Cultivating a new instrument

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by VegasGutPlucker, Nov 9, 2012.


  1. VegasGutPlucker

    VegasGutPlucker

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2008
    Location:
    Vegas
    Basically I learned that in 100+ years my carved Chinese bass will sound fantastic, but what I really need is a 100+ year old bass now. Anyone have one just laying around? I found a great luthier!

    I've now been searching a lot on how to accelerate the seasoning process of a new instrument, and maybe my search terms were off but I was unable to find anything on TB. Here I wanted to compile a list of links and articles I've found in hopes of creating a fruitful and informative discussion on this topic.

    First is an article from 1987 (yikes) about a maker who insists his varnish formula can make an instrument sound like a golden age Cremona instrument. I can't get fully on board with that, maybe one leg.

    The next idea is one I've known of for a while but have been hard pressed to implement into the gaps of my practice routine. Here is a link to a summary for an article about using speakers to blast the instrument with sound to speed the aging process through vibration.

    I'm not trying to obsess over these things, just discuss and learn. I love my 10 year old Chinese bass immensely and will never sell it. But when I played it back to back with a POS and poorly maintained/repaired German factory bass from the turn of the last century, the sound of advanced age was undeniable and the lack thereof in my bass was a little disheartening.
  2. DoubleMIDI

    DoubleMIDI

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2010
    Location:
    Germany, Nordrhein-Westfalen
    Get a time machine!

    I bought my carved (german) instrument new about 20 years ago and after this time and a soundpost position correction it sounds really good. There is always a better sounding bass. Either wait and hope for the best or buy an (potentially expensive) instrument now that sounds good now.

    There are techniques that "play-in" a bass by putting a heavy vibrator on the bridge and move through the frequencies for days, but if you don't keep playing (with the bow also!) it will go almost back to the state before. The commercially available stuff (tonerite?) doesn't put in enough vibratioal energy to really change something.
    We had a discussion about that in our german DB forum www.geba-online.de
  3. gottliver

    gottliver

    Joined:
    Dec 20, 2004
  4. Jeremy Darrow

    Jeremy Darrow

    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2007
    Location:
    Nashville, TN
    Disclosures:
    Endorsing Artist: Genz-Benz Amplifiers
    A carved instrument will open up with time and with playing. Some plywood instruments will too, in my opinion. The greatest progress happens early in the life of the instrument. After that, the improvement is incremental, but it does continue as long as the instrument is played. Get out your bow and get that wood moving and keep doing it!

    When left alone, instruments tend to "go to sleep" and it can take time to wake them back up. Sometimes days or even weeks. Also, consider taking your bass to a good luthier, a little adjustment here and there might lead to some big improvements.
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  6. gottliver

    gottliver

    Joined:
    Dec 20, 2004
    again..playing devil's advocate..how does it go to sleep? to the fibres contract to the tight state they were in prior to opening up? If so, how? what physical property allows it to do so? its not muscle..given the same environmental conditions as when playing it, it is not the temperature.

    I do get the "vibrating loosens the wood" theory..but the strength of the wood resisting the tension of the strings, TO ME, predicates that the vibrating of those same strings will not affect the wood....again IMO...
    Unfortunately, it is a debate that will go on forever and one that can NEVER be proven, who remembers what their instrument sounded like when new?? You may think you do, but you can't.....
  7. Thumpie

    Thumpie

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2010
    Location:
    Triangle Area, NC
    I am skeptical of this claim. What is the physical explanation for this?

    The claim that instruments "open up" is explained by the notion that vibrations cause microscopic tears in the wood which allows it to resonate better. (I remain somewhat skeptical of this claim, as there seems to be split-consensus about this issue.)

    Are you saying that the tears are going to somehow close if you don't play the bass or are you proposing another explanation?
  8. Thumpie

    Thumpie

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2010
    Location:
    Triangle Area, NC
    Humidity changes probably effect a bass' response more than age.

