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Acoustic fretless setup?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Thegrandwazoo, Nov 30, 2018.


  1. Thegrandwazoo

    Thegrandwazoo Supporting Member

    Sep 8, 2013
    West Virginia
    Hi all, and good evening! I'm going to pose a two-pronged question here, I believe this is the appropriate venue. If not, I apologize and encourage the mod(s) to place it where it ought to be.

    I've recently purchased (for a screaming deal) a 1998 Tacoma Thunderchief fretless that is in overall awesome shape. My intent with the bass is to use it as a reasonable facsimile of an upright for fair-weather beers/campfire and living room jams for old-time and bluegrass style stuff, with some combo of a couple fiddles, clawhammer banjo, and fingerstyle guitar. Yes, as a player and sometime (not current) owner of uprights, I know they aren't and never will be the same, but with Roto-88s this thing does just what I bought it for more than adequately while not commanding nearly the space or investment, and since I'm not currently performing this kind of thing in public it's perfect for my purposes.

    The Rotos are FAT bastards, so a little material relief was necessary in the nut to accommodate them. I'll admit, I half-assed this work, since I knew the nut and saddle would be replaced in fairly short order. With the tapewounds, the E has a small but noticeable buzz that wasn't present with the strings it shipped with, probably due to my cutting the nut slot too deep, but maybe just tension difference (I had to adjust the truss rod a fair amount to get the relief back to normal). I bought some cocobolo rosewood and made new nut and saddle blanks, since it's not only gorgeous but should also make the thing sound a LITTLE more uprighty. My questions for you fine gents and ladies are as follows:

    I've never set up a fretless acoustic, and want to hear preferences on nut slot depth for them. I've set up numerous fretless electrics, and done several defrets (hobbyist, but pretty good with woodworking and with a good working knowledge of how stringed instruments 'work'), for myself and others (search my '88 Jazz Special defret thread here on Talkbass- sorry, I'm too dumb to know how to link it). I generally start, after leveling the fingerboard to the best of my ability, at .014, .016, .018, .020 (G-E) off the fingerboard, and nearly always go lower. This is an acoustic, though, and although equipped with electronics this bass will never see them used while I own it. I know I want kinda medium-high-ish action so I can pluck fairly hard for volume and projection and have allowed for way more than I'll need (to be sanded away a smidgeon at a time, caveman style, haha!) in the saddle blank I made, but I wonder what a reasonable starting point at the nut slots should, in your esteemed opinions, be? I have enough wood to make a dozen or more nuts and saddles, but I have neither the time nor patience, haha!

    Second, and far less important, does anyone know a place where a man could get ahold of Tacoma neck screws? I have no real need to remove the neck, as it's solid, straight, and doesnt need shimming or other work, but some dillhole really boogered up the Allen head cavity in one of mine (looks like a Torx head now- crazy, because the bass came with the factory wrenches, so why would anyone use the wrong size?!), and not being able to take it apart and inspect it like the monkey I am is gnawing at my guts. I know I could get it out, but I don't have much confidence I could properly torque it after putting it back in the shape it's in, and while I could turn a replacement screw, I don't have access to a lathe and that seems pretty excessive anyway- like I said, everything's okay there.

    Thank you VERY warmly for any light you can shine my way.
     
  2. Thegrandwazoo

    Thegrandwazoo Supporting Member

    Sep 8, 2013
    West Virginia
    I forgot to mention, and I don't think that it matters, but I'll be re-profiling the fingerboard to a 7.25" Fender-type radius as well. I favor a 12" (11 in the case of my Ernie Ball Music Man Sterlings) or thereabouts for electric bass, but again, this will be used FAR differently and I want for it to feel very different so as to prevent my letting any bad technique habits bleed over from one instrument/genre to another.
     
  3. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    I would cut the nut slots the same as for any fretless electric bass; make the bottom of the slots about 0.010" above the fingerboard surface. With the string up to tune, you should see a 0.010" gap between the underside of the string and the surface, right at the nut. In my experience, that's the right number for any fretless bass in the 30" to 36" scale range. Higher than that, and you are just making the first position feel stiffer, at no real benefit. Lower than that, and you may get buzzing when plucking the open string hard.

    A simple way to cut fretless nut slots is to find a piece of 0.010" thick aluminum. Check your local hobby shop. If all else fails, a beer can is about 0.006"; put a layer of tape on it to bring it to 0.010". Cut a little rectangle maybe 3" x 1". Bend it to roughly the radius of the fingerboard, and tape it down right up against the nut. File the slots until the file touches the aluminum.

    The neck screw is probably something commonly available. If it's a socket (Allen) head, it's probably a 10-32 machine screw, threading into a threaded insert in the neck. Socket head wood screws exist, but they aren't as common. Take out one of the undamaged screws and see what it is. Get a measurement on it.

    If you are going to recut the fingerboard to 7 1/4" radius, you may have some problems with the bridge. Make sure that you have enough depth in the saddle to be able to file the outboard notches down that much deeper. If not, you may have to shim the neck to tilt it back.
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2018
  4. Tacoma used a different type of screw for their necks. I know I’ve seen them commercially somewhere but I can’t think of what this style of screw is called. I’m sure @Bruce Johnson or someone here will know. Here’s a picture from a mandolin but the basses used the same screw, just longer.

    BD9B26A9-AA36-45D5-828D-B9C8BC33022C.
     
  5. Thegrandwazoo

    Thegrandwazoo Supporting Member

    Sep 8, 2013
    West Virginia
    Yep, those are the ones. I could definitely use a differen't screw with the same thread and a washer, but I'd rather have an actual Tacoma screw aesthetically, and like I said, the neck doesn't need to come off. I'd just like to replace it if it isn't a big deal finding one.
     
  6. Thegrandwazoo

    Thegrandwazoo Supporting Member

    Sep 8, 2013
    West Virginia
    I actually have one of those mandolins, too. For what you have to pay for one, they're downright amazing.
     
  7. Thegrandwazoo

    Thegrandwazoo Supporting Member

    Sep 8, 2013
    West Virginia
    Yeah, I made a new saddle, and there's more than enough room to lower it all the way down til the strings are on the fingerboard, so that won't be a problem. .010", eh? For an acoustic? Cool, I figured it'd need to be higher for digging in for projection, but I suppose that's more of a saddle height action issue, then? I set up my Japanese JBS at .010" ((g & d) and .012" (a & e), and it plays effortlessly, as well as my fretted EBMM Sterling. That's actually kinda exciting, I thought it would by nature need higher action at both ends. As far as filing saddle slots, I may forego that altogether. The factory one is smooth, the break angle is sufficient that I've not been able to so much as budge the strings at the bridge end. We'll see. Anyone else have an opinion?
     

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