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Rib depth and sound (hello Luthiers)

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Dr Rod, Feb 21, 2006.


  1. Dr Rod

    Dr Rod

    Aug 19, 2005
    Hi,

    I was wondering what your comments would be on the relationship between rib depth and sound quality.

    I know people are going to say right away that the deeper the bass, the deeper the sound. But is it really the case? has any of our luthiers experimented with different depths on the same model?

    Rick Vizachero in Cincinnati owns a beautiful and powerful sounding orchestral bass that is not deep. I clarify that the top of the bass is very large, just the rib depth is not.
     
  2. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    I don't think rib depth has as much to do with volume and tone as opposed to arching and graduations. True, a 4" rib depth isn't going to sound like a 9" rib depth. But, there are so many exceptions that I'd be hard pressed to state some kind of standard.
     
  3. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    With the same model made by the same maker using the same woods, going with a deeper rib depth will lower the resonant frequency of the bass' body. It will have a different favorite note. All of the many other factors that come into play when changing anything else will enhance or diminish the general bass response. I guess it's most important to have a working model to play before you'd want to decide deeper or shallower ribs.

    Are you thinking of modifying a particular maker's model in having something made to better suit your needs?

    Steve Swan
    Retailer for Wilfer, Paesold, Gill, Mastri, Kolstein, Shen, etc.
     
  4. Dr Rod

    Dr Rod

    Aug 19, 2005
    Thank you both, gentlemen.

    Yes, and there isn't a working model, but if I don't like the instrument the maker and I will work something out.

    I love huge orchestral basses, the bigger the better, but one does not grow younger. The idea is to have a nice audition bass with plenty of punch but easier on my back. I think I conveniently forgot to mention that my beer belly doesn't really help.
    I play with the bass centered like a cello so sloping shoulders are not so helpful. I have a bass that has a 6 inch depth at the neck block, and a 7 inch depth at the upper corner, It's really comfortable but it's more of a solo bass.

    Nick, you mentioned arching, could you elaborate a little.
     
  5. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    ?
     
  6. Steve Swan

    Steve Swan

    Oct 12, 2004
    Burlingame, California
    Retailer: Shen, Sun, older European
    The air volume in a particular space is going to want to make a particular note. Think of blowing into your half-empty and then 3/4-empty RC Cola bottle when you were a kid. The only thing that you've changed is the size of the air cavity. Of course we want our instruments to be as perfectly even in response as possible, so plate tuning, graduation, arching, bass bars, back braces, soundpost postion, etc. all have an effect. A great builder can make all of these aspects work in harmony for a nice easy response and no dead or hot spots.

    In a former life I worked as a guitar builder for Santa Cruz Guitar Company. I built the top, sides, and back. Later on when I was ordering these guitar for my shop, I'd often specify non-standard side depths both shallower and deeper. Side depth made a lot less sound difference than I would have expected. All of the guitars sounded like slightly different versions of themselves. Nothing was fundamentally different.

    I think that you'll find that a slightly deeper or shallower-ribbed bass from a builder whose instruments work well for you will still be well-received and will sound familiar to you. I've got a 7/8 Wilfer bass in now with extra deep ribs, which tend to lower the resonant frequency, and extra large aperatures, which raise the resonant frequency. It still sounds like the other large Wilfers that I've had in. There'd be no mistaking it for a Paesold or a Gill. The voice of the builder is always going to come through. It is wonderful to see how consistent the better builders are.

    I hope that your bass turns out well! Keep us posted.

    Steve Swan
    Retailer for Gill, Paesold, Wilfer, Kolstein, Shen, etc.
     
  7. Dr Rod

    Dr Rod

    Aug 19, 2005
    Thanks Steve, it will be my pleasure to keep you posted.

    How about flat back and round backs. Tell you the truth, I have had great basses in both variants, so it's not sound I am worried about.
    The thing is I recently moved to Winnipeg/Canada and the winters are very cold and dry. You can put all the humidifiers you want and you'll be lucky if you get it to 40%.

    I have heard that flat backs are less stable, especially when new ones, that you will get the potato chip back if you live in a dry place like Winnipeg.
     
