The best basses come together through a mixture of inspiration, art, and technology. This week we check out a one-of-a-kind instrument that was born of all three ingredients: the Diana Bass by Ribbecke Guitars.
In late 2012, bass legend Jack Casady lost his wife Diana after a hard-fought battle with cancer. Casady pondered ways he could honor her memory before deciding to have a bass built in her honor, citing the fact that she always acted as his ears and musical confidant. The Hot Tuna bassist commissioned California-based luthier Tom Ribbecke to create it. They talked things over and decided to imagine a new take on the Halfling bass, which Ribbecke designed with Bobby Vega.
“[Jack’s] initial challenge to me was, ‘can you bring the Halfling bass to another level of bass response so I can use it like you could a stand up in a room full of steel string guitarists,” Ribbecke explained. “That was the gauntlet being thrown down.”
The concept came from Casady’s own playing style and needs, as he typically plays in acoustic settings with Hot Tuna. “I wanted an instrument that would have enough body and volume, but you could play it like a bass guitar in a room where it would hold its own,” said the bassist, “and where I could be inspired by the instrument by the tone. This is not an instrument to necessarily play a lot of notes on in very rapid succession. This is an instrument I want to play just the opposite; to play very few notes but have those notes carry enough weight that you don’t feel like you’ve got to fill the time up with another note.”
The needs resulted in the creation of new design concepts, including a fascinating bass bar and x-brace combination on the inside of the instrument. Similar to an upright bass, the Diana has a bass bar the runs down the inside of the top. It takes things in a different direction by having two cutouts to allow the x-brace to run underneath of it. This allows the acoustic energy to translate the energy into the bass side of the top while the x-brace allows the energy to dissipate and travel to the other sides of the top. Overall, it creates a large, audible bass with a complex decay and tonal texture. The bass’s tail block is also relieved to give the bass more soundboard and allow the top to vibrate.
The bass’s body is an interesting shape. “I had done the reverse teardrop guitar for another individual and that allowed me to increase the real estate on the bass side of the instrument,” Ribbecke said. The bass’s top is Englemann Spruce, which Ribbecke describes as a rounder, softer sounding material that makes it more bass-specific and less edgy. Its back and sides are myrtle, and the body is accented with a beautiful koa binding. Further, the Diana has a wedge shape for ergonomics.
“The hardest part of the bass to build was the rim of the instrument. There were two technical things that were important to make this work for me. One was the breaking up of standing waves inside the bass. The only way I could do this was to create a rim that was about 9 inches deep and create a skirt that goes around that out of a piece of stable material and hand-cut it to that shape. It took two of us all day to do that by hand. The next big issue was the binding of the box, [which took several days].”
Casady’s Diana Bass is truly personal and has a special compartment that holds a lock of his late wife’s hair in it so as to always carry her DNA. The headstock is to be inlayed by Larry Robinson with symbols and characters that they shared. “There will only be one true Diana bass,” Ribbecke states.
Jack Casady’s Ribbecke Guitars Diana Bass Photos:
For all the awesome technological and musical aspects of the instrument, check out this chat with Ribbecke, Casady, and Vega about all the elements that went into it:
Jack Casady’s Ribbecke Guitars Diana Bass Specs:
|Width at Lower Bout:||18 1/2″|
|Deepest Part of Body:||6 1/2″|
|Nut Width:||1 5/8″|
|Width at Body Joint:||2 5/16″|
|Back and Sides:||Myrtle|
|Fittings:||All Ebony Fittings Shop Made|
|Neck Depth at 1st Fret:||.890″|
|Strings Pictured:||.045 .055 .078 .098″ Phosphor Bronze|