The “Imperator” Double Bass by Günter Krahmer-Pöllmann anno 2003 – Review

I am searching for a professional quality 4-string instrument that won't break the bank to buy. What have you got?

    This superb looking, superb sounding Pöllmann is in our opinion a real winner.

    A winner - really?

    Yes indeed. An instrument similar to this highly ornamented special edition "Imperator" model - has in fact won numerous awards.

    Can you tell me what awards it has won?

    It won the prestigious Deutscher Musikinstrumenten Preis at the 2007 Musikmesse International Trade Fair in Frankfurt, Germany.

    What did the judges say about the "Imperator"?

    Reproduced from the Pöllmann web site; 'The price assigned to the Pöllmann contrabass "Imperator" is justified by the complex manufacturing process, the excellent quality of the craftsmanship and the outstanding finish. The panel of expert judges have evaluated the playability of the double bass as excellent in every respect. The sound volume and tone quality were regarded as especially rich in the deep and middle pitches.'

    You can't get much better than that. Has the "Imperator" won any other awards?

    Yes it also won two awards at the European Double Bass Convention 2012 which was held in Copenhagen, Denmark as follows;

      1. Silver Medal in the Bass Makers Competition
      2. Award Winner Certificate in the Best Sound Award (bass players jury)

    The E.M. Pöllmann label – The “Imperator” Double Bass by Günter Krahmer-Pöllmann anno 2003

    What was the aim of the competition?

    Reproduced from the Bass2012 website; 'The Competition's objective is to inspire the creation of outstanding, artistic, concert-quality double basses'.

    On what basis was the Best Sound Award given?

    Instruments were judged for sound from behind a curtain and three certificates of merit were awarded by the audience, the bass player jury and the bass maker jury respectively.

    Right - so the "Imperator" really is a winner. I heard that Michael & Ralph Krahmer have won numerous other awards too. What were they?

    1. At the 1999 Musikmesse International Trade Fair in Frankfurt, Germany they won the Deutscher Musikinstrumenten Preis with their "Busseto" model.
    2. At the 2003 International Society of Bassists Maker's Competition held in Richmond, Virginia U.S.A they won the following;
    a) Convention favourite double bass.
    b) Award for best tone.
    c) Award for best workmanship.
    3. At the 2005 International Society of Bassists Maker's Competition held at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan, U.S.A they won the following;
    a) Medal for best workmanship.
    b) Medal for best tone. 

    That is a really impressive haul of awards.


    I have to say the "Imperator" is a real stunner.

    Yes indeed. Michael & Ralph Kramer have used some really choice wood to build this instrument. The maple ribs, neck and scroll are exquisitely matched and exquisitely flamed. The upper back features a strong flaming that perfectly matches the ribs, neck and scroll. The lower back is dominated by strong irregular flames and a mottled effect that are without question a real feast for the eyes.

    The mottled affect is amazing. Do you know what causes it?

    It is usually associated with timber that has been cut from near to the roots of the tree.

    What about the table wood. How good is that?

    The spruce table is as magnificent as the maple. It features visually prominent grain lines that are remarkably straight, evenly spaced and very-fine in terms of width apart. At the flanks of the lower table the grain lines widen to a medium width.

    On the table I can see some darker lines that run irregularly across the grain. They look like a sort of flaming and are quite beautiful. Do you know what they are?

    Good question. In the UK it is frequently called hazels or hazeling. In the USA it is frequently called bear-claws. In Italy it is frequently referred to as maschiatura while in Switzerland there are great many names to describe it including hail-wood tonewood, ageholz, aggeholz, wood glismets, wood hagelschlächtiges, wood katzentrittiges, wood maendler, mändliholz, männlerholz, weisstannenrindiges hail spruce, fir shingle, vogeltrittiges wood and indeed several more names.

    In the structure of wood - are these known technical or scientific terms?

    No. These are just common terms most probably due to the lack of information and research published on the subject.

    What is the closest technical term that you can find?

    This German word "Haselfichte" is the closest word that we have been able to find. When translated it literally means hazel-spruce. It is a growth form that can be found in the Norway spruce (Picea abies) which grows in the Alps, the Bavarian Forest and the Bohemian Forest. The feature is believed to be caused by a genetic variation or defect in the growth cells of the tree that causes small indented longitudinal and crossed grooves just inside the bark of the tree. As the tree grows the surface of the wood is disturbed causing the annual rings to become narrowed and characterized by a small indent, wave or serration.

    Does haselfichte improve the quality of an instrument's sound?

    Although there is no scientific evidence to support this theory, the increased stiffness of the affected wood means that the instrument's top can be made slightly thinner - which in turn could contribute to what some think is an improved sound.

    I must say - it does have a wonderful aesthetic quality.

    Yes. Wood containing haselfichte is well sought-after by makers. Our thanks to Neal Heppleston a student at The Newark School of Violin Making for his research on the subject.

