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"My neck is nice and straight"

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by ggvicviper, Jan 9, 2012.

  1. ggvicviper

    ggvicviper Grosbeak, Yamaha, Fender, BSX. I’m Marc! Supporting Member

    Jul 16, 2011
    East Meadow, NY, USA
    So, since the moment I started playing bass in my mid-teen years, I've been hearing about people needing their bass's necks to be straight, and that's the right way. I believed this for a long time.

    One day I started noticing that my basses would have fretbuzz on the lower frets. I never really knew why.

    Eventually I did research on this, and saw the scientific reason why my bass had fretbuzz - the strings need room to vibrate along a neck, and there needs to be a slight bow in the neck to allow the strings to vibrate in a radius appropriately along the neck without crashing into the frets. The neck is not supposed to be as straight as a line to do this. Likewise, too much bow will let the upper frets get buzz, and worse yet warp the neck eventually.

    Since I've learned this, I've adjusted all the necks on my basses to have a little bow. Not a huge amount, but enough so that the action still stays fairly low and the strings remain their tension. You can only see a little bow looking down the neck, which is really good. It says it on guitar tech sites, and it even says it in several bass owners manuals that this is the proper way of doing this.

    Yet, day after day, I hear about how proud people are of their straight necks on their basses. I even hear guitar techs talk about straight necks and how that's how it should be. There were times when I have tried to sell a bass to say, Guitar Center (just looking for a price), and they whined that the neck is not straight. Meanwhile, I walk into the Bass area, and not only are there straight necked basses that play badly, but several other basses have necks that are back-bowed!

    Why do people think that straight-as-a-line necks are so great???? :scowl:
    villis likes this.
  2. Jay2U

    Jay2U Not as bad as he lóòks

    Dec 7, 2010
    22 ft below sea level
    I guess a bowed neck sounds like a compromise. I fully agree with the OP. A bass (as so many stringed instruments) needs this tiny bit of space for vibrating strings. Depending on strings and playing style a relief of 0.008" to 0.016" is required. That is, if the frets are all level. A good bass is constructed with this little relief in mind, regarding intonation and fret positions.
    villis likes this.
  3. sratas


    Dec 15, 2007
    Parma, Italy
    many folks simply know nothing about the whole acoustic-electronic thing called "bass". But be aware that sometimes, when experienced people talk, straight neck may indicate "correctly bowed towards strings neck", in other words not overly bowed or the contrary. For example, a relief of 0,35 mm from the E-string to the 7th fret below when the same string is hold down at the 1th and last fret, is a correct bow for a Fender jazz, and so on.

  4. guroove


    Oct 13, 2009
    Buffalo, NY
    Because usually the correct amount of bowing is usually hard to see, and also because a lot of necks tend to bow more with time. If it's correctly bowed, it's straight in comparison with a lot of the badly bowed basses are, and it shows that someone actually took the time to set the instrument up.
  5. ggvicviper

    ggvicviper Grosbeak, Yamaha, Fender, BSX. I’m Marc! Supporting Member

    Jul 16, 2011
    East Meadow, NY, USA
    If some pros do say that straight = correctly bowed, I wish they would use different terminology. But a little story for you guys...

    About 7 years ago, I owned my first MIA Jazz Bass V. It had some issues, so eventually I started giving a little relief to the neck and discovered that it started sounding a little better. I didn't really know what I was doing, so I took it to my local music store guy to make sure I wasn't breaking anything. He gave it back later that day, said "oh, the problem was your neck wasn't straight. Here ya go!"

    He gave it back, indeed it was straight. I took a trip right back to Old Fretbuzz City, NY. My low-income college butt paid for that "fix", as well. Now that shop is out of business.

    Anyway, I just wanted to vent, because I see this "straight neck" nonsense everywhere. I'm glad a lot of people here know better. :)
  6. testing1two

    testing1two Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2009
    Southern California
    Semantics. I think you are misunderstanding what is meant by straight. A "straight" neck isn't just referring to the relief in the middle of the neck. A straight neck is free from inconsistencies like twists or bumps or the dreaded rise at the heel often called a 'ski jump.' Also, a straight neck infers a true, level fingerboard and level frets...which the vast majority of production basses lack.

    Also, relief is not a constant. It should be set to match the player and the strings being used. Heavy handed players need more relief, as do players that use low tension strings or drop tunings where the string has a larger than normal vibrational path. Other players are more comfortable with virtually no relief (i.e. less than ten thousandths of an inch / .010).

