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Michael Hartery's bridge

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Eric Swanson, Mar 3, 2008.


  1. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
    Here is the new bridge that Michael Hartery just fitted to my bass. He is nearly done with a series of strategic, carefully considered improvements on my extremely modest instrument. He is finding sound in my bass that we had both hoped was there. Putting the personal, corrective touch on a factory instrument that came to me with setup issues.

    My former bridge came to me with angled legs, the adjusters unequally set (by a about 3/8”), much adjuster thread showing, and some visible gaps between the bass’ top and the feet.

    Michael’s carving is the icing on the cake. The bass is under less tension at the bridge, the feet have full contact, the adjusters turn effortlessly, the curve is perfect, and the sound is better than ever. The straight legs help the whole assembly sit better.

    As a professional woodworker, I really appreciate Michael’s craftsmanship and attention to detail. It is all about fit and finish...

    The bass goes back to him this week to get the bottom of the fingerboard (hanging over the top) hollowed out. I am looking forward to hearing the instrument without that ballast!

    Michael’s contact info:
    http://web.mac.com/mhartery
     
  2. Greg Clinkingbeard

    Greg Clinkingbeard

    Apr 4, 2005
    Kansas City area
    KC Strings
    Very nice. Was your old bridge thick through the heart area with a quick taper toward the top? Mine was and I wonder whether flat sides would transfer the sound better. Are those wooden adjusters?
    I suspect losing all that weight from the fingerboard will be a big improvement.
     
  3. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
    Right...the old bridge had the thick heart area and quick angle to the top, just as you describe. The angled legs on the old one were hurting things, too. The whole thing was under this disconcertingly unstable tension. While the thick heart may add sustain for pizz, it was probably not helping the arco response any. There were so many things wrong with the bridge that's its hard to tell which part was causing the most trouble...

    The adjusters came to me so far out already...it was like someone trying to roller skate, on stilts, on top of a beachball. There was just no way that the feet could sit happily on the top. It was an unstable equilibrium, at best, between the string tension, leg angles, extended adjusters, and the top's curve.

    We talked about wood adjusters, pro and con. He thought that for my combo jazz/arco purposes, the hybrid walnut adjusters with aluminum threads would be the best mix of sustain, tone, and aesthetics. I followed his lead...he knows better than me, certainly.
     
  4. Is that fingerboard going to come off in order to be hollowed? Because if not I'm curious what technique would be used. Seems like an uncomfortable project. :p
     
  5. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    Nice, a different style. What is the bridge finished with? Looks like a thin french polish.
     
  6. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
    Answers:

    - Yes, the fingerboard will come off, get scooped, then reattached. A dirty, onerous project (you folks know better than me that toxic ebony dust is no joke - I've worked with it more than I care to remember). Definitely not a glory job...more a mission of mercy.

    It would be even more diabolical if he didn't remove the board. At least now he can work like a gentleman with the fingerboard clamped to his bench (a gentleman with a respirator and eye protection, that is...).

    - He oiled the bridge, very lightly, with a little Watco.
     
  7. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    That's a very invasive and risky procedure to put the instrument through for a likely tiny change. And how do you know the change will be for the better?
     
  8. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
    I don't, put simply. My fingerboard is a solid slab of ebony, with no bottom relief. The ebony is perhaps 1 1/8" - 1 1/4" thick at the bridge end/center of the board. Michael and I talked about the change in light of two thoughts:

    - Every other violin, viola, 'cello, and bass either of us have seen has the bottom of the board hollowed, for sonic reasons.

    - We have both heard of cases where a heavy fingerboard supposedly dampened low-end response and volume. An example that comes to my mind is (something I heard anectdotally) about David Gage replacing Rufus Reid's old fingerboard (thinned from multiple dressings), then the bass not having the "bottom" it had before. Gage cuts stock from the end of the board, at the "E" side, problem solved.

    We certainly do not know what will happen to the board when the wood gets scooped out of the bottom. While I have seen wood, in general, take off pretty predictably when losing a lot of stock on one side, our thinking was that because the stock removed is coming out in a coved shape, leaving the edges, the board would not go nuts.

    As I am no luthier, I cannot comment on the difficulty of removing/indexing/regluing the board. I assumed that it was a routine operation, perhaps wrongly.

    Sounds like you take a dim view of the idea. You certainly know far more than either of us. Please advise and/or discuss further if you have the time and inclination...neither of us is looking to make things worse! Thanks for your insight.
     
  9. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    Eric, is this work being done on your Upton bass? I don't see another listed in your profile.
     
  10. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
    Yes, the Upton. I've had it for a few months. Trying to get a bit more sound, keeping in mind that it is an inexpensive instrument...
     
  11. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    New Mexico. USA
    When you remove a fingerboard, you never know that it is going to come off cleanly, or leave chunks on the neck, split, etc. Granted a good luthier will get it off cleanly much of the time, if it was installed with moderate-strength hide glue. There is always the chance of causing small splits in the neck wood if the board was glued on really strongly. And if you use a lot of heat to remove the board it will check. Fingerboard removal is a job I dread, if I know that I absolutely have to save it for re-use.

    I don't take a dim view on the procedure, I just wonder if it is worth the time, effort and risk for a chancy payback. If the bass is heavy elsewhere, removing a couple ounces of ebony from the neck seems questionable.
     
  12. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    What do the guys at Upton say about it?
     
  13. This is very good advice and I have the same feelings towards this type of work. Always weigh man hours versus unknown results... is the gamble worth the price ?
     
  14. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    Gotta love TalkBass...
     
