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I Have Seemingly Sidestepped Physics as We Know It!?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Jim T., Feb 21, 2004.


  1. I'm requesting any pro luthiers here to please help me to understand how I've seemingly achieved the impossible...

    (edited correction/left out in initial post as you will see below): On a 30" scale Bronco Bass.

    I am on the verge of hiring a well known professional luthier to build me a 30" short scale six string bass guitar. BUT, now I am COMPLETELY perplexed!? Yes...that's right...a short scale six stringer with a low B string.

    We've all heard every bassist we've ever spoken with, physics knowledgable/technicians and posters on fourms, say that it's impossible to get a focused/ fundamental pitch from a low B string on a 30" short scale bass.

    YET...I simply clamped a guitar capo on the peghead side of the nut on an E string detuned to B and the added tension
    (acting as a "string tree" gives me a correctly pitched low B on the open string (beautiful/sweet, even) and every pitch up the neck was on pitch as well and spoke just fine. Now this is on a
    hundred dollar bass "toy" ! I played through an SWR Workingman's 10 the first time and a Triad cab.

    The low B string's fretted notes sounded pretty darn killer.
    (I also detuned the other strings, including a high C. This is a frankenbass 5 string bass.) Played a bit of a Jaco transcription...
    So... here I am...like the guy who has seemingly seen that the emperor had no clothes...thinking "I must be mistaken somewhere" but imperical evidence sure seems to indicate that a 30" scale six string bass strung BEADGC could work easily simply by using string trees, angling the headstock more, etc.
    Anything that'll give a greater witness point bend to the string.

    I'd like to go ahead with ordering mine built (high end) but I'd really like to hear what you all think, as valued imput/feedback.

    Could it really be this simple? A capo/string tree?
     
  2. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    Jim

    Your post is a little unclear to me, so let me get this straight.

    You've got a normal 34" scale bass, 5 string, with E through C ("high five") strings. Right? You have then detuned the E string to B, and put a capo up on the head, changing the break angle over the nut, similar to what a string tree does. Right?

    You like the tone you're getting. That's great. But what does this have to with a 30" scale lo-B bass? What you've got right now is a 34" scale lo-B bass with extra light strings. The capo is changing the break angle at the nut, but not the tension, and has no effect (other than added headstock mass) whenever a note is fretted.
     
  3. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    Tension is related to pitch. So changing the pitch is the only way to change string tension.

    A large headstock mass can give you problems (deadspots, neckdive etc.).

    But you can get great sounds out of a shortscale when it's high quality.
     
  4. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Maryland
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    Tension is related to pitch, speaking (scale) length, and string gauge.

    Jim, what you have is still a 34" scale bass detuned a lot. My guess is that you have a greater appreciation for how a bass with very low tension sounds and plays than most, so maybe you would be satisfied with a short scale low b bass.

    Or maybe not. If you want to get an idea of what a 30" scale B string would sound like, get a BEADG 5 string set, string up your cheapo five string, put the capo at the 2nd fret, and tune so that the "open" (capoed) strings are BEADG. This will give you an effective speaking length of between 30" and 31", good enough to see if you like it.
     
  5. Stupid me! I left out the most crucial info.! It was late and I got excited! I apologize profusely!!! (I've added the scale length and bass model to my initial post for new readers...)

    I performed this experiment on an existing 30" scale bass:
    A Fender Squier Bronco. (similar to a slightly smaller, lighter-agathis body/maple neck/maple fingerboard.) With a Stratocaster guitar-like cheapo pick up.

    So... I WAS doing the capo thing ON a 30" shortscale NOT a standard neck.

    That's why I'm perplexed why this simple act worked so well.
    It just seemed like it wasn't very hard with an ALREADY short scale neck to get a pretty well speaking low B. (maybe the maple board helps? I would rather have an ebony board on the bass I'd order so I wondered how much that might detract from the clarity...)

    I apologize for my absence of the critical point that this experiment was performed on a short scale neck. I usually do better than that-and this makes me look even more like a crackpot.

    PLEASE process what I've added here and let me know what you think...I'm serious about persuing this. Many thanks in advance.

    I truly appreciate it and I'll proofread better after this!

