PARTS, GLOSSARY of Upright Bass terms

Welcome to our Glossary!

We have a list of common terms relating to the... Upright Bass, Double Bass, String Bass, Bass Viol, Contrabass, Bass Fiddle, Bull Fiddle, Acoustic Bass, Standup Bass, Doghouse Bass... (there is no difference among these, they're just different names for the same thing).

Many of the terms are specific to the parts of the double bass; those are listed first, along with a related illustration for many of them. Additional important bass terms are in a separate list below the parts glossary.

Parts Glossary

The images at right are labeled with parts of the bass, and the entries below may also include comments to help familiarize yourself with the parts and their purpose.

Afterlength
This is the part of the string that travels from the bridge to the hole in the tailpiece.
Bass Bar
This is a piece of spruce (usually) inside the instrument, glued to or carved into the top running parallel to the lowest string. It reinforces the top so it does not collapse under the pressure of the bridge. (interior view)
Belly
The top, or front of the bass, usually spruce. The back and sides of basses are usually maple.
Bout
TThese sections of the bass are defined by the shape of the top: upper, "c" (the middle, indented section), and lower.
Bridge
The bridge supports and shapes the strings
C Bout: See bout
Dowel: See soundpost (interior view)
Endblock
The wood at the bottom of the bass that provides the heft necessary to handle the pressures exerted by the endpin assembly. (interior view)
Endpin/Endpin Assembly
The endpin assembly consists of a shaft and sleeve, and in most cases with some sort of mechanism to tighten the shaft. The Endpin Assembly also has a groove or some sort of arrangement to hold one end of the Tailgut (tailpiece wire). There are many variations of endpins, they are not interchangeable, and the endblock and/or endpin assembly must be modified to mate. The endpin shaft often comes to a sharp point; this allows a (usually orchestral) player to "stake into" the floor in order to couple with the stage (but always ask first!) For most players, the bass is played with the point covered by a non-slip rubber cap or screw-on cover.
Extension (not pictured)
An optional mechanism that is installed to the headstock, to extend the lowest string in order to produce notes below E.
F-Hole: Also Sound Hole 
an opening in the bass table (top) which allows the sound produced by the bass vibration to project outward.
Fingerboard
The "fingering" surface attached to the neck, usually made of ebony or another hardwood (don't call it a fretboard, there are no frets!!). Ebony is traditional due to its hardness, but even it will eventually begin to groove and need planing to return it to playing condition. Does your fingerboard have a sharp angle between the E and A strings? See Romberg Bevel.
Flatback
The back of the bass, when it is flat, not rounded like the top of the bass.
Gamba shape
The C bout (center section of body) edges are shaped as in the illustration, as opposed to violin corners, which are pronounced and pointy.
Headstock
The top portion of the neck, consisting of the pegbox, tuning machines and the scroll.
Lower Bout: See bout
Machines/Machine Heads: Also Tuning Machines, Tuners - the gear and post mechanisms which allow for tuning the strings to their open (base) pitch.
Mensur
The sounding (vibrating) part of the string between the nut and bridge. AKA "playing length."
Neck:
Usually made of maple, the part of the instrument which attaches to the top of the body and supports the fingerboard and contains the pegbox and scroll.
Nut
The block of wood at the top of the fingerboard, usually ebony or whatever hardwood that is used for the fingerboard. The nut is cut to hold the strings in place, with slight indents that are smooth and no deeper than half the size of the string.
Overstand
The distance from the bass' top to the bottom of the fingerboard.
Peg Box
The squared-off opening in the top of the neck where the strings are wound onto the tuning machine posts.
Ribs
The curved "sides" of the bass that create the body's depth.
Roundback
The back of the bass when it is rounded, like the front of the bass, rather than being constructed with a flat piece of wood, as in a flatback bass.
Romberg Bevel/E-Bevel (not pictured)
An optional flat-planed area of the fingerboard beneath the E string, which allows for more area for the large E-string to vibrate, so it doesn't hit the board. This is a tradition dating from when E-strings were larger in diameter and "floppier" - the "need" for the bevel has diminished with more modern string technology. However, some basses are still made with one because they are a "tradition" and some players prefer them.
Saddle
The block of wood, usually ebony or a stained hardwood, located at the bottom of the bass top. The tailgut (see below) runs over this block to the endpin assembly.
Scroll
The traditional ornamental spiral shape at the top of the headstock.
Shoulders
They develop below the neck joint; more sloping shoulders can be useful to soloists and other thumb position players, for easier access.
Sound Hole: See F-Hole
Sound Post
This round "wooden dowel", usually made from seasoned spruce, spans the top to the back inside of the bass. It is not glued in, but is held by the pressure of the strings and bridge. The location is usually in vertical alignment with the high string side bridge foot, a bit below it. Typical placement is from one to two inches from the foot, but location is determined by the desired effect on the sound. Warning: Loosening/removing the strings will often result in the sound post falling out of place. (interior view)
Table
The top or front of the bass, usually spruce.
Tailgut
The length of material around the base of the endpin assembly that loops through and secures the tailpiece. These are made from a variety of materials, such as gut, solid and stranded cable, synthetics, and specialized rope.
Tailpiece
This device anchors the strings through the keyholes at the top, and is held in place by the tension of the Tailgut at the bottom. Usually made of ebony or whatever hardwood matches the fingerboard. Its weight can be a critical contributor to the sound of the bass, so light ebony is often favored, but as with most parts, it depends on the instrument. Tailpieces are can also made of composite materials, metal, exotic woods, and there are even devices that use nothing but wire in order to eliminate the mass of the tailpiece.
Tailpiece Wire: See Tailgut
Top
The belly, or front of the bass, usually spruce.
Tuning Keys/Tuners: See Machines
Upper Bout
See bout
Violin Corners:
A structural difference where the C-bout has a slightly wider construction and pointed edges like a violin.

