Double Bass fingerboard shaping for beginners

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner [DB]' started by jandyman, Jun 20, 2019.

  1. jandyman


    Oct 10, 2015

    I am going to have to dive into fingerboard shaping for double bass, despite lack of experience and the knowledge that there is an art to it. The reasons are:
    1. I have an EUB fingerboard that I really need to fix, and it isn't worth the money that I would pay my local luthier to fix it.
    2. I'm going to be building more EUBs, and the sooner I get a handle on it, the better.
    3. I can't help myself. I've done setup on my electric basses all my life, and I'm used to the control it gives me in terms of understanding the interplay of instrument and results. Once I master the art, I can work on my real upright and really dial it in for my particular playing style.
    So anyway, I'm wondering about the art. I'm kind of afraid of diving in with a hand plane. I thought that as a gentle introduction, I could create some radiused sanding blocks on my CNC, and use those to dress and make minor adjustments to the EUB. They make some pretty amazing abrasives these days. Is this a crazy idea?

    In the longer term, I'm interested in techniques to master this art. I can't find anything substantive on youtube, and the Bible I bought on upright bass setup isn't even all that great in terms of getting started. Any resources would be welcome.

    Finally, I'm thinking forward to "copying" the scoop of an instrument the local luthier shaped for me. It seems that using a precision straightedge and feeler gauges is a good way to document the scoop of the finger board, probably once at the E string and another run over at the G string. That could be used as a guide to check as I go.

    And that reminds me. Do upright necks flex at all under string tension (I use fairly low tension strings)? That would complicate things. Certainly this won't be an issue at the octave and beyond.

    Any help at all would be welcome. I know the standard advice it "have a luthier do it". But the luthier had to start somewhere too. I know I may screw things up, but I have nothing to lose at the moment, and it will be worth the investment. Because once I master the art, I can do the shaping to match my tastes and playing style. Even my local luthier can't do that.

    - Andy
    ctmullins likes this.
  2. There is a luthiers section on the double bass side. They might be more help although I know a few of the guys here have worked on uprights and/or built EUB’s. I have not done that myself but if you look up Rosa String Works on YouTube I know Jerry has repaired a few uprights. He might have some helpful videos.
  3. craigie


    Nov 11, 2015
    I made a fingerboard from Pau ferro and documented it in a thread. It was called something like “new fingerboard for a cheap Chinese bass”

    A double bass has a compound radius. The fact that you mention radius blocks tells me you don’t understand this point. Unless the EUB has a much flatter and more constant radius, radius blocks won’t work.

    I devised a way to shape the board by making four cuts on a table saw that followed the string paths. Then I sanded it to a curve using a long sanding board sanding along the string paths.

    I didn’t intentionally put any scoop into the board, but some was naturally created by the sanding process and it worked quite well.

    Since you have an EUB tye neck flexibility will be different than an upright bass. You could put in some reinforcement (I did).

    You can do it, and you don’t need crazy tools: just a crazy attention to detail.
  4. jandyman


    Oct 10, 2015
    Thanks, I'll repost there.
  5. jandyman


    Oct 10, 2015
    I know the neck has a compound radius. I was suggesting creating a block with a compound radius to match. The lengthwise radius would be a bit smaller the lengthwise radius of the neck. I suppose then that the flat abrasive might buckle on application, but I might be able to work that a couple ways.

    Do you have a pointer to that thread? I'm having a bit of trouble following your description.
  6. Ludicrous. A luthier’s JOB is to deliver a setup that satisfies the client’s requirements.

    I can fix pretty much anything. The two things I will not touch are automatic transmissions and bass fingerboards. I’ve restored a fair number of instruments but I know my limits.

    If you intend to proceed, be prepared to replace a number of fingerboards until you get it right. It’s much easier to take wood off than put it back on.

    The above is not intended to discourage. It is experienced realism.
    timobee4 likes this.
  7. jandyman


    Oct 10, 2015
    That's fine, and I've heard that before. Other than the EUB which I either need to fix or throw away, I plan to experiment on fingerboard/neck assemblies I can throw away which are for EUB, until I go anywhere near
    my actual upright.

    I'm kind of resistant to the notion that this is a black art that cannot be systematically described, and therefore only wizards can do it. I've heard that sort of thing before in other fields, and found it to be false. Most things can be systematically described if the understanding is deep enough.
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2019
    Max Bogosity and craigie like this.
  8. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism

    I am no pro but I don't think a compound radius sanding block is a thing. That certainly isn't how the pros do a compound radius.

    Here is @craigie 's thread:

    New fingerboard on a cheap Chinese bass homestyle
    craigie likes this.
  9. I think you're broadly correct, with the caveat that "systematically" might be a lot to ask once you're in the weeds. Guiding principles may be a more appropriate goal, because it's a complex dynamic system — string weights, neck flex (yes!), playing style, bow weight, humidity and temperature changes, etc. — so the specific cut of the fingerboard has to reflect the balance of factors that best supports the player.
  10. notabene


    Sep 20, 2010
    SF Bay area
    a scraper blade (flat steel sheet, about 3"x5" with 90degree edges is a wonderful tool. Much safer for an expensive piece of ebony than a plane. It won't ever lift out chunks. Keep it sharp and it will be almost as fast as a plane. Check them out, you will find many uses for it.
  11. Heifetzbass

    Heifetzbass Commercial User

    Feb 6, 2004
    Upstate, SC
    Owner, Gencarelli Bass Works and Fine String Instruments, LLC.
    Jandyman, where are you located? I know most bass luthiers are pretty generous with folks that want to learn this stuff.

    Also, there's a great workshop going on at UNH with Keiran O'Hara (one of the best setups in the biz) and Jay Vandekopple very soon. I would highly recommend checking that out if your truly interested.

  12. I've done a couple under the guidance of my local luthier (his wrists are shot and he can't dress boards any more). They came out fine, but I'd like a few more under my belt before soloing...
  13. jandyman


    Oct 10, 2015
    I'd love to learn from a master. I'm in the Phoenix AZ area
  14. jandyman


    Oct 10, 2015
    That's a great idea. I've used scrapers before for finishing.
  15. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg Supporting Member

    Jul 7, 2004
    Heifetzbass likes this.