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Double Bass: Tips for Touring with a Six-Foot Tall Instrument

Transporting a double bass can be a challenge. Here’s an innovative music gear idea from Americana and roots bassist Mark Lewis.

Last updated: 08 October 2020

Touring with a double bass poses some interesting issues, but double and electric bass player, music producer and filmmaker, Mark Lewis, has got some useful tips to deal with the problem:

“I’ve got a double bass that folds up, which means ease of travel.” More commonly seen in America and Canada on the Americana scene, Mark tells us that they’re made “by a guy in Nashville. It’s called a Chadwick folding bass and mine’s serial number 511 so there’s a reasonable amount of them in the world.

The benefits of the folding bass

All of the bits of the bass are stored inside. The finger board comes off and that goes in a holder inside the case. The end pin has a specific holder inside, and the neck, when it folds in, that’s got a spring-loaded clasp that goes around it. It’s all designed to be securely held in place so it can take a bit of a beating from the luggage handlers! You don’t have to worry about it in the back of a van.”

Mark says it’s been a game changer as it has avoided the need to use one of the cumbersome seven-foot tall flight cases when travelling on planes. It also avoids the expense of booking a whole seat for the instrument as he has done in the past.

Double bass maintenance

Considering the size and heft of a double bass, it’s somewhat surprising that Mark reveals that the upright requires very little in terms of repair. Aside from watching for loose connections on the pick-up, keeping an eye for wear and tear on the bridge feet and stashing a spare bit of gaffer tape in the pocket for rattling tuning pegs, it seems to be a low-maintenance instrument. In fact, Mark only has to change the strings every two years: “They get better with age.”

It’s not been an entirely incident free ride: “The one time that I did rent a folding bass it was in Nashville for the last Americana fest. It was a bit more road worn and there was something wrong with the bridge feet, so every time I put this thing together it was like the bridge was toppling over. When it came to the actual show, I managed to get it to sit – a double bass bridge just sits under tension – and the bridge collapsed on the last song of the set. It went ‘bang!’ like a shotgun and you could just hear it fold to the floor. The whole room was in shock.”

Instrument repair on the road 

Mark says that the majority of fix and repair duties are focused on the case, rather than the instrument. “Cases are very important. Get decent quality cases that you can trust. When the case gets a bit bashed about by airlines, or general use, it needs fresh fibreglass. My dad used to have a boat made of fibreglass, so he got some rolls of fibreglass tape and a resin and we put these layers of tapes on the inside to shore it up. We’ve done it a couple of times over the past few years. I’ve met a bluegrass player who said he was on his third case so I’m going more for an approach of maintaining.”