonntag-guitars.com/deutsch/Arch ... k-Bass.php) and the bass by Daniel Furian (http://www.13instruments.com).

The Moll bass provides a large volume with a "huge" surface; it is a 20" archtop with increased thickness.
The two European luthiers follow a slightly different approach and use body geometries inspired by the Guitaron, which means 17-18" top, but *really* high ribs (6 in or more). Both are at least capable to accompany one or two archtop guitars played acoustically.

So You basically need roughly the same volume as with any other ABG, the more, the better. And still, of course, amplification.

One of the largest and loudest ABGs is this monster (the Stoll bass from Germany) - although it is a flattop, it demonstrates several important aspects of such a design:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5a/AlexmitBass.jpg/570px-AlexmitBass.jpg

The picture above gives You an impression on the dimensions and how the shape supports the playability of a guitar as huge as that one.
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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby Beate Ritzert » Sat Jun 16, 2018 6:44 pm

BTW: here is my old thread: viewtopic.php?f=5&t=3397&p=32788&hilit=archtop+bass#p32788

(huch, it is 4 years old ... and i am still working on two case study instruments ...)
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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby John Clifford » Sat Jun 16, 2018 8:45 pm

Beate Ritzert wrote:There are a few - very few - instruments around which seem to be acoustically capable: the beautiful bass by Moll, the bass by Stefan Sommer (http://sonntag-guitars.com/deutsch/Arch ... k-Bass.php) and the bass by Daniel Furian (http://www.13instruments.com).


Beate- Those are beautiful instruments, but how do you know what they sound like acoustically? Have you played or heard them live?

It just seems to me that if a guitar has to be amplified to sound good, then what you really have is an electric guitar, and it should be optimized for that use. I mean let's face it, a Stratocaster is a lot more comfortable to hold than a dreadnaught, and a J Bass is bound to be more comfortable than an archtop.

I have also thought seriously about trying to make an acoustic archtop bass guitar (since I make archtop guitars and I love to play bass), but I'm just not convinced that it's physically possible to make one that's playable as a guitar and also has a truly useful acoustic bass sound. I'd love for you and Brian to prove me wrong! And then tell me how you did it!!!
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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby Beate Ritzert » Sun Jun 17, 2018 2:43 am

The two European basses are trimmed to to sound a bit like an upright. Stefan Sonntag provides (or provided) a video from a session recording of that bass in a band context. I also heared Daniel's bass, but only standalone. AFAIK, both basses have parallel bracing.

My expectations toward volume are not very high - in performance a bass, even double bass, nearly always needs some amplification. During the past years, i developed a more "guitar playing"-like style (i am playing in a voice&bass duo). So something different like an X or something like the fan bracing i tried in the restoration project might be more appropriate.
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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby Alan Carruth » Sun Jun 17, 2018 11:30 am

As has been said, there's no substitute for real estate when you're trying to project low notes. You might want to look up some of the literature on the 'New Violin Family' if you're not familiar with it: they worked out a lot of the scaling back in the 60s and 70s.

Body length and plate area tend to be more important than air volume. I've made two of the 'Tenor violins', tuned an octave below the normal violin and scaled to produce a similar timbre. The bodies are twice the length of a normal fiddle, 28" as opposed to 14", but the rib depth is only about 50% deeper, and the arch heights are not out of scale at all. The first one I ever heard live was one I built, and I almost fell over when I put a bow on it. Where was all the sound coming from? The big bass, BTW is huge, about 4" longer in the box than a 'normal' full sized bass. The low notes are visceral. Sadly, these instruments don't record well. The entire octet covers a range from the contrabass up to an octave above the normal violin, and with such a huge range it's almost impossible to capture it with normal recording equipment. Heard live they're simply awesome. Basically, if you 're not in California, you're unlikely to be able to catch a live concert.

