We upright bassists have chosen a tough life. Not only are we confronted with the challenge of mastering a beast that stands six feet tall and kicks our butt on a daily basis, it influences the type of car we drive, where we can live—and invites total strangers to comment that we probably wish we’d taken up the harmonica instead. We have to transport this giant but relatively fragile creature, hoping it will be playable when we arrive at our destination. For those brave souls who tour with upright bass, the perils are exponentially greater. We’ve all heard the stories and seen the pictures of basses destroyed by slippery-fingered TSA security screeners, careless baggage handlers, or drunk local crews—not only is it gut-wrenching to see an instrument in pieces, it also represents a significant loss of property and income potential to the owner.
Given the instrument’s indispensable nature, trying to make the upright bass more portable has been a driving market force for many decades, but many attempts fall short of satisfying upright bassists. Charlie Chadwick, a Nashville-based player with a penchant for tinkering, came up with a unique solution that not only falls within most airlines’ limits for oversize baggage, his bass fits into one case, sets up in minutes, and feels and sounds like the real thing—because it is. Frustration with bad rental instruments on fly gigs inspired Charlie to start disassembling basses to develop a mechanism that allows the neck to pivot into the body through a removable panel on the back. Chadwick dialed in his first folding bass in 2005 for personal use, but despite demand from his touring brethren, the modifications were too complex and expensive to go into production on his own. In 2008, Chadwick connected with Sam Shen, the world’s largest producer of upright basses, and had the company craft parts with all of the pre-cuts necessary to build the Chadwick Folding Bass. The raw instruments are sent to Chadwick’s Nashville workshop, where the critical assembly, setup, and testing occur. With over 800 instruments out there on the road, Charlie has used player feedback to continuously refine his concept, resulting in a fool-proof, player-friendly instrument that can boldly go where no bass has gone before.
ALL IN THE DETAILS
The standard Chadwick is built from the platform of the Shen SB100, a high-quality plywood instrument with a spruce veneer, inlaid purfling, and lacquer finish. The African ebony fingerboard attaches to the maple neck with a row of aluminum hooks that securely hold it in place, while making removal for storage a simple task. The Suzhou tuning machines are reliably smooth, while the ebony tailpiece, braided tailpiece wire, high-quality maple bridge (with adjusters), and graphite endpin round out a pro-level feature set that clearly separates the Chadwick from the infamous “CCB” category. A hybrid model based on the Shen 150 offers a carved top for an additional $400. The Folding Bass comes stocked with your string of choice (up to $300), and while not included, most commercially available pickups can be installed at the shop.
There are a lot of moving parts on the Chadwick, but much care has gone into preventing rattles that could affect the sound. The back panel and fingerboard use compression fittings to keep things tight, and a polyester gasket seals and cushions the back panel. Internally, there is an acetal framework (an extruded material similar to nylon) that holds the neck in place during storage and secures the fingerboard in its resting place. The removable endpin has its own recessed cup to hold the rubber end, while a clamp makes sure the rod stays in place during transit. Vibration-stopping urethane rubber sockets suspend the neck-storage framework in place. The entire mechanism can be easily removed in seconds. The soundpost is loosely pinned in place so it stays put when taking down the string tension, but it can be moved if an adjustment is needed. The Chadwick Folding Bass also comes with a removable internal travel brace that fits between the back and top, providing extra strength in the event a TSA gorilla decides to stand on your case—and it offers a significant, though unintended, advantage I will discuss later.
Because the Chadwick was designed by someone who actually plays it, there are many seemingly small but practical features that address the realities of setting up and breaking down an instrument on a daily basis. At the peg box, a holder keeps the strings secure around the tuner post, and felt washers hold the ball end in place behind the tailpiece to keep your strings in place when you break down the bass. The bridge feet are strapped to the bridge top so the adjuster wheels stay put, the bridge-feet placement is clearly marked on the top to eliminate guesswork, and Charlie installs a simple piece of shrink wrap on the E string behind the bridge to help visually adjust the bridge perpendicular to the top. The Chadwick’s price includes a crushed-velvet-lined, reinforced fiberglass case with recessed wheels and low-profile metal latches. Empty and open, the case seems flimsy, but the bass fits tightly inside the strategically padded interior and gives the final package surprising sturdiness. The price also includes free shipping to 80 countries.
