Endpins made of wood, in fixed lenths, have been the standard on double basses for hundreds of years. Adjustable steel endpins came into common use well into the 20th century, and now are so ubiquitous that the public has all but forgotten the original version. It is also quite ordinary for double basses to have an end button, like a violin, plus a separate endpin socket. Until the 1950’s, unless the bassist was lucky enough to have a newfangled adjustable endpin, he cut a piece of broom handle to length. This was in the days when everyone, by later childhood years at latest, was able to use a high-tech and dangerous piece of technology - now largely lost to time, like the original purpose of the Pyramids - called a “saw” for cutting things, without having to seek the assistance of a professional who had safety glasses and three insurance policies.
In the 1980’s, the fine German bass maker Horst Grunert bent a steel endpin (by hand against the curb) at the request of Francois Rabbath, and the advantages of the modern angled enpin applied to the double bass (it was already in use by cellists) became immediately evident. In an ordinary standing posture (just as one stands without the bass), without twisting the torso, the bass can be balanced practically hands-free, and with unrestricted access to every note on the fingerboard.
Shortly thereafter, French bass maker Christian Laborie, who had been making basses for Mr. Rabbath, began drilling a conical hole into the end block of the bass and making corresponding wood endpins whose taper exactly matched the conical hole. The endpin is held into the bass simply by friction, exactly as the broom handle-type endpins have been for the preceding 400 years or so. Mr. Laborie constructed an endpin with a tapered plug and carbon-fiber shaft as well as “old-fashioned” all-wood endpins; via experimentation with just about every type of wood imaginable, Mr. Laborie and Mr. Rabbath determined oak endpins allowed the best sound from the bass for practical purposes. Other woods, such as maple, walnut, cherry, and many more, offer disctinct tonal palettes, but oak is consistently strong while it minimizes wolf tones. The system of the tapered, angled hole in the end block of the bass and corresponding tapered endpin is still largely known as “the Laborie-style endpin”.
The common adaptation of playing with the side (rib) of the bass against the player’s body makes it extremely difficult to shift into the upper part of thumb position. Playing while seated solves the majority of issues of access to the notes and of playing in tune, but for a majority of players, with the exception of very tall bassists and/or those with very long arms, playing seated requires a sacrifice in finesse with the bow. Optimally, the entire bow arm needs to be positioned in front of the strings, which is most often inaccessible to bassists of average height while seated, but is easily achieved standing with the angled endpin.
While it’s not a complete solution for everyone - some bassists have better results sitting for some types of performance - most who are able to try playing with the angled endpin take to it like a fish to water. As it permits playing with the best possible body dynamics, most players feel a great sense of ease and relief, greatly improved bow strokes, and a freer, more resonant tone resulting from the better geometry of the contact point of the bow hair to the string. The right arm is allowed to be more in front of the strings, giving a more relaxed bow arm as the player can use his relaxed arm weight when more volume is desired, without having to “push” to get more sound. Pushing or digging in to the string to play louder results in a more edgy, choked sound that lacks the full overtone series. Over time, one’s bass quite literally adjusts to the range of overtones the player produces, so playing with a pinched, nasal tone results in a long-term restriction of the potential of the sound of one’s bass.
Surprisingly, playing with the angled endpin, and thus standing in a natural, relaxed upright position, with weight evenly distributed between the balls of both feet (as opposed to the outside edges of the feet, or the heels), permits playing for more hours without fatigue even than sitting to play. When standing with good body dynamics, the majority of the work of holding the arms out in front of the body is done by the supple, strong, lower-center-of-gravity thoracic spine, which is the part of the back optimally designed for these movements. Sitting with one or both knees elevated tilts the pelvis (among other strains), immobilizing the lumbar spine, which results in disproportionate use of the upper part of the trapezius and the rhomboids rather than the lats, and leading to both fatigue and back pain (the “ice pick between the shoulder blades” common to bassists who sit). Immobilizing the lumbar spine has dramatic negative effects on the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, with the resulting possibility that the bassist begins to feel, over time, a mysterious spectrum of discomforts that seem unrelated to bass playing. This is not to imply bassists should not sit - it means that sitting, as opposed to merely taking a load off the feet, brings its own set of responsibilities to finding good body dynamics in a seated position. Optimally, the pelvis needs to remain level and the waist free to rotate and participate in the required movements.
An often-seen adaptation to sitting with the knees elevated is for the bassist to have both feet on the floor, with the bass as low as possible, sitting as far forward as possible on the front edge of the seat, and the legs only very slightly bent. This can be effective if the bassist has good guidance, as it’s often interpreted by young players who develop the habit of hunching over the bass, negating the potential benefits by having the bass too low and too vertical, throwing the strain of carrying the weight of the head to (once again) the upper trapezius and rhomboids.
