This week Nicely Made in China gives centre stage to Mr Gao ZhenMin, a luthier, owner of Huaming Bass. Mr Gao Zhenmin lives in Hebei and makes his speciality to build and repair double-basses and cellos with his wife, Ms Wen YaXia. NMiC paid him a call in his Hebei workshop where a collection of stringed instruments await his attention between fragrant Sichuan maple and alcohol-based home-made varnish.
When did you open your workshop?
In 2004, after working for 7 years at the oldest Beijing instruments-making factory where I was assembling, adjusting and testing the instruments. While working there I met a lot of music professors who told me there was a niche market in making instruments for high-end classical and jazz musicians. That’s how it started.
How different are classical and jazz musicians requirements?
Without being too specific, classical musicians like a softer sound, more round in a way. Jazz players will often prefer what I would call a more energetic and strong sound. Those different usage conditions dictate the density of the wood I use and also the thickness of the board.
What kind of wood do you usually use?
For the back, the wedges and the bridge I use maple from Sichuan (四川枫木). For the soundboard I use spruce and ebony for the tailpiece.
How do you work and how long does it take to make one instrument?
I work exclusively on commission, I make about 4 or 5 double-basses a year and 20 cellos. The rest of my work is repairing instruments that musicians and schools bring me.The whole process of making a double-bass from selecting the wood to the finished product takes about 5 to 6 months. The wood must dry for 10 years and as wood sellers don’t want to keep it that long, I usually keep it during the last 2 years of the drying process. This also allows me to keep an eye on it and control the process more closely.
As for the varnishing, we apply more than 20 layers. That’s usually my wife Wen Yaxia’s job. We mix the varnish ourselves.
Beijing weather is notoriously extremely dry. Can this be a problem for the instruments?
No, it’s better to make an instrument in a very dry environment and then take it wherever you need to, than build it in a very humid place and then bring it to a dry place.
Recently you came up with an idea: to make transportation of this bulky instrument easier you invented the head that can be dismantled. Does that affect the sound?
No, the sound is not affected at all. I had been thinking about it for a while and recently I finalized a model. It fits in a case 130cm high which weighs less than 30kg. It makes travelling a lot easier.
How much does it cost to have a double-bass made?
A regular double-bass is about 30,000 RMB (US$ 4430 / € 3500 / £ 2940 / AU$ 5050) and the one with the flexible fingerboard 55,000 RMB (US$ 8120 / € 6420 / £ 5390 / AU$ 9260)
How to order double-basses and cellos?
Call Mr Gao on:
Office: +86 10 59146793
Mobile: +86 13641142926