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If I look at a modern orchestra playing (here in the USA), many but not all of the bass players will have a bass with a headstock that looks something like this:

headstock extension

But the way I think of a bass looking, it lacks such a device as in the image below:

diagram

What is that extension called, what does it do, and if it is useful then why doesn't every bass player use it?

  • Think of it as a Fingerboard extension for the E string – Shevliaskovic Apr 1 '16 at 20:22
  • I know this indeed simply by the name C-extension. – leftaroundabout Apr 1 '16 at 23:19
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It's an extension that allows the low E string to drop to low C. A lot of modern orchestral music has been written for extended range basses, and so professional bassists should have this. There are little fingers that can pinch the string off at any of the half steps along the length.

It's not standard simply because it's an added cost, and people who aren't playing in orchestras will rarely, if ever, need it.

Note also that the 5-string bass (with the lowest string tuned to B) is the more popular way to extend the range downward in Canada and Europe.

  • I have seen this mixed in orchestras. (Serious ones, like Chicago.) Can I assume an orchestra member who is not using it has two instruments and just doesn't happen to need the one with an extension for that day? Or did the other people just not bother to remove their extension? Does it have a name other than "extension"? Since the "E" is now open-string for some member and the "C" for others doesn't the sound change? – Brian B Apr 1 '16 at 22:24
  • @BrianB The sound will definitely change for that string, but I don't think it would be very noticeable amongst an orchestra. I would also assume that most low E's are played primarily for other reasons besides being an open string. – Matthew Read Apr 1 '16 at 22:39
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    Not just "modern orchestral music." In the classical era, 3-string basses tuned C G D an octave below the cellos were commonly used. Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven didn't bother to write a separate bass part when the cellos went down to low C. – user19146 Apr 1 '16 at 23:54
  • Many orchestral bass players possess/play two different instruments, because it's such a hassle to ferry it to work and back every day. In fact, I know a player who has only a small 3-string instrument at home and a proper 5-string bass stored at the opera house. – Kilian Foth Apr 3 '16 at 20:36

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