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Conversion to 5 String

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by ILuvMyFakeStrad, Jan 29, 2005.

  1. ILuvMyFakeStrad


    Jan 29, 2005
    Long time lurker, first time poster on any message board...

    While my bass was at my luthier to get its' fingerboard dressed and tuning machines replaced, I talked with them about converting my bass into a five string.

    You might ask "Why?!!!" I first learned to play on a five string upright, and even though I'm comfortable on the four, it feels like something is missing. When the extended range has been required, I would either drop tune the E string a step or tune in fifths a la Red Mitchell--I wish I was half the player he was...

    So what I was hoping was that we could have a discussion about the pros and cons of such a conversion to 5 strings, and/or the techniques used. Since every bass is unique there probably is no one definite answer. It always depends. I think that is one of the reasons that basses are so much fun...and occasionally heartache. A mixture of fear and excitement of how it will turn out.

    In the next few days, I will decide whether or not to have the work done. And if you're interested, I'll keep you posted. But your ideas, suggestions, and experience is what I need so that I understand the full range of possibilities of what I'm getting into.

    The questions that are on my mind are:

    (1) Does the top of the bass need to be removed to strengthen/reinforce the inside of the bass to accomodate the extra string tension? My number one fear is the bass imploding on itself.

    (2) What do you think this will do to the sound of the bass? In particular will it brighten or darken the sound, increase or reduce sustain? Will it make the bass thuddy?

    (3) Aside from replacing the fingerboard, nut, bridge, tailpiece, and filling/redrilling the pegbox...is there anything else I am overlooking? Are there any other questions I should be asking?

    By now if you've read this far you'd like to know something about my bass. So here we go!

    --"Antonius Stradivarius... ... ... ... Made in Bohemia" Darn!!!

    --It is a mystery bass of sorts, though not as awe inspiring as Ken's, still turns a few heads now and then. The "makers" signature is in terrible handwriting...Pfzrempnetskiy, or somthing that looks like that.

    --Flat back, "3/4 size", a thick and strong neck, shoulders that allow easy access to thumb position but isn't heavily sloped, lower and upper bout are proportional to each other (Sorry I don't have measurements and it's at the luthier)

    Wear and Tear:
    No cracks in the face or back. The most striking visual feature is that the face has an unusually high number of verticle wood growth lines to it, over 300 lines IIRC.

    The are a few cracks (repaired) where the center bout meets the lower bout. My guess is It looks like these are due to expansion/contraction over the years, they are very small. There is also 2 repaired cracks (each 6-7 inches long) on the bottom of the bass running from near the endpin outward to the lower bout. These cracks probably happened from bumping the endpin into things. All cracks existed and were already repaired when I got the bass 6 years ago, and the luthier signed his name in pencil on the inside of the bass.

    Wood peg tyrolean tuners, maple bridge with aluminum adjusters, ebony tailpiece with coathanger wire

    What drew me to this bass was its' sound. It is a dark, warm sound when bowed and with above average volume. When heard acoustically, the pizz can be outright haunting. When It is amplified, it can be a bit heavy on fundemental and light on overtones though, so eq is always a bit tricky when I play with a big band--on the other hand, it is nice in a combo or orchestral setting. My goal in sound/playability is to emphasize low tension, long sustain, and warm non-thuddy tone in jazz, and good volume and bow/string response in orchestra.

    How I use it:
    I use two different setups. My jazz setup is Tomastik Spirocore Weich at the lowest possible action before buzzing occurs. For my orchestral setup I raise my action considerably and put on my one and only set of eudoxas, which work well with my darker sounding bass. Right now I am on the jazz setup about 80% of the time and on the eudoxas 20%.

    So is this a crazy idea, or not? :hyper:

  2. ILuvMyFakeStrad


    Jan 29, 2005
    First off, I am not a luthier, but I stayed at a Holiday Inn last night...

    I'm pretty sure that adding a fifth string will increase string tension. This will cause the instrument to resonate less. If is resonates less, there will be a loss of fundemental. This may cause my bass to seem brighter, which is not necessarily a bad thing since it's a darker sounding instrument. There might be an increase in volume too, but that might be offset by the loss of low end. I hope I'm guessing right so far.

    I won't even try to figure out what the redrilled pegbox will do to the sound, if anything. Since there are several good posts on what tailpieces, bridges, and strings do to tone I won't bother with that here. These components will have an effect though, and by all means chime in if you want.

    Will the bass be damaged by the extra tension? Under what conditions does it need internal bracing? I wish I could answer these, but I don't have the foggiest idea.

    Anyhow, that's my .02 cents....

  3. This issue has been discussed several times in the past. Try searching the threads of Setup/Repair forum and the Basses forum. I seem to recall the gist was that most 4 to 5 conversions resulted in an inferior product.
  4. As Steve says, do a Red Mitchell search. He played a fiver before he went the fifth tuning route.
    My bass was built as a fiver in the late 1800's. See, under basses... the TalkBasses to see it.
    The only really good conversion I remember was the big Tyrol bass that Red had. Of course, he had the great luthier Paul Toenniges do it.
    Also, there should be alot of five string stuff under my name.
    I wouldn't chance it. There's just NO way to know and then it's too late.
  5. ILuvMyFakeStrad


    Jan 29, 2005
    Thanks Paul and Steve,
    I searched before posting and found the stuff about Red's bass and much about extensions, so thanks for pointing me in the right direction Paul. You said in another thread that you still use the low b string that was on your Bohmann in 1978, has it broken yet or is it still alive? BTW your Bohmann is really neat!

