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Old 12-18-2012, 01:30 AM
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Lightbulb Tyrol/Tirol bassics..(Blockless style)

A few days ago I decided to look into the history of the Tyrol once again. Memories fade in time so I needed to re-familiarize myself with some facts or learn new information. This is to help understand the culture and nationalization of various parts of the Tyrol throughout the centuries, mainly the period of time when string instruments were made there.

This is in direct relation to the basses we call Tyrolean and 'blockless wonders', a derogatory term used for basses that were made without a neck block and emanate from from the Tyrol, Germany and Bohemia.

So, first the construction which may have come from Fussen Germany, a Bavarian town that preceded most all others in Germany, forming one of the first Lute Makers Guilds, centuries before the violin was ever invented. The term 'Lute maker' is key here in the discussion of these basses. The simple and ancient construction of Lutes and Guitars used this special joinery method of tucking the Ribs into the side of the Neck which had a 'boot' under the neck heel inside the body as support for the Top and Back to connect it all together. Many old violin family instruments even into the 19th century were made without internal blocks and linings. I have seen violins made with blockless construction as well, not just basses.

The German school in the 16th and 17th centuries were still making Lute type instruments while Italy to the south were slowly replacing the Lute with variations of the Violin family instruments originating first from Brescia and Cremona as written in history.

The Tyrol was mainly a German speaking region even into the early 20th century. The southern Tryol, now part of Italy after 1919 was then changed to Tirol. Trent was changed Trentio. Bozen was changed to Bolzano. The famous violin family known as Albani in the reference books was then called Alban, the German name of this family. The fact there is that they were really Alban from Bozen. Bolzano was the Italian translation so these were really German speaking makers and not Italian. This is what makes sense to me but in reality, I wasn't there centuries ago to have a conversation with any of them. I am just going with the history I have been reading on-line and in books. Wikipedia can be great! You just have to read all the other Wiki-pages the subjects branch off into. lol

So, back to basses. Some dealers refer to blockless basses as being Bohemian and some Tyrolean. Well, they can both be right because, in reading the 'Forward' in a book on the German school of makers, it seems that many Lute makers left Fussen and the surrounding areas and populated areas of Bohemia and Austria bringing their craft with them. This being Lute making which is also in part the building of string instruments known as blockless. Why not apply that technique to Violins and Basses and all in-between? It worked for the Lute, right? Also, besides building as they knew how to, in later centuries when they learned better from the blocked Violins now in circulation, it was just cheaper to stay to their old ways. Maybe turning a blind eye, maybe doing business as usual or, just maybe doing what the knew how to do, and never knowing what was to come a century later, implosion!

History shows that little by little, families and makers returned to Germany from Bohemia to avoid religious prosecution. The makers of Saxony seem to have had help from the Bohemians moving west into Germany. Many of them from German heritage originally.

The blockless basses we know and play were generally built like a Lute or Guitar and not a Violin at all other than the F-holes. The flatback and sloped shoulders are from the Lute and Viol family foremost. Kinda like a bass-lite in the build. We know now that without blocks, they fall apart little by little. This is why many of them after heavy use for 50-100 years are often too expensive to re-build and restore unless its one made with finer wood than normal and a sound to match. If you are lucky, you will find one that was 'blocked' some time ago to prolong its life.

I have seen quite a few variations of blockless basses. Some looking totally German in style. Some looking Bohemian but not true Czech in build like basses from Prague but rather a mix of German and Czech. Then, some of them look Italian in style but, part Germanic in flavor. These have nicer f-holes and Italian looking scrolls or rather, non-Germanic. Also, the early Yankee-American makers, some from before Prescott and most other during and after his period used this model as well on occasion. Blockless gamba or gamba with lower rounded corners. Many made without internal linings and ribs inserted into a channel in the top and back like furniture construction.

So, in researching the Tyrol to see if any of these basses can be called Italian, I have concluded that IF it is a Tyrolean Bass, it is probably not Italian in make as Italy at most over the centuries only influenced the Germans and Tyrolean makers. This region was mostly German and Austrian thru the centuries until the southern Tyrol was annexed to Italy in 1919. I am not trying to quote political history exactly here but rather how it relates to the making of these instruments.

