Bass Heaven at Nahrmann's Bass Shop by Allen Pratt - originally published in "The Middlesex Beat" (Jan 2003)

An impressive sight awaits visitors who enter the small red barn behind Volker Nahrmann's white Billerica farmhouse near the Concord River. The tidy barn, home to The Nahrmann Bass Shop, houses the largest selection of string basses north of New York.

"When people walk into my shop, I tend to say, 'Welcome to bass heaven'," says Nahrmann as he rests a hand on one of the numerous basses in his inventory. The lofty wooden instruments stand shoulder to shoulder in a broad half-circle against the interior walls of the climate-controlled barn. Magnificent in their size and varied contours, the instruments range in color from the darkest chocolate to a creamy butterscotch.

Nahrmann, 42, is immersed in the world of the deep-voiced stringed instrument known as the string-bass, double-bass, upright-bass, or contrabass. He buys, sells, restores, repairs, and rents the instruments and their bows, and provides a bow rehairing service.

Nahrmann is also a jazz and classical bass player, a bass instructor, and is the author of The Music of Oscar Pettiford, a book of transcriptions of the jazz-legend's recorded bass solos.

Nahrmann, whose customers range from professional musicians to high school students just starting out with the instrument, takes pride in maintaining a broad selection of high quality basses at reasonable
prices. "I feel that I am a matchmaker," Nahrmann says. "I try to find the right bass for the right person. Physically, the basses are different sizes, and the people are different sizes, and the hands are different sizes. You may need something with a longer or shorter string length, and stylistic preferences also come into play."

Nahrmann acquires new basses and bows during annual visits to European makers, which include some renowned German artisans whose instrument-making skills have stayed in families for generations. Nahrmann has also located sources of excellent Asian instruments, which he says rival the quality of comparable European ones, but can be offered in a lower price.

Locally, Nahrmann scours antique shops, dealers, auctions, and other potential suppliers in search of used instruments. "It's nice to sell new basses, but for me, the enjoyment is really in the hunt and in the restoration of the older ones, because I feel that I'm connecting to the workmanship and the craft of the original maker." "I just bought two basses at the Skinner auction," Nahrmann continues. "One of them is a very interesting bass of New England origin, an 1820 Prescott bass from Concord, New Hampshire. Prescott is probably the only American maker of any repute. His basses are quite sought after in symphonic circles, so I'm looking forward to getting that ready."

Clients from all over New England and New York State seek Nahrmann's bass repair and restoration service. Says Nahrmann, "Repair work can range from minor work such as a bridge adjustment, or a sound post adjustment, to people who bring in a bass in boxes, where everything is all apart, and say, 'Here, put this all together.'"

During his high school years in his native Germany, Nahrmann played bass in the German Youth Symphony. Later, after studying classical and jazz performance at conservatories in Germany and Austria, he came to Boston on a Berklee College of Music scholarship. Following his graduation from Berklee in 1987, he went on the road with the Artie Shaw Big Band.

Nahrmann remains active in the jazz scene. His Volker Nahrmann Trio performs regularly at Michael Timothy's Urban Bistro in Nashua, NH, where, Nahrmann says, "The food is fantastic and there's live jazz four nights a week with no cover charge."

He also works with several swing bands in the Boston area, including the Winiker Orchestra, the White Heat Swing Orchestra, and Eddie Madden's Band. As a member of the Armstrong/Nahrmann Group, Nahrmann writes original compositions and plays a fusion of contemporary jazz and world music with longtime associate and world music pioneer Randy Armstrong.

Nahrmann moves effortlessly between the jazz and classical music worlds. He holds the principal bass seat with the Nashua Symphony Orchestra, the Granite State Symphony Orchestra, and the Granite State Opera, and freelances with several other area orchestras, including the Central Massachusetts-based Indian Hill Symphony.

When Nahrmann isn't playing music or on an instrument-finding mission, he's usually back at his shop. "I'm basically work ing in the shop seven days a week, all day long," he says. "But it's rewarding, and I can be around my family."

More information about the Armstrong/Nahrmann Group can be found at their web-site.

Volker Nahrmann's book of transcriptions, The Music of Oscar Pettiford, is
available at

Other Reviews:  

* Newspaper  Article  - Lowell, Ma -The Sun- "The String Section's Best Friend"  Jan 16, 2005

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