Tucked onto a side street on the outskirts of downtown lies a modest-sized shop that’s unique in the Southeast. Famous in music circles and a double bass player’s musical mainstay, the Bass Violin Shop is the only one of its kind in the region devoted entirely to one of music’s great crossover stars: the double bass.
“Bass can play almost anything — jazz, blues, folk, classical, rockabilly,” says co-owner Bob Beerman, a bassist himself. “As the lowest instrument, it’s the foundation of the orchestra. If the bass is out of tune, it all goes out of tune.”
Providing sales, repair, consignments, and rentals, the shop is home to some of the most well-respected bass specialists in the country, who are the hands behind countless successful musicians in and around Greensboro — and beyond. Folk rockers The Avett Brothers have had work done here, as well as members of local bluegrass/Americana band Mipso and New York-based jazz great Carlos Henriquez.
“Our farthest client was in California,” Beerman says.
To open the shop’s front door is to step into bass nirvana.
The towering instruments line the walls and loom in alcoves. Shiny student models, their showroom sheens intact, stand eagerly near the front door. Around the edges are grittier pro models, some refurbished veterans whose still-slightly-visible scratches and discolorations speak of nights spent playing smoky jazz. A beautifully carved, Baroque-looking model graces a stand along the wall, its elegant curves evoking another era.
“This one was flown in from Canada; it’s very specialized,” Beerman says, pointing to an instrument’s double row of silver tuning pegs.
A musician wanders in, greets the staff, lifts an instrument off its stand, and starts to pluck some notes.
Wafting from the back comes the smell of fresh-cut spruce. Past a wall of enormous bows — some in the French style, some German — and a stack of bridges (the part that lifts the strings from the fingerboard) is the workshop, with tables of equipment for sanding, stringing, and cutting wood.
There, technicians Sanders Trippe and Tony Morton outfit and restore instruments; both spent years working on electric basses before bringing their woodworking skills to Beerman. The shop’s other employees include Cody Rex, inventory, sales, and rental specialist who plays bass in three local orchestras, and Teresa Rasco, Beerman’s wife, who manages “the books, the web page, general inquires, and morale,” he says.
Visitors who think all violins fit under the chin may be surprised to find a similar name attached to this large-stringed sister. Historically, Beerman says, the modern bass derived from a larger, six-stringed Renaissance and baroque instrument called a viol. Originally meant to reinforce — or “double” — the cello’s notes, the instrument in the modern era is considered a part of the violin family.
A guitar player first, Beerman “fell into” bass after a music class in college. He played jazz and folk before coming to Greensboro and joining the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra. After learning the luthier trade — the art of making stringed instruments — he and Rasco opened the shop in its first location in 2001 — “a bass odyssey,” Beerman calls it, referring to the classic movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
“Opening a specialty shop like this was a risk, but I had a fair number of contacts as a pro. We’ve also been really lucky,” he says.
For all its versatility, the instrument can be a calling as much as a choice.
“Usually, someone really wants to play it,” Beerman says. “It’s big. It’s comparatively expensive. It can be awkward to move around. But for those of us who get hooked on that deep, rich sound, nothing else will do.
“Those low notes provoke an emotional reaction in people,” he says. “They speak to us.”
Visit Bass Violin Shop at 523 N. Cedar St. or at bassviolinshop.com.