Some years ago, on the lookout for a double-bass, I was able to buy an instrument made by John Barrett, London, in 1729. Although set up as a small double-bass I found it unsatisfactory as a 16 foot instrument. How the instrument was originally conceived we may never know – it seems to be an unique survivor. The peg box is original, but has undergone many changes, so that it is difficult to establish how many strings it had. The neck is not original; it has been suggested to me that it may have been up to 8cm shorter, which would have allowed the top string (gut) to be tuned safely to G below middle C. With the rise of the large symphony orchestra at the start of the 19th century the instrument in its original state would have had little or no function, and it was probably around this time that the neck was lengthened to allow it to be used as a chamber-bass. I decided to live with the existing neck length, and began researching, trying out different stringing and tunings, with and without frets. I have settled on the tuning f – c – G – D, which the instrument seems happy with, and gives it range suitable for continuo work. The stringing is with sheep-gut. It has been suggested to me that instruments of this size would have been fretted at this time, so frets have been reinstated.
The instrument has for so long been part of the double-bass world that it has a place in the rrecently published book “The English Double-Bass” compiled by Thomas and George Martin and Martin Lawrence, www.arpeggio-publishing.com, 2018. This luxurious publication gives notes on the maker and has detailed photographs of the bass by Heinz Schaub.