Friday, November 13, 2009

Gary Karr in Seattle on Sunday November 15, 2pm Brechemin Auditorium

If you can make it, it will be well worth it. Gary Karr is one of the most prolific bassists of our time and is a joy of a person. Below is all the info you need reposted from Barry Lieberman of the University of Washington. I'll be there to check it out, I hope you can make it too.

Barry Lieberman and Friends
An Afternoon with Gary Karr, Part II


Gary Karr, considered by many to be the most iconic double bassist of our time, returns to the School of Music for Part II of an extensive interview with Barry Lieberman. The interview format will employ historical recordings by Karr as well as performance by Karr and his musical partner, Harmon Lewis. Part I of the interview, conducted by Barry Lieberman in 2007 in Brechemin Auditorium, may be viewed at


Sunday, November 15, 2009

2:00 p.m.


Brechemin Auditorium, University of Washington, School of Music



$10 (cash or check at the door 30 minutes prior to the performance)

About Gary Karr

Although he comes from seven generations of bassists, he was not encouraged by them to go into music. In an interview with ActiveBass magazine he said that he has no contact with the professional bassists in his family.

His major teachers include Herman Reinshagen and Stuart Sankey, with whom he studied at the Aspen Music Festival and the Juilliard School. Karr's breakthrough came in 1962, when he was featured as a soloist in a nationally televised New York Philharmonic Young People's Concert, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. On that famous telecast, Karr performed "The Swan" from Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saƫns. He has since appeared as a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Simon Bolivar Orchestra, Jerusalem Symphony, Oslo Philharmonic, Zurich Chamber Orchestra, and with all the major orchestras of Australia. He has premiered new works written for him by Gunther Schuller (Concerto for Double Bass), Hans Werner Henze (Concerto for Double Bass), Vittorio Giannini (Psalm CXX), Alec Wilder (Sonata for Double Bass and Piano and Suite for Double Bass and Guitar), John Downey (Concerto for Double Bass), Ketil Hvoslef (Concerto for Double Bass), and Robert Xavier Rodriguez (Ursa, Four Seasons for Double Bass and Orchestra.

He has taught double bass on the faculties of the Juilliard School, New England Conservatory, Yale University, Indiana University, and North Carolina School of the Arts and has published a number of instructional books for the double bass. He focuses on finding one's unique sound on the double bass and approaching one's playing with the lyrical emphasis of a singer.

After 40 years as a concert artist he retired in 2001 to Victoria, British Columbia, where he lives with his dog Shin-Ju.

Gary Karr website (with music samples)

Gary Karr YouTube channel

Friday, October 23, 2009

Spending time with the next generation of bad ass bassists....

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending the afternoon with a local high schooler interested in luthiery. She had e-mailed me asking if she could do a job shadow with me for a senior project that she was working on. Needless to say, I was honored...and a little bit anxious. I spent a little extra time tidying up the shop that morning to say the least. She showed up right when she said she would (I love punctuality...) and we got down to business.
First things first, paying can't all be glamorous. She started with a basic, influences. etc. I was so impressed with her ease and maturity and felt honored that she was truly interested in me and the career I chose. Turns out, it seems we have a lot in common. She, like me, is auditioning for the same schools I had and shares the same desire to study in NYC. We talked at great length about the conservatory education. Certain teachers I had worked with she would like to...and there was a peculiar familiarity in the sparkle I saw in her eye when she talked about her feelings toward playing the Double Bass. It felt nice to offer someone the advice and guidance I wish I had received before choosing to attend a conservatory. All in all, it was a lovely afternoon and according to the thank you card I received a week later, sounds like she had a nice time too. So thanks Hannah, I wish you the best in your musical pursuits. With your talents and grace you should go very far.
* To hear Hannah play check out the benefit concert on November 15. I'll definately be there. For info, visit

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No time to blog lately....

But hopefully that's going to change real soon. You see, I've been working long days on one particular bass that I have had a long relationship with. It's a beautiful old instrument belonging to a dear customer. A customer I am more than pleased to call a friend as well as one of my best clients. Well, the poor bass suffered quite an injury during an outdoor concert with the Oregon Symphony about a month ago and well, that's where my month of September went. Sometimes I find it hard to stop working on an instrument. It becomes such a part of my life during the repair that I almost don't want it to be over. (which is hilarious because I am soooo looking forward a real nights sleep...) Anyway, we're a the end, for now. A strong impact wound to the upper top of the bass resulted in a full bass bar crack and due to the fragility of the instrument to begin with, there was a whole lot of reinforcement to do. Take a look at the pictures... I just got her all glued up tonight (special thanks to Chris for the muscle). More about this bass soon, but for now, bed. Goodnight.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Out with the old, in with the new.

