Double Bass Sizing FAQ
Bass sizing is not an exact science. Rule #1: There Are No Rules. The Double Bass (a.k.a. Upright Bass) is an instrument that only recently evolved over the last few hundred years, that is still being made by hand by individuals who build them to satisfy their own interpretation of the instrument. There are quite a lot of variances in sizing and design. But there are some conventions that many basses share, so we have this information here. Just be aware that the numbers here may not match up with your particular instrument -- and that's okay.
3/4 size is recognized as a regular size bass. 99.5% of the basses on the planet are 3/4 size (and 74.38% of all statistics are made up on the spot). But you will find that 3/4 size is by far most common bass size. a 4/4 size bass is really considered more of a "jumbo" or "XXL" bass - and mostly they are used in orchestras, where acoustic volume is very important, and the extra depth can be advantageous for those using E-string extensions for extra low notes (usually down to low C).
|Why is 3/4 size considered the "Full Size" bass?
We believe that it's because the instrument - and most importantly, its strings - have improved over time to make such a huge instrument less necessary for tone/pitch quality. Originally, the instrument was called a "double bass" because it was created for use in very large orchestras to "double" the cello parts one octave down. They were huge, unwieldy instruments, using gut strings (all they had at the time) and were a beast to play. The development of the overwound gut string, and later, steel and other materials -- improving the tone, pitch, and playability of the erewhile massively thick low strings -- quite likely saved the double bass from extinction. This improvement in strings alone provided access to much better-sounding lower notes, while also allowing the instrument to be resized to its more practical current dimensions, which was dubbed a "3/4 size" bass, since it was smaller than the existing basses. While confusing, it all helped to evolve the bass into a legitimate instrument of its own standing, no longer relegated to simply doubling the parts of other instruments.
So don't be compelled to purchase a 4/4 size bass because you think it's "better" than a 3/4 size bass, or you believe that you need to have a "full size" bass. Playing double bass can be quite the challenge, and if you are tall and/or have big hands, be thankful. You will find playing 3/4 size basses less of a challenge than we short folks with small hands. Generally speaking, a 4/4 bass is not going to automatically be "better" than a 3/4 size bass -- your selection should be based on the instrument and your specific needs among other factors. Size, in this case, may not matter, unless bragging rights are important to you. From a practical perspective, the selection of accessories is far smaller for 4/4 basses - it's harder to find cases and strings that are reliably sized for 4/4 basses. But really, playing bass isn't like competitive diving - you don't get extra points for degree of difficulty.
All of the above said, the information below shows some generally accepted guidelines for bass sizing. I am guessing that the original numbers were stated in Metric and were converted for U.S. use, which accounts for the uneven numbers. Again, keep in mind that these are approximate numbers for reference purposes only.
Note also that it's not uncommon to have some measurements on your bass correspond to one size, and some correspond to another - your bass may have a 3/4 scale, but an oversized body that measures like a 4/4 bass. Or some other combination, like the Kay and Engelhardt Maestro Junior models, with their (roughly) 1/2 size body and 1/4 size scale. Like I said - it's not an exact science!
|Steve Freides is a longtime customer (and private bass teacher in Ridgewood, NJ - see his listing in our Teacher Directory) -- he offers this helpful, thoughtful consideration on choosing a bass size for a child learning bass:
Your web page implies - quite correctly, in my opinion - that a 3/4 size bass is the right size for the overwhelming majority of adults. I'd like to add three points based on my own experience in the world of basses and teaching bass, a chronology of basses through the course of a life, if you will:
1. Starting Out: The overwhelming majority of 5th grade students should be playing a 1/4 size bass. I see a lot of 5th grade bass students. I have yet to meet a 5th grader for whom a 1/4 size bass isn't the right size. It's not too small even for someone 5 feet tall or a little over in the 5th grade. The reach is challenging for everyone new to double bass, and - this is the most important point - it's better to have the bass be a little too small than a little too big for elementary school-aged children.
2. Transitioning to Adult Size: Although 1/2 or 5/8 sized basses are nice, most students can successfully transition without one, moving from a 1/4 directly to a 3/4 sized instrument. The age at which they do this will depend on when they grow and how big they are. I've had students play a 1/4 all the way through the end of 8th or even 9th grade then switch to a 3/4 size for high school, and I've had students to move to a 3/4 size in 6th grade because they're a lot taller than average (and usually, so are their parents).
3. When You've Stopped Growing: My own bass teacher is 6' 5" and doesn't play a 4/4 - he plays a 7/8 size. If you think you need bigger than a 3/4 sized bass, well, think again. You may decide, of course, that you like or want a bigger bass, but "like" or "want" isn't the same as "need." Unless you're big enough to have considered basketball as a career, you'll be fine with a 3/4 size bass - and even then, a 3/4 may be the right size for you.