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Post your tips for solid B on a short scale

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by the baint, Dec 30, 2013.

  1. the baint

    the baint

    Jan 1, 2010
    Greenville, SC
    Techtronic Industries, North America employee. Opinions are my own.
    I know Owen Biddle and Callowhill are pretty high profile proponents of terrific B strings on shorter scale bases. I have seen it argued here that long scale isn’t required for that low end “if you build it right”.

    But what does it take to accomplish a tight and satisfactory B in shorter scales? I’m planning a 33", but i know people go down to 30" or less. My case is less extreme, but I’m sure others would appreciate a stickyable trove of what works for the experienced builders.

    What do you see as key here?
  2. Stiffness is your friend. Make the neck out of the toughest, stiffest wood and keep it on the fat/wide side.
    josiah goldfish likes this.
  3. Triad

    Triad Commercial User

    Jul 4, 2006
    Luthier - Prometeus Guitars
    My personal view is that the sound can be good but it can be a bit too "flappy" under your fingers, so you'll have to use a pretty heavy gauge.
    I've made 5ers and 6ers in 32" scale and the B sounded good... never made a 5 30" because nobody ever asked for it but I'd personally recommend it only to players with very light touch and specific needs.
  4. the baint

    the baint

    Jan 1, 2010
    Greenville, SC
    Techtronic Industries, North America employee. Opinions are my own.
    Hmm, good point Triad. I forgot about the playability/feel factor being just as important and something short-scale detractors are quick to point out.

    Fatter gauge strings or balanced-tension sets like Circle K should help even out the feel of a floppy string. Anything else that affects the “feel” portion of the equation?
  5. jamesCD


    Dec 7, 2013
    Huntsville, AL
    Luthier: Carrigan Designs
    I just recently sold a 30" scale 5 string. Not the first one I've made. All of them had nice clear low B's using medium gauge strings.
    I've tried twice to make a 32" with a low B. Each time the low B came out slightly floppy and sounding like mud. Wound up stringing them E-C.
    For some reason I can get them to sound good at 30" and 35", but I just don't like the way they sound in between.
    Don't think I've managed to be of any help, but I wish you good luck with your build.
  6. tjclem

    tjclem Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 6, 2004
    Central Florida
    Owner and builder Clementbass
    I have done several 32 scale with low b and strung them with DR high beams never had a complaint. Don't go with TI flats though. Good luck and happy new year! :hyper:
  7. IMG_7791_zps8aff371f.
    Just finishing this bass. It's rocking a 33" inch B. Sounds as good or better than my old Stringray 5. The key as others have said... FAT gauge B string. It's running a .130". You could even go bigger than that.
  8. the baint

    the baint

    Jan 1, 2010
    Greenville, SC
    Techtronic Industries, North America employee. Opinions are my own.
    Nice to hear it’s working so well, Rev.

    So far no mentions of break angles, through body, etc…
  9. Big B.

    Big B.

    Dec 31, 2007
    Austin, TX
    This has been my experience also. The sound on shorter scales B's can work well but the looser feel just doesn't work for me personally. I agree that stiffer necks do seem to maintain a more solid B but the biggest determining factor in making the B string sound the way I prefer is a quality pre with sweepable mids. The low mids can make a BIG difference in how those notes respond and sound.

    As far as feel goes that's a personal thing. I like a full sounding B but I have to be able to articulate extremely short notes as well and the shorter scales dont work for me in that regard. I feel comfortable with 4 string basses in all scales but I have yet to play a bass with less than 35" scale that had a B string that was perfect for me personally.
  10. HaMMerHeD


    May 20, 2005
    Norman, OK, USA
    My 34" 5-string has a .136 gauge B string. (Actually, it has a .136 Balanced 5-string set from Circle K, so it's .136, .102, .076, .057, and .041). The strings feel good and sound great. The open B has the same basic percussive, ringing timbre as the open E, A, D, and G strings, and since it's a balanced set, approximately the same feeling as well.