Make the box as long as you can: get a set of 'cello wood for starters, or use walnut that size. I'd wedge the rib depth. Keep the downbearing angle as low as you can, and make the top with a low arch, carved thin (arch height scales with top thickness, not body length). You might want to contemplate using only one sound hole, on the right side, to keep the Helmholtz air mode pitch down. This could give you some fundamental in the lower notes, although it would not be powerful.
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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby Brian Evans » Sun Jun 17, 2018 1:14 pm

I've kind of come to the conclusion that if I wanted a true acoustic bass it would have to end up like a guitarron, which doesn't appeal to me much at all. I think the approach I will take is a semi-acoustic, maybe chambered body, electric bass of some sort. That will let me also indulge my other on-and-off hobby and build a little tube amp to go with the Ampeg B-15N portaflex cabinet that found it's way to my basement a while ago. I haven't built a solid body guitar in 45 years, I did chambered body with a carved cedar top once. The problem with electric bass guitars is they all tend to look like Fenders, to make the ergonomics work out, balance right, scale, all of that. There are some outliers, like the Hofner, of course. Maybe I will make a Supro Pocket Bass replica.
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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby Peter Wilcox » Sun Jun 17, 2018 1:22 pm

Not an archtop, but an acoustic bass I made a few years ago for a challenge here. I've played it strapped around my neck, but somewhat cumbersome. Better played like a cello, but needs an end pin, but I'm afraid the tail block may be too frail. Sound clip at the end of the thread, compared to an URB. Pretty good bass response: volume is somewhat less than an upright, adequate for a room but not outdoors.

viewtopic.php?f=3&t=1830
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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby John Clifford » Sun Jun 17, 2018 3:10 pm

Peter, that sounds pretty darn good! And I love the headstock carving!

Still, I don't think I'd want to play it like a guitar.
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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby Beate Ritzert » Sun Jun 17, 2018 5:46 pm

Brian Evans wrote:I've kind of come to the conclusion that if I wanted a true acoustic bass it would have to end up like a guitarron, which doesn't appeal to me much at all.


Alan just pointed You more or less in the opposite direction: a long top like Peter's bass. Large area, thickness not too large.

The only point that does not fully convince me is the low Helmholtz resonance: a low resonance will emphasize the lowest frequencies, but the tone itself will appear less bassy because the intensity of the "upper bass" will be decreased?

How will such a layout affect the far field? In the near field a body with larger holes should appear fuller, shouldn't it? So again a decision of design - who shall hear the instrument better - the player of the audience?

[quoe]
I think the approach I will take is a semi-acoustic, maybe chambered body, electric bass of some sort. That will let me also indulge my other on-and-off hobby and build a little tube amp to go with the Ampeg B-15N portaflex cabinet that found it's way to my basement a while ago.[/quote]
which reminds me that i should continue with the amp i designed last winter...

But anyway: to me making a semiacoustic before daring the acoustic archtop bass may be a good idea, at least in my eyes.

The problem with electric bass guitars is they all tend to look like Fenders, to make the ergonomics work out, balance right, scale, all of that.


Disagree. My SG bass and my RD are very well balanced. Which demonstrates that it possible to make ergonomically useful Explorer / Thunderbird / RD - alike basses.

There are some outliers, like the Hofner, of course.


Well, Höfner did a lot of other things except that IMO strange violin bass: the Club bass (same thing in traditional archtop shape) and even a few real archtop basses.
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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby David King » Mon Jun 18, 2018 6:52 pm

I think I'd look at what other's have tried, notably the Hafling bass from Tom Ribbecke http://www.ribbecke.com/gallery/ which uses a carved top on the treble side and a flat top on the bass side. If you want simplicity then I'd dump the carved top aspect altogether because it's probably not going to accomplish what you were thinking. Some of the loudest, most useful ABGs I've played were very low budget Asian imports. They tend to have large thin plywood boxes and fairly high action. That's a pretty good recipe.
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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby Beate Ritzert » Tue Jun 19, 2018 4:11 am

Tom Ribbecke also has a few videos online which show his bass guitar. New to me are the videos on Jack Casady and his base. That one differs from Ribbecke's other basses by its large thickness - again as thick as the basses from Furian and Sonntag.

Just a thought: how important is the acoustic power of an ABG?
In an ensemble, on stage, more or less any bass needs amplification, even the Stoll or a double bass. If You practise, a well sounding instrument is more important than sheer acoustic power. Even my little SX bass does a really good job there - it plays and sounds really nice, and its lack of acoustic power sometimes is even an advantage. And i would guess, an old Höfner President archtop bass from the 60s would be similarly useful.

And there's really little in between.