  8. ii7-V7

    ii7-V7

    Aug 4, 2002
    Baltimore, MD
    Humor my completely amateur opinion, but I would think that the area of the top plate would have a more significant impact than the depth of the ribs. Any truth to this?

    Chad
     
  9. Dr Rod

    Dr Rod

    Aug 19, 2005
    Yes Chad, I think that's what Steve and Nick meant as well. The top is sacred.
     
  10. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    My experience is that basses with very wide ribs do not produce much in the way of extra power and bottom. To the contrary; I find many of them to sound diffuse and lack punch. I personally think ribs in the range of 7 1/2" to 8 1/2" give the best results.
     
  11. Dr Rod

    Dr Rod

    Aug 19, 2005
    Hi Arnold

    7.5 to 8.5 width at lower bout I assume.
     
  12. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    Yup.
     
  13. Jake

    Jake

    Dec 11, 1999
    Florida
    I thought Dr. Rod's question about round backs and flat backs was interesting. What do you think Mr. Schnitzer?
     
  14. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    Dr. Rod's statement that flatbacks are inherently more trouble-prone is on the money. However, some luthiers (myself included) are experimenting with different bracing schemes that serve to make the flat back more stable. The instability is worst in a temperate climate with hot, humid summers followed by cold, dry winters.
     
  15. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    Chicago
    I played a Voigt and Geiger bass with 4-5" ribs a couple of years ago and it had a huge sound. I was shocked as I expected just the opposite.
     
  16. jtlownds

    jtlownds

    Oct 3, 2004
    LaBelle, FL
    I'm certainly no expert in this area, but here's my experience. I once bought an old Kay, as a favor, from a friend who needed the money. It was in very bad condition. This thing was a 1939 Selmer-Kay Slim Line model with 4 - 5 inch ribs. That old Kay was an absolute cannon. Probably the loudest bass I have ever played in my life. I attribute this increase in volume to the shallower body, since that was the only thing different from other basses. One other thing, I have played a couple of old violins that were pre-Stradivari models. One was made in 1451 and the other in 1513. These had much thicker bodies than the modern violins. Not sure if the ribs were wider, possibly just higher arching of the tops and backs, I don't remember. Anyway, my point is that these thicker bodied violins did not produce the level of volume that the thinner bodied modern violins did.
     
  17. jtlownds

    jtlownds

    Oct 3, 2004
    LaBelle, FL
    Hi Ken,

    I can't validate those dates. Those dates were written on the labels. The 1451 was made by Giovanni (sp?) in Budapest if I remeber right, and the 1513 model had a German label. I don't think d'Salo and Amati invented the violin - did they?
     
  18. jtlownds

    jtlownds

    Oct 3, 2004
    LaBelle, FL
    You may well be right about the dates being wrong, Ken, I don't have your expertise in that area. The 1451 instrument beloged to my great-grandfather who bought in the 1880's, and died 2 months after I was born in 1937. Allways struck me odd that an Italian name (Giovanni) made a fiddle in Hungary. My mother sold that fiddle about 15 years ago, so I can't provide a picture of the label. I don't understand why someone would predate a label and then put on the name of some unknown maker. These were not modern violins, and were much thicker thru the body than modern violins. Thanks for the info.
     
  19. It is interesting that the new octet contrabass, the big one, well actually huge, is tuned EADG and the rib depth is just under 5 inches. The archings of the back and top are about 2 inches each. The total length of the body is 51inches and the lower bout is 31 inches! Hutchins actually recommends shallower ribs for a more balanced sound, but some players just like that air volume wumph.
     
  20. Eric Rene Roy

    Eric Rene Roy Supporting Member

    Mar 19, 2002
    Mystic, CT
    Vice President: Upton Bass String Instrument Co.
    Not to be nit picky Ken;) , but but are you saying the same thing different ways or do you actually know the species of European wood used on both instruments?

    European maple is called Sycamore. This is Acer pseudoplatanus.

    Norway maple is Acer platanoides and is also commonly called European Maple.

    I don't think at all you are reffering to the Amercian Sycamore (not a maple at all), Platanus occidentalis, are you?