    I'm quite pleased with the strings, and I plan to use them on every bass I build with anything lower than E1.

    So my tip would be: Use the right string.
  11. TheJoshinator


    Sep 23, 2012
    Nope. It's because those things don't really affect the sound or feel too much, from what I understand. The factors to be considered are the tension and flexibility of the string - a thicker gauge string will feel tighter under the fingers and have a greater harmonic content due to the increased tension. Conversely, a low-tension string has a stronger fundamental with weaker harmonics, and that sounds flabby and weak at low frequencies.

    The stiffness of the string can also change the feel - I've had loose-sounding strings that felt pretty tight because they were so stiff, and real heavy-gauge, tight-sounding strings that felt more supple because of their flexibility. In fact, I believe Circle K even says on their website to order strings a size larger than you're used to, because they make unusually flexible strings to get richer harmonic content out of them and they feel looser than they are.

    Edit: Beaten to the punch three different ways! XD As has been more succinctly said, use the right string. I've got a D'Addario .145 string tuned to A at 34" and it sounds fine - tuned up to B, it's massive!
  12. Hi.

    Ive built several 32" basses with quite nice sounding B.
    The theory of putting on heavier gauged strings is one improvement, and I also think theres something about building the neck out of a more stiff wood than maple, like birch.

    Check out my webpages if you like.


  13. iiipopes


    May 4, 2009
    GHS used to make a SuperSteels .138 that was the best B string a person could ever hope for. Now the only options are various makers' .135 or D'Addario .140, or some of the CircleK offerings, or maybe some others with which I am not familiar. The problem with going too much greater in diameter is that in a shorter scale there is not enough flexibility in the string to produce the overtones necessary to coordinate tonally with the rest of the set. That's why in conventional string sets the B string is a lesser diameter than the math would ordinarily indicate. YMMV; this is the physics of the situation.

    The solution is pictured above: fanned frets. Keep the G string shorter and the B string longer. You've all read about my 4-string version; I'm in the planning stages for a build for 2015 to have a 33 1/4 to 34 1/4 5-string. That's not much, only an inch compared to most other fanned fret basses having about a two-to-three-inch spread, but it is enough to get all the benefits. I prefer a square nut as opposed to fanning both ways, for ease on my left hand elbow and wrist in the lower positions. And I can still use conventional strings instead of custom-ordering, or using one of the few retail available expensive sets.

    With a square nut to start, fanning forward, the bass can have a longer scale on the lower strings, and still be comfortable as the elbow and wrist naturally flex coming up the fingerboard, without pronation or strain. Longer scale means better chance of getting a good tone.

    The main reason to have as stiff a neck as possible is to raise the resonant frequency of the neck up to a point that it is not affected by the fundamentals of the various strings and notes as to cause dead spots, like the dreaded "dead Eb" [give or take a note) on the G-string of Fender and Fender-derived basses with a one-piece neck. The second reason is that for what resonance remains, a good neck will decrease the resonance amplitude so you don't get mud from the fundamentals off a range of notes, usually about a major third in span, that all want to resonate together, causing problems with intonation and the overtones lining up with the fundamental. That's why we call it "mud." The best way to make the neck stiffer is to laminate it: 3 or 5 pieces, with contrasting stringers to the main neck wood. For example, a walnut or purpleheart stringer on a maple neck; or maple, bubinga or other "super-maple-type-wood" on something like a wenge neck is common practice. The different density of the stringer, with the grain cut cross-ways to the main neck wood, will help stiffen the neck, thereby raising the resonant frequency of the neck, and lower the amplitude of the remaining resonances, to get rid of the mud.

    I don't necessarily like graphite rods in necks. They may promote stability from a truss rod perspective, but any time you remove wood, you remove stiffness, and the graphite does not always make up for that.

