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headstock joint

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Billdog, Mar 8, 2004.


  1. Billdog

    Billdog

    Feb 27, 2003
    Austin, Texas
    My brother is having a bass built by a friend of his who has 0 experience with bass building. He has built several guitars which I have seen which seem sturdy and clean (and sound amazing). My concern here is that I was discussing headstock angle with said builder (my brother isn't much of a gearhead so I'm looking after him) and he told me he planned to just make the neck out of a nice thick block (it is going to be wenge and purpleheart I think) and carve the slant into it. I was under the impression that with higher angle headstocks (they're going to mimick a fodera approximately) it was wiser to cut the headstock off and glue it in such a way that there is a joint in the nut region that causes the angle. The only reason I'm concerned about this is that, as I said, this is the guys first bass, and it's a six string. I just want to make sure that this bass won't be a pain in the neck (pun intended) for my brother due to stability issues or, heaven forbid, the headstock catastrophically failing. Thanks for your time.
     
  2. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    I'm not a luthier, but I'd always heard that the advantage to the joint you describe was not so much increased strength (though supposedly with the right glue it could be strionger than wood) as it was greater savings in wood. There's more wastage when you carve the slanted headstock out of a single block.

    From what I've heard, possibly more important than joint/no joint is that this guy should be sure to put a volute where the headstock meets the neck on the back.
     
  3. Billdog

    Billdog

    Feb 27, 2003
    Austin, Texas
    Thanks. That does make sense. Now that I think about it, that's how Conklin does it, and I know they know how to make good necks.
     
  4. Your fears are well justified.

    The joint that you are describing is called a "scarf" joint. It's made by slicing the glued up neck stock at an angle (11º typically) to make the headstock block. This is then turned 180" and reglued to the neck to create the tilted geometry. This method has some definite advantages. First, the grain is now oriented so that it's inline with the tension of the strings. This creates strength. You'll need it too, because the tension of a six string bass is incredible - probably 3 times that of a guitar. The second is that the glue joint itself is quite long with a lot of surface area. Even without the modern glues, the joint would be very strong.

    I would suggest that your builder do some more research on this subject. There is something intoxicating about a big piece of nice wood that's hiding a beautiful bass, but you have to balance the additional cost and possible downside against the burning need to make a lot of woodchips.

    Have him check in at www.mimf.com for discussions of this and other bass related details.

    Of course, someone here will have a much better explanation than I.
     
  5. Skorzen

    Skorzen

    Mar 15, 2002
    Springfield MA
    You see, that is just plain not true, while it might be a good idea the statement that it is required for a six string is just your opinion. I don't believe that conklin uses a scarf joinf, or Ken smith, and those are only the ones That come to mind right now. Now a scarf joint might be a good idea, but is by no means necessary.
     
  6. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    While these two luthiers may or may not use a scarf joint, it is a good idea for yet another reason.

    In an instrument with an angled peghead and a scarf joint, the grain runs the same direction as the peghead. This makes it nearly impossible to break. In an instrument with an angled peghead and with the peghead and neck beam one piece, the grain "runs out" the face of the headstock. These makes it relatively easy to break the headstock if the instrument is dropped or hit hard. I've seen it a few times on acoustic guitars that were carved out of a single piece, and my understanding is that this injury is all too common.
     
  7. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    For the record, the much higher tension on a 6-string bass is an accurate assessment.

    D'Addario "standard light gauge" EXL-110 elec. guitar set, on a 25.5" scale instrument = 103.6 lb. total tension
    D'Addario "standard soft gauge" EXL-170-6 bass guitar set on a 34" scale instrument = 246 lb. total tension

    The tensions go lower on the guitar if it's Gibson scale, and go higher on the bass if it's longer than 34" scale.
     
  8. Unfortunately your selective editing of my post totally skewed my statement. I wish you hadn't done that.

    I did not state that a scarf joint was necessary when building a six string.

    Please read it again - The sentence directly preceding the sentence you lifted referred only to strength. If you are slow enough to argue that strength at the headstock is not needed, then you've got an anxious audience in this forum waiting to hear your theory on this.

