Red Mitchell (1927-1992)
uting to a Renaissance of the fifths tuning expe-
rience a fascinating "liberation" of their instru-
ment. The American jazz bassist Red Mitchell was the first double bass player of recent times
to experiment with it. Oddly enough, it was experiments with a violoncello tuned in fourths that first put him onto the scent of what was then considered to be the "new tuning": He noticed that the sound of the cello was not so good when it was tuned in fourths, and drew from this the conclusion that the sound of the double bass might be correspondingly improved if it was tuned in fifths. He proved to be right in his suspicions, and was so delighted with the open, resonant sound of the instru-
ment and the possibility of producing the
at first "just wanted to see what life was like without an extension". Of his experiences with the fifths tuning, he wrote: "The physics are different when you tune in fifths because you are in the same groove as the rest of the string section." It is Quarrington´s opinion that it is only with the fifths tuning that harmonic intonation can be achieved within the string ensemble: "The bass in fourths is impossible to tune – if you make the fourths perfect your low string
The American double bass player Dennis Masuzzo may have been the first to publish a thorough, systematic introduction to playing the fifths-tuned double bass: "Playing the Double Bass Tuned in Fifths
I had never experienced – I was hooked."
It is actually difficult not to write enthusiastically about the fifths tuning, because its other advantages in addition to the tonal ones are so clear:
- only one instrument is needed for the whole orchestral, solo and chamber music repertoire. It is not necessary to have one double bass in E-A-D-G, another in F#-B-E-A and where possible also a five-string instrument.
- the original literature of solo works written before 1800 can be realised significantly better than with the fourths tuning.
- you always play in C, there is no more transposition, as with the solo tuning.
Only with the traditional fingering are more changes of position necessary (when using the four-finger technique, it is less rather than more), but even then the Ztuning can be brought well under control, as Dennis Masuzzo shows.
As a variant of the C-G-D-A tuning, I also play, so to speak as a "solo fifths tuning", the historically documented G-D-A-E tuning. Details on this can be found
in the My Bassetto section.
Here you can find more on the topic.