    So yes, necks do need to be straight & without defect and that allows you to precisely adjust the relief and action to taste.
  7. ggvicviper

    ggvicviper Grosbeak, Yamaha, Fender, BSX. I’m Marc! Supporting Member

    Jul 16, 2011
    East Meadow, NY, USA
    You are absolutely right about straight also not referring to the neck warped in any way, rather than relief. Different people can mean different things with the term "straight". I also never said relief was a constant. It needs to be adjusted to each instrument and player's touch to have them play well, but even owners manuals say there should be some relief.

    What I was getting at was how a lot of people I have talked to about this know far less about how relief works (which was more my original point), and simply refer to how straight the neck is with the strings pulling it - with relief ALWAYS being a very bad thing. They just see it as bent, which means bad. To many inexperienced people, straight is correct under all circumstances, regardless of buzz. You and I obviously know the details of actually setting up an instrument to player preferences, but there are many people who claim to know that simply do not know what they are talking about at all.

    Hell, there are even some players who actually like that. On New Years Eve, I sold a '51 Precision reissue that I set up myself. I told the guy I sold it to that I had a little relief to keep the buzz off. He looked at me, told me he would straighten the neck to his preferences, and that he "loved to hammer in the fretbuzz". There might be people who even like backbowed necks. Subjectivity is always a killer in this forum. I'm just expressing frustrations of my experiences with people who don't really know about instrument set up. Not intending to offend, because I know there are a lot of smart bass professionals here that have probably had similar experiences.
  8. 96tbird

    96tbird PLEASE STAND BY Supporting Member

    It's all a matter of taste. Some like a lot of relief and high action. Some guys are serious that they run with no relief, but I don't get it. Physics say it will buzz. There has to be a tiny bit even if you are the best player on earth. Or so it seems to me, YMMV.
  9. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    There is a well-respected maker of high end basses I know that was quoted in BP as saying that he likes the necks to be "dead straight, with just a little relief". I always wondered what he meant. Which way is it? Straight or with some relief?

    It was an unfortunate quote. I know he always puts a little relief in his necks and the exact amount is consistent. At least on all (many) of this basses I have checked on their arrival.
  10. john grey

    john grey

    Apr 19, 2011
    Oracle, Arizona
    If someone has a very light touch and especially if he strung the bass with light diameter strings he could feel very comfortable with a truly dead-straight neck. But if this strings get changed (say up from a 90/E to even 100) there is a good possibility he'd see a minor relief simply from the tension increase. That same person's touch may not be affected. The same is may true of some string sets that have a heavy D & G as it would "even up" some of the tension minutely and the neck may have a straighter plane than others. I had thought I had a fairly light touch but some people are VERY light & it appears to work for them.
  11. markorbit


    Apr 16, 2004
    I take 'straight neck' to mean the bass is capable of low action with minimal fret buzz ie: no humps or twists. Most of my basses have as little bow as I can get away with and would be classed as pretty 'straight'.
  12. OldDirtyBassist


    Mar 13, 2014
    Some basses sound better all bowed forward, imo. I'd just be afraid to leave them that way.

    If you want a completely straight neck, make sure you have a bass equipped with an adjustable nut.
  13. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    i think of "straightness" like the bidding on "price is right"; you're trying for "as close as you can get without going over".

    "as close as you can get" will vary from player to player, and from instrument to instrument depending on the fretwork quality.
  14. Flatbass


    Mar 13, 2004
    Agreed. I always thought I liked my necks to be straight, or at least quite close to straight in comparison to a lot of other basses. Maybe there's a tiny bit of bow in there, but it's hard to see. When setting up a bass, I don't aim for a straight neck. I aim for the same amount of buzz on all frets.
  15. 202dy

    202dy Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2006
    The straight neck is another one of the myths about the instrument. Most people-players, salesmen, and store owners included-do not understand why relief is important. They may have observed the elliptical pattern of the vibrating string but not put two and two together.

    If you ask the average guy what a truss rod does they will tell you that it is used to straighten the neck. Then they leave it at that. The listener is allowed to come to their own conclusion. Which is usually wrong. Then they tell the next guy what they learned. And so on. The myth is perpetuated.

    As an aside, if you've ever tried to explain the need for relief to a new or aspiring player, you have seen their eyes glaze over by the time you utter the second sentence. Most folks just don't care. That is, until it's time to pay the repair bill and they ask why the neck is "warped."
    Mr_O'B likes this.
  16. nonohmic

    nonohmic Supporting Member

    Dec 13, 2005
    ABQ, NM.
    This was a very useful little convo, 5 years later.

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