    Concerning the statement that tension at the headstock in a 6 string bass was 3 times that of a guitar - You are correct! That is not true. Unfortunately for you again, I was a little on the low side. It could actually be 5 times the tension of a guitar. Gee, I'm sorry for the misleading statement :rolleyes:

    Would you like to do a little research for yourself on this subject? Take a gander at these charts to see exactly what I base my "opinion" on.

    http://lib1.store.vip.sc5.yahoo.com/lib/juststrings/dadtension99.pdf

    And junior, while your at it, learn to respect other's "opinions", especially when they are derived from more than an anecdotal comparison of 2 builders out of 1000's. I don't mind being challenged but I will not stand for being called "wrong" for simply voicing an opinion.
     
  9. Skorzen

    Skorzen

    Mar 15, 2002
    Springfield MA
    Sorry did'nt mean to come accross quite that way :meh: I still think that while it was not what you meant(as I now know) your wording could have very easily been taken that way. Yes you were refering to strength, but it was strength that was being attributed to the scarf joint, as I read it.

    I don't remember saying anything about that in my post. I was only refering to the scarf joint being necessary, and that alone.

    Those two builders were the two that I was able to determin in the 20 min or so I spent looking, that I could say that they likely did not use scarf joints. I mentioned two because I felt that was enough to prove my point. Ken Smith and Conklin are hardly nobodies. I also just noticed that in the example of an eight string bass used for his book Making Your Own Electeric Guitar, Melvyn Hiscock does not use a scarf joint, as he did for one of the guitars. Correct me if I am wrong, but I really havent heard of people having an issue with headstock joints on basses like you hear about with Les Pauls ect. I am sure that in some cases there have been issues, but I think it is a risk that is in general exagerated.
    Please notice that I did say a couple times in my post that I agreed that it was a good idea, but it was not required.

    I did not mean to offend you, and I realise now that my choice of words may not have been the best. The reason I responded as I did is that I have seen on many occasions people spouting their opinions(often uneducated) as law(not saying you did that) To a new unexpirienced person this could give them the false idea that that is how things have to be done. One of the more memorable cases of that type of thing, was the arguement that you could not build a good instrument out of basswood.

    Given the nature of your post I am having trouble taking you statement about respecting others opinions seriously.
     
  10. Now you're getting into an interesting discussion. Too bad it couldn't have started this way eh? :meh:

    I think there might be other reasons to choose a scarf joint aside from the strength issues. To build an angled headstock neck without one might take a better eye in wood selection than a lot of us have. The pros on this forum have stressed the value of proper stock selection for necks more than once. I can take that to mean that it might be a crapshoot for ME to make a selection for this type of neck. A scarf may be just what I need to get the neck I want and not have to worry. Another reason is the relative ease it is to make this a very strong joint with only a single cut. That's sorta cool when you think about it. One cut, some glue and you've got a perfectly angled headstock ready for carving. Sometimes you just want things simple.

    As to the situation at hand - I think this particular builder might be approaching this 6'er as he would a guitar. That is a mistake IMO. If it were my first bass and certainly my first with that many strings, I would defer to caution and use a scarf joint. I think he's right in concluding that an angled headstock is the best thing to do but a big block of expensive wood - even if it's a lamination - would be shameful to make a mistake with. But that's just me.

    And that brings me to another thing. The use of face and back laminations greatly strengthen an angle carved headstock.
     
  11. Billdog

    Billdog

    Feb 27, 2003
    Austin, Texas
    Yes, he will be laminating the headstock, so that will help. Thanks to everyone who responded. Both sides have made some very good arguements. Now that I think about it, there are good basses made with both designs. However, the fact that a scarf joint will use less wood/ smaller pieces of wood is making me lean towards demanding that he build it that way. :) As far as modeling the bass after a guitar, I wouldn't worry about that. He will be making it a 36 inch scale, using dual trussrods in the neck, and it will be a single cut which should aid the neck stability. I should be home from college (I'm an engineer if that eases anyone's mind) by the time he starts building, so I will keep my big brother hawk-eye on him the whole time. Thanks again for the responses. Feel free to keep debating. I'll check back soon.
     