I have two Tyrol style basses now in my possession. One might be called by some as Bohemian and I don't doubt the possibility. It is a full 3/4 when we call here a 7/8ths, originally made with a 42 1/2 - 43" String length (108-109cm). The other one just acquired looks partly Italian but part German. This one I am sure is a true Tyrolean bass and not Bohemian. This one has a block in it already, most likely added within the last 100-120 years. This one is old, c.1800, maybe older, maybe not. It has a neck graft as well so there is no way to know the original string length. Currently it's about 41 1/4" or so and in-between a D and Eb neck. This would put it between 104-105cm when made which is much shorter than my other one. The f-holes are totally different but the body is a similar size.Top also has a much higher arch, Stainer school and the Scroll looks more Tyrol style than Bohemian. I have only seen one or two other basses like this one. Most others were like the typical style with slanted Fs placed lower on the Top making the bass play longer in its mensur and Germanic/Bohemian in style.

Although we have other Blockless/Tyrol threads here on the Forum, I wanted to focus more on the history of the region as it relates to Italy. Too many of these basses have been sold and appraised as Italian basses by dealers. These basses are what they are, Tyrolean, German or Bohemian. Rarely if ever have I seen a true Italian bass that resembles one of the Blockless creations. There are exceptions with some basses made in this style made in Northern Italy but they are rare and different as well.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on the subject.
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Old 06-25-2013, 12:04 PM
Alex Smith Alex Smith is offline
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Default Tyrolean Basses

What price range do these instruments fit into today?

Are there any specific bass makers attached to the region and this style?
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Old 06-25-2013, 03:18 PM
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Lightbulb ?$?makers?

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Originally Posted by Alex Smith View Post
What price range do these instruments fit into today?

Are there any specific bass makers attached to the region and this style?
No one I know has ever mentioned a maker or even an exact city or town where these are made. Some dealers here and in Europe also say they were made in Bohemia as well. This is basically Guitar/Lute style construction and not typical Violin style work.

Prices vary on how good the bass is including condition, sound and playability with string length in that mix. I have seen some in terrible condition with their original blockless neck still in that I would not give $200 for and the owner had paid $10k for it from a big shop calling it Italian. A total rip-off in my mind. I have also seem them restored where the Luthier left it Blockless. That in my mind is a huge mistake.

Then, I have seen some that were completely restored with a neck block and all cracks properly repaired as if the Luthier was restoring a fine old pedigree Italian bass with no corners cut on the work performed. One of those basses sold for about $15k about 15 years ago and will appreciate in value as time goes on.

I currently own 2 basses of this style and one I would say is German or Bohemian in style. By the wood itself, I think it is from the Austrian Tirol just below Mittenwald as it is the same kind of wood found on the old Mittenwald basses. Bohemian basses usually have little to no figure or if made near the Saxon border, might have that more wavy striped flame we are used to seeing rather then the small thin Sycamore type stripes on the Mittenwald basses. Basses made on the cheap for export will usually be made of cheaper plain wood. Basic economics.

The other one I have is a slight mystery but recently I had two European dealers in the shop visiting and they said, this is Italian work but Tirol made. In Europe, this bass they said would list for E35,000 Euros. I was quite shocked to hear that because here, we are closer to half that price in Dollars. At about $1.30 to the Euro, that is $45,000. I am only asking $19k for it. If I could confirm that it IS Italian and name a maker, shop or region, I could agree with them. But, with the history of these basses and their anonymous origins and even their commercial import in the early 20th century, even if made by an Italian, the Tirol style basses are associated with cheapness in a way.

Here is my Germanic Tirol Bass that currently is still in its restoration which will run in the $20k range alone. Being re-built with no less care than any old Italian I have owned.

Here is my Italian looking Tirol Bass that has been restored and came in with a neck block when we got it here. The Back and Ribs are plain flat sawn Maple but to the naked eye, looks like Poplar which, it could be but to me, looks like it has that fleck you find in plain Maple. The Top is flatsawn Pine and with a huge high arch as well. Very Stainer'ish. The Scroll looks Northern Italian as well which I have seen some traits of this on Mittenwald basses as well as some old English basses. You can tell me what it looks like to you. I am selling it as a Tirol bass, possibly made by an Italian or in the Italian/Stainer style. Whatever that means!

Ok, now that we are past that and my current personal basses, I must assume you either have one of these Blockless basses or are considering getting one. So, be it the case, I will warn you to make sure all the repairs are done to the same degree as they would be on a major Italian bass. If not, the repairs to be re-done to marketable condition could run more then they would to un-do and re-do than if the bass had been left alone un-repaired. Also, repairing one of these basses depending on its condition, could also cost more than the bass is worth in the end.

Considering all of that, inflation has proved to be the shop bass owners friend over time. Basses like this that were $75 new from Sears in 1937 (I have the ad from their catalog) are now in any decent condition selling in the low to mid thousands and more. Regardless of the price being low or high for what the bass is in that given condition, that IS the current market.

