Barton Church Bass

Barton Church Bass

Usage conditions apply
Description (Brief)

This Church Bass was made by Ben and T. C. Barton in Demorestville, Ontario, Canada, in 1849. It has a medium grained spruce top, non-flamed maple back and ribs, spruce interior blocks and linings, and a medium brown varnish over a yellow ground. The maple neck is adorned with a figured head scroll of a man with a beard with a square hole at the top of the head. There is primitively carved filigree along the edges of the back. This instrument has an original label on the inside:

Ben [ ] T.C. Barton
January 8th 1849

Demorestville is an area directly north of Lake Erie in an area now called Picton. The back length of this cello is almost 32 inches which is about 2.5 inches longer than a traditional 4/4 size cello. This instrument, in dimension, is along the lines of the famous New England "church basses" made by Abraham Prescott in New Hampshire in the 1830s. It would not be surprising if this instrument made by the Bartons was directly inspired by these Prescott church basses.

This instrument was used by American jazz double bassist Ronald Levin Carter (born May 4, 1937). Carter, a multiple Grammy award winner, with over 2,200 recording sessions, is one of the most-recorded jazz bass players in history. Carter is also a cellist and has played this church bass on several recordings, as it is similar in size and range to a cello.

The modern term for this instrument is church bass. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, this instrument was also known as the American bass viol, New England bass viol, or Yankee bass viol. These church basses were used in churches and meeting houses to provide a bass line for maintaining a consistent key by New England congregational singers. The church bass was also used by popular singing groups such as the Hutchinson Family singers.

Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Carter, Ron
place made
Physical Description
spruce (overall material)
maple (overall material)
overall: 54 in x 19 in x 10 in; 137.16 cm x 48.26 cm x 25.4 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Ron Carter
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Musical Instruments
Music & Musical Instruments
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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