English Double Bass by William Howarth, Manchester anno 1894 – Review

Instrument Identification

This well proportioned English orchestral instrument was made by William Howarth in 1894. It bears his original printed label which is affixed to the treble side back - just below the central brace. Although the label is partially torn it clearly states "William Howarth Double Bass Maker April 21-94." The date and word maker being hand written in black ink.

Also visible on the inside back - this time on the upper bass-side - is a fairly large character inscription in black ink "Made by Wm. Howarth - April 21/94." Another inscription with identical wording to this was found on the underside (side glued to table) of the original bass bar. How do you know that? - is the question that you must all be thinking now. In replacing the original bar with a new one - which is what we did - the method used is to reduce the original bar down to nothing with a plane before the new one can be fitted. Nearing the end of this job - the inscription could clearly be read in reverse through the wafer thin remnants of the original bar. Photos of this were taken and stored in our restorers computer. As fate would have it - the computer crashed and todate we have been unable to retrieve these images. So annoying.

Other Labels and Brands

The instrument bears a printed repairers label on the inside upper treble-side back.


The instrument bears the number 18 - more probably an upside-down figure 81 - which is branded twice on the bass side scroll. One of the brands is right in the centre of the eye, the other is directly above the first - near to the outer edge of the scroll. What do these numbers mean? We can't be sure but it is possible that this instrument belonged to an army band at one stage of its life.

Instrument Description

This is a viol shaped instrument with a flat back and upper angle break. The two piece maple back is nicely figured with a flaming that descends from the centre joint. The ribs and scroll show flaming that is well matched to that of the back. The table is made from spruce of a medium grain. The arching is medium high in a sort of "Amatese" style. The F's are relatively narrow. The original varnish is a spirit based red-brown colour which has been applied over a yellow ground.

Do you have any info on Howarth?

Not much. Background information on Howarth is sparse. What we can tell you is gained from instruments that we have seen. These include a violin outline instrument which we sold a number of years ago and the remnants of a later (1919) instrument - which still bears his original hand written label that informs us that he worked in Manchester - "W. Howarth, Stanley House, Stanley Epln, J(could be an F or aT)eryoyht, Manchester."

Although we have only had the privilege to examine these three instruments it is clear from the quality and workmanship of them that Howarth was a professional maker who attained a high standard of craftsmanship and who in all probability produced a moderate output of double bass instruments. Some years ago it was reported to us that one of his violin outline instruments was of such fine quality that it was successfully passed off to a player as an original Lott - an allegation that must surely raise Howarth's standing as a maker in the hierarchy of the many fine late 19th century and early 20th century English bass makers.

Player feedback:

"Dear sirs,

I note with interest that you have a double bass by William Howarth for sale. I also own a bass by this maker. Mine is violin shaped with an unusually short scroll. It is branded William Howarth below the edge of one of the bouts and for your interest, the label inside (below and to the side of the sound post) reads:

William Howarth Maker
May 6 1899
24 Horton Street
Newton Heath

The label is printed, apart from May, 6 and 99 which are written in ink.

I once saw a similar instrument to mine which was owned by a player in the BBC Northern Orchestra (now Philharmonic) and heard of another that was reputedly owned by an amateur orchestra in Manchester in the 1970’s. I played with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester for 28 years, may retire soon and may wish to sell my instrument. In which case I may ask you for your interest. Meanwhile, I hope this adds to your knowledge about this fine maker.

Yours sincerely,
Paul M, UK


The instrument now benefits from the fitment of a nicely flamed new neck and fingerboard. Internally the instrument boasts a new bass bar of the correct length and proportions and all cracks have been washed out, reglued and re-studded. This is indeed a well presented instrument in A1 structural condition.

Sound Quality and Overall Impression.

Tone quality can be described as full, deep, dark and sonorous while volume can only be described as considerable. Contributing to this overall glorious sound must surely be the incredible depth of the ribs. Near to the end pin unit a maximum of 23.9cm (including the plates) can be measured. "I had to make up a completely new set of clamps to accommodate this instrument" was the comment from restorer M.J. Bailey. Job well done were my thoughts. This is indeed a quality instrument with a quality sound that will definitely create the right impression in any situation.

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