Thomas Kennedy was born in London
in 1784 - so in terms of age he would have been 35 when he made
this instrument. Kennedy died in 1870 at the age of 86 (a phenomenal
age for the era) - so this instrument
most certainly represents some of his earliest work. It is estimated
that Kennedy made around 50 instruments in total. As to how many
of these were of the chamber model it is unclear. The Contrabass
Shoppe has previously sold a flat back example - also and most interestingly
produced in the year 1819 and there is another example on page 171
in the pioneering double bass referance book - Looking at The Double
Bass by Raymond Elgar. Seemingly only a handful may have survived
through nearly 190 years of existence.
Absolutely all the features that
we know and love about the large Brescian-inspired orchestral instruments
that we refer to as "Classic" Kennedy can be seen in this
early example of Kennedy's work. To be honest - we have made some
slight alterations to the upper ribs to change the form of the instrument
from that of a cello shape into one of a violin-form. In effect
this has transformed - rather like an ugly duckling into a magnificent
swan - an incredibly awkward, virtually unusable instrument into
an elegant and highly desirable orchestral instrument.
In brief the two upper ribs were
re-bent into the desired shape and a small piece of matching wood
was grafted onto the top of the rib. A new upper block provides
support. On the front and back - matching wood was grafted below
the origional purfilling line. As the grafts were effected below
the purfilling line they appear invisible to the eye. Although this
all sound relatively simple - an immense amount of forethought,
preparation and skill was applied to this work.
Yes, it is a technique - if done
properly - that can make a virtually unplayable instrument into
one that is a joy to play. With a rib depth of 23cm - that's the
same as Kennedy used on his large orchestral instruments this chamber
bass - as it was - was an absolute non-starter for 99.9% of all
of today's players. Another important and well known example is
the 1780 Cremonese instrument by Nicolo Bergonzi that was formally
the property of Thomas Martin and which was sold at Sotheby's in
June 1997. The form of this instrument is said to have been modified
during the early 19th Century by - J.B. Vuillaume - the renowned
violinmaker, inventor and entrepreneur.
By creating a longer length to
the body of the instrument we have been able to put in a new neck
and create a more standard string length. In fact it works out at
105.3cm. That's absolutely perfect for somebody with smaller hands.
Yes - absolutely without a shadow
of a doubt. The instrument bears its origional label - in the normal
place - THO's KENNEDY, MAKER, 364 OXFORD STREET - and - MADE 1819
- is written at the bottom of the label in black ink. In addition
the instrument is signed in black ink on the upper treble side table
- THO KENNEDY, MAKER, OXFORD STREET, LONDON 1819.
That's right - it does. Even though
we are not sure in what year Kennedy made his first full size orchestral
instrument - this early instrument clearly displays all the same
making characteristics, mannerisms and suggestions that are apparent
and which typify Kennedy's later instruments.
Yes here are a few:
i) The back and rib wood; The
use of English sycamore is typical of Kennedy's output. Slightly
more unusual is the way in which it has been cut. There are quarter
sawn grain and branch markings towards the edges of the back yet
the central back shows a light horizontal flaming as is produced
when cut by the through and through method. The ribs show sycamore
with a good - slightly ascending flaming from back to front.
ii) The elongated corners; Are
a typical feature of Kennedy instruments. It is thought that
these were the result of a somewhat back-to-front method whereby
the rib corners were formed first and then the corner blocks
fitted afterwards. On this chamber bass we see that these corners
are strengthened by outside linings or blocks - similar in appearance
to those incorporated into a rib design by Thomas Dodd [1754/64
(?) - 1834]. Restorer comments, ‘The corners are always
vulnerable to damage on Kennedy basses. These supporting blocks
are definitely origional to the instrument because underneath
them the points of the corners are incredibly poor and besides
- toothing plane marks are visible. More importantly the points
have never been varnished'. All this would suggest that Kennedy
had problems forming his corners from a very early age.
iii) Model and table arching;
Even at this early date these features indicate in which direction
Kennedy was heading with his instrument making. The model is broad
across the upper bouts and the ribs are full-depth. The arching
is typical Brecian.
iv) Table-F's; Although these
early F's are not quite as precise and flowing as can be seen in
Kennedy's later instruments the hand of the master can clearly be
seen. Placement of the F's is also incredibly typical.
v) Table and flanks; The front
is of spruce of a fine grain. Kennedy often fitted flanks to
the fronts and backs of his instruments. On this chamber instrument
Kennedy fitted flanks to the lower table. In the process of
restoration these two flanks were replaced. Our restorer
‘They weren't the origional ones anyway and they were of
very poor quality - so I replaced them'.
vi) Scroll and peg-box; Although
some of the sharpness may have been lost due to a previous person
- we won't call him a restorer - who removed the origional varnish
on the scroll - the smallish slightly pulled-forward scroll - already
- even at this early date - is clearly Kennedy's work. The peg box
is quite short and reveals that the instrument was made as a three
vii) Varnish; A chestnut brown
spirit varnish over a golden-yellow ground certainly suggests of
even greater things to come.
We would certainly like to think
so. For the player of smaller stature or hand size we think that
this highly attractive and playable chamber bass presents a very
real option for a great number of players.
With "Classic" Kennedy
basses in fabulous condition nudging rapidly on upwards towards
the 60K mark - we think that this chamber instrument with a sub-40K
price tag is a most attractive investment opportunity. To give you
an idea as to just how the prices of Kennedy basses have climbed
over the past twenty year - in Sotheby's April 1985 auction a bass-bar
damaged instrument fetched £13 200-00.
It could be - if you are trying to get a coveted job in an orchestra
- more a question of can you afford not to buy this Kennedy?
Kennedy attained a level of excellence
as a maker of double basses that very few other makers surpassed.
His instruments are highly sought after by players because they
know full well that they are some of the best sounding instruments
in the world. What more can you say?
LOB (length of back) - 102.6cm
Width across upper bouts - 49.5cm (19.50in)
Width across middle bouts - 39.4cm (15.50in)
Width across lower bouts - 65.8cm (25.90in)
Depth of lower ribs inc both plates- 23.2cm (9.15in)
Body Stop - 59.5cm (23.35in)
String length - 105.3cm (41.50in)