So making an archtop bass guitar is first of all fun.
It might have the advantage of any archtop guitar - better projection, better cutting through than a flattop. And maybe its sound is a bit closer to that of a double bass.
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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby John Clifford » Tue Jun 19, 2018 3:12 pm

Beate Ritzert wrote:Just a thought: how important is the acoustic power of an ABG?
In an ensemble, on stage, more or less any bass needs amplification, even the Stoll or a double bass. If You practise, a well sounding instrument is more important than sheer acoustic power. Even my little SX bass does a really good job there - it plays and sounds really nice, and its lack of acoustic power sometimes is even an advantage. And i would guess, an old Höfner President archtop bass from the 60s would be similarly useful.

And there's really little in between.

So making an archtop bass guitar is first of all fun.
It might have the advantage of any archtop guitar - better projection, better cutting through than a flattop. And maybe its sound is a bit closer to that of a double bass.


I think I'm the irritant in this thread, so let me try to clarify. I did not mean to suggest that making an archtop bass is in any way misguided or a waste of time. On the contrary, I think it's a great idea and I might try it myself one day. Nor did I mean to suggest that every instrument with a hollow or semi-hollow body needs to project a powerful acoustic sound. I have hollow and semi-hollow body electric guitars that I love and cherish. The narrow point I was trying to make is that in designing a guitar (whether 6 string or bass), there are tradeoffs between ergonomics and acoustic sound production. From that, it follows that if the instrument will require amplification to produce a satisfying sound, then there is no reason to sacrifice ergonomics to produce a slightly better, but still unsatisfying, unamplified sound. Of course, the amplified sound of an electric guitar or bass is also affected by the resonance of the body (which is reflected back into the strings and thereby sensed by the pickups), so hollow or semi-hollow electric guitars and basses will sound different than solid bodies. But this effect is subtle, and does not require (or merit) the same sacrifice of ergonomics one must make for a truly acoustic instrument. Fair enough?
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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby Michael Hodge » Wed Jun 20, 2018 8:36 am

FWIW, I'm currently finishing a 5-string acoustic archtop bass I've been making for my dad. I followed the Benedetto book for the most part, but with a 4" body depth (to keep it manageable), a cedar top and rosewood back (fully carved) and sides. The rosewood was a largely aesthetic choice after my dad fell in love with the look of a flat-top guitar I made for someone else! We stuck with the 34" Fender scale-length as he's played a Precision for the last 46 years. The neck joins the body at the 18th fret in order to put the bridge in the right place on the soundboard, and has 24 frets because (a) it looks right and (b) why wouldn't you?! The nut is a bit further away than it would be on a Precision, but it's actually quite comfortable to play - in practice, the extra string is probably more of a 'hinderance' than the extra length. We strung it up a couple of weeks ago 'in the white' to make sure there were no disasters under string tension and it sounded very nice indeed. It's not super loud by any means, but it sounds rich and bassy - think 'big acoustic Precision' - and projects nicely (my sister still lives at home and said she could hear dad playing it into the early hours downstairs). We built it with a high-C rather than a low-B, on the basis that the B just wouldn't have anywhere near enough oomph to drive the top - they sound loose and floppy enough on electric basses! The E-string is probably a bit borderline if I'm honest, but works OK. The plan has always been to fit a pickup (we have a K&K Sound Pure Floating Bridge pickup for it), but we're pleased with its acoustic voice. I'd say it will hold its own playing tunes with a couple of mates (which was its main purpose anyway), although I think it'll need an amp to cope with a large session.

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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby John Clifford » Wed Jun 20, 2018 9:43 am

Cool, Micheal. Please post some photos. And a link to some sound clips would be great!
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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby Michael Hodge » Thu Jun 21, 2018 8:09 am

Hi John,

She's mid-finishing at the moment (my first go at French polish), I'll post some pics when she's done. No sound clips unfortunately, as I don't have the means to get a decent/authentic recording! It occurred to me earlier that the body depth I gave above was for the sides (I'm obviously too used to flat-tops!). She's actually about 5.5" deep in total, between the peaks of the top and back arches.

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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby Darrel Friesen » Tue Jul 17, 2018 11:26 am

I built one a few years ago that I've posted previously based on the information and dimensions that Bill Moll so generously posted. It's a 20" lower bout and 4" ribs, 34" scale. It's about as large a guitar as you would want to play without standing it up. It definitely keeps up in an acoustic session. The friend I built it for also rocks it with a pick about half the time when playing acoustic when there are more than a couple of guitars. It also has a floating humbucker for versatility.
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Re: Acoustic archtop bass guitar

Postby Beate Ritzert » Tue Jul 17, 2018 9:07 pm

Wow!
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