New England Bass Viol or Violoncello

New England Bass Viol or Violoncello

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Description (Brief)

This New England Bass Viol or Violoncello was made by an unknown maker in New England, about 1850. It has a two-piece table of pine, two-piece back of quarter-cut American maple with faint, fine horizontal figure and added original wings on the upper and lower left bouts, ribs of similar maple, original maple neck, pegbox and scroll with bird's-eye maple pegs (five), and semi-transparent yellow varnish.

This is an unusual instrument with a fifth top e' string and shallow ribs. It retains the neck, fingerboard, bass bar, tailpiece, endpin and pegs in unaltered original condition. The instrument bears typical f-holes connected to the table at the upper and lower wing areas, and ribs that are inlaid into the table and back.

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
ca 1850
place made
United States: New England
Physical Description
pine (overall material)
maple (overall material)
overall: 49 in x 17 in x 7 1/2 in; 124.46 cm x 43.18 cm x 19.05 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Musical Instruments
Music & Musical Instruments
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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