London Pride

Stefan Krattenmacher takes a closer look at a 1830's instrument by Bernhard Simon Fendt

Bernhard Simon Fendt was born in London in 1801, the eldest of four violinmaking brothers. Their Tyrolian father, Bernhard, was also an instrument maker and had joined the workshop of John Betts in London as a foreman in 1809. The younger Bernhard Simon shared a love of the bass with his father, and studied with him at Betts' workshop until 1823. He spent all of his life in London, going into partnership first with dealer Charles Joseph Farn, and later with George Purdy, a professor of fencing and dancing. Bernhard Simon Fendt died of tuberculosis in 1852, the same year as one of his six sons, who assisted him in his workshop.  

Bassmakers in London during the 1830s distinguished themselves from their continental colleagues by taking their inspiration from the Brescian school, on which they based many of their instruments. An extremely refined maker, B. S. Fendt made exact copies of many of the best instruments from both the Brescian and Cremonese schools, even signing them with the original names. His modelling, workmanship, choice of tonewood and varnishes are all outstanding and from his copying he eventually developed two models for his own basses – a Brescian and an Amatese. Fendt's basses invariably have flat backs and the pegboxes are characteristically rather short relative to the large scroll.

This double bass is a prime example of B.S.Fendt's work and is modelled on his Amati pattern. The design shows harmony and grace. It is well balanced, with open and symmetric middle bouts. Only the final curve – where the corners meet– is crafted with a strong circular swing, giving it a more rounded look.
Fendt altered the original Amati design, to enhance the instrument's playability. He gave the upper bout a much more sloped curve from the neck setting, which then melts into the wide and rounded curve typical of Amati. The lower bout stands in harmony with this wide, round upper part.

The maker used the same f-hole template for the Amati model as his father had employed. The f-holes sit straight in the table arching, with two circular f-hole balls. These are connected with a well-cut shaft. The wood quality is, as with most Fendt basses, very high and the two piece table is made of medium grained spruce. At 53mm, the arching of the table is rather on the high side and is designed in Amati style. It raises slowly from the edges but has a round, dome-shaped top. Fendt often used a light figured maple with fine grain for his flat backs. Even after more than 180 years, the back is still straight and shows no sign of weakness.

Fendt laid the purfling with great care and precision, showing off his talents in this area. A beautiful detail of the purfling work is to be seen at the back of the button, where the inlay seems to run effortlessly – this is a very difficult technique for so many makers. Another aspect of his great craftsmanship can be seen in the way the ribs are bent where the corners meet. Despite the depth of the ribs and the high quality of the wood, they have been bent with energy and Fendt didn't compromise on the radius of the curve.

The head of the bass is also a striking feature. The front view shows a wide, parallel pegbox giving lots of space for the strings to sit in. Seen from the side, the scroll is harmonically balanced. Fendt – like his fellow bass makers in London at the time – gave the scroll an extra half-turn, making this a trademark of the English capital. The volute is cut deeply at the beginning of the curve, and runs into a flat surface towards the pegbox. But at the back, it is shallow all over, giving the box an even broader look. Enriched with strong yellow and orange pigments, the soft varnish lays on top of a yellow golden wood ground. The beauty and quality are characteristic of Fendt.

The distinct sound of Fendt basses is also in evidence with this instrument. The tone has a rich colour with a strong centre, giving it the ability to focus every note being played. This quality added to the weighty body and big volume make it a perfect instrument for both chamber music and orchestral playing.

Vital statistics:
Table length:112.5 cm
Body width:
Top bout: 52 cm
Middle bout: 37,5 cm
Lower bout: 67.6 cm
Arching height: 53mm
Distance between f-holes: 15,2 cm
Strings length: 106.5 cm

Originally published in Double Bassist 26, Autumn 2003
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