Pietro Antonio Mavolti c. 1728 - Repairs
This Pietro Antonio Malvolti bass came to my shop through Ken Smith Basses. I had known the bass for many years over my life, first encountering it as an apprentice at Samuel Kolstein and Son back in the early 1990’s while I was still freelance bassist in NYC and up and down the east coast. I remember the bass because of its distinct shape and some of the history of the bass as explained to me by Barrie Kolstein.
When Ken Smith sent the bass to my shop he had recently acquired it. Somewhere in its very recent past, prior to Ken acquiring the bass, it had been changed from a ‘normal’ bass into a ‘travel’ bass with a removable neck. The removable neck job had been executed poorly and the neck did not fit tightly in the neck mortise. As the bass was played, you could actually feel the neck sliding and rocking around in the neck mortise. This movement and the poor connection of the neck to the body of the bass made for very poor transmission of sound from the strings, neck and scroll into the body (which functions as the amplifier for sound). The bass sounded awful: like a cement block. Also the movement of the neck in the neck mortise gave a very strong sense of insecurity when playing the bass. To anyone considering having a great bass like this turned into a ‘travel’ bass: please don’t do it. Find a new bass that fits the bill and have that changed over. Most serious bass luthiers today have experience doing this as travel with a ‘normal’ bass has become extremely limited. There is also the option of purchasing a new bass that was made expressly as a ‘travel’ bass. There are numerous luthiers in the world who specialize in this option. We are only stewards of these great, historic instruments.
At this point the only recourse we had was to graft a new neck onto the original scroll. An unfortunate development because we believe the neck was original to the instrument. This original neck had been massively altered to make this classic bass into a ‘travel’ bass. In my opinion this is a real tragedy: losing what was the true, original, from-the-maker neck (circa late 1720’s) which was still straight and true. We also added a new fingerboard and Ken, rightfully so, decided to have me create and add a new custom made four capper manual C extension.
There were other problems with the bass as well: numerous ribs had come unglued from blocks, and a large number of cracks had opened in the back and ribs. There were also a plethora of different nails driven into the bass over the course of its history, in an attempt to reattach ribs that had come loose from blocks, and where the back had come unglued from the neck block. Needless to say as many of those nails were removed “as possible”. I say “as many of those nails were removed as possible” because although all the nails could possibly have been removed from the bass, removal of many of the nails would have caused serious cosmetic damage to the bass and varnish. This is always a balancing act in restoring basses with ‘nail repairs’: digging out nails creates blemishes. The cure: do not use nails to repair basses!! Take your bass to a quality luthier and have repairs done correctly!!
After the restoration the bass was once again ‘reunited’ with its former voice: Huge, dark, organ-like sound with great response. The added C extension just extended this range and opened up the bottom end of the bass even more. A true masterpiece of an instrument!
Thanks to Ken Smith for entrusting this great instrument to my care. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to ‘do the right thing’ for this bass, and witness the resulting end product of such dignity and power.