    :rolleyes:
     
  6. That should read: similar to a Fender Mustang...
    Thanks again.
     
  7. Jim, you can edit your posts with the edit button in the lower right corner
     
  8. Bassmanbob

    Bassmanbob Supporting Member

    So let me get this straight:

    You used a 30" bass
    -Detuned your E string down to a B note
    -put a capo on the headstock (beond the nut) to give the detuned E string a little more tension
    -and it still wasn't floppier than an 88 year-old woman's breasts?
    -and this sounded good?
     
  9. bassmanbob, luthiers,
    I'm hoping to hear from JP, maybe Kevin Brubaker, Ken, to hear why this is working as well as it is when everyone insists it's not useable as a musical tool with a bit of technique adjustment...

    Sure it's nowhere near as tight as a 34" B but it is definitely useable. I have to slide my and back toward the bridge when I go to the B but not necessarily to the bridge. (the area where a J bass' bridge pickup would be-relatively...) At the bridge of course is clearest/brittle. If I could get ahold of a considerably heavier B string in short scale-maybe .135 or more, I think technique would barely need to be adjusted...

    It's maybe as loose as a 67 yr. old woman's (or man's) breasts :p but not an 88 yr. olds. BUT every pitch all the way up the neck is pretty well defined and definitely useable when picked lightly. When played through an amp it's MORE than OK. Using my nail tip or a pick it's pretty damn clear to my ears.

    I was a H.S. band and choir director and play recording sessions and performed at large festivals so I'm experienced and am able to listen critically with a realistic ear.

    I guess the best way to describe this would be to compare it to the situation where a bass' string action is set very low and when the bass is played acoustically, all the strings rattle against the frets but when you amplify it, the rattles "disappear" and all you hear is a great note. On the Bronco, I'm hearing a pretty good note. This is encouraging enough for me to consider trying this on a neck through or set neck bass with the hard/heavy woods on my Fodera.

    I believe that the short scale basses of the 60's sounded bad because the pickups and electronics were rudimentary and the basses themselves were often Mahogany with mahogany glued in necks (Gibson, Epiphone) or in the case of Fenders (Musicmaster and the Mustang) the woods were, (I think) alder or poplar. To my ears the maple neck was a more defined sound than the mahogany necks and rosewood board combo.
    I think a maple, n. ash or swamp ash body with a dense hardwood fingerboard and modern pickups would be a big change for the better.

    The Bronco's maple fingerboard seems to help with the loose low B's definition but I would like to know if an ebony board or neck with at board and purpleheart or Macassar ebony stringers would help smooth the sound of the short scale bass without losing too much definition in a short scale.

    Sure this shory low B won't be for everyone or even very many people at all, but, I swear, it's definitely good enough for a Blues night at the bar already on a hundred dollar bass IMHO.

    It's useable for chording, scalar runs but may or may not shake your disco booty. Personally, I think that with a 15" speaker it's just fine. I honestly think that a well built 30" could work even better than on a Bronco! Kevin Brubaker has made a 30" six and someone here commented on how surprising it was and how tight the string was. He told me he has "his tricks" but I don't know what they are.

    I assume they are the things I've mentioned: angled headstock, through body stringing, a very stable neck, etc.

    I intend to try to order custom wound low Bs that are extra heavy gauge. The mass should add some tension or "psychological tension". I thought that perhaps a piezo pickup would give me more tonal/defining options. What do you think?

    Anyway, this really IS working. I did a reality check with a tuner, my Fodera's low B and a live human being or two. All of them agreed that if the player is realistic about some flopiness but will adjust his or her picking hand a tiny bit-this can work. :cool: :bassist:
     
  10. RobbieK

    RobbieK

    Jun 14, 2003
    I have a 7-string (with a low B) that is only 820mm scale (just bigger than 32"). The low B sounds great. On a few tunes I even tune down to A. The tensions won't be quite as low as your set up, but I agree, low tensions can give great sustain, growl etc. They are a little easier to fret, also, so you can crank the action a little higher, for a cleaner sound. The trade off, of course is you get a smaller dynamic range - IOW, the string crashes out faster when you dig in. Watch out for string pull, though. You might need an EMG or something with low gauss magnets.

    PS: Not sure why the capo is making a difference, though...
     
  11. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Maryland
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    Me neither. As I said in my first post, I think your tolerance for flop is probably higher than many of your peers. Most people dig in here and there (or everywhere) and probably can't stand the fret noise. Most older basses did/do not have a tilt-back headstock and your capo is giving you a little more break angle to keep the strings happy in the nut (not adding tension). Moving to a .135 will give you a real (not just psychological) increase in tension over whatever you are using now. If what you have works for you, and you have confidence in your luthier, you should give it a shot. My guess is that you will like a custom even better. If by some confluence you don't like the low B on the final result, string it E-F or A-Bb.