    And there is nothing new in the world: google "Opharion" for 16th century lutes that had fanned frets.
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2014
  14. EduardoK


    Jun 28, 2004
    That is one great page you've got there, lots of useful info not found anywhere else. Congrats!
    You might all consider visiting TB's "the official medium scale basses club"
  15. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    I've avoided being involved in forum controversies for a while, but there are some points I'd like to address before they become "internet fact." Please don't take anything personally here, just distinguishing facts from otherwise.
    I'll just add that it's not just Fender-types. I had an early Pedulla neck-thru (before he did neck reinforcements) with a tilt-back Gibson-ish headstock with small tuners, and it also had the problem.
    I've never heard of this. It's possible so I wouldn't rule it out, but I haven't seen evidence of it.
    I don't understand what you're saying here. If you're talking about the mechanical resonance profile of the neck forcing the vibrations of the string, whether fundamental or overtone, to actually shift in frequency, I don't believe that will happen. Put another way, Idon't see the mechanism for increasing the natural inharmonicity of the string.
    Walnut is less stiff than maple, so replacing any amount of maple in the neck with walnut will make it less stiff. Bubinga, purpleheart, wenge, etc. will stiffen a maple neck because they are stiffer woods than maple.
    Different density will not increase the stiffness. Woods with higher stiffness will increase the neck's stiffness. Higher stiffness is strongly correlated to higher density, although it is not one-to-one.
    as I said before, not certain. If you are making a case that increased stiffness results in increased damping, this is certainly not the case.
    the truss rod may make a positive or negative contribution towards stability, but its purpose is not provide stability; its purpose is to provide mechanical compensation by adjustment when the neck is not stable.
    Incorrect. CF/epoxy "graphite" rods have tensile, compressive, and flextural moduli of elasticity of better than 130 GPa. The tensile MOE of rock/hard/sugar maple Acer saccharum is 12.6 GPa. Assuming that it is bonded on all four long surfaces (as was the wood that was removed), any CF rod will have ten times the stiffness of that maple that was removed. The effect on the overall stiffness of the entire neck will be dependent on the design of the neck, including all materials present and their physical configuration. But it will always be an increase.
    Definitely! That's what they had to do to get a broad range of low to high notes on one instrument, before there were wound strings.
    Deep Cat likes this.
  16. iiipopes


    May 4, 2009
    By "amplitude," I mean whether the note just loses sustain or dies out completely. I've had bassed that have had both.

    If the graphite rod is installed correctly, so that it becomes integral to the neck, so that there is actual compression on the rod and not just flex, I agree with you. Too many of them are just laid in a groove and don't do much, so why bother? All the builder has done is take away wood for no good reason.

    Increased stiffness does not increase damping, but it does change the resonant frequency upwards, so the effect is the same - less damping or resonating out of the desired fundamental frequencies.

    I didn't say walnut was preferable, just that it was common. I prefer purpleheart myself.

    Different density woods also change the resonant frequency, which is what we're all trying to get at here: getting rid of dead spots in the neck. It may raise or lower, but it will be different.

    Have you ever heard a pipe organ pipe out of tune? The others in a chord will try to "draw" it into pitch. If the resonance is a key frequency and high amplitude, meaning the note almost drops out, the other notes around it may or may not actually play in tune, and may also suffer some of the "deadness." Just my experience with bad basses. YMMV, and I may not have expressed it "technically" correctly.

    The truss rod may or may not help. My Gibson J-45 seems to think so. When setting it up brand new when I bought it a few years ago, with a new set of strings (always change the strings that come on it), I got the truss rod adjusted for action and the tone was great, with good resonance, feel, intonation, sustain, evenness, etc. I wondered what would happen with a quarter-turn more of the truss rod: the tone died and the sustain and resonanace completely changed for the worse, with no apparent effect on the height of the action. I backed the truss rod back off to where it was before, and all the tone and sustain came back. This is my experience I will be happy to duplicate for anyone who cares to come to where I live. The truss rod compression on the neck can change the resonance and help with dead notes. One of the oldest "tricks" to dealing with Fender necks is to do just that: tighten the truss rod another quarter turn to see if it helps the dead notes. Again, not expressed technically, but it has worked for all sixty-three years Fender necks have been in existance.
  17. MrLenny1


