Scott LaFaro's setup?

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by JazznFunk, Jan 27, 2002.

  1. JazznFunk

    JazznFunk Supporting Member

    Mar 26, 2000
    Asheville, NC
    Lakland Basses Artist
    Just out of curiosity, does anyone know the specifics of Scott LaFaro's setup he had on his bass? I heard that he had his action lowered to facilitate his style, but he still got a pretty high volume and thick sound, which seems unusual for a low action setup. Any thoughts?
  2. JazznFunk

    JazznFunk Supporting Member

    Mar 26, 2000
    Asheville, NC
    Lakland Basses Artist
    Thanks for the info.... I'll check out that site you mentioned.

    No, I'm not trying to set up my bass like LaFaro's in any way, I just wanted to see if there was any source out there that may have had info on how it was set up, simply for my own edification. I had read in Bill Evans's biography that Scott had his bridge and such lowered to facilitate his style, and wondered if this was indeed true. I remembered our discussion a while back about the bridge height, string gauge, etc. and how we had discussed that too low a setting could adversely affect the sound. Since LaFaro had such a huge sound, I had to ask what the deal was. :)

    Thanks again.....
  3. I need to go hunting for that height. I recently raised the action on my bass by a significant margin, expecting the sound to be huge. It was loud, and I could really lay into the strings nicely, but the sound was somewhat closed off. I should just slowly dial the action back down to find a better spot...
  4. Jazz
    You say that LaFaro had a huge sound. He didn't. I was around when he came on to the scene, and a major topic of discussion among bassists was the tradeoff he was making between speed and projection. I'm talking about a time when nobody used an amp, even in big bands. You can't go by what you hear on recordings.
  5. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Huge and loud aren't the same thing. Scotty did get a huge sound, but it wasn't loud.

    Shank told me that Scott played his string at 5mm and 8mm, G- E. Gut strings, but I don't know what flavor, etc.

    I've found with my own playing, now that I do a lot of acoustic playing, that I can get two very different sounds with the same setup; loud and big. I play Spirocores at 5mm and 8mm, but this was coincidence. The more I play acoustically, the louder the pretty sound gets. The loud sound is purely a self-defense approach and not something that I'm either proud of or would want to hear....

    A point that I would disagree with Peacock on would be his approach to get the bass sounding good and then learn how to deal with it. After having hand probs, I recommend that you get a bass sounding good AND playing well. If you can't have both, then getting it playing well while you seek another bass.
  6. JazznFunk

    JazznFunk Supporting Member

    Mar 26, 2000
    Asheville, NC
    Lakland Basses Artist
    Thanks for that insight. I indeed have only heard the recordings with the Trio that have LaFaro on it, so that's all I have to go by. If you were around then, I take your word for it!

    Thanks again....
  7. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
  8. ade


    Aug 3, 2000
    When I saw Lafaro with Bill Evans in about 1960 I remember a big hole in the top left side of his bass.
    This was in Toronto and it was a great night (we talked with Evans) but am I dreaming about that hole?
  9. alavakian

    alavakian Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2002
    SF Bay area
    Scot Lafaro used a very low action. You can hear it in his playing. He used gut strings, probably Artone, which was the standard gut used by bassists at that time. He was also very heavily miked. LoJoe
  10. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    I witnessed Gary's adjusting concept, as it occurred a couple years ago in my shop. I had set the bass up just the way I thought he wanted it, but he insisted on playing around with the string heights. He took it up and down until it felt and sounded right to his ear. When he decided it was right, the bass was roaring, and Gary was smiling. That doesn't mean it would have been right for every player, but the set-up worked for him on that bass. It actually opened my eyes to being less rigid about set-ups. There are some instruments which will feel lighter to the touch at 7mm than others at 5mm. I think his concept has a lot of merit.
  11. According to my understanding, there are really two things going on here.

    First one is easy - the higher the string from the fingerboard, the easier to dig in, pizz and to some extent with the bow also. So higher action = more sound, or more accurately, more room to choose the attack you want, include attacks with more sound.

    More important, and undoubtedly what Gary Peacock is working with, is the downward pressure on the top plate through the bridge. Strings of a given weight and flexibility, tuned to the appropriate pitch, create a pressure down through the bridge. When the bridge height is adjusted, the angle of the strings to the bridge (both above and below) becomes more or less acute, transferring more or less pressure in the downward direction.

    (Easy to see how this works if you imagine the bridge at absurd extremes. A ridiculously low bridge would leave the string almost straight with now angle, and no downward pressure, whereas a super high bridge would obviously transfer most of the string's linear tension right down through the bridge. In general, the higher the bridge, the more the string tension is transferred downward.)

    Every bass speaks up best at a different pressure level on its top plate. Suppose you do the Gary Peacock trick, and find a bridge height which "opens" the sound up optimally for your bass, but end up with strings too high off the fingerboard to play comfortably. There are a couple of options.

    The easy one is to find different weight strings which when tuned to pitch will give a higher linear tension, which will translate to the same top plate pressure at less bridge height. Tradeoff is of course that strings all have their own sound, so you're introduce more variables into the picture, and you may not find a balance you like. Gollihur's site has some string tension info; trial and error is probably best. Another problem here is that changes of bridge height of plus or minus a few milimeters are only going to affect the pressure on the plate by a few percent, whereas string tension can vary more like 10-25% from one brand to another. (BTW, understanding all this helps explain why one kind of strings can sound good on one bass, but not necessarily on another.)

    The other solution (the extreme one) is to have the neck reset at a different angle (and probably adjust the saddle under the tailpiece to keep the angles of string to bridge close to equal to prevent the bridge from being pulled up or down.)

    Another approach, instead of Gary's, which will help protect your left hand, would be to start by setting string height where you like to play, then look for strings which give the best sound at that height. Gerald Johnson, a frequent poster to the 2Xbasslist, suggests tuning your bass a bit higher than normal and a bit lower, to find where the sound comes out best, then shopping for a brand of strings which at normal pitch play at higher or lower tension as required. Again, you've also got the character of the string to consider this way, but at least you start with a height which works.

    One of my basses, a big, robust Ruebner, plays great string up pretty tight with Spiros, whereas I like lower tension Innovations or Obligattos on my other basses. All are set at height of around 5/16" - 7/16", G - E off the end of the fingerboard.