Minor fingerboard bump - do I dare attempt this myself?

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Martin Beer, Mar 21, 2014.

  1. Martin Beer

    Martin Beer

    Dec 4, 2004
    I had a new ebony fingerboard fitted in 2008 by a local luthier, and I was very happy with the setup at the time. He took the time to look at my playing style and really nailed it for the sound I wanted. A few years down the line, the setup is still good over most of the bass, but there is a very slight bump in the board under the G string which causes the three notes below that to get buzzy a little too early when played pizz. I presume the wood has moved slightly with time. While I have noticed this for the past year, this week I changed from Spiro Mittel to Weich and this has highlighted the issue.
    If I hold a 30cm straight-edge against the board under the G string with a light on the other side, I can see that there is a slight bump at the f sharp just below the octave (in other words, where the unsupported part of the board begins). I do not notice this under the other strings, so it looks like only this area needs work.
    Ideally I would go back to the luthier who fitted the board, but he has now retired. I have been searching around, but it appears that the closest luthier with bass-specific knowledge is 50 miles away, and as I don't own a car, this would involve a car rental.
    Would I be crazy to gently shave the bump with a scraper, checking with the straight-edge and light as I go? I'm wary of chasing the bump up and down the board and messing up the scoop, but on the other hand it looks like it could be achievable if done slowly and carefully.
    Of course, if any experienced luthiers want to tell me to just rent a car and get it seen to, I'm open to that too!
  2. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    Do you have any experience with fine woodworking?
  3. Or nuclear physics? Both are fields with no do-overs.
  4. salcott

    salcott Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    NYC, Inwood.
    Rent the car; your bass could probably use a checkup anyway.
  5. Martin Beer

    Martin Beer

    Dec 4, 2004
    I'm aware this is only tangentially related, but I've built electric basses, and I'm thorough about tool sharpening. So at the very least I have some basic hand tools and an awareness of how to use them on hardwoods. However, I'm also aware that this bass is my primary instrument and perhaps isn't the place for trial and error!
  6. powerbass


    Nov 2, 2006
    western MA
    a very sharp block plane is better than a scraper initially. the plane will flatten the bump then use sand paper. for curved surfaces I use a thick piece of leather or felt as a sanding "block", it conforms to the curve while maintaining a fore/aft flatness
  7. lowEndRick


    Apr 8, 2006
    I attempted this once. Big mistake. I needed a total fingerboard redressing after trying to smooth a very small section the size of a pea. I created an unevenness that rendered that section unplayable. Rent the car!
  8. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    When you got to the section on the automatic transmission in old car-repair manuals, there was often a statement like, "Service of the transmission requires the skills of a specialized mechanic. It is not recommended that you perform repairs yourself."

    Automatic transmission service... fingerboard dressing... same category in my mind. :)

    Yup, rent the car.
  9. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    If you can sharpen and you're aware of the possibility that it might be harder than it looks, you're at least somewhat prepared! ;) Experience helps a lot but...

    As a beginner, I'd stick to a stiff scraper straight across to start and a 4" sanding block to smooth. A good file can be useful too, used cross-grain to re-establish the curvature.

    Email me directly if you need more guidance. Good luck! ;)
  10. Martin Beer

    Martin Beer

    Dec 4, 2004
    Thanks Jake, that sounds like something I could attempt. I'll take it slowly and try not to take too much off!
  11. Greg Clinkingbeard

    Greg Clinkingbeard Commercial User

    Apr 4, 2005
    Kansas City area
    Black Dog Bass Works
    I agree with Jake although I would use a longer block; maybe a 1x4 about 6" long. Start with 180 grit and then switch to 300 and up to 600 on a rubber block with oil. Sighting the length of the board with good light will tell you when it's right. Use the scraper and straightedge to get the bump down and sandpaper to do the rest.
  12. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    ...then again, if you have guidance from a specialized "mechanic," it's a different story. :) Very kind of Jake to look over your shoulder. :)
  13. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    In situations like this I don't even take the string off. Just push through the playing zone with the backs of your fingers on the G string, test play and repeat.

    When you've got it playing cleanly, slacken the G & D and polish it up. ;)
  14. I once needed to plan the fingerboard under my high C string, because my luthier couldn't get rid of the slight buzzes after he planed it. I looked how the did it and since he told me he has done the best he could, I decided to try to continue myself.
    Since I was aware that I easily could damage the fingerboard, I only scaped towards the nut (like he did) and tried to find the positions of the bump by identifying the left hand finger position when it buzzes and a bit lower down the fingerboard when it was gone.
    Then I scaped a very little bit with very little force off the position where the buzz was gone. Only as much as th buzz was reduced a little. Then again I tried to find if the positions of buzz and stop of buzz has been moved (to find out if I need to correct the scraping position). I let remain some buzz for the day and maybe sand with very fine sandpaper over the scraping area a little bit. Then I waited for the next day.
    That way it took several weeks to reach a buzz free fingerboard, but after that I was very happy not having damaged anything and playing this bass was a lot more fun than before.
    I probably should have taken the instrument to another luthier, but since they seldom see basses with high C string (which have a lower action than the G string) and I have known why I did things the way I did and have done it very slowly with a lot of control, I tried it myself.
    Don't do it yourself if you dont know how it needs to be done. And if you do, do it slowly and with a lot of control. Don't expect to get rid of the buzz from one day to the next if you are not experienced. My luthier told me it would be better to wait a few days after some planing, the buzz might go away by itself and if not continue your planing after checking that.
    I wouldn't have tried it myself if it wasn't just two areas under the highest string.
  15. Martin Beer

    Martin Beer

    Dec 4, 2004
    I've just spent a few minutes with a scraper doing this. The bump turns out to be a small elliptical figure in the grain about 3cm long, right under the G string.
    I have just a little further to go, but I can hear the buzz lessening as I take a little more off the raised patch. A rectangular scraper used across the board seems to shave this quite controllably without removing material around it, so that was good advice. Cheers, Jake!
  16. Jake deVilliers

    Jake deVilliers Commercial User

    May 24, 2006
    Crescent Beach, BC
    Owner of The Bass Spa, String Repairman at Long & McQuade Vancouver
    Nice work, Martin! ;)
  17. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    I've done it. Prefer not to do it. Going slow is good.
  18. Martin Beer

    Martin Beer

    Dec 4, 2004
    I've got it to where I'm happy with it now and polished the marks out. I can't detect a bump with a short straightedge and the string is playing evenly from the D to the octave where it wasn't before. I had a worrying moment where the buzz had just moved further up the board, but it didn't take much to even it out.
    I was surprised just how little material needed to be removed to really change the sound of the buzzy notes, which makes me appreciate just how much judgement must go into doing a full board dress!
  19. That's the reason for my warning. Same with my bumps. VERY little bit removed, hardly noticable.

    Congratulations that your got rid of the buzz! Good job!

    I cannot imagine doing a complete fingerboard dress myself.
  20. bejoyous


    Oct 23, 2005
    London, Ontario
    Practice on some scrap wood first if attempting on your own!!!