Traveling with a Double Bass

Derek Zadinsky, fourth year bassist, on traveling with a double bass.

Playing the double bass definitely has its fair share of perks: we have the most fun of any section in the orchestra, we get our own special room at school, and we can always sleep in our cases in times of need. Unfortunately, playing the bass carries with it one major drawback: traveling. Unless the bassist has hired his own personal Sherpa to carry around his stuff (no offense intended to any Sherpas reading), he must quickly come to terms with the fact that he is going to be carrying around a lot of stuff pretty much all the time. Now, when he only has to get nearby rehearsals and such, it’s not too bad. The real trouble comes when he has to get somewhere far away.

There are a number of ways to get a bass to where it needs to be, but none of them are ideal. One could just ship it, which costs an arm and a leg, and is not really practical since bass players don’t really have any money. One could drive for days and days, which isn’t very healthy physically or mentally. One could take a train or a boat, but that’s pretty boring (and good luck finding a boat to take you from Philadelphia to Los Angeles). Or…one could fly with it. Now, although this is the quickest way to get somewhere, it is almost always just a good old pain in the neck. It’s kind of like when you’re trying to decide how to get off a Band-Aid and you can’t decide whether to slowly soak it off or to just rip it off really fast. Flying, or the quicker-but-more-painful-method is the one I usually end up choosing.

Depending on the size of the bass, there are a couple of different options when it comes to flying. If one is flying with a big orchestra bass, it will have to go in a flight case the size of an industrial refrigerator. If, however, one is playing a petite instrument for solo work, one can actually purchase an extra seat for it in the cabin (as Curtis faculty member Edgar Meyer does). Now, one might imagine the latter option to be safer, cheaper, and easier, but…well…it carries with it is fair share of problems.

Story time! Last summer I returned to the Aspen Music Festival and School for my third summer and bought a seat for the bass I was flying with – a nice little old bass affectionately nicknamed ‘The Peashooter.’ Since Southwest (by far the most bassist-friendly airline) does not assign seats, I was able to pre-board and secure the window seats in the bulkhead (the only place where the bass is legally allowed to be). I sat in the middle, next to the bass, and fastened the bass in with a seatbelt extension.

I am usually not one to make small talk with the random people on the plane, but a friendly teacher from Denver sat next to me and had plenty of questions about the bass and music. Well, we talked quite a bit on the flight, during which I explained to her how I was getting to Aspen from Denver. The original plan was that I would meet a film composition student (who I found on Facebook) in Denver, rent a car, and drive to Aspen. The problem was, he called me the night before to say that every single rental vehicle in the Denver metropolitan area was taken because of the big Food and Wine Festival that was going on in Aspen. So, since he didn’t want to strand me in Denver with my bass, he changed his plans and was going to fly into Aspen, rent a car there, drive out to Denver, pick me up, and drive back. When I told her this, she said that she lived about 30 minutes west of Denver so if I headed back with her to her place I would save my friend an hour of driving. Naturally feeling a little tentative at first to head to a stranger’s home, we talked more on the flight. I eventually became assured that I was more of a threat to her than she was to me, what with me being a brawny bass player and all, so I agreed to take her up on her offer. We got off the plane and I waited with the bags while she went to get her car. A few minutes later she shows up, not in a van or an SUV, but in a red MINI COOPER convertible! Needless to say, I didn’t take this as a good sign, and things were not helped by the tornado warnings for Denver. Believe it or not, somehow everything fit. The bass blocked the right rear view mirror, though, so whenever we needed to merge on the highway, I had to stand up and turn around to check that the coast was clear. It actually did start raining on us at a couple points, but the bass didn’t get wet at all. My buddy found her place on his iPhone and we were in Aspen by midnight.

A bass. In a Mini Cooper.

The return trip was not nearly as epic, but it was not without its snags. I took a shuttle with the bass back to Denver, checked in, and headed to security. So far, so good. Now, what’s supposed to happen at security is this: I hand them the bass, I go through the metal detector, and the TSA people hand check the bass and do whatever they need to do. Should be simple. Should be. It actually happened like this: I head for the metal detector when it’s my turn. I am greeted by a guy who immediately tells me, “You gotta put that thing through the X-Ray.”  I smile, thinking he must be joking; I mean, a viola case would be tight in those machines. When I realize he’s actually serious, I tell him that I bought a ticket for it and that it just needs to be hand checked. His response? “It ain’t gettin’ on the plane unless it goes through the machine. We don’t know how to hand check.” I give him a look of disbelief and try reasoning with him, but to no avail. He just keeps repeating that I need to go back to the airline and have it sent with the checked luggage. Very frustrated, I pack up all my things again and head back to my friends at the Southwest counter. I explain the situation to them and they seem just as puzzled as I am, so their manager goes down to talk to the security manager. They get things sorted out and I evidently just got a lazy worker who didn’t want to hand check the bass.

Just goes to show that the experience one has traveling with a bass is based purely upon the people one meets along the way. If I’m trying to check the bass with any airline other than Southwest, I try to pick someone at the check-in counter who at least looks nice.

Just a quick note on ground transportation: it is by far the most difficult aspect about traveling with a bass trunk, since there just aren’t a ton of vehicles that it can comfortably fit in. The last time I flew with my trunk was for a Curtis on Tour performance in Orange County, California. I flew with Curtis faculty member David Ludwig, while the rest of the group traveled on a different airline. We were supposed to arrive and be greeted by a 12-seater van from the hotel. Well, that didn’t happen. What showed up was one of those cute little vans you see in pictures from London, where I can only assume bassists never have to travel. Fitting the bass in there was going to be like trying to fit an elephant into a Smart Car. We eventually got it sorted out and, naturally, went to the nearest In-N-Out. I’m sure Mr. Ludwig will agree that a burger, fries, and shake have never tasted so good.

The bass trunk, safely stowed in Orange County, CA.

These are only the stories of my past two experiences flying with a bass; suffice it to say that these stories only represent a small sampling of the adventures that traveling with a bass can entail. I truly love playing bass and making music, but traveling with a bass certainly makes things a little more interesting.

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2 Response to "Traveling with a Double Bass"

Anonymous Says:

BRAWNY bass player?? Well done!

Dan McD. Says:

As a bass player, I'm the proud owner of a Saab convertible, which is my daily driver. I took my bass to the Mini dealer, but decided that the rear seat was too small for my occasional passenger. It's never easy...

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