Continuing a bit from yesterday's post, let's talk about neck blocks. Violin family instruments have 6 blocks inside the body. One at the top (neck block), one at the bottom (end block), and one at each corner (corner blocks). These blocks are typically made from quarter sawn* spruce although it us not uncommon to find willow or pine blocks in some older basses. The blocks are the first things to be put in place in construction of a new instrument, and the rib structure is then built around the blocks and the mold. So needless to say, they're pretty darn important when it comes to an instrument's structural integrity.

A few months ago a customer of mine brought me his lovely German flatback c. 1900 because it had developed some cracks in the neck. Being that this was the original neck on a bass well over 100 years old, it was time for a neckgraft. A neckgraft is a procedure where a new neck is carved for an instrument and the pre-existing scroll is grafted onto the new neck. Upon removal of the old neck I found a neck block underneath that was an absolute mess (check out the pictures....). Since it makes no sense to put a brand new neck into old block, it was time to rebuild the block too. It was like giving the old man a new spine. The before and after pics say it all.....

Maybe more about neckgrafts soon....

*Quartersawn boards are created by first cutting a log into quarters and then creating a series of parallel cuts perpendicular to the tree's rings. The grain in quartersawn wood is more consistent and stable and this is why it is preferred by violin makers.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What not to do....

So. We all want somethings sometimes. And sometimes we want these things so badly that we don't wait for the right things to come along. I see this happen so often when people decide that they want to start playing the Double Bass. One word. Patience. Please have patience. Do your research. Talk to folks like me or me for that matter. Or you might end up like this poor guy.

So, nameless customer comes to me a few months ago with a bass he found online for only $500! Brand new! Now there are lots of companies overseas making these "economy instruments" and while they'll put a brand new, shiny bass in your hand for cheap,... buyer beware. You'll spend at least twice as much getting them set-up. And once you have 'em set up they still are what they are. A cheap bass. They look pretty and all but take a look inside. The biggest problem with these basses is the materials (woods, glues, fittings, etc.) are from the bottom of the barrel. Take a good look at the picture. What you're looking at is the neck block inside the bass. This is there to stablize and support the neck and to withstand the tension the strings are putting on the bass. The one in the picture, look closely, HAS A HUGE CRACK IN IT! It's rotten. Literally. This brand new shiny bass is made out of rotton wood and glued together with white glue (more about glue soon...) and is set up with strings that seem more appropriate to be used as piano wire. Ugh. I see it so often. It makes my job of setting them up harder and more time consuming AND although said customer has spent at least another $500 to set up a $500 bass, the bass is still only worth $500.

So, think about it. Save up a little more money and shop around. Call me. Find your best option for your budget and get something that will acutally appreciate in value. Your experience as a beginner to the Double Bass will be a more pleasant one, and you're much more likely to excel with an instrument that sounds and plays it's best. Trust me on this one....

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Helping out a friend...

So a few months ago my friend Andrew came to me and said, "Maureen, I want to refinish my flying V....". Without asking too many questions about WHY he wanted to dive into a project like this, I set him up at a bench and talked him through the process. Revarnishing/refinishing is never a really fun project. Aside from how tedious it is to remove the original finish (not to mention how this might affect the value of the instrument*,) it is also not so good on the ol' respiratory system. After a week of meticulously scraping the thick black coat of varnish off the guitar, we were down to the raw mahogany. Beautiful, really. A lovely light orange, with almost pink hues. Mahogany is one of those woods with an amazing amount of depth to their dimension. It seemed we could look at least 1/4" into the wood. Why would anyone want to cover this up with a matte, colored finish? Andrew, being the classy guy that he is, wanted to keep the guitar its natural color. So after another week of fine sanding and scraping we were ready to varnish. We applied a half a dozen hand rubbed coats of clear varnish and finished her off with a French Polish. Needless to say, we were both very happy with the way she turned out. Special thanks to Neil for the photo. (check out more of Neil's photo's at And thanks to Andrew for the turned out to be a lot of fun.

*Refinshing/revarnishing is often not the best way to treat an instrument with some finish problems. It is better to "touch up" than it is to completely revarnish. Generally it is not okay to strip an instrument of it's original varnish. This can GREATLY affect it value and antiquity. More on this topic another day....

Monday, July 13, 2009

Here we go....

I'm very new to this blogging thing so bear with me. I figured, after 13 years of luthiery, maybe I should start to connect with the online bass world. I hope this blog can help to answer whatever questions you folks out there might have. I've devoted the past decade or so to learning the art of violinmaking, having worked under and with some of the world's best. I hope to continuously post current projects I am working on as well as some things I've done in the past. That's all for now. More to come.