Liutaio Mottola Stringed Instrument Design

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Canotto Upright Acoustic Bass

One of the problems facing builders of acoustic basses is that the instruments are so hard to build. It's not that basses are any more complicated than other similar instruments, it's that there is a lot more instrument to deal with. More wood = more work, and in the case of the bass a lot more work. The Canotto (Italian for rowboat) upright acoustic bass features full bass sound but uses simplified and historically proven construction techniques. It was also designed to be playable by folks that already know how to play the bass guitar.

Initially appeared: November 25, 2003
Last updated: August 15, 2015

About the Instrument

Cannotto upright bass ready to leave the shop

The Canotto upright acoustic bass is a pizzicato-only instrument with a 34" scale. It is pizz only because the radius of the fingerboard is like that of most electric basses and is too shallow to allow bowing. The 34" scale was chosen so that those who already know how to play the bass guitar can readily adapt to this instrument. In fact all of the critical dimensions of the neck and fingerboard are the same as those found on the typical electric bass or acoustic bass guitar.

The instrument is modeled after violins constructed by 19th century French physicist Felix Savart. Savart constructed his instruments as part of an attempt to understand the physics of the violin. His were quite simplified violins, featuring a boxy trapezoidal body, straight slots in place of f-holes, and plates which were quite shallow and arched on the outside surfaces only. These instruments also used a centrally positioned brace under the top. Take a look at British luthier Michael J King's website to see pictures of his modern rendition of Savart's instrument. Although Savart's violins were built for research purposes, it turned out they sounded very good in spite of their strange appearance.

The Canotto upright bass uses the shallow arched top and central brace of Savart's design, but substitutes gracefully curved ribs in place of the straight sides and c-holes in place of the simple slots. It has a flat back similar in construction to what is found on most double basses. The bass stands up on its own four feet, and is leaned back against the player when it is played. It can make use of standard extra long scale electric bass guitar strings or, with a different tailpiece, it can use ¼ size upright bass strings. Due to its simplified arching, bracing, and ribs the instrument is quite easy to build.

Tone and volume are very similar to what you would expect of a good quality upright strung with similar strings.

An article describing construction details for this instrument appeared in American Lutherie #80. Full sized plans for this instrument are available from the Guild of American Luthiers.

Italian luthiers Francesco Arecco and Paolo Raiteri used the Canotto as the basis for some adorable and nice sounding instruments to be used to teach young kids to play bass. They call their instrument the Bassotto and some pictures of it can be found here.

Canotto upright bass on the bench