For the sake of full disclosure, I must mention that I am one of those road dogs who relies on the Chadwick Folding Bass to do my job. As a touring member of the Mavericks, I have logged hundreds of shows with the instrument, including countless miles by air, sea, and land (overseas and domestic), and I have always been happy with what came out of the case. The Chadwick has never failed to meet the musical demands of my gig, and the design’s tight tolerances have shown no signs of loosening up after two years of heavy use. The slick paint on the fiberglass case gets scuffed up quickly, and after two years of hard use, rough treatment has created some wear spots in the fiberglass that were easily repaired with epoxy. It ain’t pretty—but the case has protected my instrument, and I project it will survive several more years of brutal treatment.
For my situation, perhaps the most critical advantage the Chadwick offers is purely serendipitous. Put bluntly, the Mavericks are a loud-ass band, and I spend two to three hours a night standing in front of a Genzler Magellan 800-powered Green-boy F215 pumping out the world’s loudest quarter-notes. Feedback is my enemy, and the Chadwick’s internal travel brace has been my Excalibur in the fight against howl. The tightly fit brace effectively cuts most of the body vibration, leaving the instrument practically silent when played acoustically—but in the high-volume world I inhabit, my sound is all amp and pickup, anyway. There is no discernible change in the tone that comes out of my amp with the brace installed, but without it, I couldn’t play two notes. Conversely, in the studio, I leave the brace out for the full acoustic volume, and the Chadwick sounds as good as any plywood bass I’ve ever played. I’ve even used the storage clamp that holds the neck in place to mount a condenser mic inside the bass, with great results. While I haven’t traveled with one, I have played several of Chadwick’s hybrid models, and the carved top produces a richer, more complex tone that would satisfy someone looking for a more “legit” classical or jazz sound. Unlike some mail-order instruments that require additional tweaking, Charlie personally sets up each instrument to your preference—as a result, my Chadwick played perfectly right out of the box.
Assembling the Chadwick seemed complex at first, but I can now go from “zero to 60” in under four minutes without breaking a sweat. I’m always amazed at how consistent the instrument feels from one day to the next, but your choice of string will influence how much time you need to let it settle in to pitch. While I initially used gut strings, they took many hours to stretch out. Next, I tried synthetic-core strings that emulate gut, but I still found myself tuning up all through the gig. Eventually I switched to steel-core D’Addario Helicore Orchestra strings, which cut my total setup time down to ten minutes.
In addition to the potentially fatal damage an airline could do to your bass, they will also make you pay dearly for the privilege if your instrument is considered oversize. Southwest Airlines’ published guidelines for size and weight limits require the instrument to be under 50 pounds and under 62 linear inches total (L+W+D). The Chadwick is a pound short, and while the total inches add up to 82, my tour manager confirms that it has escaped any oversize fees for the past two years. Naturally, there is no guarantee it will fly as regular baggage, but based on my experience, the Chadwick stands a better chance of flying without extra charges or damage than other full-size travel basses.
The Chadwick Folding Bass is an ingenious solution to the upright bassist’s greatest logistical problem, but it also sounds and plays great. Some of the top touring players in the world rely on it every day, and the peace of mind you get from knowing it will show up in good working order is immeasurable.
Street $3,800, $4,200 (hybrid)
Pros Full-size acoustic upright that flies easy
Cons “Show and tell” time whenever you set up or break down
Bottom Line A super-convenient way to travel with a real upright bass.
Body Maple plywood w/spruce veneer top, carved top w/plywood sides (hybrid model)
Neck Maple, “D neck”
Fingerboard African ebony
Scale length 41.25"
Upper bout 20"
Lower bout 26"
Hardware Suzhou gears
Weight 49 lbs (with case)
Made in China, USA