The Bass Lamp

Where to start?

Well, first off... yes, this is a real double bass turned into a floor lamp. Yes, it has always attracted an interesting range of responses from whoever sees it. And no, evidently, it's not worth turning back from a lamp into a normal, functioning double bass. (But more on that topic, later.)

The Bass Lamp's maker's label The Bass Itself

It's an all "laminate" 3/4 size double bass, which is polite musical instrument dealer talk for "plywood". (3/4 size is the "normal" double bass size.) I played its identical twin bass in high school, and recall that it wasn't a bad sounding instrument. I like its coloring: so many modern cheap-to-inexpensive basses have these incredibly glossy bright red/orange finishes on them, but this is finished the dark brown you see here: unusually subtle for the category; very nice.

The label inside reads: "Anton Schuster Germany Hand Made", all in English. I searched the internet for information about this maker, and didn't come up with much. First, I found only found a small handful of people trying to figure out the same thing (ie, what is this bass?) and Second, that there was a Georg Anton Schuster who made better instruments than this about a hundred years ago. And that's about it. Certainly not an undiscovered "diamond in the rough", or anything like that.

The Story

I've been playing the Double Bass since I started in 6th grade. All along, I played with the various age-appropriate orchestra (and other) groups that were offered by the Needham Public Schools. High school was no exception; I was very active in the music department there, playing in the orchestra, jazz band, pit orchestra for the yearly musical, etc. Early in my senior year of high school, we seniors were tapped to put together a booth for a beginning of the year NHS club fair, advertising the various musical groups one could join.

A double bass peg box and scrollOne day, several other students, the orchestra director and I were brain storming about what we could have at the booth to attract attention. Sure, let's bring down some instruments, good idea. Flashy ones! Hey, a bass is big, let's bring one. Well, I went to the instrument closet and brought out this one sad school owned instrument, whose peg box was mangled beyond reasonable repair. Now, came more daring ideas. Someone suggested carving all our names into it with a knife and putting it on the table. Horrified, I said no way!

Then, something unexpected happened. The orchestra director took the poor old bass from me and said,

"Thad, when you're practicing your bass, haven't you ever just wanted to do this?"
...and released the bass, letting it fall to the ground on its side!

Hmm, and you thought I was horrified by the "carving names" suggestion! Well, this finished off the bass's musical career in one decisive blow. The neck broke off, at the body. Now busted in several places, its fate was sealed. (A moment of silence, please...)

The Bass Lamp's bridge So, what else would I do, but ask if I could have the remaining wreckage? "Sure, it's been off the books for years since it was broken. Take it." Then, my viola player buddy got jealous and demanded some of the parts. So, he took the tail piece, neck & fingerboard, strings, broken pegbox and scroll; I got the body, bridge, and endpin.

I walked home carrying the bass. About halfway there, a longtime friend's mother was driving along and saw me carrying it. She got a good laugh out of the story and gave me a lift the rest of the way home. I tell my father the story, and he suggested turning it into a floor lamp. Uhh, OK... that would be interesting!

So, we bought lamp parts from a hardware store. I took a block of pine and carved it into shape to fill the gaping hole on the top of the instrument where the neck formerly was attached, and painted it gloss black. The stand? An old Pontiac 14" steel wheel. I removed the endpin from the bass and in its place went a wooden dowel, anchored in the center of the steel wheel. We borrowed the lamp shade from one of my mom's nice living room lamps and voila, bass lamp.

Later, the lamp accompanied me to college, where it found great critical acclaim from an age group well-known for its above-average appreciation for random stuff (like old street signs etc.) as ironic party room art. Now, it functions as, well, a floor lamp in my condo. And, it still gets attention!

The top of the Bass LampI wish...

I really, really wish that there was some way I could have been given the bass before it was completely finished off. The damage to the peg box was pretty bad: it had been broken once; repaired; and then broken again, all long before I ever first laid eyes on it. It may well have required what Luthiers call a "neck graft" to repair, since there probably wasn't enough left to fix reliably/permanently. A borderline worthwhile amount of work for an inexpensive school instrument. But, maybe I could have afforded that repair, and thus owned my first bass relatively inexpensively.

Failing that, I wish I could have kept all the remaining parts of the bass, or at least reclaimed the other parts from my viola-player friend at a later date. The broken neck and broken peg box would have been too much to fix at the time, but now as an adult, I have the money to either have it repaired, or even repair it myself, doing my best to do it "the right way" with proper tools, hide glue, etc. It would be nice to have a second instrument I don't have to worry about being too careful with for the odd random gig I get here and there.

More recently, I've looked into buying a new neck, fingerboard, tailpiece and bridge, to replace the originals. Wow. Buying those parts would cost at least as much as the bass would be worth when finished! And then, I'd want to pay someone to do it for me. (Since we're talking about a grand worth of new parts, I'm not going to try doing it myself!) Finally, considering that I could pick up a new carved (not plywood) Korean bass for not much more than repairing this one (parts + labor), that's out.

So, the Bass Lamp stays as it is: a really unusual conversation piece that I'll never, ever let go of.

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11/12/05 © 2005 Thad Jaszek