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Jazz-friendly fingerboard dressing?

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Nov 25, 2000.

  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I've been spending a lot of time playing/recording the new bass I bought recently, and I have a couple of questions about fingerboard dressing....When I bought the bass, the shop owner, who has an excellent reputation for orchestral setup work, spent a great deal of time (about 4 1/2 hours) doing the setup, which was included in the price of the bass. As a result, the neck is thinner and easier to play, the arc of the bridge has been cut down slightly to even out string heights for pizz playing, and the top three strings speak cleanly and evenly (except for one note, which has a very slight buzz when I dig in). These strings feel and sound great, even on recordings, which I consider a near miracle for a new bass. The E string, however, is a different story...

    When I took the bass in for the setup, I requested that (if possible) I would like a slight growl on the E string but no buzzing. Well, I got the growl, but I also kept getting the buzz, and after the 3rd or 4th time he brought it down (it was getting better each time), we were starting to become a little "at odds" about the whole technique thing...I like to be able to - when desired - pluck the E string with the middle knuckle of my index finger, pulling down on the string and then snapping it back with a clockwise twist of the wrist. The person doing the setup apparently feels that it is my technique causing the buzz by setting the string in motion in the wrong direction (i.e. too much up/down vibration, not enough side to side). I feel that since that stroke worked on my old bass and works on my friends' basses without buzzing, that it is the fingerboard that should be altered and not my pizz technique. I was and am pleased enough with the rest of the setup that it wasn't a huge issue, so I took it home and have been generally pleased with the action since.

    The problem I'm having is that, at this point, I can't really dig in as deep as I'd like on my E string, and I'd like to take it to someone to remedy that (I'm not really worried about the cost of a new FB dressing). My question is, how much can (or should) I expect a setup person to work with me on getting/avoiding a certain sound on a certain string? Should I be able to take it to someone and say, "I'd like to be able to dig in this hard in this way without it buzzing", or, "I'd like to be able to strike the low F and gliss up the string at least a perfect 4th without picking up a buzz/rattle...can you work with me on this?" Is that reasonable, or is that asking too much? I don't mind paying to get it right, but it's gonna cost me at least a 2 hour drive each way, since there's no-one in town. Any suggestions? Does anyone have any experience to share on this issue?

    How do bluegrass bassists(who are most certainly people, too) deal with this? They seem to play much harder than jazzers...
  2. Chris, is the fingerboard round or beveled? I had the same problem on one of my basses, and I had the fingerboard rounded off, and have never had a problem again. The other thing that I learned (The hard way, I'm sorry to say) is that you can only plane off so much wood until you start doing some damage. You said he planed it down 3 or four times? There has to be a point where the Luthier has to say "Well, that's just the way the wood goes"
    and if its still not good enough, either get a new fingerboard or change technique.The other option is the obvious raising of the action until you eliminate the buzz.
    BlueGrass players, for the most part play with a very high action and a lot of them use gut strings that they do play
    very hard on.
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    the fingerboard is round, but I don't think very much wood has been taken off...I think it was more a matter of his not understanding how to reproduce that particular stroke (his was a very orchestral pizz); I don't think the problem is the technique, either, since most of the jazzers I know use a similar stroke on the E string. It was interesting that you mentioned the round/beveled issue - I've heard a rumor that it worked the other way (i.e. - beveled would not produce that sound because of the angle of the E string...) from several sources, but only in a vague kinda way.

    The string height is as follows: 1/4" + on the G string, 3/8-1/2" on the E string. This is roughly the same as my old bass (which had a beveled fingerboard, and a beautiful growl w/o buzzing), and the same as Rufus Reid uses/recommends, which I don't think is exceptionally low. Does that seem low to you? Intuition tells me that the buzz has something to do with the shape (angle?) of the FB around the string path, but that's a raw guess on my part. About the other part of the question, is it reasonable to go to another luthier and, without bothering whoever it is with the whole story, inquire about dressing for that particular string/sound only? If so, should I reasonably be able to expect them to take the playing technique into account while doing the work? I only ask this because often around here you have to drive out of town, drop off your bass for several days, and pick it up later. This is normally fine but would be a drag if it was going make the same noises when I came back to pick it up as when I left it.

