English Double Bass by J. Walker, London anno 1884 – Review

Gosh - the instrument looks just like a B.S Fendt.

Yes - this classic English instrument with its glorious Brecian features certainly does look near-identical to those magnificent double purfilled - Maggini inspired instruments that B.S. Fendt is well renowned for.

How do you know that it isn't a Fendt?

On the inside back - treble side - below the central brace there is a very faint pencil inscription - J. Walker, Maker 1884. Because the inscription is so faint a past restorer has circled and copied it - again in pencil - for all to read clearly. Without this positive identification it would be quite easy to assume that this instrument is the work of Fendt.

So who was J. Walker?

Unfortunately there is not a huge amount of info recorded about him apart from a one-line reference in the Dictionary of British Violin and Bow Makers by Dennis G. Plowright -1994 (ISBN No. 0 9523081 0 X) which provides a plausible explanation for Walker's lack of recognition in the major violin dictionaries. The entry reads, "Worked at 370 Kennington Road, London - principally a restorer." The listing is under J. Walker - the Christian name isn't given.

Would you say that the entry ties in perfectly with the instrument then?

Yes it does. The instrument is clearly the work of a London maker and the year in which the instrument was made rules out the possibility of it being made by a different Walker.

What about the making - what does that suggest?

Well as can be seen - the making is inspired by Fendt's work. Although we do not know what Walker's dates are - from the date of the instrument and the fact that B.S Fendt died in 1852 it is feasible that the two could have met - Walker most likely being an apprentice at the time. Carrying this line of thought on a little further - it is of course entirely possible that Walker could have been apprenticed to Fendt. What is the more likely however - is that as a good London restorer - Walker would easily have had the opportunity to work on fine instruments that had come in for repair or adjustment. What better opportunity could anybody possibly have than to copy a master instrument, as it was open on the workbench?

So as a copy of Fendt's work - in what aspects does it differ from the real thing?

Well you need to look quite closely and have studied Fendt's work to see that there are slight differences. They are quite subtle. For instance the edging of the plates (the back and front) is a little flat, the purfilling a little less flexible and the carving of the scroll a little on the heavy side. That's it - in most other respects the instrument is a stunning Fendt look alike.

Tell me about the timber used.

The table - made of pitch pine shows a strong even-medium grain. The timber used for the back, ribs and scroll is English sycamore. As with many of the Classic English instruments of the mid-twentieth century it has just the right amount of figure to provide an air of understated elegance.

And what about the varnish?

Yes exactly - what about the varnish? Isn't it simply glorious? Layers of deep dark blood-red over a yellow ground that have oxidised and on the table - craquelled very, very slightly. The stuff is so rich and warm in colour and texture it could almost be from the very same bottle that Fendt used himself.

The overall condition of the instrument is simply stunning. Have you done much to it?

Yes - to get the instrument into this exemplary condition a huge amount of correctional work was required. Most particularly was the work required to the table area - which had been glued and studded in the most poor and inconsistent manner imaginable - presumably by a number of different restorers over many years. We took the decision to completely remove everything - wash out all the cracks - and just do the job as it should be done - properly and without compromise. So that you can see what we mean - a printout of the inside table pre- restoration work and post restoration work accompanies the instrument, as does a photocopy of the final repair bill. Phew - it was a biggy. In addition the instrument has been fitted with a new bass bar and a stunning new neck. Needless to say the instrument is now in absolutely A1 structural condition.

Is there anything else that you can point out to enjoy?

Yes - take a look at the tuning cogs and worms that adorn the peg-box of the instrument - they are simply of the finest quality imaginable and were presumably made by William Baker. Interestingly the D-string cog and worm differs slightly from the other three - which suggests that the instrument was originally made as a three stringer. Rebushing work inside the peg-box confirms that it was indeed originally made as a three-string instrument.

What about the sound quality?

As is befitting a top quality English instrument - the sound is unique, distinct and with great capacity. Tonal qualities are complex, varied and multi-dimensional. In more down to earth terms - it just sounds sooo... darned good.

Final Summary:

Stunning looks, great sound and priced much lower than a BS Fendt. What more can you ask for?

Older Post Newer Post