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Does it have to be so difficult?

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by RustyAxe, Apr 8, 2009.


  1. RustyAxe

    RustyAxe

    Jul 8, 2008
    Connecticut
    I've been considering moving to DB from BG and a friend loaned me his old bass, a non-descript painted plywood monstrosity. I wanted to be sure that my shoulder wouldn't bother me (some mild arthritis from time to time) and that my hands wouldn't bother me and interfere with my guitar and bass guitar playing.

    Here's the deal ... the action is simply intolerable ... about 1/4" off the fingerboard near the nut, and 3/4 at the heel. The fingerboard was planed poorly and has a decided "break" toward the E side, just to make it worse. It has a non-adjustable bridge. Obviously the radii of the nut, fingerboard and bridge are different. I'm not looking to buy or even fix this thing, and really can't wait to get it the hell out of my living room. After a couple of days of using it for just short periods my hands were cramping badly ... and I just stopped. I know it ain't right and there's no sense in trying to make it so with pure muscle power.

    My question (finally!) ... for pure pizzicato (bluegrass, country, blues, jazz, etc) what should I expect to be a reasonable string height ... at the nut and at the shoulder? I don't expect to be like my Fender bass guitars, but geez Louise, it can't be so hard as this old dog house is.

    Thanks in advance, - Denny
     
  2. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    First, read This. While it doesn't deal with height at the nut, it does tell you what a lot of people experience and use as a workable height when measured from the bottom of the string to the fingerboard at the end of the board.

    If you haven't played DB before, your reaction is normal. It's a different animal, and requires a different technique. Pretty soon, a bunch of people will chime in with some version of the DB forum mantra, "get a teacher" in varying degrees of curmudgeonly candor. Ignore the curmudgeonly part - it's good advice. My abbreviated take on DB technique is this: more than any other instrument I've ever played (there's about 7 others), DB requires you to use the large muscle groups (torso, chest, back, and shoulders) rather than the smaller ones. This takes a real physical paradigm shift to comprehend, and years for the body to truly accept.

    Last, if possible, try to get your hands on as many DB's as possible to see what different setups feel like. If your first experience is a painted monstrosity with no bridge adjusters, it's likely to contribute to the stuff in the above paragraph seeming way more daunting that it already is. Good luck!
     
  3. RustyAxe

    RustyAxe

    Jul 8, 2008
    Connecticut
    Thanks, interesting thread. It seems that even highest action in that thread was considerably less than what this old beast is set up for.

    I see ... so I shouldn't have slung it over my hip and played it on the horizontal? ;) THAT explains a lot ... :D

    I'm sure they will ... along with "don't rule out arco, cuz you'll learn a lot about intonation". I'd certainly take some lessons I think I'll continue on. It's plain that posture, arm, hand, body position can make or break the deal for a bass player. But I'm not there yet as I don't know if the investment is worth it. And bass is not now or ever been my primary instrument. But I enjoy playing bass, have a feel for it (albeit on bass guitars) and am in demand (the BEST part of playing bass, I think!). I want to widen my horizons (and increase the fun) with DB, but not if it'll cripple me ;)

    Thanks for the reply!

    - Denny
     
  4. Chris, don't forget the back-up DB Forum Mantra..."take it to a qualified luthier..."
     
  5. zeytoun

    zeytoun

    Dec 19, 2008
    Portland, Oregon
    Most succinct and best advice to approaching the forums yet! Should be on the front page in big font... :D
     
  6. Fab Superlative

    Fab Superlative

    Oct 12, 2006
    Metro Motown
    The Truth Is Out There
    I'm rather fond of curmudgeons with my afternoon tea. :smug:
     
  7. Denny,
    Glad you asked. It isn't THAT hard. In addition to the good advice given - with a DB, setup is a MAJOR factor. You need exposure to a properly setup bass as the one you have will only provide discouragement. To make matters worse you probably won't won't find a well setup (new) bass in a general music store because a bass out of the factory crate is usually not well setup. Find a bass speciality shop. Play several. Maybe rent one for awhile until you decide you like DB.

    About the old bass you described. You mentioned the fingerboard is poorly shaped. Be aware that old bases often have a flat under the E string while the rest of the fingerboard is rounded. This is archaic but not, in itself, a problem - thousands are being played every day.

    The nut height indicates it was never setup (unlikely in a bass old enough to have a flat) or that someone who had no concept replaced the nut (why?), or mabe the fingerboard is so far out that the cheap-o answer was to raise the strings improperly and sell it. If you are curious, use each string as a straight edge by pushing it to the fingerboard at both ends and looking at the clearance between the string and fingerboard. Should be a uniform curve and 1/8" or so at the center. If that is the case then fixing the string height at the nut and the the bridge may help a lot. Complicated by non-ownership, a simple fix could cost less than a couple month's rental. Unless it it is just to ugly to keep around. ;)

    Welcome, good luck.
     
  8. zeytoun

    zeytoun

    Dec 19, 2008
    Portland, Oregon
    They're best when they're smothered in clottted cream... :atoz:
     
  9. M Ramsey

    M Ramsey

    Mar 12, 2005
    North Carolina
    Quoting Earl Scruggs: "Me too, Lester, me TOO!"

