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Eb versus D necks

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by Steve Freides, Oct 11, 2013.

  1. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    I'd like to know the history of Eb and D necks on basses. From what I gather, D necks are now more common and by a lot. Is that true, and were Eb necks more common, say, 100 years ago?

    More important to me, why and what are the playing consequences? I just switched from a D to an Eb neck and haven't found it bothersome but I also don't have many playing hours in the proverbial bank and am now practicing regularly on an Eb neck.

    In particular, the Eb neck, all other things being equal, seems to make thumb position, which I am just starting to work seriously on, a little easier to reach. No doubt the shape of the instrument's shoulders matter a lot here, too, but again, all other things being equal, why prefer a D neck to an Eb neck?

    Thanks in advance for whatever education (links are fine, too) anyone can provide.

  2. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    I don't know the history at all specifically related to D and Eb necks, but I do know that bass history is really patchy. Regional differences could be pretty substantial, and until there really was constant communication throughout Europe, nothing was really standardized. Even when things like the metric system and other "standards" were put into place, handmade instruments that did not need to have interchangeable or easily replaceable parts did not standardize.

    As for D and Eb necks and playing consequences, there really aren't many unless you frequently switch between instruments. Some players have multiple instruments, for a variety of reasons. If one of those instruments has a D neck and the other has an Eb, switching between the two of them can be a complete nightmare. A lot of people rely on the feel of where that D or Eb is to find notes, and if that isn't consistent they could be in for a rough night.

    Similarly when shopping for a new instrument, players often want something that feels familiar. If they have spent their entire career on a D or Eb neck, switching can involve even more of a learning curve than getting used to a new instrument already does. Often they specify which neck they want, and some instruments are even altered in order to switch between the two based on preferences. As for why we don't just all standardize and get along I feel like it's much the same as German vs. French bow, or any of the other non-standard issues we have with bass. Some people just like it that way, and they don't want to switch. When they teach students, they pass these preferences along and with it, and the divide continues.

    My neck is right between the two. It really throws other people that play my bass, but I'm used to it. As for "why" people prefer one or the other, or something in the middle: Why do we have any preferences in general? Why do some people like chocolate instead of vanilla? Or hate both and prefer Pineapple? Variety is the spice of life my friend.
  3. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    Especially when they own several different basses, most of the professional or semi-professional arco players that I know disregard the D vs. Eb (or in-between) differences and just "play the bass". More important , beyond a good setup, is neck shape, tenson, responsiveness, and tone. They may have a slight preference for what they already are used to, but can easily be persuaded by and instrument that speaks to them.
  4. Fran Diaz

    Fran Diaz

    Mar 28, 2002
    Santander, Spain
    Interesting topic, thanks.

    My bass has a D-neck that gives me a lot of confidence when I have to reach for fourth position (D,Eb,E on the G string) but I suppose that if it were a Eb neck I'd get the same confidence for a different set of notes.

    So when I buy my next bass, even if I prefer a D neck because it's more familiar to me, I won't take my decition based on this.

    What I would really love to know, and maybe this is a better question for the Luthier's Corner, is why for a given maker (I've been researching some current brands lately) some of his instruments have a D and other have a Eb neck.
  5. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    It's not just the position of the neck heel, but its shape and radius that imparts to the player a sense of confidence when going for the notes in the transition area. Classical players are in general very concerned about the bass' neck feeling like a solid D to them. Sure, one can get used to anything, but in the violin/viola/cello world there is a strict standard. This helps when a player breaks a string in a live performance and has to grab someone else's fiddle. It also helps when owning multiple instruments. I adhere strongly to the D neck standard when building from scratch. I do have Eb necks on consignment sometimes, and they are always a more difficult sell.
  6. Phil Rowan

    Phil Rowan Supporting Member

    Mar 2, 2005
    Brooklyn, NY
    That would explain my surge in bass-playing confidence after I had my Lang's string length lengthened a bit by cheating the bridge and soundpost southward (thus getting pretty close to being a D neck, as opposed to the wacky Eb+ neck it was before). Now if only I could apply said confidence with the ladies.. :meh:
  7. As a teacher who values and employs (among other things) the Rabbath/George Vance method, I definitely prefer the D neck. The very first position Vance describes is the 3rd position, which is where the thumb meets the curvature of the neck. This will result in a 1st-finger "D" on the G string, and really, much of my pedagogy is centered around that concept.

    I have one student with an E-flat neck, so we have to figure out other strategies in that area of the neck.
  8. statsc

    statsc Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2010
    Burlington, VT
    Several years ago I bought a used Czech-Ease from David Gage to use for traveling and as a back-up to my regular ancient German flat-back D-neck bass. At the time, I was unaware that the Czech-Ease was an Eb neck, or even that there was such a thing, and was extremely frustrated that I had so much trouble playing it in tune! Upon realizing the difference and consciously making the adjustment when I switch from one to the other, I have less of a problem; however, there is still an adjustment period of about 1/2 a set when I'm feeling my way around a bit. It only happens on the Czech-Ease; I've been playing the German flat-back so long (30+ yrs.) it always feels like "home" to me!
  9. gerry grable

    gerry grable Supporting Member

    Nov 9, 2010
  10. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member Commercial User

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    I've been asking the D / Eb neck question for years and never felt like I got a good answer. Even though I gig a couple of times a week with a great swing band on the double bass, I grew up playing a Stratocaster. A D neck on a strat would be the equivalent of a 7 fret guitar neck. NOBDOY would ever consider this an acceptable amount of neck length and tell you to adjust your playing style to an older methodology and accept it. As such, the neck on my personal bass is actually an F neck- that's correct F. It was designed and built that way. I think it is great and it gives me a lot of space to noodle around up there when I'm supposed to take a long solo.

