While poking around online recently, I found an older article from Indiana University bass professor and Contrabass Conversations guest Lawrence Hurst:
The modern double bass is not a true member of either the violin or viol families. Most likely its first general shape was that of a violone, the largest member of the viol family. Some of the earliest basses extant are violones, (including C-shaped sound holes) that have been fitted with modern trappings. At the beginning of the 17th century, Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) described a violon da gamba sub-bass, a five-stringed specimen tuned DD EE AA D G. While this monster (over 8 feet tall) was tuned very much like the modern bass, it must be considered an unusual bass instrument for any era. Praetorius noted that the player of this instrument had to read the regular notation for the bass line even though the sounds he produced were actually an octave lower than what he saw, a practice that is the standard procedure for the double bass players of today. It is also interesting to note that Praetorius’ drawing of the instrument was patterned more after the violin shape than that of the viol. At the same time the neck appeared fretted and the bow held underhanded after the manner of the viols. It was not until around 1800 that the frets were finally removed. The underhanded bowing style is still with us today.
Generally, the Germans developed the double bass along the shape of the viol, continuing the tradition of the sloping shoulders and flat back. Most probably, this resulted from converting the older instruments mentioned above. The Italians, however, enthused over the newer violin, built many early examples of basses with violin corners and curved backs. The basses were generally much larger than their German counterparts. Gasparo da Salò (1540-1609) is known to have made two such models around 1602, both of them larger than our standard models of today.
Read the complete article here.
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