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Bass Maintenance.

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Marty Forrer, Aug 16, 2003.


  1. Because there is no bass luthier anywhere near me, and I'm using my bass all the time so cant be without it for more than 2 or 3 days, I do my own repairs/maintenance. My latest exercise was to get rid of 14 years worth of string grooves and an excessive relief in the ebony fingerboard. I removed the nut, and used a large flat sanding block with mucho elbow-grease. I got rid of the grooves, and reduced the relief from 2.5mm to 1mm, then finished the board with progressively finer paper, ending up with 1200 grit and a polish with linseed oil. It has exceeded my expectations, and I'm very proud of my efforts. Two points: firstly, dont be afraid to do your own repairs. All it takes is some forethought, a lot of patience, and some research, which brings me to the second point.
    I spent a fair bit of time searching, both here and elsewhere, to ascertain what a good relief for low action jazz pizz would be, and drew big blanks. In the end I gave up and decided to shoot for a 1mm relief. What is it with luthiers? Are they a secret society, jealously guarding their secrets? I'm not anti-luthier, just amazed that nowhere could I find that information on the net. (My local library looked at me blankly).
    If anyone can supply a link to that sort of information, I'd like to see how close I was with my guess of 1mm. I'm running a 5mm clearance under the G at the end of the board, and it plays clean, so I think I'm pretty close. Sorry for the big rant LOL!
     
  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I think you have to know the secret handshake before they'll divulge any secrets. :)

    Seriously, congrats on the successful repair. You've got a lot more guts (and patience) than I do, Gunga Dinn.
     
  3. BassGreaser

    BassGreaser

    Aug 22, 2002
    Austin, TX
    yeah same here I would never had tried that myself...
     
  4. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    I don't remember reading any recent inquiring posts about fingerboard relief numbers. Agreeably, there are some secrective luthiers out there. Unfortunately, they stem from the Evil Land of Violin Makers. :p

    Lo! there is Talkbass. Had you posted some questions, myself, Jeff Bollbach, Arnold Schnitzer, Bob Branstetter, and (maybe) Martin Sheridan, Girard the Canadian would have replied with some numbers for you. I am quite happy to be a part of Talkbass, as it contains a high concentration of bassists/luthiers SHARING information. If you need a link, it's http://www.talkbass.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?s=&forumid=3

    First of all, different strings require different relief depths. What kind of strings are you using? Your G is at 5 mm? So your E is at 8 or 9mm? (I asumme you are measuring from the bottom of the string, to the top of the fingerboard.) How high is the nut? Does your board have an E bevel?

    Also, a sharp block plane is a great tool for doing the initial cutting. It produces better results, with more control, in less time. Sandpaper is more effective as a "blending" tool, rather than a "cutting" one. I use a sanding block after I'm finished with the block plane. Usually 120, then 220, then 320 grit paper, then steel wool, then Danish Watco Oil, applied with a paper towel. With the sandpapers, always go with the grain.
     
  5. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    In general, fingerboard camber is approximately equal to the diameter of the string in that area. Less under the G, more under the E. This is a guideline for fairly low string heights like you've outlined (G=5mm, E=8mm). You'd go deeper for harder playing/higher strings/more flexible strings. Most important is where you have the camber bottom out. Many luthiers go for halfway up the board, though the octave is really the right spot. I agree with Nick about starting out with a block plane, with this caution: A less-than-razor-sharp plane can make mincemeat out of a nice ebony or rosewood fingerboard. Your technique is probably a better idea for the amateur.
     
  6. A high quality straight edge one of the most important tools for fingerboard work. I use a hardware store aluminum straight edge for marking the really high spots by rubbing it back and forth and side to side. If you can't see where the edge rubs the ebony board, rub a little chalk on the straigt edge and try again. Then I use a combination of scrapers and planes. Once I get it to where the hardware store straight edge no longer rubs, I get out my very expensive high quality straight edge and a small light so I can see the relief and small bumps. After making the needed adjustments, I finish up with a micromesh from 1500 to 12,000. I always check it again after the instrument is strung up to pitch. It's not unusual for a board to "hide" a high spot or two until it's under tension. Then you start the process over again. I don't have a set number for the relief. It depends on the strings, type of playing (arco,pizz) and the tension of the bass itself. The goal is to have the board as straight (i.e. no relief) as possible without the string buzzing anywere.
     
