This is a very decently made English instrument.
It is viol shaped and has a flat back with upper angle break. The
front has purfilling - the back does not. The golden-brown varnish
is the original.
Yes - the instrument has a back length of only 112.7cm.
This means that proportionally the whole instrument is a fair bit
smaller than the full-bodied and "grand" Brescian models - that
can measure upwards of 114.0cm - so traditional of the English
school of making.
The smaller proportions of this instrument will
definitely suit a great number of players. The flat back and nicely
raked shoulders mean that it is very easy to move up into the thumb
position, the higher positions and the areas up in the rosin dust.
The string length of only 105.5cm means that it is not necessary
to stretch and strain ones left hand in the lower positions.
The instrument certainly doesn't disappoint in this
department. It has the power and quality of sound that is associated
with fine English instruments.
No unfortunately it does not have any internal labels
or inscriptions. What it did have was a Calow, Nottingham brand
at the root of the bass side neck.
Yes that's right. As part of our restoration programme
- it was necessary to replace the Calow neck with one of more standard
measurements. The Calow neck that was removed has been retained
and accompanies the instrument as part of its history.
The instrument was purchased by its former owner
around the year 1990 from a well known bass shop located to the
North-West of London. It was sold to that person as being by William
Calow. Although we Boffins at The Contrabass Shoppe have not had
the privilege to examine a Calow double bass before - the characteristics
and features of the instrument do support what we know about
the maker and his work.
The main features are as follows;
1) The model; We know that William Calow worked
in Nottingham and made instruments on the viol outline. It was
a model favoured by the more Northerly-English makers of the 19th
and early 20th century. Other makers that also adopted this model
include William Tarr of Manchester, James Briggs of Wakefield,
James Cole of Manchester, James Brown of Huddersfield, T. Davies
of Birmingham and William Howarth of Manchester.
2) The varnish; The rich golden-brown colours, texture and application
of the varnish are in keeping - if not fairly typical - of Carlow's
3) Guarneri features; We know that William Calow made instruments
that were loosely based on a Guaneri model. If we look at the this
instrument it does display Guaneri-esk type features in the arching
of the table, the cut and positioning of the F's and the form and
execution of the scroll.
4) Wood; The wood for the back, ribs and scroll is made from English
Sycamore which is in keeping with William Carlow's output.
Yes. There were three members of the Calow family
strongly associated with bass making who lived and worked in Nottingham.
According to The Universal Dictionary of Violin and Bow makers
by William Henley [Amati Publishing Ltd 1973]
1. William Calow (1847-1910) - collected basses
and specialized in making them.
2. Thomas Calow (1868-1905) - son and pupil of William. Assisted
father in repairing. Committed suicide at 37 by hanging himself
with a bass string.
3. Francis William Calow (1884-1925) - son, pupil and successor
of William. Many instruments stamped 'Calow Nottingham'.
Yes there was Thomas
Calow (1833-1852) who lived in Tansley, Derbyshire. Thomas was
the father of William Calow and grandfather of Francis William.
He is reputed to have produced a few nicely made violins and violas
following the Stainer model.
The form, features and workmanship suggest
that the instrument was made before 1880. If we take a look at
the dates of the members of the family William was the only member
of the family that was physically around and capable of making
an instrument. He would have been between 23-33 years of age.
In terms of double bass making there is a very good
write-up about him as follows;
"Born in Tansley 1847. Travelled extensively to collect double-basses.
Had a remarkable collection of 40 or 50 of these large instruments
which brought experts and amateurs from every country to his establishment
in Sussex Street, Nottingham. Died 1910.
Made a speciality of making double-basses of the
old viol type with Guarnerian characteristics. Altogether produced
about 20 splendid specimens. Workmanship shows his heedfulness
and enthusiasm. Made himself thoroughly acquainted with the principles
of light and shade varnishing. Oil varnish - orange and nut brown.
Experimented with the bass bar which he usually split about midway
between the centre and lower end, and opened the two ends fish-tail
shape. Arrived at an almost perfect purity of tone with depth and
Also made violins and cellos."
Yes - the instrument has been fully upgraded to
modern day concert standards. In brief we've set the instrument
up with a new neck, fingerboard, bridge and post and the peg box
is now adorned with a stunning set of new Baker style machines
set on brass half plates. Internally - improvements have been made
to the acoustics by means of judicious regraduation work and the
replacement of the original bass bar. A photograph that shows the
meticulous level of work performed on the inside table accompanies
Yes indeed it was. But in our opinion it has been
worth all the effort - for the instrument is now structurally in
The main reason that English instruments are in
such demand is because they produce the power and quality of sound
that professional players want and need in order to do a top job.
Should you happen to be of smaller stature or have particularly
small hands then you will already know just how difficult it is
to find an English instrument - or any instrument of quality for
that matter - of more manageable proportions. If this is the sort
of instrument that you are looking for we suggest you get down
to The Contrabass Shoppe as soon as you can. We are confident that
you'll be well impressed by this instrument's looks, feel and performance.
We are also confident that with time this instrument will prove
to be a most worthy investment.
LOB (length of back) - 112.7cm (44.35in)
Width across upper bouts - 52.0cm (20.50in)
Width across middle bouts - 38.4cm (15.15in)
Width across lower bouts - 70.0cm (27.50in)
Depth of lower ribs inc both plates - 20.0cm (7.85in)
Body Stop - 60.0cm (23.65in)
String length - 105.5cm (41.50in)