    Deep down, I just knew there had to be some other good quality about Chris Fitzgerald besides playing bass.

    'Preciate ye, Chris.
     
  10. RustyAxe

    RustyAxe

    Jul 8, 2008
    Connecticut
    I'm lucky ... Upton Bass is just an hour away. I can't seem to find anyone willing to rent a bass for less than $300 a month, and even then it would be a poorly set up student bass.

    I wondered about that ... but still don't see the reason it would be so. But there's much I don't know ... :rolleyes:

    Thanks for the welcome. I think I exagerated just a bit ... I just measured, it's 10mm at the nut, and about 20mm on the E at the end of the fingerboard. I'll check it like you suggest. Thanks!
     
  11. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR
    Rusty/Denny check your mail.
     
  12. Well... if the conversation has come this far, I guess you're doomed to be a bass player. Just go with it, welcome to the dark side, enjoy the ride, you will never be short of work if you want it.

    10mm at the nut is around twenty or thirty times what it should be, so that bass is completely unplayable as it is.

    So to answer the original question, no, it doesn't have to be that hard. But it is nevertheless a very physical instrument, and correct technique will help a lot, some of which cannot possibly be learned except by direct one-on-one coaching. Not necessarily a lot of that, though, there is a lot of practice and self-teaching you have to do for yourself as well. Part of the coaching process is developing solutions that suit your physique, which probably won't be the same solutions that work for your teacher.
     
  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I moved from BG to DB (via EUB) and I found that I had severe stamina problems for many months - so when I started, I couldn't even get through one up-tempo Jazz tune without feeling like my hands and arms would drop off!! :p

    There is a steep learning curve and you have to get strength in muscles that weren't even an issue on BG!! ;)
     
  14. RE: "I'm lucky ... Upton Bass is just an hour away. I can't seem to find anyone willing to rent a bass for less than $300 a month, and even then it would be a poorly set up student bass."

    Denny, Try that string/fingerboard test and if it seems kinda OK in that the fingerboard/neck is not warped or non-uniform; then consider taking the bass and your friend to Upton, if possible. Upton can give you an expert opinion and an estimate or two, to fix the "action" (BG speak). If you are lucky, a little groove work, may do wonders and cost much less than you can rent a bass for.

    Be sure to try some basses there so you know what to expect . . .
     
  15. RustyAxe

    RustyAxe

    Jul 8, 2008
    Connecticut
    I'm waiting for Upton to open this morning, and if they are I'll drive down.

    I brought the bass back to John yesterday, thanked him profusely for lending it to me, and we talked about what it might need. He's thinking of going to acoustic bass guitar as the upright is getting a bit cumbersome for him.

    As an aside, I saw this ( http://newlondon.craigslist.org/msg/1116864975.html ) on a local Craigslist yesterday, and made an inquiry. It sounds like it might be a Chinese bass, but the original price he says he paid seems to tell me it isn't. I can't Google anything on the make and model, though. Any opinions?
     
  16. Nathan Parker

    Nathan Parker

    Oct 10, 2008
    Seattle, WA
    I'm pretty sure Thompson basses are made in China. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

    Edit: Whoops! I was thinking Christopher. Don't know about the Thompson basses. Sorry 'bout that.
     
  17. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    Rusty, if you search the 'Basses' forum for Thompson you'll get some answers. :)
     
  18. RustyAxe

    RustyAxe

    Jul 8, 2008
    Connecticut
    I think there might be some confusion from the CL ad. Thompson is a town on the CT/MA state line ... and that's where the bass is located. But I'll check out Thomson basses, too, in case I'VE read it wrong. The owner got back to me with this:

    I did go down to Upton Bass today, and Chris Conte was very welcoming and helpful. I played an Upton they had on the floor, and also a Shen. The UB was set up for pizz, and the action felt great. I really liked the Upton, and the Shen was good, too. The also had an old Kay, and while the action wasn't as high as the one I had borrowed, it didn't compare to the Shen and UB. Chris gave us the quick tour of the place, and the shop ... which was pretty cool! And they had some real beautiful old basses for sale in the showroom ... w-a-y out of my league!

    I'm going to go check out the CL bass ... but I was unable to contact the shop where the owner purchased it to get some more info.

    I think I bought my house with less effort than I'm expending on a bass ... grin! But it'll be worth it in the end, I'm quite sure. Chris mentioned that his best customers are those who have done the most research. Thanks for patiently helping a complete newb ...
     
  19. Well the bridge appears to be so crooked I doubt it plays well, and that is about all one can tell from the pix. The fact it has spiros on it is a plus - somebody was trying. No doubt plywood - pretty well bulletproof.

    You have played a couple and know a lot more now than last week. Take a look at it if you can.

    It might do well for $800 invested, if it plays well. The problem is reselling if you need to - a name brand obviously helps. Shen is your step up from here. Good luck.
     
  20. RustyAxe

    RustyAxe

    Jul 8, 2008
    Connecticut
    Thanks. I saw the bridge, too, but chalked it up to the owner's lack of experience (as he says in the ad) ... would you think that represents a potential problem? The only issue I can see is that the soundpost may not be under the foot of the bridge. I'd look for structural problems there, though. I'm not particularly worried about resale, because if one buys a usable used instrument at the right price, one can sell it for just about the same money.
     

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