 

 

Additional Bass Terms Glossary

Arco
This is the term that describes playing a stringed instrument with a bow. (Plucking is Pizzicato).
Bib
A fabric drape that hangs over the upper bout and prevents wear damage to the finish while playing. They often have a pocket for a pencil or other small accessories. We sell bibs here!
French (Style) Bow
For bass, bows are available in two major styles. French Bows have the shorter frog, and are played with an overhand grip, sililar to the other stringed orchestral instruments. Read More.
Frog
The "handle" of the bow; the part that you grasp with your hands. More info.
German (Style) Bow
For bass, bows are available in two major styles. German Bows have a taller frog, and are played with an underhand grip, which is different than the other stringed orchestral instruments. Read More.
Grip
The manner in which the bow is held with the hand. Read More.
Gut
A natural material used for making strings (and occasionally, other parts of the bass, like the tailgut (tailpiece cable). The material is obtained by harvesting and processing (usually) sheep intestine.
Luthier
A person who repairs and maintains stringed musical instruments (and usually, their bows). We have a directory of bass luthiers sorted by state/country here!
Pickup
A device that turns the acoustic vibrations from your instrument into an electrical signal that can be amplified. Pickups for upright bass commonly use piezo-electric crystal trandsducers for this, but there are other types of pickups available as well. We have a pickup buyer's guide here!
Piezo
Short for "piezo-electric" - it's a technology that is a means for creating an electrical signal to amplify a musical instrument, usually by combining a crystalline substance with a ceramic, and connecting wires to capture the electrical reaction which occurs when pressure is applied. How do you say it?
Pizzicato
Describes playing a stringed instrument by plucking with one's fingers. (Bowing is Arco).
Rosin
Usually made of tree resin, Rosin is a material that is applied to the bow hairs to give them grip on the strings and allow a stringed instrument to make sound when played with a bow.
Scale
Scale length is the total length of the vibrating portion of the string - this is from the nut to the bridge. Some common scale lengths are here.
Setup
A "setup" on a bass usually refers to the optimization of its playability and tone quality, through the proper fitment of the hardware (bridge, tailpiece) and adjustment of fingerboard scoop/planing, proper soundpost positioning, and other factors. A properly set up instrument will play more easily and sound much better than one that has not had this service performed. A luthier can do this for you, but generally, our basses have already been set up before being shipped to our customers, saving you that step.
Silks
The ends of most bass strings are wrapped with silk (or nylon/other material) threads to keep them from separating. Most of the strings use unique colors and patterns so that they can be easily identified.
Sizing (3/4, 4/4, 1/2, etc.)
Stringed instruments come in various sizes, which fit into general fractional designations. 3/4 size is the most common upright bass size, and is considered to be the "regular" size bass. Sizing is not an exact science, though - check this article out for more information.
Slap, Slapstyle
Describes a style of play where the strings are struck with the hands and snapped by lifting and releasing, for a click-heavy, aggressively percussive sound. Commonly used in rockabilly and psychobilly musical styles.
Solo Tuning
Describes a set of strings designed to be tuned one whole step higher than standard E-A-D-G tuning; this is to accommodate players of solo repertoire. The higher tuning facilitates easier access to the higher registers. More in-depth information.
Thumb Position
Thumb position is a string instrument playing technique used to allow one to play in the upper register of the double bass; to do it, one moves their hand out from behind the neck, and places it with the side of their thumb down on the string, using it to finger the notes high on the fingerboard.
Wolf Tone
So called because the "bleating" sound is reminiscent of a wolf's howl, it is a specific note that is particularlty overpowering - sounding out of place - on a specific instrument. More information is here.



Contact us if you have a term you feel should be added to the list!

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