    Keep in mind, in my other life I'm a jazz pianist, and used to working with piano techs during voicing; in that situation, they voice, then you play and mark what strings you want darkened or whatever with a piece of chalk; then the whole process is repeated until you are happy with the sound - this can get expensive, but you know you'll get it the way you want it eventually. Because I'm used to this kind of work, which happens in my house, I'm a bit spoiled when it comes to getting instruments worked on, and I'm just trying to figure out what to reasonably expect as the norm from bass luthiers before I start having unrealistic expectations or making unreasonable requests, especially since I'm relatively new to this and often don't really know what the hell I'm talking about (or at least how to express it).
  4. Chris, I think you misread me when I said I didn't have any problems after I had the fingerboard rounded. I meant that it didn't growl at all, and as I do a lot of orchestral work, This was the sound that I wanted. I believe you are correct on the round/beveled issue, though.The E string growls much better against a flat bevel than a round curve. Also interestingly enough, my action is the same setup as yours,
    and no, I don't consider that extremely low.I know that is is hard to describe the sound you want to a luthier, sort of like telling the mechanic "the car goes chooga-chooga-bzzzt-Now fix it!" Based on his experience, he may not have a clue as to what you are talking about.But I feel that he should at least take the time to get an idea of the sound you are looking for. Maybe if you played another Bass in the shop that had the same growly sound, he would have a better idea. But I don't go for the "see, it doesn't do that when I play" approach either. You should get what you want or go somewhere else.After all, you're paying for it..
  5. Chris, I had my bevel taken off my bass a few years ago and it definately changed the sound on the e string. I got more growl with the bevel but it is now way easier to play in thumb position. I experimented with my technique and found that if I play higher up the board on the e string I can get that sound out of it when I want it. It may be beneficial to check out another luthier. Your string height is just slightly higher than mine and should not buzz if the board is cut right and you aren't doing anything strange with your right hand.
  6. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    reedo & Bass Boy,