    I have strung a low B on a 32" scale instrument and found it to be acceptable sounding. But it had noticably less clarity and ring than a 34 or 35" scale instrument. Still, I am building myself a 32" scale 6 string as we speak because I do like the medium scale.
     
  12. Ah...encouragement! :hyper:
    Robbie and FBB, I wish that 32" scale would make me happy but my tolerance for flop is fairly high. (On just that one string mind you!) I'm planning on using mandolin frets in order to hopefully zero in on intonation a bit more. I'm not sure about slapping on mandolin frets. Does it work? It seems to on the Bronco but once again it has a maple board and I'm thinking of an ebony board on the luthier built bass.

    I'm very close to asking Carey Nordstrand to make this for me.
    Hopefully the set neck will give me the sustain of a neck through (which is my usual preference) with a bit more punch of a bolt on.

    Anyone have custom string companies they can recommend to me? La Bella used to...Fodera I believe will also.

    I'm considering asking my luthier to try and figure out a way (extended headstock, tailpiece, creative/extended through body stringing)- for me to be able to use stock 34" scale B strings. (or Es if it should come to that...)

    Anyone here done something like this that they can post a pic or two?

    Thanks.
     
  13. I'm back after a jam session. This definitely works well enough for me. The low B is "tubby"/well rounded. Kind of like Rick Danko's sound in "The Band". BUT this little Bronc is tubby sounding anyway.

    I'm going ahead with the custom ordering. We'll all have to be in the dark for about 10 months but I think I'm going to likely be happy enough and hopefully amaze myself and others.
    (Isn't that a checkbox on report cards?) : ;)

    I will be experimenting with a lot of pickup and pre choices to see what I think will best express this insrument amplified.

    I'm thinking of having Seymour Duncan custom wind me double coils similar to my Fodera's but with a little something extra on the bass end low B pole and try to find an onboard pre amp
    as similar to a Mike Pope as I can. Does anyone know what the problems with Hazmat pres were? On basstasters.com I've heard the Demeter 201 and liked that sound. Looking for bite and sweetness in the top end and lots of punch in the low mids and bass.

    Ken Smith, JP, Kevin Brubaker, other luthiers, do you haveany advice about any of this to give me (aside from forget it) ?

    Would bridge mounted Piezos help me fine tune the pitch clarity on a 30" B string?

    Do you think I could use a standard length low B string by simply drilling a long tunnel at an angle through the body and having the ball end ferrule closer to mid body just for the B?

    It would sure cut down on hunting for short scale heavy gauge
    B strings from custom winding shops!
     
  14. Suburban

    Suburban

    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Probably very little, if you actually go with the magnetic alternatives you mentioned.

    You can use any length strings (longer than your scale of course). With or without thru-body. You just wind it up on the tuners and cut the surplus off. It will mean that you may have to file some on the tuner, to accomodate thick strings, but it will work.
    There are different opinions on how a string-thru-body affects sound, but the influence on the string behaviour is zero.
     
  15. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Maryland
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    Do through-the-body stringing and use medium-scale strings or just use short scale strings. The windings on DR strings are around 37". That's a lot of length to make up between the bridge and the headstock to prevent winding the wrapped section. I would think that adding 2" to the headstock will end up funny looking. I am finishing up a 30" scale 8-string doubled on which I did through-the-body and GHS medium scale strings fit perfectly.

    Is Carey going to be your guy? He makes really nice pickups. I would use those. SD will charge an arm and a leg for custom winding.
     
  16. Yes, Carey IS going to be my guy. He's been fantastic to talk things over with. (I kidded with him a bit by saying that I felt a little like Anthony Jackson's quest with Smith and Fodera and Thompson, to come up with the original contrabass! Now if I could only play like him! :p )

    My experience with cutting strings through the windings is that it unravels them-yes? I thought of using medium scale strings but even they are relatively hard to find (or never know how long they'll be available) but I figured if we could make a 34"/standard string work, that'd be a real comfort as far as constant availability goes and not having to pay for custom wound strings. PLUS I may be going pretty heavy on the gauge for the B. I need to look and see how thick the medium Bs are on juststings, etc.

