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A little introduction to the history of the violin bass.

Using the term 'violin bass' in the following simply picks up the usual description of this instrument that became accepted in the linguistic usage and was even used by Hofner to put it on the market. We can assume that Karl Höfner was aware of the difference between a violin and a viola d'amore which the bass reminds most on - but the man on the street wasn't. But this target group knew what a violin was what makes it most likely that the simplification 'violin bass' was chosen for marketing reasons - although historical incorrect.

Asked about the make of the first violin bass of the world, many self-styled experts say immediately: "Gibson with the EB-1". Perhaps it's not the wrong answer but already the question is wrong if we don't define precisely what a violin bass exactly is. You don't have to saw through a violin body to find out that it's hollow. This hollowbody is part of the principles used for these instruments to generate their distinctive sound. So let's find out, which of the first violin basses really deserves this term.

Gibson EB-1

After World War II the onset of rock and roll music adamently demanded new musical instruments and as soon as Rickenbackers 'Frying Pan' turned into the first public available electric guitar, the double-bass men often had a  problem to be heard in the mix. 
While Leo Fender succeeded with his Telecaster guitar, he tried to expand this success by inventing his first Precision Bass, based on his experience with the Telecaster. Although his invention was geared towards jobless guitar players who should be able to accept job offers as bass players with the guitar-like instrument, he also hoped for acceptance by the double-bass players. But many of them hesitated to try this new way, mainly because they were not used to play some sort of 'guitar' which was hanging around their necks instead of playing it upright as they were used to all the years before. Thus, the sales of the Precision Bass didn't meet the expectations.

One of Fenders Competitors during these times was the successor of the 1918 departed Orville Gibson, who noticed the sluggish sales of the precision bass and decided to offer something to the market that could trick the mental refusal of the bass players. It's a fact, that Gibson already experimented with an electrical upright bass in 1938, but during WWII they didn't continue its developments and the two prototypes vanished in the storeroom. Remembering that project the company eventually came out with their own model of a sort of 'precision' bass (Fender had called it 'Precision' because it was the first fretted bass that should give guitarists a familiar feeling) but keeping the shape as close as possible to the well known double-bass. Needless to say that they had to make its body smaller as it first of all should be bearable for those willing to try the new way of bass playing.
So Gibson took a piece of mahogany, machined it to the shape of a common bowed instrument and gave it a four string neck, little shorter than the 'longscale' seen before from Fender. In order to attract also the old fashioned bass players, they attached an endpin that could be unscrewed and replaced by a pole, so the instrument could also be played upright. With painted f hole-fakes the downsized double-bass was called 'Gibson Electric Bass' and joined the scene in 1953, about two years after Fenders Precision Bass. 

eb1
EB-1
1955

No one really can deny that a solid piece of wood, weighing 11,681lbs (5,3kg) and an attachable iron bar on its bottom has nothing to do with a fragile violin. The saw that left a violin-shape in the timber didn't hollow it out and therefore the result wasn't actually a violin-like body and therefore the instrument definitely wasn't a violin bass! Less important but perhaps worth mentioning is the fact, that a delicate hollow body would have been problematic with holding the upright stand. As far as I know,  this is why only few attempts were made in this direction e.g. by Crown or Egmond/Lion using an end-to-end sustain block in the middle of the body that virtually eliminated the lightweight advantage.


Until 1958 Gibson unsucessfully tried to overtake Fender in bass sales with their Electric Bass but eventually the idea was discarded by introducing the new EB-2 type because the export sales for the heavy mahogany chunk had barely reached some hundred instruments. In the same year, not long before the production of the unfortunate 'Gibson Electric Bass' was abandoned, it was renamed to 'EB-1'. For more than 10 years the EB-1 was not produced until in the late sixties the first wave of nostalgia rerequested the instruments of the fifties. In 1969 Gibson gave the EB-1 a new chance, this time with a Humbucker, different tuners and bridge. But they judged the market wrong again,
this time with an export rate that didn't reach the two digit range and the production was closed three years later in 1972.
Although the EB-1 nowadays has only a relevance for collectors, it was a target of copiers over the years, simply because Japanese guitar manufacturers copied nearly everything coming from a successful company. As a tribute that this ancestor of electric basses deserves, a collection of violin shaped solid bodied basses and EB-1 copies is also covered on this site. However the only official copy was the 1999 introduced EB-1 reissue model from Epiphone, even though this time it was again not the most successful instrument on the bass market.