    Thanks for the input - both posts were very informative...I guess my next question would be, is it possible to bevel the E string part of the board only? I'm happy with the rest of it...if not, it's no great tragedy since the buzzing is not too obnoxious when amplified, so it wouldn't be a huge deal on gigs... but while recording the bass acoustically, I have to back off so far on that string that it feels like the bottom drops out of the recording. I can tweak the EQ after the fact to compensate, but I'd rather not have to if I'm only $100-$200 away from being able to fix the problem. If, on the other hand, I'm more like $1000 away (new fingerboard), that's a different story. Where might I learn more about the whole beveled/rounded issue? What was the original purpose (if any) of having the two different types? :confused:
  7. I'm sure it only stands to reason that if a beveled fingerboard can be planed to be round, then vice versa should be true as well. Interesting question about the round vs beveled, though. I'll have to look into the historical aspect of it, but I like it because it gives me a nice,fluid arc for string crossing when playing arco. For
    me, at least, it also seems to fit my hand better, playing-
  8. The bevel is ofen referred to as a Romberg, who I believe invented it. Its main purpose is to give the E string more clearance.(I guess that is obvious!) A bevel can be added or taken away depending on how much board you have left.
  9. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    Some unasked-for opinions and experiences:
    1. Chris F, you appear to be in a hurry. That's when mistakes happen. You're focusing on making the bass adjust to you. I'm suggesting it's a 2-way street. I've owned alot of basses. Like people, they're unique, and have idiosyncrasies. Maybe you should try adjusting to the bass. My jazz bass is formidable, but I get a small buzz on low F and F# unless I alter the way I pluck the string. Big deal. So I play one way on this and another way on the others. In any event, IMHO you should play it awhile and see what adjustments you can make; if alterations are necessary, they should be done gradually.
    2. I have both beveled and rounded fingerboards. When I play, I become totally unaware of the difference.
    3. I'll let someone else explain what the relationship of bevel/round is to growl. My position is: none. Any that exists is dwarfed by greater importance of the location of the soundpost and bridge, and the distance between the bridge and the tail piece, and the mass of the tailpiece.
    4. Fingerboards come pre-shaped as round or beveled; they were not meant to be converted to the opposite shape.
    5. "The arc of the bridge has been cut down slightly to even out string heights for pizz playing..." You've totally lost me on this one.
    6. It's self-limiting to have only one plucking technique. I use at least three, depending on tempo, volume, register, time-keeping vs. soloing, etc.
    And if you choose to disregard all of this, that's OK too.
  10. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Thanks for the input - I'll try to respond in kind, and try to make a little more sense (I hope).
    1) I'm not in a big hurry...I'm just trying to figure out what my options are. I, too, use different styles of plucking the string in different situations, and have made great strides in adjusting to this instrument, as I know you have to do with any instrument (pianos included - when I got my '37 Baldwin 6'3", I had a lot of adjustments to make, some of which were bothersome at first; but now I'm happy). The issue I am having with my bass setup at this point is that I can't get near as much buzz-free volume or tone acoustically out of my E string as I can the rest of the strings, which seems troubling...it may turn out not to be.
    2)Until I ran into this situation, I was completely unaware of the difference between beveled and round, and never gave it a second thought.
    3) This topic is pretty much over my head...the bevel/growl relationship was just something I had heard others mention.
    4) this is one of the things I have been trying to figure out, and am getting conflicting information on this; I will take your advice into consideration...I suppose that, should I contact a different luthier on this subject, I'll let him make the call - again, over my head, which is why I find this forum so useful!
    5) As the bridge was originally set up, the D and A strings were considerably higher off the fingerboard than the G and E were. I know this is a normal setup designed to make bowing easier; since I don't play in any bowed situations, I asked the shop owner to level the strings out a bit to conform more to the arc of the fingerboard. He acted as if this was a common enough request for jazz playing and said he knew what to do. On playing the results, I agree: he did know what to do, and did it well.
    6) Oops! I think I answered this one in #1...The different tones that can be produced by different plucking styles is one of my favorite aspects of bass playing; I love nothing more than trying to emulate the tone of different players whose tone I like. I regard this, like so many aspects of bass playing in particular and music playing in general, as a lifelong pursuit/journey, and am looking forward to many hours/years on that particular road.

    I would also like to add that I hope I don't appear to be griping about the bass...I am learning how to get different sounds out of it, how to adjust to it, and having a great time. I am recording my practice sessions each day and having fun listening to the good, the bad, and the ugly at the end of each session...especially interesting is the difference in the speed in which this bass speaks as compared to my old plywood...it speaks much quicker and with more transient attack, so that when I play in in the same way I played my old Standard, I'm way on top of the beat. This is fascinating, and will eventually open a lot of doors. Thanks for the advice!

    P.S. - Bass Boy: intuitively, it makes sense to me that a bevel shape could be added to a new fingerboard on the E string, but my intuition isn't always right. Thanks.
  11. The fingerboard scoop (or bow) is a *big* factor in growling. The less bow, the more growl.
    (not to say that what you wrote is wrong)
    But there may be a point where it buzzes, so there's a limit. The type of string, and its amplitude of vibration is critical when coupled with a fingerboard which has a reduced scoop, in order to not get rattles, but a nice growl.
    This is something I discovered with my Carruthers SUB-1 EUB.
  12. merrill_chris


    Nov 23, 2000

    its great there your so into getting the sound that you want and recording yourself. But I feel there is only so much that one could do to the instrument, to make it sound different. All you should really worry about is making the sound of the bass work for you. Which is what your doing, but i mean in a different sense. The best way i have found to do this is by string action and how you hit the string and how hard your finger the notes with you left.

    good luck, and dont mess up your new bass too much, or there wont be much left for you to control yourself


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