    I can see this happen day-to-day.
  9. forester

    forester

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2007
    Location:
    emmitsburg, maryland
    mines played in...176yrs... sound/voice falls flat on its' face regulary if i don't keep it tweaked and give it a pat on the head,etc. sometimes i think the older they are (like some people) the more cantankerous they get. ;)
  10. VegasGutPlucker

    VegasGutPlucker

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2008
    Location:
    Vegas
    I don't know how to explain it but my bass sounds great and full and rich, but next to a much older instrument that doesn't sound as loud or full, it sounds adolescent. I could be projecting.

    I've read that mucho vibration keeps the lignin (the stuff between growth rings) flexible and as the bass ages the lignin loses its ability to flex, it dries out, which to my mind means a stiffer table and more vibration transfer to the air. This may be the maturity I'm hearing in older instruments or as I said, I could be projecting.
  11. Jeremy Darrow

    Jeremy Darrow

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    Endorsing Artist: Genz-Benz Amplifiers
    Something else to consider, maybe. Any bass that makes it to 100+ years is likely to have had quite a bit of work performed on it. Much of which could have improved the sound of the bass.
  12. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2004
    Location:
    Connecticut
    Here we go again. Age will not turn a mediocre instrument into a fine one. Beyond the first few weeks, maybe months, the "voice" the instrument has will pretty much be what it has for its entire life. There may be some refinements over decades but I think their degree is overblown and based, in large part, on myth. Likewise, there are fine makers turning out basses that sound "old" when they are physically new.
  13. uprightben

    uprightben

    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2006
    Location:
    Boone, NC
    One aspect of new instruments opening up is the relaxing of tension created during construction (parts needing clamping pressure to come together). It is very difficult to assemble the body of a bass without tension, the ability to do so being a characteristic of a very good luthier. This is not the only factor in bass opening up, IMHO, I believe that you get back what you put into an instrument. The better the quality, the more it will give back to you.

    @Thumpie: I don't belive that "microscopic tears" in the structure of the wood is a very accurate way to visulaize what is happening when wood ages and relaxes. I think of the fibers of the wood slipping against each other. This is what is happening when you bend wood using heat. The heat loosens the bond between fibers allowing you to bend the wood, and then the bond tightes back up when cooled allowing the wood to hold its new shape.
  14. robobass

    robobass

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2005
    Location:
    Cologne, Germany
    Disclosures:
    Private Inventor - Bass Capos
    98% Agree. I don't think there's anything you can do to your CCB, or any other new bass - for that matter, to make it sound like an old bass. I've played some new high-end Romanian instruments which were made to sound and look old. They do, but still lack something. Also I've played some high end modern instruments which sound amazing, but still they sound, well, new. As far as going to sleep, I think it depends on the individual instrument. My Pfretzchner sounds pretty much the same whether you've had it in the bag for a month, or been doing double rehearsals all week. My Geiger, on the other hand, needs to be warmed up thoroughly each morning, no matter how much you've played it the previous day. Both instruments are about 70 to 80 years old.
  15. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 1999
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    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Whatever sound your bass currently has will develop into a richer, deeper version of THAT sound. But it doesn't change into something different. No amount of aging or playing is going to turn a factory carved German shop bass into a Panormo.
    I do think there is a kind of attrition going on with older basses, I don't think that a bad sounding 18th century bass would keep getting repaired and actually make it down through the centuries....
  16. robobass

    robobass

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    Aug 1, 2005
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    Cologne, Germany
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    Private Inventor - Bass Capos
    Ed,
    Totally correct. Do you have power there, or are you communicating through some wireless device?
  17. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Joined:
    Dec 13, 1999
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    Location:
    NYC
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    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Yeah, my neighborhood actually had power throughout. No trains for a few days. But plenty of food in the stores, restaurants open, lights and heat. Lucky, compared to what others went through. I've got a few friends that live in Harlem and in Washington Heights and it was kind of the same thing, like nothing really happened, except there's no trains. Then you see all of this on TV, it's like it's happening in another country...

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