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Jazz bass literally untunable...

Discussion in 'Ask Janek Gwizdala' started by plarry, Nov 15, 2012.

  1. plarry

    plarry Banned

    Jan 15, 2011
    Hey Guys!

    Bought a second hand JBass yesterday and found out too late and to my horror that it was untunable... Nice huh?

    Meaning... when I play a major third on the same string, it's way out of tune. When I say "way", I don't mean like a quarter tone, but perhaps 1/8 or even less, but that's HORRIBLE to my ear. Plus you can imagine the nice waves...

    To make things even nicer, I can't get in touch w/ the buyer, no way.

    Any insight welcome...

    And please... NO I don't want to make it a fretless! And I'm not sure it would help much... Also plz avoid "hihi, you're f. up!". Not in the mood... ;)

    Cheers, Guys!
  2. I don't know if Mr Gwizdala is an expert in setup or not, but I'd suggest posting this question in *setup and repair* Good luck. :)

    Edit: It sounds like your intonation may be way off, or someone modified your bass w/the wrong neck(30" neck on a 34" body maybe. Pics would help).
  3. Febs

    Febs Supporting Member

    May 7, 2007
    Philadelphia, PA
    Is the intonation set correctly at the bridge? (Check the 12th fret harmonic and the fretted note at the 12th fret. Are they in tune with each other?)
  4. iiipopes


    May 4, 2009

    First of all: the post about "major third" being out of tune is telling. Remember that equally tempered music, with twelve semitones per octave, is inherently "out of tune." It sounds like to me that major 3rd is exactly as sharp as it should be on the 4th fret.

    Now, that said, 4ths and 5ths don't grate on the ear from equal temperament as much as thirds do. So, the distance from the front edge nut to the 1st fret needs to be measured to make sure the nut slot was cut correctly. It should be no more than double the center-to-center of the crowns of the 12th to 13th fret. If it's too far away, a Buzz Feiten treatment will get it back into line. (With string stretch and high nut slots, shorter will keep the first few frets better in tune.)

    Second, yes, take it to a tech to see if otherwise it is set up correctly with the right nut slot depth, relief, bridge compensation and string height, and NEW STRINGS.

    If it was the 2nd or 3rd fret that was sharp, I'd be inclined to think that it was high nut slots, but with "major third on the same string," that is more the way music works with an equally tempered tuning.
  5. FrenchBassQC

    FrenchBassQC Supporting Member

    Jul 13, 2011
    Gatineau QC CA
    If you are able to adjust the intonation yourself, do it and save some pennies for other things like strings and stuff.... That's what it sounds like to me. :smug:
  6. plarry

    plarry Banned

    Jan 15, 2011
    Thanks for you input, Guys! Btw. I'll have to check my TB notification settings… ;)

    @bassteban Your "edit" is not totally stupid ;) but no, the neck is the original one.

    @Febs Yeah, that's the first thing I checked, of course (?), even before I bought it, and I went "Okay… needs a good setup…". Setup done --> harmonics/fretted notes ok.

    @iiipopes Ouch! Part of what you're saying is way beyond my knowledge, although I think I get the idea. But, believe it or not, I'm an "old" man but it's not me who wrote the "Well-Tempered Clavichord". ;) What I get from what you say is that, perhaps.. all is not lost, and I'm definitely going to take it to a good luthier AFTER I've changed the strings and reset it.

    @FrenchBassQC: Don't know if my intonation is good but I believe your intention is. That being said, I think you may be wrong: although I have a decent ear and know the basics about setting up a bass, I really think that paying 50-ish bucks to a good luthier is not like throwing your money through the window… I've been told more than once "Hmmh, we're not that bad… well done!" which, of course, is nicer to hear than "My God! what have you done?" ;) but each time, my bass was way better, at least for me, after the good man had done his job. One time, though, I gave it to the gentle care of a self-proclaimed "specialist" and I had a hard time to refrain from making him swallow his tools one by one… ;) Conclusion (my 2 cents, or pennies): save big pennies on booze, cigs, whatever… and buy a good setup from a GOOD luthier, once in a while, until you're as good as he is, at least for this task.

