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Difference Between a String Bass & a Double Bass

standup bass image by Earl Robbins from Fotolia.com

The double bass has acquired many names over the years. "String bass" and "upright bass" are common alternative monikers, but there is no difference in the instrument regardless of name. The double bass is the largest stringed instrument, the lowest in pitch, and it is used in most every musical style including classical, jazz, folk, rock, country and others.

Alternate Names

The double bass is the instrument's true name, but is also called contrabass, string bass, upright bass, stand-up bass, acoustic bass and bass violin. In certain types of folk, country and bluegrass music, slang terms for the double bass include doghouse bass, bull fiddle and bunkhouse bass. The term "string bass" was coined to differentiate it from other bass instruments--such as the tuba and bass drum--in orchestral use. The names "upright," "stand-up" and "acoustic" bass are fairly new terms, first used in the mid-20th century to distinguish the bass from the electric bass guitar.

How It Is Played

The double bass is traditionally played with a bow drawn across the strings in a similar fashion to the violin and cello, particularly in classical music. In other musical styles, the strings are played by plucking with the fingers rather than a bow. It is not uncommon for players to use both the bow and finger-plucking methods to achieve certain sounds and playing effects.

Strings and Tuning

The modern double bass has four strings and is tuned in "fourths". From low to high, the strings are tuned to the notes E, A, D and G, which is standard tuning for a bass guitar. Most double bass players use steel-core wound strings, but the use of old-fashioned "gut" or synthetic nylon equivalents strings are popular with purists.

Double Bass Etymology

The name "double bass" comes from the Italian term "contrabasso." The cello is a bass instrument whose lower note registers are written in "bass clef" (also called "F-clef"). Double bass music is written in the same musical clef, but the notes are actually an octave below what is written (two octaves below the standard "G-clef." or a "double octave"). The difference in octaves and the fact that the double bass is about twice the size of a cello is where the double bass's name originates.


Since the double bass is the largest stringed instrument, it is made in a number of sizes to suit the player's body size. Actual measurements vary with manufacturers, but double basses range from 1/4 size (61 inches), 1/2 size (65 inches), 3/4 size (71 inches) and 4/4 or full-size (75 inches). Three-fourths and full-sized basses are the most common, with smaller sizes used primarily by children.

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