By Louise Lee
Ask double bassists about the downsides of playing the instrument, and they will likely point to travel. Small cars can’t accommodate the instrument in the trunk or back seat. Train operators and bus drivers scowl when they see you coming. Airlines clamped down after 9/11, making traveling with a bass more complicated than it already was. A conventional 3/4-sized bass requires a rigid travel case, which measures about 80 inches tall, 30 inches wide, and 20 inches deep, adding up to a whopping 130 linear inches and possibly putting you into the airline’s “oversized” category.
To avoid the hassle, some players leave the bass at home, borrow one at their destination, and risk ending up with an unfamiliar, and possibly inferior, instrument at the gig.
For those who don’t want to travel with a conventional bass or borrow one on the road, another option is to use a travel bass. Designed to convert to a smaller, less-awkward shape and size, travel basses either fold up or disassemble and fit into a rectangular case that, when packed, meets the dimensions and 50-pound weight limit of most airlines. Most cases are also designed to fit into the trunk or backseat of mid-size and larger cars.
Makers say their travel basses sound comparable to a regular model and could in fact be used as a player’s sole instrument. Not everyone agrees about sound quality, of course, and some players cite concerns about string heights or resonance. However, there is no question that a collapsible bass makes travel a lot easier.
Here’s a sampling of the travel basses on the market now, in case you’d like to see how one would work for you.
Upton’s Lightweight Upright Travel Bass features an aluminum joint that lets the player slide the neck completely off the instrument. To reduce weight, the Upton bass uses special cogs, an extra-light tailpiece and pegs made of aluminum, among other design features. Yet the instrument still has the appearance of a conventional bass. “It should be a bass first and a travel bass second,” says founder Gary Upton, adding that his design balances reduced weight with quality and durability.
In the setup, which takes about 15 minutes, the player slides the neck onto the body and uses a hex key to set the neck to the desired height. Then the player positions
the strings, sets up the tailpiece, endpin, and bridge, and checks the soundpost. In disassembly, which requires fewer than ten minutes, players remove the endpin and tailpiece and use the hex key to loosen and slide the neck off the body. The neck, strings, and tailpiece all stay attached to each other. Prices start at $5,500 for a fully laminated, round-back instrument and go up to $10,000. A case is included.
Upton notes that the height of the removable neck is adjustable, letting the player control string height by simply setting the neck in the desired position. Setting string height at the neck lets players use a solid bridge and avoid adjustable bridges. “I have people who buy our travel bass not to travel but just for the adjustable neck,” says Upton.
Owner Charlie Chadwick, a professional bassist who grew weary of borrowing instruments while on tour, spent three years experimenting before designing a bass on which the neck folds downward into the body. Chadwick says he wanted a design that didn’t require any tools or other accessories. “No wrenches, straps, bolts—nothing to leave behind at a gig,” he says.
To increase efficiency of space and reduce the size of the case, Chadwick’s design
stores the tailpiece, endpin, fingerboard, and neck inside the body, behind a door built into the back of the instrument. Inside the body, all those parts are held in place with an internal clamp that can be removed when the bass is in use. To reduce buzzes and other rattles that metal hinges can produce, the bass uses a nylon compression fitting to secure the door in the instrument back. To disassemble the instrument, players loosen the strings, remove the bridge, endpin, and fingerboard, and fold the neck down into the body.
Chadwick’s bass, which sells for $3,800 and comes with a case of reinforced fiberglass, is made of conventional materials including spruce, ebony, and brass. Chadwick adds that as far as he knows, the fastest setup of his bass occurred in one and a half minutes, and the quickest teardown required 47 seconds.
Baldwin, New York
Kolstein’s Busetto travel bass has a removable neck and a scaled-down, slimmer body. It requires a pickup, which comes with the instrument, and players can choose either a lightweight carbon-fiber endpin or a conventional one. With a pickup and amplifier, the instrument sounds comparable to a conventional bass, says owner Barrie Kolstein. The bass, which costs $5,800, comes with a hardshell case for the body and a padded gig bag for the neck.
To disassemble the instrument, first remove the endpin, loosen the strings, and take off the tailpiece. Use a 5/16-inch Allen wrench to loosen and remove the large screw at the neck. Unscrew the ebony knob at the back of the neck and pull the neck to remove it from the body. To reattach the neck, put it back into the locking slot on the body, use the Allen wrench to tighten the screw, and tighten the ebony knob. Reattach the tailpiece and reposition the bridge and strings. Setup and teardown each take about ten minutes.
This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Strings magazine.