Finding an endpin height that works for you can be quite a challenge. Many factors come into play when experimenting with endpin heights, including whether the player stands or sits, the shape of the bass, how sloped the shoulders are, player height, whether the player uses a French or German bow, the length of their arms, curviture of the bridge, and how straight they keep their bow arm.
Schools of Thought on Endpins
There’s a delicate balance between having the bass too high for the left hand or too low for the right hand. If the bass is set too high, the lower positions become more fatiguing to play in–not good, especially considering how much time bass players typically spend in first position! The shoulders of an instrument can become a significant obstacle if the instrument is set too high, making it almost impossible to play in the upper register. Setting the instrument too low to the groud, however, opens up a host of problems for the right arm if not done properly.
Personally, I prefer a lower setup to a higher one. I find that keeping the bass set a little lower to the ground, whether standing or sitting, allows my bow arm to remain in a more “natural” position, giving me more power and freedom by keeping my arm a little closer to my torso.
As with everything in bass playing, there is an opposite school of thought that advocated keeping the instrument higher and more horizontal, with the theory being that gravity will help aid bow weight in this configuration. I jokingly refer to this style of playing as “bazooka bass”, though it works for many prominent players.
Here’s a brief rundown of the various approaches to endpin height and their various advantages and disadvantages:
Standing Vertical Approach – very straight up & down bass, straight(er) bow arm close to body, often at hip level–necessitates some adjustment in stance for upper register playing
Seated Vertical Approach – similar to above but on stool, approximates the above in a seated position, endpin usually on one or two notches or perhaps not out at all
Seated Tall Endpin Approach – the classic Rostropovich-like posture, with the top of the bass pointing up in the air, first position freqently behind the player’s head, and bow around chest level and extended out from player’s body; bass shoulders may significantly hamper this approach got some while helping to get around an unwieldy bass for others
Standing Tall Endpin Approach – this approach is popular with many soloists (including Edgar Meyer), making thumb position more comfortable but potentially making low position playing unwieldy
Tilted or Bent Endpin Variants
Having a tilted or bent endpin approach has become quite popular in the bass community in recent years, though still nowhere near the popularity it has with cellists. This can be a very effective way to get the weight of the bass pitched forward, making it easier to balance the instrument. Though I have never taken the bent endpin approach for my own playing, many of my colleagues use them and swear by them.
D.I.Y. Bent Endpin – Many players simply roll up their sleeves and bend a stock endpin for their uses. While this may work for some, this limits you to a fixed angle and height for that endpin. If you get it wrong (or switch between standing and sitting), you’ll need a whole new endpin. Also, endpins affixed this way tend to turn in the socket when playing, which can be annoying.
Egg Pin – This innovative endpin mechanism allows for a great deal of customization. It’s a pretty substantial (and expensive) gadget and not for all tastes, but it certainly offers a wide array of options.
Redrilled Slanted Endpin Socket
A more radical approach to solving the endpin balancing issue is to actually redrill a new socket at an angle and mount a pin there. Two approaches utilizing this method spring to mind. Both use a fixed length wooden endpin:
Rabbath-style Ball Tip Wooden Pin – François Rabbath uses a long wooden endpin with a rubber ball on the end. This is a very stable way to hold the bass in a standing position. The length of the endpin can work greatnfor solo playing, especially on a bass with narrow upper bouts.
Fixed Length Seated or Standing Pin – This kind of wooden endpin has gotten to be fairly popular as of late. It is a fixed length pin at an angle that provides a good deal of stability. Adjusting the height isn’t going to happen without a new pin, but it can be a good solution for many bassists.