Fingerboard Shim/Neck Angle

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Mar 12, 2004.

  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    My teacher (Sid King) told me recently that many of Rabbath's students have had wedge-shaped shims installed under their fingerboards to change the neck angle, which makes the upper register easier to access. Anybody heard of this? Is it common?
  2. No, but it's interesting. I wonder how it affects the rest of the bass......
  3. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    Would the idea be to make the board more or less parallel to the table?
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    If I understand the nature of your question, the answer is "Less". The idea is apparently like having a "neck reset" which leaves the fingerboard at a steeper angle to the table, thus making it easier to get to over the shoulders. I've played on of Arnold's New Standards, and noticed that it had a very steep agle of board to table. I also noticed that it was easy as hell to play (much easier than my bass), and that the tension with Spiros seemed much less than I expected. What I don't know is how much difference a shim could make, and how much trouble it would be to do.
    Jbass1979 likes this.
  5. Presumably this needs to be paired with a taller than normal bridge, or do I misunderstand?

    If so, other things being held equal (mensure, pitch, string guage), I would think the bridge pressure on the table would be increased.
  6. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    Myrick is right on the money. Neck angle, overstand and bridge height are all critical areas that affect playability, feel and sound. If you were to add a shim to a bass that already has a tall bridge, the result would likely be a tight-feeling instrument whose top is prone to sinkage. This said, sometimes on a bass with inadequate overstand or neck angle, the shim idea is a cost-effective way of improving playability, rather than the alternative of an expensive neck reset. Keep in mind the shim will add thickness to the neck.
  7. B. Graham

    B. Graham Guest

    Aug 11, 2002
    I've thought of going this route on my bass; '39 Kay C-1. It's bridge is really short, to the point of considering putting on a 1/2 size. I have very little meat above the heart and very skinny feet (I look funny in other ways too). It's hard to bow because of the nearness to the bouts, and the higher up the neck I get, especially thumb position.

    I've talked to my guy in Greensboro, and he felt this might be a reasonable and effective way to go. I don't it would take that tall of a shim really. A thicker fingerboard would work, as would a reset, but I don't have the funds for either of those routes.
  8. Tim Ludlam

    Tim Ludlam

    Dec 19, 1999
    Carmel, IN
    Sometime ago I talked with Andy Stetson (Cincy Bass Cellar) about the possibility of adding a shim to my bass. I have been very concerned about how short my bridge is, and whether this might increase the tonal qualities of my bass. He wasn't a big proponent of screwing around with a shim. Any thoughts on how a reset might affect the overall sound?
  9. I've done quite a few shim "wedges" to basses over the years. It usually, but not always, results in more volume and power. The problem I have with wedges is that many luthiers only do half of the job. Unless the luthier takes the time to reshape the neck handle after adding the wedge, it totally changes the feel of the neck especially down near the heel. A properly done wedge should leave the neck handle exactly the same thickness as it was before the wedge was added. Anyone who tries to tell you that adding 1/4" or so to the thickness of the neck handle makes no difference in the feel is either lazy or nuts.
  10. Tim Ludlam

    Tim Ludlam

    Dec 19, 1999
    Carmel, IN
    Interesting. Thank you Bob.
  11. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Many older Basses have a lower bridge/neck angle. I think the higher bridge is a modern thing. The lower bridge is often referred to as Baroque. My older Italian Bass had a low bridge after the top was reshaped and I played it that way for 20 years. When it was sold, they moved the neck out for easier playing.

    My current English/Gilkes Bass has an Ebony Shim. It looks as if they left the previous fingerboard on, cut it at the end of the neck and planed it down to zero up at the nut leaving it wedge shaped. They did not alter the already thick original neck. It is a bit big but not hard to play. The depth is 1 5/8" at first finger/half position and 2 1/4" at the heel in IV position. The shim is about 1/4" and was probably done when they cut the shoulders down about 100 years ago to save the original neck and block as the neck/body angled changed.

    Shimming the neck is the naxt best thing to re-setting the neck or the more costly new neck graft to raise the playability of the Bass. Some older Basses have weaker bellies by now so they might suffer a bit with too much tension caused by the higher bridge.
  12. Ken

    Realy old basses may have more or less neck angle depending on how old the neck is - ie. what musical trends existed, what musical setting the instrument was used in and how many strings it was used with. According to Barry Kolstein, many old basses had the neck angle reduced to relieve pressure off the top when steel strings came into use which would be I presume the later half of the last century. I think this applies mainly to 17th and 18th Cent. basses. An interesting point that I have not heard anybody mention when talking about gut vs. steel and pressure on the top, is that in the mid 1800's, when many of the "old" basses we use today were made, 3-string basses were strung with super thick gut strings at insane heights above the fingerboard. these were much thicker than the gut strings we see today. This was to achieve maximum volume in the new large orchestra halls With the new ultra dynamic music. My calculations indicate that these strings would yield a combined tension of at least that of spirocore weichs. This would indicate that basses of this vintage should work OK without a neck reset and with moderately guage steel strings.

  13. Ike Harris

    Ike Harris

    May 16, 2001
    Nashville TN
    I once played a rented bass in Chicago, a carved Roth, that had the wedge fixed between the back of the fingerboard and the top of the neck. I'd never seen this done before, but the bass played well and sounded nice and big. Is this an easier route to take than placing a shim in the heel, or more effective way to change the angle?
  14. The wedge placed between the back of the fingerboard and the top of the neck is what we have been discussing here.
  15. I don't know what it would do to the tone, since I don't play an upright (a shame, but I'm short on cash. I will when I can though, so I'm here to pick up what knowledge I can and live vicariously through your bass playing), but I know a drop in string height can make an instrument a lot more playable. I set up my BG just yesterday, and when I lowered the string height the playability almost doubled. The strings feel loose, slapping sounds better, and my mobility is way up. I'm not sure why it was so high before (no where near UB height, of course). I think it had something to do with my de-fret and a failure to lower the strings after that.
  16. basswraith


    Mar 10, 2003
    I am working on a bass here and the neck projection so low the result is this bass needs a very short bridge. The neck is set in with a dove tail as many Tyrollean bass have. The fingerboard about is super thin. I was thinking about taking this Fb off and cutting it so that piece of wood becomes the shim and glue on a new FB on top of that thus increasing the over angle. Is it better to cut the shim from another piece of maple or is it OK to use ebony? What is a stronger bond-maple to ebony or ebony to ebony when using hide glue?
  17. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    My Gilkes is shimmed that way. The older fingerboard is left on. The you cut it off at the end of the neck. Next, you plane it from body to nut with the high point at the bottom/body and the taper down to almost zero height making it a wedge shaped shim. This will increase the angle greatly.
  18. That may be true, but that isn't the way I would do it. Planing a ebony fingerboard down to a perfectly even taper and a perfectly flat gluing surface is not my idea of a fun way to spend an afternoon. There is no strength advantage to using ebony for the wedge (it is not just a "shim" - it's a tapered "wedge") and ebony is much, much too hard to work with. I mentioned previously, the wedge is only half the job - that is if you want to do the job properly.
  19. Awe Bob, this is like waiting for the next episode of Batman to see how he escapes the Joker's clutches. Ok, it may be a trade secret, but now you've mentioned it we all want to know, how would you do it?
  20. OK Mike, what trade secret are you referring to?