Enter a classic example of good quality, northern English making in the form
of this large double bass by James Brown, who worked at Huddersfield
in Yorkshire from 1827 to 1886. The instrument pictured still
bears its maker's original label from Huddersfield dated
1864. It is a flat-back, viol-shaped instrument with high
angle break. The original and exceptionally well preserved
dark brown varnish highlights the medium-flamed maple ribs
and back and a five-piece front of fine to medium grain.
The good, 'solid' neck appears to be the original as there
is no evidence of a neck graft at the peg-box or indeed bushing
to facilitate a conversion from three to four strings. Although
one of the cogs does have very slight differences, it could
be possible that this instrument was made as a four-string.
Fortunately, an inside table inscription from a previous restorer
records a little piece of history, stating '1922 converted
to four strings.'
Currently set up for four strings, a later alteration (in
all likelihood, by the 1992 restorer) and addition to the
peg-box means there is an ingenious mechanism in place for
a simple conversion to a fifth string. On either side of the
peg-box is a customised brass plate which extends above the
top of the peg-box walls to create a bracket. This in turn
holds and locates an additional cog and worm approximately
9cm above the top nut. This neat fixing means that with minimal
disturbance the instrument can become a five-stringer following
a change of top nut and bridge. A seldom-seen but clever idea
for converting an instrument from four to five strings relatively
quickly, this may have been a 'one-off' job for
Whatever the case, this interesting design alleviates the
time-consuming, expensive and often detrimental job of bushing
pegholes and repositioning cogs. It obviates, too, the need
to fit various designs of extension. The system could be incorporated
onto any full- to large-size instrument, providing its bar
is of suitable dimensions to support the additional table
pressure and that its fingerboard has sufficient curvature
to allow all five strings to vibrate freely. As such, it is
an interesting alternative for makers, repairers, manufacturers
of machines and - most importantly - players themselves.
Oh, and good luck with the Strauss!