5-String Double Bass by Johann Klier, Bohemia circa 1890 – Review

What a fantastic looking instrument.

Yes - everything about this instrument by Johann Klier is either well done or is just simply awesome. First - take a look at the model. The violin outline with swell back is symmetrical and well balanced and looks just like a large Strad model violin. Second - take a look at the condition. It's what we'd describe as very, very good.

How does the instrument sound?

You'll be pleased to know that along with the good looks and condition is a sound quality and volume to match. This really is a mega sounding instrument.

I'm looking for a manageable 5-stringer.

With a length of back (LOB) measurement of 114.4cm and nicely proportioned upper shoulders this really is a very manageable instrument to get around.

How does that LOB stat compare to other 5-stringers?

In the past we have sold two instruments by Ferdinand Seitz. The first one had a LOB that measured an incredible 120.0cm. The second one measured 118.3cm. By comparison then - the Klier is very much smaller.

So who was Johann Klier?

The Encyclopaedia of Violin Makers by Karel Jalovec lists no less than 23 makers with the same surname. Nearly all of these makers were members or descendants of the same family who lived and worked in Schönbach, a town right in the middle of the historic violin making area roughly encompassed by Nuremberg, Leipzig and Prague.

Is the instrument labelled?

Yes. There is a large makers label affixed in the normal position to the inside back. It notifies us of where Klier lived and worked as follows; JOHANN KLIER, STEINGRUB, Post Fleissen, Böhmen (CSR).

Does the Jaovec Encyclopaedia inform us of anything else?

Yes. Jalovec informs us that besides his production of new instruments Klier also undertook repairs and manufactured strings.

Can you tell me more about the amazing condition of the instrument?

Yes - when we removed the table - the minimal amount of splintering to the table at the rib/table join suggested that the table had only been removed the once. On examination of the inside table - a red-pencil inscription dated 17th March 1960 confirmed that the table had definitely been removed previously. The illegible inscription was presumably from that of an Eastern European repairer.

Is the repairer's signature still visible?

Unfortunately no. In order to maximize the sound potential of the instrument, the work required to the inside table resulted in the removal of all traces of the signature.

Was the removal of the signature really necessary?

Yes. When this instrument was built it was made for large thick gut - low-tension strings. Today we use narrow high-tension steel strings that require neck angles to be set much, much higher. When built we can assume that this meticulously made instrument sounded great. Left as it is - with our modern strings and set-up requirements the instrument will only provide a mediocre performance. To achieve a really good sound from an instrument the plates (front and back) need to vibrate properly when the strings are moved.

Does this explain the very, very good condition of the instrument?

Yes - quite probably. We can safely assume that this instrument has been left untouched in the last 50-60 years simply because it never played very well with a more modern set-up. Here's a question for you. Can you tell me why any player would want to play on an instrument that doesn't sound any good?

OK - I take your point. So what did you do to the instrument?

In addition to the necessary regraduation work - the instrument has benefitted from the fitment of a new bass bar and some half edging and edging work. Externally the instrument benefits from the fitment of a stunning new neck and fingerboard.

What about finishing touches to the neck?

Finishing touches to the neck include the reshaping of the back button with the fitment of an ebony crown and the fitment of ebony strips to the neck/ribs join.

What about the machines on the pegbox? They look absolutely stunning.

Yes - these have been made by hand in England and are rather splendid.

I noticed that the bridge sports some nifty looking wooden adjusters.

Yes - we've fitted some beautiful boxwood adjusters to the bridge. If you do have to make the odd adjustment to the height of the bridge - we reckon that you'll be mighty impressed by how easy they are to use and just how great they feel in the hand.

OK - so how has the work turned out?

The work has turned out absolutely fantastic and the proof is in the playing. As one draws the bow across the strings the whole instrument begins to vibrate and a simply colossal sound comes out. I promise you - you won't be able to stop smiling at the enormity of sound. Hold on to the china plates!

Does the instrument "speak" reasonably quickly on the bottom strings?

Yes indeed. We've set the instrument up with a set of the fabulous Belcanto strings and a Superflexible B-string. As a result the instrument 'speaks' so quickly that we'll be very impressed if your bowing technique can match what this instrument is capable of doing.

What about the string length?

Bearing in mind that this is a full size instrument - the string length works out at an incredibly manageable 106.0cm.

How does the Klier match up with the English orchestral instruments that 'The Contrabass Shoppe' has on offer in 'The Top Quality Instruments' section?

Really - the quality of making in this instrument is excellent and the huge basso-organ like sound and full-rounded tone compete favourably with the best of the English instruments. With so many of the English instruments now well out of the reach of many players, from the financial viewpoint this glorious instrument is easily the next best thing.

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