At this summer’s International Society of Bassists Convention, I got a chance to chat with double bassist George Lagakos about bass luthier Bob Stoltenberg, who currently resides in Plano, Illinois. George showed me a very cool folk bow with a carved head for the tip that Bob made, which was very well-crafted and showed an imaginative flair.
George has known Bob for many years, and it turns out that Bob has had quite an interesting past and has interacted with some of the most prominent figures in modern double bass history.
About Bob, George writes:
In 1989, I was living in San Francisco and started bass lessons with a Gary Karr protege. In looking for a bass and bow, we stumbled upon a shop in Oakland, Ca. there busy working was this slight, long haired, goateed, older cat (and I was already 40). He was fine tuning a beautiful 5 string bass that he had made…my teacher played it; gorgeous! As I was just beginning to play it was out of my price range; however we did commission Bob to make a German bow to be modeled from my teacher’s LeMay…he did it beautifully.
Bob and I started hanging out and I learned his story:
As a young man growing up in Chicago, Bob got into jazz and its culture at that time and place. He was good friends with Wilbur Ware and got involved with drugs as well as the music and the bass. Still a youngster, he apprenticed in a well known Chicago violin shop. When he met his future wife Julie, they decided they needed to leave the country for him to get cleaned up and he applied and was admitted into the Stradavari School of Violin Making in Cremona, Italy in the late 60’s. He studied violin making with his several maestros there. Being a bass player, he wanted to make a bass, which wasn’t being done there at that time and revived the interest in doing so–I think he was one of the first Americans to graduate from Cremona. He was then and has always remained clean of drugs thereafter.
On his return to the States they moved from Chicago, to Port Townsend, Washington to Oakland, CA; making violas, cellos and principally basses along the way…Sadly, Julie got MS while still a young woman and Bob devoted years to her care as she became bedridden until she passed some years ago.
While in Oakland, Ray Brown was doing a week at Yoshi’s and dropped his bass.. he used a bass Bob made to finish the week: this bass was called “LadyBird” and had a carved woman’s face for a scroll and a huge bottom.
I know that Joe Gustafeste has uses one of his bows, but this is how I learned of his talent:
In 1992 we moved back East, to New Jersey near Philly…in looking for a bass teacher, I found Bob Riccardi Sr. who was principal bassist in the Pennsylvania Ballet for over 30 years and one of the top Philadelphia area bass repair men.
A few years later I was able to afford that 5 string Stoltenberg bass (Bob had moved back to Chicago area) and had it shipped…well it came sprung so i gave it to Mr. Riccardi to re glue…in working on it he came to realise it was built in a most special, old school way, and when he strung it up and played it I was blown away!
Bob Riccardi told me many times that it was the finest sounding contemporary bass he ever heard. (and he had worked on many Philly Orch guys, etc.) He said it made him think of what his bass must of sounded like it when it was new. (his bass being the guitar shaped “Storioni” immortalized in mosaic by my wife, featured on the International Society of Bassists magazine cover and web).
I think Stoltenberg has been looked over, passed by, by the bass world in general. Recently, his local television station did a piece on his Bat Trio–a viola, cello and bass–having a flying bat for F holes and scrolls.
The following shots are of George’s 5-string bass “The Kite,” which Bob Stoltenberg built: