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Neck Radius and Expression

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by lefty007, Nov 20, 2006.


  1. lefty007

    lefty007

    Jan 19, 2004
    Miami, FL
    I was reading this thread http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showthread.php?t=289513 and got inspired to ask this question:

    Have you guys realized the impact that fingerboard radius has in the expressiveness of a bass?

    After playing, for example, 4-string, Jazz-type bass with radiuses ranging from 12", 10", 9.5" and 7.5", I finally realized the huge impact that fretboard radius has.

    To me, it affects two crucial effects: the way the strings slightly buzz when bending them, and the way slaps react to the board.

    Point one: when playing on a rounder radius (7.5" or 9.5") the strings buzz just a little bit when bending (mostly when soloing, but also when digging in a groove) and this creates a very important part in the expression of the notes.

    Point two: when slapping on a rounder radius, you get a quicker response and the string responds differently than slapping on a flatter radius.

    Examples: I used to own a Fodera Monarch (12" radius) and a Sadowsky Standard (12") and I could never get completely used to the playability - they sounded incredible but the "expressiveness" was missing from my hands. Even with low action, I could not get that natural growly buzz you get when digging in on a Jazz.

    Then I switched to a 7.5" Jazz first and then to a 9.5" Jazz and now I understand that what I was missing was a rounder radius! Then to probe my theory even more, I have an EB/MM Sterling, which has 11" radius, and the effect is right in the middle: I get some expressiveness out of it, but not quite as much as the bass with 9.5".

    Has anybody experienced the same?
     
  2. While I prefer a flatter radius, I have not experienced any of the above. If you set up the bass so that the strings mirror the radius of the neck (i.e., so that the G string is the same height on a low radius vs. high radius board), there should be absolutely no difference in the way the string reacts to the neck. Of course, the necks will feel a little different, but it should be minor.

    It seems again that you have some set-up issues and variances across your different basses. For example, if you set up a low radius bass so that the strings do not follow the radius of the neck, that can feel VERY different from the string height on the bridge following the curve of the finger board, etc. However, there should be no inherent difference in the way the strings react to the neck due to radius differences IME.

    Edit: You are also comparing basses that have HUGE differences over and above the neck radius... this is a typical fallacy.... putting too much emphasis on one small difference between basses (fretboard material, mass of the bridge, fretboard radius, etc.) without taking into account the dozens of other differences that probably impact what you are hearing and feeling more (mass of the body, neck stiffness and mass, string brand and design, pickups and electronics, general set-up, etc.)
     
  3. Interesting thoughts...

    I am sure that the way the neck lays in your left hand and consequently the angles formed between your fingers and the fretboard would be different enough to effect the clack/growl sound you are talking abaout. A lot may depend on your personal technique.
     
  4. Nedmundo

    Nedmundo Supporting Member

    Jan 7, 2005
    Philadelphia
    I haven't noticed the phenomenon you describe. I have basses with 9.5" and 14" radii. I've also played some with 7.5" radii. But I have noticed that fretboard radius affects playability, for a few reasons.

    First, though it seems a contested point, I think flatter radii allow lower action. Fender prescribes slightly higher action for their 7.5" radius basses, and I've noticed my 14" radius DiPinto can get the lowest action without fret buzz of any of mine. Second, flatter radii allow an easier reach to lower strings because they have less of a "hump" to reach over. That can matter to folks with smaller hands like me, and its effect is magnified with wider necks. For example, I find a G&L #7 neck, with 1.75" nut width and 12" radius, easier to play than a vintage P-bass neck. Finally, I think chording is easier with flatter radii. These effects of fretboard radius could certainly influence playing style, and thus expressiveness.
     
  5. The original post does provoke thought but like Kjung, I wonder if other variables between the basses presented have much to do w/the noted differences. Regarding slap tones, I've noticed a big difference between 20 fret & 24 fret basses, 20 fret sounding & feeling better to me. Again, though, I'm talking about a neck-through custom 6(24 fret)& a bolt-on Fender 5(20 fret)so there are many factors involved.
     
  6. marc40a

    marc40a

    Mar 20, 2002
    Boston MA
    >>Point one: when playing on a rounder radius (7.5" or 9.5") the strings buzz just a little bit when bending (mostly when soloing, but also when digging in a groove) and this creates a very important part in the expression of the notes.

    Point two: when slapping on a rounder radius, you get a quicker response and the string responds differently than slapping on a flatter radius.

    Examples: I used to own a Fodera Monarch (12" radius) and a Sadowsky Standard (12") and I could never get completely used to the playability - they sounded incredible but the "expressiveness" was missing from my hands. Even with low action, I could not get that natural growly buzz you get when digging in on a Jazz. <<


    I totally agree, Carlos.

    >While I prefer a flatter radius, I have not experienced any of the above. If you set up the bass so that the strings mirror the radius of the neck (i.e., so that the G string is the same height on a low radius vs. high radius board), there should be absolutely no difference in the way the string reacts to the neck. Of course, the necks will feel a little different, but it should be minor.<

    I disagree, KJung. My experience w/ both is very similiar to Lefty007's.

    In fact, all my vintage radius necks through the years have required slightly higher set-ups than my modern radii necks.

    The difference in bending strings on two styes (modern vs. vintage) is well known to guitar players but I think that Lefty007 is correct taking it a step further w/ regards to slapping and digging in.

    I've definitely experienced it but I never made the direct connection. I mean... I knew that my vintage necks generally need higher action but never thought about how that translates to the sound. Props to Lefty007 for really making the connection and articulating it...It really makes sense.

    The flipside of this theory is that flatter radius necks play cleaner w/ comparable setups. With which, I also agree.
     
  7. lefty007

    lefty007

    Jan 19, 2004
    Miami, FL
    Cool. I guess I'm not crazy, then.

    But also, funny enough, my current American Jazz Deluxe (9.5") actually gets even lower action than any other bass - around 1/32" (at the 12th fret, pressing on the first fret). But the 12"-radius basses seemed to have higher action to me (visually, but they all measured 2 to 1/32").
     
  8. marc40a

    marc40a

    Mar 20, 2002
    Boston MA
    That's why I said "generally"... I think good frets, a well cut nut and straight neck will get action lower on a vintage neck than a modern neck that's missing one of those elements.

    But I do find the buzzy/string slapping off the frets/miniature percussion kit/someone working on an automobile in background 'funk' you speak of my friend, comes easier on a vintage neck.

    BTW.. I've never seen action as low as yours. I thought I played low but yours is craaazy low.
     
  9. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I have to be honest...I've never been one of those guys who gets all fussy over everything. I don't single out certain factors as why I like a bass and don't like another. I generally try to look at the overall picture. And fretboard radius, quite honestly, means so little to me that I don't even know what the radii on my basses are.

    All power to those of you who it matters to, though. You're the one who has to play it.
     
  10. X Wolf

    X Wolf Guest

    I have always preferred the 7.25" Radius, I find it the most comfortable and natural shape for my hands and style of play. I've had no problems with buzzing and the actions on my basses are set to what I consider medium low, which might be due to the attention to detail in having the nut cut for that radius and the overall setup. Another factor is that I started on this radius and have been playing a very long time so it's what I'm used to and always specify 7.25" when I have a neck built.

    George
     
  11. BartmanPDX

    BartmanPDX Supporting Member

    Could it be that part of the reason the smaller radius necks need higher action is that the nut is not curved enough? You can adjust the action at the bridge to follow the curve of the radius, but the nut is pretty much fixed . . .

    Just asking. I play mostly fivers, so I'm used to a flatter radius, personally, and haven't played anything with a really small radius in a long time.
     
  12. This makes no sense to me, and unless you've played two basses which are identical to each other (pickups, strings, wood, electronics, etc.) except for the fretboard radius, there is no way to isolate the impact of a slightly lower from a slightly higher radius.

    From the initial post, does a classic, single coil, passive Fender Jazz bass have more inherent 'growl' to it than a Fodera or Sadowsky with humcancelling pickups and about a dozen other differences.... well... uh.... yeah:confused: Will the neck radius 'feel' different.... well... uh.... yeah:)

    No big deal here, but I always try to uncover what I feel are 'spurious causal links'. I again totally agree that a lower radius neck will feel different, and totally understand why some would like lower vs. higher radius necks or the other way around. However, all the other 'buzzing, growl' stuff seems to be due to the many other differences among the basses described.

    Edit: Another thing about this.... I would guess that if the neck radius was the cause of all these tone and set-up differences, then you would notice the impact on the G and E strings more than the strings in the center of the neck, where the difference in a high and low radius neck would seem to be less.
     
  13. lefty007

    lefty007

    Jan 19, 2004
    Miami, FL
    I'm talking about physical buzzing, not electronics, etc. I put the word "growling" there because I thought it described the sound well, but lets leave growl out of the formula, then.

    The whole expression thing I'm talking about is even with the bass unplugged.
     
  14. +1... most basses will have very different acoustic tones. An ash/maple board J bass will sound quite different from an alder/RW J Bass, all other things being equal. Also, as stated above, set-up has a huge impact on acoustic growl.

    No bid deal, if you attribute the primary difference between the completely different instruments you are comparing to neck radius, then rock on:smug:
     
  15. lefty007

    lefty007

    Jan 19, 2004
    Miami, FL
  16. PS The only reason I'm staying on this like a dog on a hunt is that there are so many 'myths' that take hold due to not understanding spurious causality (i.e., attributing a result to a particular feature that is totally confounded by other features).

    How many times have we seen posts like.... 'I like neck through designs better than bold-on designs'.... when asked why, 'Well, my new Ric sounds a lot better than my old P Bass':D, etc.

    That being said, you may very well be correct in your assessment. However, if you have not played virtually identical basses (wood, strings, set-up, fret wire material, scale length, bridge design... all 'acoustic' impacts) with different radius boards, then my point is you really don't know if it's the radius or a combination of many other things.... all you know is that you like the particular bass that has low radius better than other basses that have higher radius fretboards:)
     
  17. Papersen

    Papersen

    Mar 22, 2002
    Interesting topic.
    My 2 main gigging basses are completely different:
    - Peavey Cirrus (24 frets, flat FB, active, humbuckers, neck through, 35" scale)
    - Fender Jazz (20 frets, curved FB, passive, single coils, bolt on, 34" scale).

    Both basses are a pleasure to play, but I find the Fender easier in some aspects (bending for example) since string tension is lower. It also responses better when diggin hard (can`t get that "clunkyness" from the Cirrus).

    Maybe the more rounded profile is more ergonomically natural to the hand, but I`m not 100% sure.
     
  18. Dragonlord

    Dragonlord Rocks Around The Glocks

    Aug 30, 2000
    Greece, Europe
    I'm with KJung. And the proof that he has a point is this, found in the first post:
    Like... yeah right. :eyebrow:
     
  19. lefty007

    lefty007

    Jan 19, 2004
    Miami, FL
    I got you, KJung, and your input is great. We are just comparing "theories" and experiences at this point - I'm not trying to probe anybody right or wrong.

    All the basses that I mentioned have been well setup, usually with the lowest action possible without "unwanted" buzzing.

    And I understand your point: we cannot not conclude that radius is the "one" reason why I get more "expression" out of a bass or another.

    As you mentioned, there is construction, materials, electronics, and setup.

    But my comparison is somewhat leveled, comparing 3 basses with fresh fretjobs and equal setups (yes, saddles following the fretboard radius).
     
  20. +1 :) I enjoy these types of thread... makes you think! Also, I'm surely not saying 'I'm right and you are wrong'... just like thinking things through and discussing.

    It is amazing how some necks can feel so much better than others. I've grown to love the Sadowsky 5 string neck profile... flat, nonchunky back profile, relatively flat radius (12"), 34" scale, wide bridge spacing (.19) but relatively tight spacing at the nut. It's not that different from other necks, but I can literally play 'better' on it... cleaner, more effortlessly, etc.!
     

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