    Jan 17, 2009
    Birdsong builds short scales with B strings.
    He has a unique way of running the B thru the body and back up
    towards the PU and anchoring there to keep the tension.
    One way is to offset the tuning peg for the B so it is
    higher on the headstock.
    My Stambaugh has this on a 34" scale and feels & sounds good.
    The tuners are 2 on top & 3 on the bottom.
  18. JustForSport


    Nov 17, 2011
    "Walnut is less stiff than maple, so replacing any amount of maple in the neck with walnut will make it less stiff. Bubinga, purpleheart, wenge, etc. will stiffen a maple neck because they are stiffer woods than maple."

    It's the 'sandwich'/ I-Beam strength you get with a less stiff piece in between 2 stronger pieces.
  19. RichSnyder

    RichSnyder Alien Audio Fanatic!! Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2003
    Columbia, Md
    I'm not a luthier, but IMHO on the B string it has the most mass of the strings and the lowest tension. Assuming a sufficiently sturdy neck, the string sitting solidly in the bridge and nut are the most important so it doesn't have any "bounce". I like bar string retainers across the strings shortly behind the nut to hold the strings solidly in the nut and a higher break angle at the bridge. After that, it's the string doing it's thing. Better strings, better tone.
  20. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    Certainly a nonstandard definition of amplitude. And also doesn't make sense with your statement "what resonance remains, a good neck will decrease the resonance amplitude," to which it was referring.
    In fourteen years of following builds in this forum and elsewhere, I have never heard of someone just laying in CF rods without gluing them.

    Further, even if the shear stiffness of the glue bonding were not provided, a typical pair of rods in a typical neck would likely still increase the overall stiffness.
    It is not that simple. Dead spots are caused by the concurrence of a resonant antinode with the fretting point of a fretted note, in the same physical location. (If it were dependent simply the resonance characteristics of the neck, then all Eb2's on the neck would be dead, not just the one located at 1st string 6th fret.) So, while an increase in stiffness shifts the overall resonant frequencies, it also changes the vibration pattern, and therefor there is simply a different set of possibilities of the antinode of a particular resonance happening to line up with a a note being fretted at that location. Those possibilities even include getting a lower note pitch note that is dead, as well as higher.
    The point is that walnut with diminish the overall stiffness. There was no reference to preference.
    Yes, I do have experience with out-of-tune pipe organs. The pitch is only shifted in the sense that if the same wave is playing on two pipes, slightly out of tune, the perceived pitch will be an average of the two frequencies, with an amplitude envelope ("beating") imposed on this at a rate which is equal to one-half the difference of the frequencies.

    You will likely hear the beat patterns (variations in amplitude) due to wave superposition. And, yes, the amplitude at max during the beat will be equal to the amplitude if they were tuned, so the overall impression may be decreased volume.

    However, this is unrelated to the mechanical resonances in a neck/string system. A resonant response curve does not shift the frequency of the injected wave.

    And again, dead spots are where the decay of a note is markedly decreased. It is only tangentially related to the beat amplitude of two competing sound sources.


    Incorrect. This is a misinterpretation of compound beam theory. In a multi-material beam in flexture, putting the stiffer materials on the outer regions and the less stiff materials (generally centrally) at the neutral plane will result in the stiffest beam, given those materials; but, if you replaced the central less-stiff material with the same amount of high-stiffness material, the beam would be even stiffer. Or, taking the reverse direction, imagine a uniform-material beam, with a certain stiffness; replacing any part of it with less-stiff material will result in a less stiff beam. The reduction in stiffness will be least if you put the less-stiff material surrounding a central neutral plane, but it will still have reduced stiffness.