  12. Billdog

    Billdog

    Feb 27, 2003
    Austin, Texas
    p.s. I realize dual truss-rods aren't super common in six strings, but my brother likes a fat neck with wide string spacing,(which should make neck stability less of an issue :hyper: ) so that should make them fit a little better.
     
  13. Bassmanbob

    Bassmanbob Supporting Member

    At the risk of sounding like a pinhead:

    Last time I looked closely at a Ken Smith 5 string (I know you're having a 6 made), the headstock was a separate cut piece rather than a carved angulated solid neck/ headstock configuration. It wasn't a simple scarf joint as Hambone described, but it definitely wasn't carved out of one block of neck laminates.

    I have a Roscoe SKB 3006. Keith Roscoe does carve the headstock from the neckwood, but he adds a front three piece laminate that is about 1/4" thick.

    I'm not a luthier, but I've been studying basses because I do eventually want to start building. If I'm wrong in any statements, please correct me.
     
  14. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Maryland
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    I do believe Ken uses scarf joints in his necks.

    I think that a lot of what is being said here is being overstated. Yes, runout can be a source of weakness in thin woods. Yes, a properly executed scarf joint will eliminate runout and then you can end up with a stronger headstock.

    That does not mean a one-piece carved headstock cannot handle the tension of a six string. I do all my necks this way, and I have done 7 and 8 string basses. No problems. Many high end builders forgo the scarf joint and do not have problems with headstocks breaking.

    It also does not mean that by doing a scarf joint, you are automatically getting a stronger headstock. You need to do a very good job cleaning up the surfaces and preparing them for gluing if you are going to make a scarf joint. If you don't, you defeat the purpose and the glue joint can fail rather than the wood of the headstock.

    To get to the original question, I think if your luthier is well acquainted with the scarf joint, and is comfortable enough with them to not think twice about building a big bass with one, you can be pretty confident he will execute it well and you will end up with a good, strong headstock.
     
  15. JSPguitars

    JSPguitars

    Jan 12, 2004
    Grass Valley
    since you guys are on the subject here, i thought i'd ask a quick question......

    I was wondering how some luthiers/companies get that nice laminated-layered effect on the back of the headstock?

    I know alembic and CT do it, .....and i was wondering if this look is created by using a scarf joint with the laminates glued on the back of the actual angled headstock? I think this looks really adds to the visual look of the instrument, and if it's not TOO difficult, I'd like to try it on a bass I am building.

    Is there any way to achieve this effect without using a scarf joint?

    thanx in advance
     
  16. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Maryland
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    I believe most either do not use the scarf joint or do the laminating after the joint is made. You can tell because the laminates follow the volute, which has already been partially shaped.

    I have done this once and I used veneers. Veneers easily conform to curves like the volute if you can manage to sufficient clamping pressure over the surface area. I did this with a closed cell semi-rigid foam.
     
  17. Billdog

    Billdog

    Feb 27, 2003
    Austin, Texas
    Thanks again to everyone that's replied. Feel free to keep debating. I think I've decided to encourage a scarf joint, but not to make a big point about it. I'll just make sure he builds it nice and sturdy.
     
  18. gyancey

    gyancey

    Mar 25, 2002
    Austin, TX
    You should come by and I'll show you a scarf joint in progress this weekend if you hurry. Send me an email.

     
  19. gyancey

    gyancey

    Mar 25, 2002
    Austin, TX
    I'd like to expand upon what Matt said and bring up that (to me at least) this means using a well-tuned handplane to do the joint. I do mine as illustrated by William Cumpiano in the book Acoustic Guitar: Tradition and Technology. I didn't try a scarf joint until my 7th bass because I didn't feel comfortable enough with a smoother plane to get a good surface. Sliced wood is better than sanded wood for these kind of things...
     
  20. frederic b. hodshon

    frederic b. hodshon Supporting Member

    May 10, 2000
    Lake Forest, CA
    None.
    great thread!

    with the single piece neck you could maximize the wood by "69ing" two necks.

    i know you don't NEED a second neck, but, why not?

    f