In the Hunter Valley of NSW, AYO musician Ayrton Gilbert spends half of his time practising and playing double bass and the other half in a workshop making them. With a fascination for its power and sound, and a keen eye as a carpenter, he devotes his life to the instrument. Read more about this jack-of-all-trades and his career as both a musician and a luthier.

AYO musician pictured playing double bass. They are facing right of frame and wearing a dark green shirt.
Credit: Fabrizio Evans

When did you start playing the double bass?

The double bass lit up my world when I was just four years old but, as I was so small and it was so big, I couldn’t start playing until I turned nine.

Where do you think your passion for double bass comes from? Why do you play?

My interest in double bass was inspired by a family friend who played with my parents in a jazz ensemble. Ever since I was young, I was surrounded by the rich deep sound of the bass, and to this day I still love it. Every time I pick it up to play, I feel warm and full. When I’m surrounded by other musicians, like those at AYO, all my feelings are brought forth for the music and the instrument.

Pictured: Neville Whitehead and Ayrton Gilbert standing next to each other in a workshop.
Neville Whitehead (left), Ayrton Gilbert (right)

What was your favourite piece of repertoire you just performed at AYO Autumn Music Camp?

My favourite piece at Autumn Music Camp would have to be Gran’s Baden Baden Potpourri double bass quartet, which was part of the Chamber Music Concert Series. As per tradition, the double bass quartets are always meant to be fun for the players and audience alike, and this year was no exception. Connor, Julia, Luca and I had a great time rising to the occasion and feeling the pressure of our audience of peers but enjoying the rare spotlight on stage, which we took full advantage of.

Tell me about your business as a Double Bass Luthier, how did this begin and why?

My career as a double bass luthier began in 2019 when I went to Sydney in search of my first bass. I’d been renting double basses up until this point. A family friend put me in touch with Master Luthier, Neville Whitehead. He had a double bass all set up and ready for me to play when I got there, and I instantly knew from the first few notes that it was the right bass for me.

A black and white photo of a group of AYO musicians in rehearsal. They are playing the double bass.

He had a room full of instruments which he had made that were sitting there peacefully but silently ageing, like fine wine. So, the following week I arranged with Neville to go down and play a few of them to start waking them up and to pull some sound out of them. Over the course of two to three months, I went down every weekend to play these incredible instruments. I became fascinated with how the sound opened up over the course of just a couple of hours and the power each and every bass had.

Through getting to know Neville and the conversations we had about the instruments, with time and dedication, I could see myself carrying on this great tradition. At the time, I was an apprentice carpenter so understandably I had a very keen eye on the workshop and all the tools within it. Neville and I kept talking about the idea of him teaching me, and then one day he said he was moving from the city and could teach me!

Where are you based?

I’ve been learning with Neville now for two years. We have a workshop in the Hunter Valley of NSW in a small town called Abermain where we both set up, repair, restore and make the finest double basses. We are a great team and I have learnt so much from him. We share all our ideas with each other, from bass making to how dinner should be cooked on a Wednesday night. These are about the hardest decisions we have to make together.

How does it feel combining your passions as a luthier and a double bassist?

Growing up I was always surrounded by carpenters and builders. Our house took quite a few years to build, and my grandpa was a builder too. I think this is what sparked my interest in woodworking – ever since I was young, I have had a vision of a workshop where I’d always have perfectly honed tools and everything in its place.

To now combine my love of woodworking and double bass playing with this ancient craft of instrument making is a dream come true. I feel like it’s what I was made to do and how my life is meant to be. To have such a great mentor and friend guiding me and teaching me his ways and ways of the greats before him means the world.

A picture of a double bass frnot panel sitting in a luthier workshop.