  15. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
    I questioned Josh, Upton's sales rep, on this topic when I auditioned and decided to buy the bass. I was concerned by the added mass of the un-scooped board and asked about the tonal implications when I noticed it. I bought the bass slightly used, as a consignment instrument, aware of the detail.

    Josh told me that these un-scooped fingerboards had been their standard issue for years, with no complaints. He said it made absolutely no difference whatever to the sound.

    It may be relevant to note here that while Josh has seen many, many basses come and go, he is a sales rep who also does bow rehairs for the company. He is neither a luthier or bassist, by his own definition.

    Josh said that they had moved to the fingerboards with scooped bottoms only because they had changed vendors. He also said that the quality of their fingerboards was so high that several other luthiers bought these components from them.

    I consulted another local luthier on the topic before I bought the bass. He told me that while it was an unfortunate choice not to scoop the board bottom, it may have, as Arnold Schnitzer says, minimal effect. He actually said that it may stiffen the board a bit on the higher notes, due to the added mass.

    I had no conversations with other Upton employees regarding the bottom of the fingerboard. Gary Upton and I had a few conversations on the telephone on various topics, which we have both agreed to keep private.

    I can say that the decision to have another luthier work on the bass was entirely my own. Based on the two setup attempts the Upton shop did on the bass and our divergent opinions on fit and finish, I did not feel that we were a good match for each other's current needs.

    I was also reluctant to make further pilgrimages to Mystic, with the prospect of unknown results. One thing I have noticed as a craftsperson and manager in the custom woodworking industry is that, if someone tells you that they have already done the best that they can do, or the best that they think needs to be done, I do well to believe them. Part of managing people is trying to match up ability with the work at hand.

    Finally, blessed with the wealth of luthiery skill and talent closer at hand, I felt that an impartial, more objective perspective on the instrument from someone other than its maker would have strong value. The outcome of this decision has been fortuitous. Michael Hartery has made the bass play and sound better than it ever has before.
     
  16. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
    +1 Where else can we get such a wealth of information on this topic, from such seasoned hands, minds, ears, and eyes?

    As an experienced cabinetmaker, my ego surrounding woodworking got trimmed down awhile ago. Perhaps during my apprenticeship with a shop full of older Italian, German, and Swedish mechanics. Not for the faint of heart.

    So grateful for the public discussion...truth will out!
     
  17. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
    Many thanks to both you and Arnold Schnitzer for taking the time and effort to share your experience and perspective with all of us. I, for one, am richer for it. :)

    I will defer to my luthier's guidance and prudence. He is the one with the instrument on his bench.

    He is aware of this discussion, strengths of the concerns raised, and the sterling qualities of the contributors. Perhaps, like many projects, the decision to proceed or "bail" will happen as the process unfolds. One mark of experience, for me, is knowing when to change direction/approach, at least in my non-luthiery woodworking. I trust him to proceed, or not, as he deems fit, based on the dynamics of the work at hand.

    Either way, I'll keep you all posted. I am so grateful for the feedback! :)
     
  18. JKoehler

    JKoehler

    Jan 31, 2008
    Snoqualmie, Wa.
    Concerning an unscooped fingerboard, I noticed that Mark Ruben here in Austin doesn`t have a scoop on his fingerboard. After asking him about it, he said he likes more mass on the end of the board for when he does his slappin` thing. I really didn`t notice any huge difference in his tone, but did notice his slapping tone was real "meaty". In other words, it wasn`t thin like some other slappers tone. The weight of an ebony fingerboard is about 1/4 the entire weight of a violin, so it would make sense to reduce as much mass as possible. With a bass, where weight isn`t as much a issue, does the scoop need to there or not? It would be interesting to see if there is a difference with Eric`s bass. Although, removing a fingerboard, stated before, can cause splintering of the ebony and neck maple. I`ve done it many times, it just takes tons of patience and a little denautured alcohol.
     
  19. Eric Swanson

    Eric Swanson

    Oct 8, 2007
    Boston, MA
    So the result is that prudence prevailed in this case. We will to have wait until we need to replace the board to do the A/B scoop test.

    As a cabinetmaker, I have some experience with the dynamics of similarly dicey operations. Out of respect and trust, I left it to Michael's discretion whether to proceed or "bail", at any point, based on how the board removal was going. About three inches into the process, his experience and intuition told him to stop.

    I truly appreciate his willingness to explore the feasibility of the idea, on my specific bass with my specific fingerboard. While we both knew that the averages were against us, it seemed worth examining more closely. As we all know, every piece of wood and glue joint are slightly different. There was some chance that it might go easily.

    I even more deeply respect his prudence, wisdom, and discretion in deciding to stop. In my book, reading the risk/reward dynamic as it evolves in real time is one of the defining marks of a smart crafts person!

    The end result is that my bass still sounds much better, louder, and fuller than it did when I brought it too him. His skill and judgement with the soundpost, bridge, and endpin made a real difference.

    I still play an inexpensive bass with obvious drawbacks. Now, happily, it is set up well, thanks to Michael! :)
     
  20. Greg Clinkingbeard

    Greg Clinkingbeard

    Apr 4, 2005
    Kansas City area
    KC Strings
    Eric,
    You did what you could. FWIW, Bob Branstetter suggested removing the material from my Upton's fingerboard but I don't think he ever considered removing the board. We didn't really discuss it further so I don't know how he would have done it. He did think it would improve the bass.
    I never thought the thing was worth throwing money at myself. Yours may make sense. So, at this point, your plan is to set the bass up and play it in?
     

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