Double Bass Tailpieces, in brief
Did you know the tailpiece on your double bass (upright bass) has a large effect on its tone and response? As bassists, we’re always looking for any way to improve these factors by any measurable amount, and numerous types of tailpieces have been offered to the market claiming to provide such improvement. While even the most extreme, new, innovative designs might improve some basses, for others, they are detrimental. Only by trying a given tailpiece along with adjusting the bass to work optimally with it will you know if it’s best for you.
The tailpiece as we know it is the well-engineered result of extensive experimentation in the early days of bowed stringed instruments. It must hold the strings at the correct angle and spacing, but it also serves as a critical balancing mass to direct the vibrations of the instrument body. Too much mass dampens the sound, and too little mass causes uncontrolled oscillations such as wolf tones. Hence, your tailpiece should be matched to your bass. When your only option is to order an available tailpiece when you need one, all you can do is make a best guess.
A tailpiece for a 3/4 bass averages 13” long, and for a 7/8 bass, about 15” long. For best results, when you don’t have a variety of tailpieces on hand to try, order an average wood type. It should be made of a dense hardwood such as ebony or rosewood, or similar. Maple tailpieces painted black are often seen on inexpensive basses, and they’re functionally OK, though they get more wear from the strings. There’s not a functional difference between the “tulip” shaped (rounded front surface) and Hill style (a crisp, defined ridge up the center). Like pleated trousers, the Hill style adds class and formality, but it’s a strictly cosmetic detail.
Our tailpieces are sold separately from our tailwire assemblies. You will need an Allen wrench to install the tail wire (cable), and you should tighten the connector as hard as you can, so the cable doesn’t slip.
Tuning the afterlength will make a big difference in the tone and response of your bass. This is done by adjusting the length of the tailwire until the afterlength sounds at a pitch that is consonant with the playing length of the strings.
Some examples of tailpieces that you’d really need to try before determining whether they’d work on your bass would be: very light weight designs, such as plastic, aluminum, or just cables; very heavy models such as those with individual sliding adjusters for each string; or very asymmetrical models that have the E string attached far away from the holes for the other three strings.
A tailpiece you really won’t need is one with screw-type fine tuners! Double bass tuning machines adequately adjust your strings to pitch!
We’d also caution the use of a device that attaches to your tailpiece and changes the pitch of one string by opening a lever. If you absolutely need this function on a given concert, we recommend attaching the device just for the performance run, rather than using it long-term, as it dampens vibrations.
Decorated tailpieces or those made from exotic hardwoods are really nice to have and may offer tonal variances, but again, it takes a labor-intensive, side-by-side playing test to determine what the variances will be.
The main reason our customers order our tailpieces is to upgrade the appearance of their basses, or in the instance their current tailpiece breaks. Breakage is not uncommon, as a tailpiece is under a lot of tension. They most commonly tend to break along the grain through one of the string holes or through the tailwire attachment hole. We do strongly recommend our tail wire assembly and caution against using either nylon rope or coat-hanger wire - apart from either material being prone to breakage, each has notable detriments to sound and stability.