Sunday September 24, 2017
Silvio Dalla Torre
Guest Articles / Sundries

Doubleneck Bass

Contributed by Johannes Kramp, of Troisdorf

I bought the double bass illustrated here in 1965 as a student from a Hungarian violin professor in Bonn-Bad Godesberg, on a spur of the moment decision. What attracted me as a cellist and double bass player (amateur musician) was that this instrument can also be played in fifths tuning, so that the lowest note is not low E but the C below that. How often I had had to play important low notes an octave higher on my normal four-string double bass! With this new kind of bass, it was only necessary for this purpose to replace the neck with the other shorter one, by screwing it in. For two years, I actually played chamber music with my new fifths bass. Later, my brother played it for a while as a fourths bass. These days, the instrument stands in our living room, where it has been for twenty years, as a piece of "designer furniture".

Since I wanted to live more modestly as a pensioner and get rid of the instrument, I carried out some research a few years ago into the origin and value of my special double bass. I put it for some time in the display space of an instrument maker, hoping to obtain further information as to its origin and history. Without success, as none of the customers of the instrument maker was able to tell me anything about it.

This is all the information I possess.

The Hungarian musician Professor Mikulai from whom I bought the instrument, before emigrating to Germany at the end of the fifties, had been active as the Principal of a conservatory in his home country, as well as holding jobs in France and the Lebanon. He explained to me when I bought the bass that it had been developed in Hungary between 1920 and 1940 with the intention of announcing it in the musical world as a prototype. However, it had not been possible to accomplish this.

More recently, I have been able to locate former students of Prof. Mikulai who had taken violin lessons with him before 1965. Unfortunately none of them had ever seen the instrument or heard anything about it. The following information and opinions are all that I have been able to obtain so far:
  • a violin maker was of the opinion that the instrument might have been converted for a handicapped musician
  • another violin maker thought that the Hungarian violin makers had generally been very innovative, supporting the thesis of its being intended as a new development
  • the bass might have been played by a musician in a group which played while walking (as was usual with the cello or bassett).
The dimensions of the instrument:

Overall length 168 cm (158 cm with the short neck)
Scale 93 cm (83 cm)
Body length 100 cm
Upper width 53 cm
Centre width 32.5 cm
Lower width 64.5 cm
Rib depth: 12 cm (at the neck joint) to 17.5 cm (central ribs)

My jazz teacher had, incidentally, recommended me at the time to upgrade from my then plywood bass to a "valuable" solid wood bass.

I have written my little double bass story at Prof. Dalla Torre´s suggestion.
Does anyone know anything about my "unique Hungarian"?
I would be very pleased to hear about it