Ralph Dammann built his first instrument, an electric bass guitar, in 1969. His second instrument became the bass he played professionally through most of the 1970’s. Ralph wanted an electric Bass that felt more natural to play – especially important for someone trained on a traditional double bass – so he designed and built his basses to hang upright and allow for greater (and easier) reach up and down the neck and, thus, better playability.
Ralph set up Dammann Custom Basses in 1997 to produce his custom ‘Vertical Bass’ in small volume. That business still exists with Ralph continuing to fine-tune the shape, balance and electronics for superior bass playing.
During the 80’s Ralph started playing the Octave Mandolin. Soon after he ordered a Mandocello, a standard four-course model, and promptly fell in love with it.
Ray Varona is a trained luthier who came to work in Ralph’s shop in 2007. Ray was looking for somewhere to hone his instrument making skills, and Ralph’s fully equipped shop was the perfect place. Both Ray and Ralph are accomplished musicians and both share a love of fine woods and expert craftsmanship.
Initially, Ray worked making Ralph’s custom basses but also spent time designing and making a range of acoustic instruments in the shop – everything from guitars to violins. Ralph’s interest in the mandolin and mandocello continued to grow and he asked Ray to build a five course mandocello. Ray, being Ray, built several and the acoustic version was a revelation to Ralph. And so was born the Dammann five-course Mandocello. Ray makes these instruments to sound full and balanced. His skill at balancing all the variables at play in the design of the acoustic stringed instrument is evident when the player picks one up.
The advantage – Dammann’s Total Control neck is a response to one of the biggest challenges that string musicians face: finding and maintaining an ideal string height for his or her instrument. Between environmental factors and varying personal preferences, it can be difficult to find an instrument that achieves optimal string height for tone and playability.
Our neck joint can be easily set to optimal action on the fly. This adjustment changes the height of the strings off the fingerboard particularly as one goes to positions up the neck. You can go from a slide setup to ultra-low shredding with just a few turns of the bolt and brief re-tuning. This also eliminates the concerns of the dreaded neck reset and helps ensure enough adjustability for healthy playing for years to come. Seasonal action adjustments are a matter of a quarter of half turn. Ray Varona worked on this mechanism (which we now have under patent application ) for five years. It sounds simple but took a lot of experimentation to get it right!
Our adjustable neck joint not only enables pinpoint control over playability but it ensures long-term playability over the course of the instrument’s lifetime. Instruments built lightly enough to be lively and responsive are also prone to changes in shape over time given the years of seasonal changes and string tension. At best, the saddle needs to gradually be shaved down and in most cases a neck reset is needed to bring the neck back in line. With user-control over neck angle, this becomes a moot point since the neck angle is adjusted with a simple turn of a wrench and the saddle can remain constant regardless of action so that the saddle can be set at it’s optimum height purely for tonal purposes instead of at a height dictated by playability needs.
Dammann Instruments can be made to accommodate whatever combination of instrument woods you like, tweaking the sound in one direction or another but the player can rely on the finished instrument to sing like no other stringed instrument he has ever heard.