    I'm going to visit the luthier today and I will see if he will guarantee the structural integrity of the bass, to put my mind at ease. I'm willing to take the chance as far as sound is concerned, and from reading other threads realize that finding the right setup could take some time. We'll see what happens.

  6. It's ALIVE!
  7. ILuvMyFakeStrad


    Jan 29, 2005
    Hooray!!! :hyper:
  8. ILuvMyFakeStrad


    Jan 29, 2005
    Just got back from the luthier, and after taking a good long look at the bassbar among other things, he says it will easily handle a fifth string. The bass is in pretty good shape with no signs of sinkage or warping.

    We've selected materials for the most part, but are finding a bit of trouble finding a 3/4 size five string tailpiece. Everything I've seen, at Lemur, is for a full size instrument, I'll give them a call tomorrow.

    One possibility is to fill the existing tailpiece and make five new holes, or drill a fifth hole in the middle, but I'd really like to find a bridge that is made for a 3/4 5 stringer, or a smallish 4/4 bridge. Anyhow, I've got to go to Big Band...more to come later.

  9. Be sure to have him put the FULL SIZE finger board extending OVER the B string side of the neck to accomodate the B string. That way, you can stay with your present neck. Take another look at the picture of my bass taken from the back of the neck to see what I mean.
    Oops, I guess we can't get in there while John's working on the new version. I think you know what I mean?
    I think you'll need a bigger bridge to cover the foot span.
  10. ILuvMyFakeStrad


    Jan 29, 2005
    Thanks, Paul you are so right about where to put the fingerboard, with all those harsh edges on the neck it can feel like you are playing a bass made out of Legos. Luckily, I have seen pics of your bass a while ago, and that looks like the best route to go.

    A good friend of mine has loaned me his Clevinger 5 string EUB while my bass is in the shop. Its' fingerboard is centered which makes things a bit of a stretch, but easily do-able. I think the neck on the Clevinger is about 3-4mm thinner than a typical neck for a DB. But those kind of comprimises can't be easily built into a db (or can they hehehe). The slab that the neck and bridge are attached to on the EUB acts as a mammoth bass bar. The thin neck is probably is why a centered fb works on his EUB, but I'd hate to try a centered fb on a db.

    While I wouldn't give up my DB, the Clevinger is interesting to say the least. It plays like butter, has a fat growl, is easy to keep a bouncy walking line or play smooth and has the longest sustain I've ever heard for any type of bass--it feels like I can hit a note, put a clamp on it, go to Starbucks, and come back to a sonorous MWAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!! Marty Clevinger sure knew what he was doin'.

    For the DB, the reason I first put it in the shop in the first place is because of the tuning machines. When changing to my heavier gauge orch setup, the gearing mechanism for the top string would not allow it to tune up. For a while I had been doing a few workarounds, but this time was different--the gear was missing teeth!!! I talked to a few machinists about crafting some dentures for my elderly friend, but came up empty handed.

    Anyhow this all happened at the worst possible time budgetary-wise, but since I had to replace the tuners and get the fb dressed, I knew that it was now or never time if I ever wanted to see this bass as a fiver. My next bass purchase, several years away, would be a premium bass--in my mind a monster four--a brilliant five in this category is usually a once in a lifetime bass--maybe the bass gods will smile upon me someday...

    So...we have opted to keep the original fingerboard for now, which of course affects string spacing. Since I pizz more than I bow, I think I can get away with this setup for a short while before I replace it. I prefer a narrow width when bowing anyways, and intentionally had a pretty tight setup when it was a four, even though it was capable of a much wider spacing. Most people would complain about the spacing when trying to bow my bass, but it felt "right" to me.

    I frown upon myself only slightly for keeping the original fb. Right now it's the one comprimise I need to make. Who knows, maybe keeping it will be the right decision for this bass, and if it isn't at least when I upgrade I can know what both sounded/felt like.

  11. Mudfuzz


    Apr 3, 2004
    here you go
  12. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    E-mail Mike Pecanic. (See ad at left) He could probably make you a tailpiece to your exact specs.
  13. Hey, thanks Aaron.....Ryan, the shot i'm talking about is labeled NECK. It's kinda dark, but i'm actually holding on to the the excess laid over FB.
  14. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    Paul Toenniges was a great luthier ????????
  15. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002

    MIke is making one a a 5 string that i am working on at the moment.
  16. What do you mean, Z? Of course he was. He made alot of great basses. Don't you remember all those Threads about his work?
  17. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002

    Funny. I could swear some Expert told me he imported his basses...
  18. Your "Expert" is partially right. During the 30 or so years that he owned and operated Studio City Music he probably sold hundreds of imported basses. However, Paul Toenniges also is documented to have made about 50 bass with his own hands.
  19. ILuvMyFakeStrad


    Jan 29, 2005
    Thanks Aaron, if when I ask for an offset fb, the luthier looks at me like I'm crazy, it'll come in handy to show him that pic.

    Those tailpieces by Mike Pecanic look interesting Chasarms. All the shapes sizes and colors these things come in these days makes finding a fun task. I'll search the board to find out about them. But fiirst I've got to find out which dimensions will work. It looks like the "most" 4/4 size tailpieces are <1" taller and 1/2" wider than thier "typical" 3/4 counterparts. IF that's not too big of a difference, I might not have to make anyone go thru the sadism of making a custom piece.

    Paul, those tuning machines are outta this world.

  20. ILuvMyFakeStrad


    Jan 29, 2005
    Does anybody got any ideas about which side to put the three tuning machines on? My bass is pretty even over its' range, but if I were pressed to make a distinction I'd say the top two strings project marginally louder. Maybe three on the bass side would keep things even/(edit--fine tune the eveness), whaddya think?

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    Primary TB Assistant

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