    I had toyed with the idea of cutting through windings and brazing or supergluing the cut area. I'd be using stainless strings so I'm not sure if anything even remotely like that would work-even in an emergency on a tour...

    I thought about extending the headstock a bit but we'll see. Carey said that he would maybe reduce it's length from standard length. (If I understood him correctly). My only concern was that we don't end up with a Surine style (or maybe Linc Luthier style) headstock which doesn't appeal to me, personally. (semi spherical-kinda). We'll see down the road when we have some drawings. (I always planned on using short scale 4 string sets+ an extra g string for the high C).

    I discussed Carey's pickups with him on the phone when I placed my order today. If he had several on hand when I went down to visit his shop (1200+ miles away!)and could hear a few different windings, I'll consider them. If that's not going to be practical then I'll go with a known quantity brand name. All that remains to be seen down the road. Having the option to fine tune top/bottom end, etc. on site could be a nice thing.

    FBB, Pilotjones, anyone, have an idea of what would be a realistic gauge for the short scale low B to get the best/useful tension? I'm thinking .135-.145? Maybe 125 would be enough.
    Carey and I haven't gotten that far yet in our discussion.

    Anyway, I'm excited! :hyper: Thanks everyone for your valuable ideas and experience. Please keep it up!

    P.S. Hambone-that edit button is getting some use! Thanks Jim T.
     
  17. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    You can use my spreadsheet - last post in this thread. If you need some help getting around it, you can PM me.

    What I would do is start by looking at what "normal" tensions are, as can be seen in the D'Addario document that is referenced in the SS. Then you can use the first sheet of the SS to try some gauges for various strings, with the scale set to 30".
     
  18. I think you're missing a key element that made you like the sound of your shortscale tuned down, and that is that it's currently strung up with what amounts to a very light gauge set for a 5. That's the reason you're getting such a clear, focused tone on the low B. If you go to a heavier gauge to get a tighter "feel" with less flop, you're going to lose clarity. Lighter strings are brighter and clearer sounding (and intonate better, for that matter) because they are more flexible and reproduce more of the harmonic series, but the corollary to that is that they have less tension and can feel floppy unless you go to longer scales. The "tightest feeling" string is a rather different thing than the "clearest sounding" string, a fact that gets overlooked a lot when discussing different low B's.

    Mike
     
  19. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    Well said.
     
  20. pilotjones, Thank you! I just woke up (musician's hrs.) so I'll peruse that thread after some java. I think that may have been in my subconcious memory and why I thought of you when I started this thread and hoped that you'd be interested in contributing. :cool:

    Mike, actually this did occur to me-chiefly because I use light gauge strings already on my 34" Fodera and have posted on talkbass in the past, about my feeling that giving up some macho booty on a low B give a player a lot more flexibility (at least for me) in using it in chording, expression/bending,etc.-things that aren't as easy to do with a .125 or larger. (mine is a .120 stainless). I'm glad that you and pilotjones agree on this point and my observations are accurate. :)

    On the Bronco, it WAS very noticable, even visually that the string hugged the mandolin (?) frets, sort of surrounding it for better intonation than I expected.

    That's why I've discussed using smaller mandolin or banjo frets on the custom/high end shorty in order to try and get as precise an intonation as possible on the B.
    . I have to decide whether or not I'll slap on it and how much to compromise with fret size for fingerstyle vs. slapping. (I'm a beginner slapper but have played fingerstyle for decades so f.s. is most important...) For that reason and to ensure the best intonation possible for the B, we're so far-leaning toward the mandolin frets. (We've got 6 months at least to pick other people's brains, before starting on my bass.) We're thinking (at least initially/off the top of our heads) that 18mm string spacing is likely to be the maximum that'll look right visually so slapping would be a bit more of a challenge. If we can go 19mm as we get to actual design drawing stage I'd consider that.
    So...I guess my question is really, at what point in increasing string gauge, it'll bring diminishing returns... I'll see if the spreadsheet steers me in the right direction and if I'm smart enough to decipher it. Thanks guys for taking this seriously. It's the first time knowledable folks have seemed to loosen up a bit and say: "What the hell, who knows, with enough subtle ingredients added to the mix, it might just work, at least for light gauge folks like myself.

    P.S. as regards my post above, I realized the "morning after" that Carey must've meant that the headstock would be shortened a bit from his standard six stringer length for visual appeal rather than for theoretical/scale considerations...