Green New England Bass Viol

Green New England Bass Viol

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This New England Bass Viol was made by William Green in Medway, Massachusetts, in 1806. It is constructed of local domestic wood; table of broad grained pine (?) in two pieces; back of plain maple (?) in two pieces; ribs of similar maple; plain maple neck, pegbox and scroll, stained maple pegs, fingerboard and tailpiece; varnish highly crazed, opaque reddish orange-brown. The instrument has an original handwritten label:

Bass Viols Made & Sold
by William Green.
Medway 1806

Unlike many New England bass viols, this instrument is constructed with interior linings and corner blocks, and the ribs are not inlaid, but glued flush to the table and back. The instrument is ornamented by single painted purfling with a small xxxx pattern beneath the button on the back. The neck and top-block section, carved from a single piece of maple, is positioned inside the back with a small iron pin through the extended neck-foot. This bass viol is also unusually fine and intact excepting strings, bridge and soundpost.

William Green worked from 1798 to 1800 with William Bent in Boston. After dissolving their partnership, Green moved to Medway to make bass viols where he was joined by Deacon Allen from about 1815 to 1818. Green died ca. 1825.

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.

Object Name
date made
Green, William
Place Made
United States: Massachusetts, Medway
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Musical Instruments
Music & Musical Instruments
Artifact Walls exhibit
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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