(how much) Does size matter?

Discussion in 'Ask Lynn Seaton' started by buckthorn, Jun 26, 2020.


  1. buckthorn

    buckthorn

    Jun 21, 2013
    Black Earth, WI
    I have a very nice bass that I bought when I was much younger and didn't know much (hardly anything) about choosing basses. Basically I naively bought the one that I thought sounded the best in the shop. I didn't know it then, and nobody told me, but it's got a very long string length -- nearly 44 inches (my luthier calls it "a beast"). I'm not a full-time pro, and I went through a long periods where I played very little. I've managed to work with size -- or maybe ignore it, although sometimes it feels difficult and challenging, especially at the lower positions. My hands are average sized, and I am 5' 8" tall. Over the past few years I've been playing and practicing a lot more, doing regular gigs and rehearsals with a jazz quartet roughly every other week. I now realize (light bulb!) that most players use a bass with a shorter string length, and I am wondering (belatedly) whether I should get a different bass with a shorter string length. How much difference might a smaller bass make in terms of playability, possible fatigue, etc.? How does one tell what an appropriate sized bass is? Am I nuts to be playing a bass this large?
     
  2. Lynn Seaton

    Lynn Seaton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2006
    Denton, TX
    I have a friend who played a full size bass with a long string length for many years without issues. Having a shorter string length would certainly make the notes closer together so you would not have to stretch as far.
    Having a user-friendly set up would probably help you be more comfortable on any bass. Consider going to a quality luthier to have them check the bass out. That would look at several things including the nut, bridge height, fingerboard, and tension. A good luthier may have some suggestions and possibly be able to modify your bass. Using lower tension strings can also make it easier. I play a 3/4 size Juzek with string length of 41 1/2" and Zyex light tension strings.
    Your question would be good to post in the Luthier's Corner forum here on TalkBass.
     
    Chris Fitzgerald and J_Bass like this.
  3. buckthorn

    buckthorn

    Jun 21, 2013
    Black Earth, WI
    Thanks Lynn. I have been working with a luthier to adjust the bridge, string height, new strings (spirocore weich, which I think are lighter tension, too). He recently brought up the possibility of a new neck to shorten the string length. That sounded pretty drastic -- I may ask about that in the luthier's forum. But it did get me thinking, which can be dangerous. ;-) Thanks again.
     
  4. Lynn Seaton

    Lynn Seaton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2006
    Denton, TX
    Thank you for the update about the work with the luthier. A new neck would solve your problem. There are some basses out there that have had this done.
    All the best.
     
  5. Wasnex

    Wasnex

    Dec 25, 2011
    There is some limited range in which the mensure can be shortened by installing a false nut and moving the bridge and sound post. I am not an expert on this, but I believe how much the bridge and sound post placement can be moved depends on the bass's construction. If the bass is not currently suitable, the top will need to be removed to modify internal structures, which will probably be cost prohibitive.

    By only installing a false nut, you move all reference points on the neck. For example the location of the octave harmonic shifts and the note you play at the heel of the neck will move. Moving the bridge helps manage this problem.

    One term I have heard for a bass with a shortened mensure is "chopped." My last instructor played a very old 7/8 bass that had been chopped, and it was an absolute cannon that played very easily. I don't know if it's the same bass, but he currently lists an 1839 7/8 French bass for $100,000 with a 40 1/8" mensure on ISB.

    Here's a couple of threads to show I am not just making this up:
    String length Reduction
    Is there a way to shorten scale length?
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2020
  6. Lynn Seaton

    Lynn Seaton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2006
    Denton, TX
    Thank you Wasnex for the informative reply.
     
    Wasnex likes this.
  7. Curiosity speaking : Why don't you buy a second and shorter Double bass ? For the price of all this specialized work, you could go with good starting investment ... (Does your instrument have a brand ?)
     
  8. klyph

    klyph Supporting Member

    Mar 28, 2009
    Cape Cod
    Not at all. There is a local (to me) jazz pro who plays large Basses with all-gut sets as a conscious choice. He is your size or maybe even shorter. He gigs with no amp on a bass that is a cannon and sounds great. He has been playing for 40 years and has owned all sorts of Basses. It’s simply what he is comfortable with, and talking to him got me thinking about my own relationship with the instrument, for sure. One of the things I noticed about his playing is that he avoids half and first position in his lines, and it isn’t really missed because of the natural, defined “boom” of notes the higher positions, even 1st octave F’s and G’s. It got me seriously considering a larger instrument, even though I am about your height (my hands are pretty big, though). I know plenty of 6’2”+ bassists who play them, but watching and listening to this guy was really instructional. If you like the sound coming from your instrument, and you’re not becoming too fatigued, I don’t know how eager I would be to change things up...
     
    Herbert_West likes this.
  9. buckthorn

    buckthorn

    Jun 21, 2013
    Black Earth, WI
    Thanks for all of the responses and suggestions. I've talked with a luthier about shortening the neck. It could be done (it would involve removing the top), but there are a lot of variables and it's uncertain how it will affect the sound of the bass, among other things. It doesn't seem worth it, and I've decided to look for a smaller bass. Kudos to anyone who can sound great while avoiding half and first position, but I don't aspire to that, and there are things I want to do on the bass that are physically too difficult for me on this large an instrument. It's not just the string length; it's either a large 7/8 or a 4/4, depending on how you define these. It's really an orchestral bass (and a large on at that), and is just too big for me, simple as that. So I look forward to trying some 3/4 basses in the coming weeks.
     
  10. Lynn Seaton

    Lynn Seaton Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2006
    Denton, TX
    Good luck and have fun with your search for a different bass. Take your time. Get a second opinion from another bass player and if possible, another luthier. Hopefully, there are a few shops near you to check out a wide variety of instruments.
     
  11. buckthorn

    buckthorn

    Jun 21, 2013
    Black Earth, WI
    Thanks Lynn. Not many shops in this area; I'll probably have to head down to Chicago.
     
  12. Wasnex

    Wasnex

    Dec 25, 2011

    Double Bass Workshop is in Monona WI; looks to be about half an hour from Black Earth.
     
  13. buckthorn

    buckthorn

    Jun 21, 2013
    Black Earth, WI
    Yes. That’s Vince Jesse. I know him well. Not a real large selection of basses, but I’ll be checking out what he has.
     
    Wasnex likes this.
  14. oldNewbie

    oldNewbie Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2016
    ... Then you know Vince's great fingerboard work and setups. I played a few of those on his website last fall during a winter soundpost tweak (Anima Nova ! he does those too) and they are very comfortable. IME his work - and opinions- on both my basses have made them better every time. The ones in his shop are very good !
     
  15. buckthorn

    buckthorn

    Jun 21, 2013
    Black Earth, WI
    Yes! Vince has been tweaking my setup for several years to help make my bass more playable, and put a new fingerboard on last year. I rely on his opinion pretty regularly, and will try to get over there this week.
     
    Lynn Seaton likes this.
  16. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

     
    Jun 21, 2021

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