What’s That Sound The Octobass

By Beth Dolinar

We at Luminari love music of all kinds: folk, symphony, hip hop, jazz, blues, country, marches, gospel, rock and roll—we enjoy all of it.

Because our mission is to broaden minds and promote innovation, we think it’s important—and fun—to open our minds to the possibilities of the world beyond our own doorstep. And what better way to do that than to learn about the music of other lands.

In each issue of LUMOS!, we offer a regular series about the unique and unusual (and sometimes downright strange) instruments we’ve never heard. And since we can’t really understand an instrument until we’ve heard it being played, we’ll offer links to sites where you can hear and see a performance.

And so we offer our fourth in a series of unusual instruments: the Octobass


If the tallest football player you know were also a musical instrument, he would be an octobass.

The instrument, an extreme version of the double bass, was invented around 1850 in Paris. Like a double bass, it has three strings. But unlike the more conventional versions of the bass, the octobass also has a set of levers and foot pedals.

The instrument is too large for just one player; most performances require two musicians: one to bow or pluck the strings and the other to work the levers and pedals. This makes the octobass unwieldy for most performances. That, along with its size, has limited the number of octobasses in use. There are only a handful of them in existence.

Still, the octobass has had its fans, including composer Hector Berlioz, who suggested the mighty stringed behemoth should become more mainstream. Berlioz also loved the sound of tubas, so it makes sense that he championed the octobass.

The instrument stands six and a half feet tall, and its sound reaches the lowest vibrational frequencies detectable by the human ear. Think very large, croaking frog. Or maybe that string riff in the theme from “Jaws.”


Luminari Coordinator, Beth Dolinar brings her talents and experience as a writer, Emmy-award producer, public speaker and deadline driven multi-tasker to our team. She writes a popular column for the Washington “Observer-Reporter.” She is a contributing producer of documentary length programming for WQED-TV on a wide range of topics and currently teaches as an adjunct faculty member at Robert Morris University. Beth has a son and a daughter. She is an avid yoga devotee, cyclist and reader. Beth says she types like lightning but reads slowly — because she likes a really good sentence.