Standing with the straight steel endpin tempts the player to elevate the bass much higher in order to counterbalance the weight that rests on his left hand. It’s extremely common to see bassists standing with the heel of the neck nearly or at the height of the armpit! This compounds the problem of comfortably traversing back and forth from thumb position. Alternatively, one sees playing positions with the bass angled dramatically leftward (the endpin is closer to the bassist’s left foot than right), which makes it virtually impossible to bow at a right angle to the strings. The player believes, from his visual perspective, that he is drawing the bow straight across, but the tip is actually angled downward relative to the strings. This causes the bow to skate around, especially on off-the-string strokes. It requires a lot of tension and overcontrol in the right hand to attempt to develop a sophisticated spiccato when the bow is skating around, whereas the process is greatly simplified by positioning the bass directly in front of the player, so the bow addresses the strings at a right angle.
- Will the end block of the bass break if it has a hole drilled in it? In a word, no. In several hundred basses we have drilled, plus all the info relayed to us by other qualified luthiers who know how to correctly do the procedure, instances of breakage or tearout of the angled endpin hole have been 0% under normal circumstances. There has been exactly one bass that we drilled into and found it had a crosswise hole through the endblock as the workshop that made the bass fitted a used piece of wood for the block. We plugged the hole we drilled and declared the bass was not a good candidate for this system. The owner has the option to use a bent steel endpin in the factory endpin socket. One other bass suffered tearout of the edge of the hole when an endpin slipped partway out and was not completely seated.
- Will the hole devalue the bass when it gets sold? This also has been a 0% occurrence to date, to our knowledge. Most buyers are pleased that the bass is already set up to use the angled endpin. To plug and cosmetically treat the hole, if that’s what a buyer wishes, is also simple and inexpensive. Many, many fine double basses priced in the hundreds of thousands are drilled for the angled endpin, and more are drilled every day. Unless the instrument is destined for a museum, modifications such as neck grafts, peg hole bushings, re-locating the bass bar, and the replacement of original wood pegs with machine tuners are accepted as practically necessary to be able to play the bass up to modern performance standards. The endpin hole need not be regarded as any different. In the event the owner truly doesn’t want to have the bass drilled, using a bent steel endpin in the existing endpin socket provides nearly the same amount of benefit.
- Wait - so I can use a bent steel endpin in the regular socket? Why then go to the trouble of drilling the bass? There is a small advantage to having the endpin hole as near to the back edge of the bass as can be achieved, and a wood endpin is helpful in mitigating wolf tones. But, unless you have access to a luthier who thoroughly understands the geometry and the consequences of the angle of drilling, or if you have any reservations at all about drilling a hole in the bass, just use a bent steel endpin.
- Do I need to get one of the multi-angle adjustable attachments? Not if you have access to a luthier who can correctly assess the angle of drilling to make the bass balance. The multi-angle adjustable attachments are most useful when owned by repair shops, so bassists can experience the feeling of having their basses balance before the drilling procedure is performed, but the angle at which the bass balances isn't going to change, so the usefulness of an adjustable-angle attachment for a given bass is very brief.
- Does the endpin hole have to be at a particular angle? Yes. It is important that the angle be correct for the size and shape of the bass, and to an extent, the height of the player. There is a narrow range that will work, so it is vital that the luthier doing the drilling be experienced and knowledgeable about the effects of a given angle. Within that range, a couple of degrees of angle doesn’t make a perceptible difference.
- How exact does the endpin height need to be? Just as players accept there are increments of height adjustment offered with a factory-made, detented steel endpin, there is no advantage to being too precious about the height of a wood endpin. Although requests come in for height increments of 1/8”, the smallest variation that makes a functional difference, in our experience, is 1/2”, and that small amount is so easily obscured by which shoes and/or jacket the bassist is wearing or whether or not he stretched before practicing that it's not consistently noticeable. 1” is really the smallest variation we recommend.
- Are wood endpins strong enough? Of the many hundreds of wood endpins we have machined and which are in use by bassists ranging to high-level professionals worldwide, there have been three reports of the wood breaking or splitting. One report seems to be a way of getting a free endpin, as the client said he threw the endpin away on the first day he got it, and declined to send it in for analysis or to send a photo. One actually broke, after multiple years of use. One actually split for an inch or so along the grain. As wood is a product of nature, we do all we can to account for any variables - having the highest grade of white oak custom-milled, and individually selecting each piece that we turn with an endpin taper, carefully machining - but, just as we can’t control whether or not your bass may get a crack sometime in the future, we can’t control the future behavior of the wood of an endpin. Many bassists prefer the sound they get from their basses with wood endpins over concerns about the durability of wood vs. carbon-fiber endpins; however, if you are concerned about durability, we recommend you carry a spare endpin and/or use a carbon-fiber model.
