Double bass by George Corsby 1, London circa 1800 – Review

Who was Corsby?

There is relatively little information written about Corsby. In a chapter about Samuel Gilkes (1787-1827) the highly researched volume - 'The British Violin' published in 2000 by The British Violin Making Association mentions Corsby and John Morrison (1760-1827) in passing as indistinguished makers and dealers of the time.

More substantial is The 'Dictionary Of British Violin And Bow Makers' by Dennis G. Plowright (Published in 1994 by the author.) who comes up with a paragraph (nine lines) on the maker. Plowright informs us that Corsby worked in Princes Street, Leicester Square, London between 1790 and 1830 and confirms that the workmanship is pretty ordinary and that materials are frequently of small figure. He also notes that slab cut English sycamore was the favoured material of construction.

How do you know that this instrument was made by Corsby?

The inside table has the pencil inscription Maker - Corsby / London on the upper treble side. We don't doubt the authenticity of this inscription for one moment. The form and style of making confirm that this is without question an instrument from the early nineteenth century.

What would you say is the making form and style of the period?

The following are strongly suggestive if not typical of the form and style of double basses making in England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

    1. The full size of instrument.
    2. The viol shape.
    3. The flat back with an angle break that commences quite low down the upper back.
    4. The use of outside linings.

Which other English makers were producing double basses in this style and form?

The above four features can be seen in the majority of double basses made by Joseph Hill (1715-1784) and in the instruments of Corsby's contemporaries such as William Booth 1 (1780-1853) and Thomas Dodd 1 (1764-1834).

I know that this instrument is inscribed internally but are there any other pointers that this is Corsby's work?

Yes there are. The timber used in the manufacture of this instrument is typical of Corsby's output.

    1. The table wood is made from a spruce of exceedingly fine grain.
    2. The back, ribs and scroll are made of English sycamore of little or no figure.
    3. The back of this instrument is cut on the slab.

The instrument isn't exactly the most glamorous I've ever seen. Why do you think I should want to buy it?

This instrument may not be the most visually stunning but it is most attractive for several other reasons.

    1. Structurally it's in absolutely fabulous condition. The back has a totally new brace system and centre joint studs. The front boasts a new bass bar of the correct length and depth. All cracks have been washed out and re-studded. There's a new neck, fingerboard and set up to the highest standard imaginable.
    2. The sound. It's absolutely awesome. You'll fit into any pro-section just fine with this.
    3. Price. The price tag of £40,000 is particularly attractive. It's now virtually impossible to find any English instrument of such condition and age for below this price - let alone one by a known nineteenth century maker.
    4. Investment potential. You're going to earn a living with this instrument and by the time you retire who knows how much it will be worth. We can promise you that it will certainly be a great deal more than you paid for it.
    5. Upgrade. If at any stage of your career you find an instrument at the The Contrabass Shoppe that you like even more than this Corsby - then just bring it back and we'll be most happy to part exchange it.

Final words

An affordable English instrument for a professional orchestral player. Absolutely tons of volume. Absolutely tons of pure deep-dark mature tonal quality.

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