Knowing what I do about them and the cost to restore and re-build a blockless bass in various conditions, my view on prices are more realistic. I have seen blockless basses sell for $6, $8 and $10k. I totally disagree on those prices because, the cost to 'right' them with a proper block and neck (often with a new graft) as well as all the internal repairs is unknown at the time of sale.

As with any bass, including these, the more you know about construction and repairs, the better the decision you can make and negotiate.
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Old 06-25-2013, 04:52 PM
Alex Smith Alex Smith is offline
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Default Tyrolean Basses

I do own a Tyrolean bass. Mine had a top-to-bottom (exquisite!) restoration done about two years ago, including new bracing, endpin block, bass bar and new neck with block (copied from the original) and replacing all previous repairs with new cleats/ladder bracing. The original scroll was too weathered to restore. Jed Kriegel did the work and could not have done better.

The top, apparently, was unpurfled, according to Jed. When he replaced most of the damaged edging, he also purfled the bass. Might this be an indication of its origin? Germanic- or Northern Italian-style? - Probably an indication of cost-cutting measures.

Of the many basses I auditioned (of equal or far greater "value"), it was the clear winner in tone, "cushion", volume and playability (at least for my taste). I probably paid somewhere in the upper range of prices for Tirol basses. I have seen them go for much less while still retaining their footed neck, but I think that the previous owner probably paid more to have the bass restored than those basses cost! That said, I have also seen them go for much more, as well! Considering its wonderful sound, and the sound nature of the work, I think I got a good deal.

Of course, I'm "just a player", not a luthier. From what you've said, I think I did the right thing buying a fully restored bass for more, instead of buying one blockless and hoping for the best.

I would be curious if any European luthiers could offer more insight on my bass. I think the f-holes look more like your Germanic Tyrolean than your Italian-style Tyrolean. The scroll looks closer to the Italian-style, thought I don't have the bass in front of me right now to compare. Also, it's a copy, not the original.

The f-holes on your Italian-style Tyrol bass are very distinctive!

Last edited by Alex Smith; 06-25-2013 at 04:55 PM. Reason: add detail
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Old 06-25-2013, 04:57 PM
Alex Smith Alex Smith is offline
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Default Tyrolean Basses

Oh, my bass also originally had an integrated bass bar. Not sure if that's an indication of something-or-other.
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Old 06-25-2013, 05:17 PM
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Exclamation bass bar..

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Originally Posted by Alex Smith View Post
Oh, my bass also originally had an integrated bass bar. Not sure if that's an indication of something-or-other.
I have seen many Germanic style basses (from the Tirol to Bohemia) with integrated bass bars and even one Italian bass as well. I would say that is usually a sign of factory production/machine made tops but can also be made by hand as well, done to save time and money.

If you have an integrated bass bar, it needs to be fixed and modified to a normal type bar, chalk fitted and installed without any spring at all. Springing a bass bar is the root cause of many a collapsed top.
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Old 06-25-2013, 05:42 PM
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Default

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Originally Posted by Ken Smith View Post
If you have an integrated bass bar, it needs to be fixed and modified to a normal type bar, chalk fitted and installed without any spring at all. Springing a bass bar is the root cause or many a collapsed top.
The bass bar was replaced during the restoration. Can't speak for the springing, but considering the level of work done on the rest of the bass, I imagine it was done well.
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Old 06-25-2013, 05:47 PM
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Exclamation imagine?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Alex Smith View Post
The bass bar was replaced during the restoration. Can't speak for the springing, but considering the level of work done on the rest of the bass, I imagine it was done well.
Alex, do not assume anything. There are still shops and luthiers that believe in springing in a bass bar. It is guaranteed future work for them or for someone!

Call and ask the Luthier if the bass bar was sprung in at all or just flush fit as it should be.

Jeff Bollbach has a great explanation of this subject on his website; http://www.jeffbollbach.com/JB%20II/luthier_rant3.htm
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Old 07-21-2017, 01:36 PM
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Default Finally...

A Luthier in Vienna just sent me pictures of an old Blockless-made bass dated 1790 by one of the Hornsteiner's in Mittenwald. Also, he tells me that this style of making is still being taught there as well. So for me, this is a break thru as it's only the second Label I have ever seen in a Blockless style bass. The first was a Bass I had back in the mid '70s labeled Sebastian Klotz, 1791, also Mittenwald. I never knew if it was real but it was possible. Probably many of these basses were made anonymous for the export trade but also for domestic sale where the labels could have been left in. Also they were made in various grades and sizes from 1/2-4/4 and from plain un-purfled wood to high figured flamed maple with nice grade narrow purfling.

My Blockless bass has this wood as well as very small corner blocks like this Hornsteiner has and similar size purfling.
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