Development of the Cellobass

The Cellobass was first developed as a custom instrument for Stuart Brotman, a performer, arranger, teacher, and recording artist who has played with Kaleidoscope, Geoff & Maria Muldaur, Canned Heat, Ry Cooder and others. He currently tours worldwide with the klezmer band Brave Old World. Brotman wanted an instrument with the full range of a conventional bass plus an extended upper register for melodic playing, which could travel well on tours. The outcome was the Cellobass, a five string bass made with a cello string length and special strings. 

Brotman's instrument can be seen on the prize-winning video, "Itzhak Perlman: In the Fiddler's House," and he can be heard playing it with Brave Old World and Andy Statman on the Angel/EMI CD of the same name, as well as a soon-to-be-released EMI live recording of the Radio City Music Hall Itzhak Perlman Klezmer Concert.

Stuart Brotman writes:

"The Jensen Cellobass is an upright electric bass with the string length of a cello. Mine is a five-string, which I tune in fifths, from high E to low C. My evolution into this tuning on this size instrument followed several paths. For one, I was struck with the possibilities Red Mitchell and others had found in fifths tuning on the bass. I also have been accompanying violin-based traditional musics for most of my career, and found in myself a growing need to enter the field as a melodist. Fingering fluency and portability made a short-scale bass very tempting." 

"I have been traveling extensively with Brave Old World and going through the usual bass players' nightmares: inconsistently applied regulations, uncomfortable or unplayable rental instruments, etc. In looking for a travel-worthy upright electric bass, I tried most of the commercially produced instruments, and didn't enjoy playing any of them. I did, however, satisfy myself that string length really could be considered a preference, not a necessity. It became obvious to me that a cello-sized five string bass tuned in fifths with a high E string would give me everything I wanted, an easy traveling instrument with a true bass range, a well developed system of cello literature and pedagogy to study from, and a fighting chance of being able to enter the fiddle tunes arena." 

"Mimi Rabson, a Boston-based violinist well-known for her Klezmer playing with the Klezmer Conservatory Band, recommended contacting Eric Jensen, whose violins she performs and records on. When I contacted him with my proposal, he was skeptical but interested, and offered me the use of his prototype electric cello to experiment on. We worked on bridge curve and string spacing, and by the time Brave Old World was leaving for our next European tour, we had a playable five-string Cellobass."

"Sound technicians at Brave Old World concerts in Europe and the United States have praised its tone, and recording engineers tell me it records beautifully, straight into the board. I know audiences like how it looks and sounds. I got applause for my solos with Brave Old World on the recent Itzhak Perlman concert tour." 


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