 
Höfner 500/1

Founded in 1887 by luthier Karl Höfner in the former city of Schönbach (now called Luby in the czech republic) the Höfner company had become famous for their stringed instruments all around Europe. After WW II the predominant German residents were driven out of Schönbach and amongst them Höfner settled in Bubenreuth, Germany. By 1950 the company resumed there the production of musical instruments in new factories and in the mid fifties, Walter Höfner, one of the two sons of the founder, had the idea to combine the excellent skills of his luthiers and his violin makers. Forms and experts for making violins were already available, tools for building guitar necks as well. Also situated these days at Bubenreuth was the 1953 newly erected string factory from Karl Junger, better known as the Pyramid company. In association with Karl Hofner Pyramid developed a new set of pure nickel flat wound strings that should become essential for the sound of the sixties. The result of Höfners efforts was a shortscale bass with a genuine violin body that was introduced in 1956 at the german trade fair "Musikmesse Frankfurt" as the type 500/1. It attracted the customers with its unusual shape, its lightweight and its surprising deep tone.
Since the market for electric basses was not that overcrowded yet during those days, the instrument sold well but not revolutionary, also according to the hesitant acceptance by the bass players as already mentioned above. The overnight explosion of the beat era, caused by the British invasion, turned the tide. Five years after the invention of the 500/1, Paul McCartney suddenly earned Stu Sutcliff's job as bass player in a band called 'The Beatles' and so he was looking for an affordable instrument that didn't look too silly on a lefthander as he was. When he saw the 500/1 in a music store during their Hamburg days, he instantly fell in love with the instrument. Built right there in Germany, it could be sold without shipping or toll costs for a very moderate price and its symmetrical form made it irrelevant wether it was played by a right- or a lefthanded musician. In addition to that, Hofner was one of the first to offer lefthand instruments at no extra charge! The short fretboard with its extra small string spacing and the negligible weight of 2.2kg (less than the half of the EB-1) made it very easy to handle and the sound was warm and deep...500_1
500/1
1956

The rest is history! The 500/1, for exports branded as 'Hofner' without the dots over the o, became the most recognized instrument of the sixties, reason enough for the upcoming far east industries to try cutting their piece of the cake. With the development of new music styles in the seventies, the violin bass stepped a bit in the background, at the latest when playing methods like slapping came up, for which the 500/1 wasn't made for. 

During a recording session for Elvis Costello's album 'Spike' in 1989, he convinced McCartney to use his old Hofner for a couple of songs, since he wanted its distinctive sound for them. Sir Paul, who nearly had forgotten about the Beatles Bass in 20 years of using Ricks, Fenders and his Wal, continued using the 500/1 since then regularly again and immediately the copiers came out of their garages again, meanwhile not longer only from Japan like in the sixties but now from Korea and China.


The clones

Only few people realize that apart from the Fender Jazz- and Precision Basses, the 500/1 is one of the most copied basses worldwide. This is particularily remarkable because it is much more labourious and costly to build a hollowbody than a solidbody bass. These time-consuming processes were the reason, why companies pondered passionately about possibilities to lower the costs of violin bass production. The result of the search after the cheapest stick that looked at least a little bit like a Hofner was the development of several methods, the most progessive is still used with most China and Korean makes. While in the sixties, the numerous Violin Basses from Japan were mostly products of solid craftsmanship, some of them with beautiful own faces and a respectable useability as a musical instrument, the majority of the modern versions are children of the faster-cheaper-nicer society. 

Learn more about the four most common methods to make a body for a violin bass.

At the moment I show more than 300 different violin basses in the gallery and as a bonus some violin shaped solidbodies and violin guitars and the number increases...
Some are beautiful, some are crappy but all of them try to make us reflect on a swinging time when the beat came up...