- Does using the angled endpin mean you have to be a student of the Rabbath technique/isn’t this just for Rabbath students? No - there are bassists from every background, jazz and classical, all over the world who have discovered the advantages of the angled endpin.
- The angled endpin does not apply to bassists who sit, correct? Actually, there is a notable advantage to using the angled endpin while sitting to play - since the endpin is no longer out in front of the bass, it won’t slip on the floor. With the angled endpin, there is no need to use a rockstop/floor protector. Additionally, the bass balances more lightly against you - just as when standing with the angled endpin - permitting more freedom of movement.
- I don’t have anyone to teach me how to use the angled endpin setup if I get my bass drilled/I tried a bass with the endpin and it felt weird. Well, if you’re reading this article, you’ve arrived at the right place - Quantum Bass Center is a hub for bassists and teachers who use the angled endpin and can walk you through getting started, although there is no secret to starting on your own. We are also big advocates of people knowing what they’re doing. It’s vital for repairmen proposing to drill basses be adept in playing with the angled endpin themselves so they understand the geometry and can correctly select the compound angle that will work for an individual bass. So, select the shop that drills your bass based on how confident they are in being able to show you how to use the system. If holding a bass with the angled endpin for the first time feels strange, there are two reasons: either the endpin currently inserted in the bass (perhaps a friend has handed you his bass to try) is too long for your height, and the bass is pivoting eccentrically; or, your habitual playing position depends on leaning on the bass in its straight-endpin orientation. Put a shorter endpin in the bass (even if it’s momentarily too short) so it stops pivoting. Open a copy of George Vance’s “Progressive Repertoire, Vol. 1” and review the position photos: bass directly in front of you at arm’s length - bend your arm and bring the bass back to your body so the back EDGE (not the side) of the bass touches just to the left of your navel - keeping an upright but relaxed posture (without elevating your left shoulder as you may previously have had the habit of doing). Practice left-hand glissandi from first position up to the end of the fingerboard and back, gently. You are doing an easy re-set of good body dynamics and applying it to the bass. When you bow, the bass will not be too vertical and demand tension from your right arm to keep the bow from being pulled toward the floor, and it won’t be back at too much of an angle, making the bow too “heavy”. It will be as weightless as can be achieved, and you will have a much freer ability to turn from your waist and use the large muscles of the thoracic spine to do the work of supporting the shoulder girdle while your arms are extended and moving. This isn’t a comprehensive tutorial, but using the endpin is actually led by playing position feeling natural and comfortable (though that may be very different from your current habit) - so let comfort be your guide.
- Isn't there a standard taper for drilling the bass? What about different endpin tapers? There has always been one taper for this drilling procedure, which has been passed informally by word of mouth and informally agreed. The precision of the person doing the drilling has been seen to vary considerably, and the manufacturing consistency of wood endpins (and even composite endpins) has been seen to be quite variable. This is why Quantum Bass Center undertook to see to it that both our drilling procedure and the endpins we make are precise and consistent.
- Doesn't it require a special jig to drill the bass? Actually, what's required is the ability to find and hit a specific angle and a knowledge of how the wood will behave during both the drilling and reaming. Having experimented with several types of angle-finding jigs, from simple to so elaborate that it required taking the setup down and over an hour to do the drilling process, using a jig for drilling is still extremely fallible relative to the final results.
Why choose endpins from Quantum Bass Center?
- Qualification: Quantum Bass Center has the dual advantage of being staffed by both active professional bassists with a long history of using the angled endpin, and repairmen who have very strong backgrounds in structural engineering and physics. From its earliest days, Quantum Bass Center only used machinist tooling and produced the most precise, consistent tapered endpins on the market, and has only continued to make improvements to its tooling and materials since then.
- Commitment to value: we have also stayed true to our mission of providing our endpins to our hard-working musician and student clients at an affordable price - about half of what the very few other providers charge. We will drill any bass purchased from Quantum Bass Center for free, regardless of how long ago it was purchased.
- Precision: the biggest risk in using a friction-fit endpin in the tapered hole is the endpin fitting incorrectly and falling out, so we set about to virtually eliminate that issue on the part of the endpin (though we can’t control for basses that were drilled elsewhere). As a significant portion of our client base relies on our wood endpins, we invested in a mammoth gunsmith’s lathe so we can reliably set the taper to hundredth-of-an-inch precision.
- Quality material: we have gone above and beyond using the oak dowel commercially available in stores, and have the highest grade white oak custom-milled for us as our raw stock, committing to quantities that we can support by our volume. We designed the hardened steel floor spike we use and had it manufactured for us at great cost; although it’s very disappointing that our custom part was pirated, we appreciate the loyal customers who have looked to us for the hundreds of endpins we ship each year.
- Innovation: QBC was the first in the US to provide precision-turned, surface-finished tapered wood endpins to the public, the first to make them available self-service via ecommerce, and remains the largest as well as the least expensive worldwide.