    Most of the music school grads that play it grumble and complain, but nobody will give me a straight technical answer as to specifically why they want a D reference point. As an example- Why the F neck? When I ground out on F, it puts my pinky exactly over the octave. For me, this equates to a very similar layout to a 12 fret guitar neck, something I've been playing for 40 years. Can someone articulate WHY the D neck without trying to be critical of my reference or technique? I've even asked this of some incredible grammy winners who switch between electric and double bass and they just shrugged their shoulders. I ask this with a new bass on the workbench that as yet has the neck made. One great thing about making your own basses is that if you don't like the current neck you can build another!:)

  11. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    James, this is a change of subject but there's an interesting issue raised by what you said, about how much different one thing is from another - the principle is that if it's different enough, your brain recognizes two different things, but if it's almost but not quite the same, that can cause confusion.

    I also grew up playing guitar. One interesting thing is that I grew up playing two different guitars, and electric and a classical, and the classic had a wider neck and wider string spacing. To this day, I am the exception that proves the rule - I grew up doing both those things and switching back and forth causes me no problems at all.

    I have no trouble keeping separate the scale length of a guitar, an electric bass, and an upright bass - different enough that my brain registers them as distinct things. I think, however, going back and forth between and Eb and a D neck has the potential to cause confusion because they're that weird amount of similar-but-different. I know one classical guitarist who tried to learn to play Russian 7-string guitar and ended up with focal dystonia, which he attributes to the different guitar, and when he stopped playing it and stuck with 6 strings, his focal dystonia went away permanently.

    We're all different, and I'm sure someone who is a psycho-neurologist or perhaps kinesiologist or something along those lines could shed more light on this subject, but my take is that not only is similar-but-different potentially a problem, exactly how similar-but-different causes a problem is going to be different for each person.

    All _that_ said, I still go back to my original question - is there any reason why a D neck seems to be preferred? Is it just adherence to the convention that bass necks should be D necks, or is there some other technical reason? So far, it seems like Beta versus VHS to me (for anyone old enough to remember that), namely that either works fine but having two standards can be a pain.

  12. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    I agree with James and with Steve. There isn't really a reason for it besides "it has always been done that way" but a lot of people have a really difficult time adapting to something else, especially when it is very similar. I could see players approaching a bass made with an F neck (cutaway, extra sound hole, etc. as seen on your website) as a unique instrument, but at that point the mental light switch is something along the lines of "this is not a traditional double bass" for some people.

    There definitely is a market for these instruments and people are starting to open up to alternatives in the instrument making world. The Hutchins/New Violin Family basses are starting to see some daylight now, as people realize that we are demanding more and more from instruments that haven't changed much in centuries. Bows, strings, rosin, extensions, the music we play on the instruments... so many things have changed, some of them really dramatically. Why not the instruments themselves?

    Parts of the music tradition are very slow and adverse to change. No one has a problem with French instruments and Italian instruments having completely different body shapes. This has been experimented with for centuries, and there are so many different variations that there isn't really a standard. On the flip side most major orchestras will play modern music, but none of them will consider modern attire. It is often expected and definitely not looked down upon in jazz quartets and big bands when you amplify a double bass. Bring an electric upright though and a lot of people turn their noses up. Do any of these distinctions make sense in the grand scheme of things?

    I don't have an answer, but I don't see the D neck disappearing anytime soon. The Eb neck seems to be slowly fading out, but I'm guessing it will be around for a couple more generations of bass players yet.
  13. Nathan Levine

    Nathan Levine Supporting Member

    Apr 25, 2008
    Anchorage, AK
    I'm having an F neck built currently. Playing in 5ths though, so my high string is an A. It's nice to have that G under the 4th finger with the open G string being two octaves down.
  14. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    Don't confuse them! My neck is an E, almost F in 5ths too. I definitely appreciate having that G under my hand before I get up to thumb positions.
  15. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    One of the main reasons a double bass sounds like a double bass is the relationship between the upper and lower halves of the top table. If you make your upper bout so short that it can support an E or F neck heel, then you are going to have a bass that sounds different (and plays different) than a typical double bass. Either that or you will need to have no neck heel, and that would lead to a broken neck the minute you string the thing up. I should mention that no one who knows my work would call me a traditionalist, but I think the relationship between the neck, upper bout and lower bout is an important one, and works most effectively when the neck is designed to a D.
  16. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    Arnold, I know of at least one person who had an older (expensive, very good) bass with a Eb neck who had it converted to D. Have you done this and can the scale length be kept the same?

    Thank you.

  17. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    My '39 Mittenwald has a "D" neck, and my Azola EUB as an "Eb" neck. I'm much more comfortable on the Eb neck, for whatever that's worth; I believe I would love an "F" neck if it didn't change the sound for the worse.
  18. Greg Clinkingbeard

    Greg Clinkingbeard

    Apr 4, 2005
    Kansas City area
    KC Strings
    My early 20th century germanic bass was restored with a D neck and has a 42" mensure. I've owned both and don't see a clear benefit either way.
  19. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    Greg, my question is - did the scale length change when the Eb/D business was changed, or was it compensated for to keep the scale length the same?

  20. In all this talk, it might be good to clarify what one means by D, Eb neck etc. As has been mentioned in other threads, some people talk of the second finger opposite the thumb, others of the 1st finger opposite the thumb. Others have also mentioned, make a fist, slam it down around the heel and where the pinky is, sound the note, what one hears is the note that labels the neck. There may be differences between Europe and N.A, and between 19th c. and 21st c. about what people call the same thing.

    I guess for here for, more clarity, please give the 3 notes you play at the heel, with a 1-2-4 fingering.
    ie, "C#, D, E", or "D, Eb, E", or "Eb, E, F " etc.

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