  7. So there is no set rule for this? That explains why I could'nt find anything. Is it a general consensus of opinion that the Maximum point of relief should be around the octave?
    Also, what do the luthiers think of my opinion that the best luthier for a jazz pizz bass is one who plays jazz pizz himself? There are a couple of highly regarded luthiers in New Zealand, including one Cath Newhook, who is a friend, but she is not a bass player, and past work she did for me was done from her knowledge as it pertains to orchestral bass, which needless to say did not do the job. Neville Whitehead used to live here, and he had the goods, but has long since departed to Australia. A now deceased friend and one-time teacher of mine put forward the theory that only a jazz pizz player knows the nuances of setup for that idiom, and this makes perfect sense to me. Am I right or wrong?
     
  8. I'm inclined to agree with you up to a point. If there are two equally qualified, trained lutiers, they both should a good job, but the jazz players might be able to sniff out the little buzzes (on his own) a little better since he/she plays the same way. That does not mean that there are not non-pizz pizz luhiers out there who can do equally fine job.
     
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    I have to agree with SOUNDPOSTSETTER on this one - it's true up to a degree, but at times it can even be worse if the luthier in question is arrogant and has a markedly different pizz stroke than your own. When I bought my carved bass from a shop owner/luthier who shall remain nameless, he tried to plane the fingerboard for jazz pizz three times in one day (it was out of town, so I waited all day). Each time he brought it out for me to try, the E string buzzed like a mother****** when I played it. After the third time (I had already payed for the bass), he started blaming my (admittedly extremely forceful) pizz stroke for the buzzing. Getting somewhat put out myself, I rolled my eyes and replied that if a bass player showed up on some of the gigs I played with an anemic pizz stroke such as the one he was using in setting up the bass, it would be the last gig that bass player played with that group.

    We eventually ended up rolling our eyes at each other, and I took the bass to a better luthier who actually requested to watch me play for about 10 minutes before attempting the fingerboard dressing. When he got done, it was perfect. The moral of the story is that neither guy was a real jazzer, but the first guy thought he knew what a jazz pizz stroke was for everybody, and the second guy realized that all pizz strokes are different, and that different pizz strokes produce different results as regards setup. No names need be mentioned, but suffice it to say that a good two-way respectful relationship with any luthier is extremely important if you want your bass to play a certain way.
     
  10. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    If a luthier is worth their salt, they should be able to setup just about any well-made instrument for You. I've posted it before on this board; there is only one setup- yours. I wouldn't get to worried about finding a pizz-luthier or an arco-luthier. Just find someone that listens to you, and focuses on what you want/need. However, be open to learning about how a bass operates, and what you can and can't get out of physics. I'm not trying to be aloof here...

    Re: the center of the hollow... the octave is the deepest point, most of the time.
     
  11. Thanks for the input guys. It's a bit daunting living on a little island at the bottom of the world where bass luthiers are scarcer than hen's teeth...LOL! Hence the DIY attitude.
     
  12. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    FYI--There is NO amount of camber than will set-up a bass fingerboard in such a way that it can not be MADE to buzz or rattle. The trick is to find the threshold the player finds satisfactory, without making the bass impossible to play. Not an easy task, especially on the dreaded E string. Have you ever heard a recorded bass solo with not even a hint of buzz or rattle? I haven't.
     
  13. LarryR

    LarryR Supporting Member

    Feb 2, 2003
    Los Angeles
  14. Thanks for the concern, man. We never felt a thing where I live, fortunately. However, I live in a very small city that was completely destroyed by earthquake in 1931 with the loss of over 200 lives, so it's always at the back of ones mind.
     
  15. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    Ahhnold- You haven't heard a recorded solo w/out buzz or rattle, eh? What about all the great slap solos out there? :p