    Thanks again, Guys! Just bought the new strings. I may underestimate the importance of strings / tuning. Next: replace > setup > (luthier?)
  7. plarry

    plarry Banned

    Jan 15, 2011
    PS @bassteban...

    I didn't get that until I just found out that I had posted on "Ask Janek Gwizdala"... ;) God! was I feeling bad yesterday!
    So I just thought it was a "personal" issue and didn't want to comment on that, none of my business...

    But you're very right, Man! And sorry Mr. Gwizdala for my mistake, although I'm sure you know 2 or 3 things about setting up a bass! ;)

    I'll see if I can move the thread or have it moved by an admin/moderator...

    Thanks again to you all!
  8. iiipopes


    May 4, 2009
    That's alright. Didn't mean to offend. My hair is now white enough that I'm starting to be accused of being around when it was written, also!

    Your ear is right on. Let's take your A string for an example. Open A is 55 Hz. A "true" or "natural" major 3rd C# would be 5/4 that frequency, or about 68.8 Hz. But an equally tempered third, as a bass or guitar at the 4th fret, is 55*2^(4/12), or @ 69.3 Hz, which is @ 13 cents sharper, or about 1/8 semitone sharper as you describe.
  9. plarry

    plarry Banned

    Jan 15, 2011
    :D I don't feel "offended" at all, don't worry!

    VERY interesting technical explanation, thanks iiipopes! Even more confusing at first read, but makes total sense.

    Now that doesn't ease my PITE (Pain In The Ear), no offense! ;).

    Take my A string: the harmonic and fretted A on the 12th fret "match" perfectly (I have a good screwdriver and my ear, although not "perfect", seems to be just a bit better than my very cheap Korg tuner. Plus I hear interferences but the tuner doesn't AFAIK). Now, when I play an E on the 7th fret, I could expect it to "match" the perfectly tuned open E string, nope? And even if it were all in my bad ear/head, I wouldn't get interferences/waves, right?

    Now perhaps I'm too much of a perfectionist and I should try to just get used to it? Quite frankly, I don't think I have a super-mega-outstanding-ear, but I often wonder how ppl who are supposed to have a good ear or even can hardly be suspected not to have a very good ear, can play an instrument that's obviously not tuned... I'm not saying "during a gig", I mean in the context of a clinic or a recorded video lesson!

    As you said, wrong thirds especially "grate the ear". It's not the first time I notice that. With another bass, I have the same problem, to a lesser extent. Even the 2nds can hurt when played on different strings.

    But perhaps my destiny is to play fretless? ;) At least, either it would be nicely out of tune --oh I love that "octave", or at least I could move my fingers until my ear gives me the "ok!".

    All that being said, my problem seems to be partly solved with new strings, and that's still a bit of a mystery to me. I know next to nothing about strings and very very little about gear in general. I don't get why a used string, although it sounds like s., seems to be still tunable when played open and on the 12th fret and sound out of tune in the middle of the neck! Beyond my understanding/knowledge/intelligence/whatever. ;)

    Anyway, thanks again, Sir!

    PS: appointment taken w/ "my" luthier --"my" because I see him twice in a decade or so... plus he's not mine ;)
  10. plarry

    plarry Banned

    Jan 15, 2011
    Hey Guys,

    Thanks again for your support and a quick update: this little babe now sounds like the kind of JB I love! It's perfectly set up and perfectly tuned!

    Thanks again, iiipopes, that's exactly what I did and you're spot on, NEW STRINGS made most of the difference. When I said I knew next to nothing about gear, it was not an understatement! ;) I really thought it could only affect the tone, but not the pitch. Apparently I was massively wrong!

    When I took it to the luthier, it was nearly "perfect" already. So I'm crap at gear but perhaps not totally at setting up a bass --or I'm a lucky b.! ;).
    Anyway, the good man told me it was a VERY good buy (phew!) and adjusted the nut slots depth to my liking for the very reasonable price of $0.00 and the smile that goes with it.

    End result: I don't think it's THE "best" JB ever, but it's my best bass ever! --> Happy bunny! ;)

    Thanks again for your support & advice, Guys!
  11. I always like a happy end. :D