    Pöllmann's stock of wood must be pretty amazing.

    In an advert Pöllmann placed in the Double Bassist magazine number 7 of Autumn/Winter 1998 (pub. by Orpheus Publications Ltd) they wrote that their instruments are 'Build in the highest quality from selected, over 30-years well-seasoned European tonewood'.

    If I was a bass maker do you think that I'd be seriously jealous?

    Pretty sure that you would. Yes.

    What about all the ornate carving work on the instrument. How good is that?

    The chevron-design carving work to the outside rib-linings and edge work of the peg-box is beautifully executed.

    Am I right in thinking that the ornate edgework has become a bit of a trade mark?

    Yes indeed. In fact the whole instrument is what you would describe as "Classic-Pöllmann".

    Can you point out a few more of Pöllmann's signature features?

    I have already mentioned the exceptionally fine wood and the super-fine ornate carving around the edgework. In addition the instrument features a full swell back and front, deep ribs, outside linings, nicely raked upper shoulders, gorgeous golden-amber spirit varnish over a yellow-ochre ground, eight-hole brass cogs with exotic hardwood thumb-turns at the ends of the four worms and of course the "busetto" lower corners.

    Yes you are so right. The busetto corners - they really are synonymous with the Pöllmann name.

    Indeed they are. In fact generations of bass players have grown up to live and love these rounded beauties.

    That brings me nicely onto my next question. How many generations of Pöllmann makers are there to date?

    Michael & Ralph are the fourth generation of master builders. According to the Pöllmann web-site the family tree is as follows;

    Hermann Alexander Pöllmann (b-1864, d-1937). Founder of the company. 
    In 1888 he opened a workshop in Siebenbrunn, near Markneukirchen where he specialised in making cellos and double basses.
    Erich Max Pöllmann (b-1897, d-1963). Son and pupil of the founder. An excellent craftsman. Was the first to start the ornamentation on the plates and outside-linings of his instruments. His double basses are renowned for their huge orchestral sound. 
    1911 - began working with his father. 
    1920 - moved to Jugelsburg, near Adorf - a small town to the west of Markneukirchen where he opened his own shop in the house of his father-in-law - the violin maker August Ernst Voight (b-1874, d-?).
    Worked in Leipzig and Dresden.
    1940 - moved back to Markneukirchen.
    1944 - awarded master's degree in lutherie.
    Gunter Krahmer-Pöllmann (b-1938). Third generation of master double bass makers. Nephew of Erich Max Pöllmann and the grandson of August Ernst Voight.
    1952 - 1959 worked with his uncle in Jugelsburg and was Erich Max's only pupil.
    1959 - awarded master's degree in lutherie.
    1959 - moved to Mittenwald.
    Michael & Ralph Krahmer. Fourth generation of master double bass makers. The two sons of Gunter Krahmer-Pöllmann. Grew up working in their father's workshop. Presently located at 17 Elmauer Weg 17, D-82481 Mittenwald.

    Does this instrument have an internal label?

    Yes. The label is located internally on the bass side back and reads as follows;

    E.M. Pöllmann
    Michael Krahmer Ralph Krahmer
    Mittenwald (Bayer. Alpen) anno 2003

    What else does the label feature?

      1. The year 2003 is hand written in black ink. 
      2. The edge work of the label is nicely decorated with a boarder. 
      3. The centre of the label (between the two brother's names) features the Pöllmann trade mark of a standing lion with a crown on its head holding a double bass.
      4. The top left hand corner of the label features a small Pöllmann brand across it.

    Does the instrument have any other forms of identification?

    Yes. It is branded Pöllmann twice. The first brand is on the upper back just below the neck-button. The second is located at the bottom of the bass-side peg box.

    The Pöllmann brand below the neck-button – The “Imperator” Double Bass by Günter Krahmer-Pöllmann anno 2003

    The Pöllmann brand on scroll – The “Imperator” Double Bass by Günter Krahmer-Pöllmann anno 2003

    What condition is the instrument in?

    Absolutely mint.

    Considering that the instrument was made sixteen years ago the condition is absolutely incredible.

    Yes agreed. The instrument even has its original handmade bridge and tailpiece fitted.

    Is the instrument easy to play?

    Yes indeed. The upper shoulders slope nicely and the string length is a mere 105.7cm.

    How does the instrument sound?

    Very impressive indeed. There is punch and projection coupled with a deep, dark, tonal quality. The sort of sounds that are the foundation of any orchestra.

    Can you give me a summary?

    This beautiful four-string "Imperator" model by Michael & Ralph Kramer really does have everything that a player could ever wish for. It is well proportioned, it is made with the most exquisite of materials, the workmanship is super neat, it is easy to play and the sound is positive and rewarding. In terms of modern double bass making this sure is a king.

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