Updated: Mar 14, 2020
A few months ago, I decided that I was going to get my bass setup for the Laborie/Rabbath-style angled endpin. My preference has almost always been to sit when I play (I only really stand when playing jazz) so naturally, I had a good deal of trepidation about the idea of a hole being drilled in my bass just for one use. I did some research over the course of a few days and looked into various alternatives (more on those later) but ultimately, I settled on having the hole drilled into the endpin block. I also told myself that if I have my bass drilled, I need to make it work for more than just standing.
With that in mind, I figured I would share some of my experiences with angled endpins and how they have benefited my playing, mostly from the perspective of a player who prefers to sit when he plays.
What Brought Me To The Angled Endpin?
There were a few factors that led me to pursue the angled endpin:
1. I wanted to become more comfortable with playing while standing: As I mentioned earlier, I prefer to sit when I play bass. This is mostly due to my height and the length and weight of my bass. Finding a suitable endpin height that allowed me, a rather short individual, to comfortably reach all parts of the bass and balance its weight was a challenge so I opted to sit instead. Based on some of my research, I figured an angled endpin would be a viable solution to this problem.
2. The heavy steel endpin was choking my bass: My bass came with a fantastically overweight steel endpin and an equally as overweight brass endpin collar. As much as I lied to myself that I will someday break the 6' mark, my height never changed and I rarely ever took the endpin out past the second notch. This left 11-12 inches of steel festering in my bass, choking my A string and creating a bunch of unpleasant overtones (the most obnoxious of which was really strange high G) whenever I bowed my open A. I was also having issues with some gnarly wolf tones and some experimenting led me to determine that replacing the endpin, or at the very least, cutting it down, would remedy these problems.
3. I want to explore other options and playing styles: Though I haven't dug much into yet, I would like to eventually explore the Rabbath school of playing. With so many great players following his teachings, I figured giving myself the option to more authentically experience his methods could only be to my benefit.
4. I hadn't thrown money at my bass in a while: Need I say more?
Getting My Bass Drilled
Once I committed to pursuing the angled endpin, I contacted Ralph Alcala and setup up an appointment to have him drill the hole. We settled on a time and I made a two day road trip to LA from Phoenix. Once I got there, the whole process was pretty painless (well, maybe not for the bass...) and he did a fantastic, professional job and got my bass in back working order in no time. He was also kind enough to let me try out his recently completed bass and his French/German hybrid bow. I highly recommend him if your bass ever needs work!
Playing With The Angled Endpin
My original intention with writing this article was to come at it from the perspective of a seated player. My research led me to a lack of information about what it is like to sit with an angled endpin and by writing this article, I hope to do my part to fill that informational void. I will do a part 2 about standing some time in the future.
1. I feel more free when I play: When I used the standard endpin, the heel of the neck block always pressed into my chest with the better part of my bass' weight. With the angled endpin, I find that that weight is removed and that the pressing sensation is mitigated. This makes initiating bow strokes with my body much easier and facilitates shifting up to higher positions and back to the extension. I have also noticed a decrease in back pain and an increase in ease of breathing. I assume both of these stem from having all that weight shifted off my body but whatever the cause, I appreciate anything that makes playing bass less laborious, especially when playing long concerts or back-to-back services. It's might be worth mentioning that at first, not having all that weight was a little disorienting and it took me a few hours to get used to the lighter-feeling bass.
2. My bass sounds better: I suspect there are a few things in play with this one. The steel endpin being gone is probably the first one. Since I replaced it with the angled one, my A string responds much more quickly and it doesn't give off all those bizarre overtones. All the extraneous wolf tones are gone and my bass is much louder and clearer. Admittedly, I probably could have solved those issues without getting the angled endpin, but I feel it was the most elegant and all-around beneficial solution. I should also add that I never thought my bass sounded bad before, and by no means will getting an angled endpin make a lousy bass sound amazing. The second part of this is likely an extension of me feeling freer when I play. Not being trapped by the bass has certainly been conducive to better tone production.
3. Less endpin slippage/no more spikes: Kind of a small thing that I overlooked. I don't really have to worry about my bass sliding around as much and I am sure stage managers appreciate fewer endpin spike holes. I also don't have to worry about someone ripping their pants on my spike before a concert anymore...
Wooden or Carbon Fiber Endpin?
This section is more about personal preference. I have tried both wooden and carbon fiber endpins for this setup and decided that are plenty of pros and cons to either.
1. Wooden: From what I can tell, this seems to be the more common choice for angled endpins. Most players that I have seen using this endpin system opt for an oak dowel that inserts into the hole in the block, though I have seen very few using these to sit and play. I cut my wooden one down significantly so it's at the ideal height for me when I sit. With my bass, the wooden endpin sounds a bit warmer than the carbon fiber one but at the cost of adjustability and the option of using a spike. I dyed this one ebony to make it much the plug from my old endpin.
2. Carbon Fiber: I have one New Harmony Music's fantastic carbon fiber, adjustable Laborie endpins. The build quality is great and I really enjoy the option of being able to adjust the height if I want to stand or use the spike if I am on the right kind of surface. The only drawback I find to using this one is that it seems to brighten up my bass and it was a little on the pricey side. Beyond that, it is a great endpin and I enjoy using it.
Alternatives To Drilling
I explored a couple of alternatives to having the hole drilled in my bass. These are all fairly non-invasive and reversible, but I decided not to go with any of these due to the expense and need for more hardware. Also, none of them seemed optimized for sitting and I figured if I ever sell my bass, the pre-drilled hole might be a selling to point the right buyer.
1. External hardware systems: There are a number of these made by different luthiers on the market. Each one is different in design, but they all seek to give the player the option to use an angled endpin without drilling a hole. I looked at three of them (I am sure there are more) but none of them suited my needs. For the right person, these are definitely viable alternatives.
Pictured below: Rob Anzelloti's RobPin, Mario Lamarre's Lammax System, Upton Bass angled endpin block.
2. Bent endpins: Probably the most cost-effective option. If you are really hesitant to drill or install external hardware, then bending your current endpin or buying one pre-bent might be a good option. I tried one of these and it didn't feel as secure as I would have liked when standing, but it definitely worked well for sitting.
Pictured below: Emilio Guarino's Chromatic Endpin. Same principle as a pre-bent endpin, but with the added benefit of adjustability.
That summarizes most of my thoughts on my experiences so far with angled endpins. As with all things bass, what works for me probably won't work for everyone, but I am definitely glad I made the switch. I have noticed tangible improvements in not only my bass' sound but my comfort levels when playing the instrument. I would love to hear about everyone's experiences with angled endpins so comment below if you have anything you want to share!
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