Shaving a Bridge

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Nick Ioannucci, Mar 17, 2006.

  1. i have a bridge on a bass that i have(its my first bass from about 2-3 years ago... something from samash that im not to proud of...) that has rediculously high action which is really beginning to bother me. i cant really afford a good quality bridge to be fitted, so i would like to shave it down. my question is how far can i go? my worry is that as i sand the top down the bridge wood itself will be getting thicker. does this matter? i know that you have to keep the same radius and whatnot, but this is the only thing i am unsure on. please help.
  2. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    Beyond the bridge itself is the neck set. If you can't get low low action with the Bridge at least 6" tall from the center of the top then the neck is set wrong from when the Bass was made. The is very common on low cost store Basses. Take the Bass to a professional Bass repairman and not a music store to have it worked on. Have him look at the neck stand and pitch of the neck as well. This is more expensive but the correct way to fix a bass rather than to cut the Bridge down low only to throw it away when the Bass gets fixed properly next time. I have Bridges from 6-7" tall in the center with the strings as low as 4mm under the G and 7mm under the E measured at the end of the fingerboard.

    The music is hard enough to play a well adjusted Bass as it is. You don't need to be fighting to press the strings down.
  3. Bobby King

    Bobby King Supporting Member

    May 3, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    Ken Smith's advice is of course, very good, but assuming that there's a sufficient amount of bridge and your problem can be solved by taking some off the top --

    I've watched how my luthier (Jim Ferguson, Nashville) does this. He will trace the contour of the end of the fingerboard onto the bridge at the approximate distance from the edge that you are trying to lower it. He has a tracing tool that's like a roller with a pencil attached to do this, but I'm sure you could do it without that. Don't go too low because the slots will make the action even lower, and you can fine tune it at the slots. Mark with pencil the center of each slot on the bridge top for reference. Once he's drawn the contour line, he carefully sands it to that point with a belt sander, and yes, he will also remove some of the thickness at the edge by sanding the lower flat side to compensate. (I believe that it can adversely affect intonation if the edge of the bridge is too thick.)

    Then using a small diameter round file, carefully remake your slots. Go easy as you can always make them deeper. (ideally, about half or more of the string should sit above the slot). Make sure the slots are rounded downward on both sides of the bridge. Always put some pencil graphite in the slots to lubricate the contact point.

    Another great trick I learned from Jim if a slot is too deep and you want to raise the height of an individual string:
    Put a little Super Glue Gel in the slot and then use an instant hardener to harden it (something like "Zip Kicker", available from hobby shops). Once it's hardened, re-file the slot with your rounded file and coat with pencil. The new raised slot will be fine. I've never noticed any effect on the sound. This can actually be done at the nut, too.
  4. hey thanks for that tip on procedure. i just measured, and my bridge is 7" tall at center, at the bottom of my fingerboard string height is 1/2" and at the top it is about 3/16" its fairly obnoxious. about how low can you take a bridge down? i now the bass thats set up for jazz at school can only have about a 5" bridge on it, so a rough area would be nice to give me an idea. the other thing is, about sanding the flat side, does that affect the durability or integrity of the bridge when you do that? thanks very much for the info so far guys.
    edit: and if the neck were to be wrong ken smith, i probably wouldnt pay to fix it. at that point my parents and i would probably pay for a new bass of better quality, seeing as music is the thing that my life is leaning toward. but thanks for that heads up.
  5. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    It is not as easy as you think to cut, arch and line up evenly spaced, properly slotted bridge slots. This is a developed skill. While your Bridge is off, what will you do if your sound post falls?

    The height of the strings at the nut should be only one business card between the Fingerboard and underside of the bridge.

    How is the Camber (scoup) of the fingerboard? Is it perfect? Will the strings buzz once you lower them? Will you have much meat over the heart of ypur bridge after you re-cut the top? There are many bridge designs depending on the height and witch needed for a Bass.

    About buying a higher quality Bass, I have seen poor neck stands on Basses that cost as much as a Car or more. Setting the neck has ZIP to do with the quality of the Bass. You can have a 2k Bass with a great set-up and a 200k Bass with a crap set-up.

    Do your self a favor and get a professional to do the work. You can easily break more than you fix.
  6. ill consider it, but im a poor highschool kid :( mabey i should really just have the entire thing evaluated by a luthier and see wat they think. that may be the best route to go. *sigh* i wish i could make more money.
  7. Bobby King

    Bobby King Supporting Member

    May 3, 2005
    Nashville, TN
    Forgot to address that. :meh: When taking all the tension off the strings and removing a bridge, my luthier uses a large wooden clamp (with felt on the insides) to apply pressure between the top and bottom of the bass to prevent the soundpost from falling.

    While Ken has a good point about qualified professionals being best for many of these types of repairs, I also feel that we upright bassists all need to get more luthiery experience. It's both cumbersome and expensive to always have to take your bass into the shop for adjustments. Especially if it's a less expensive bass, a "second" bass, etc., there's no great harm in trying to do some of these types of adjustments yourself. If you're not attempting some major repair, what's the worst that can happen? You screw something up and then call in the professionals. :) That's my opinion anyway.
  8. mdurell


    Mar 9, 2006
    Boulder, CO
    You will... just be patient.

    Besides, it's not how much you make, it's how well you spend it that counts.
  9. hey thanx mdurell... i try, i try. and i was planing on using a book and a 2-5 pound weight to cover the sound post. im going to go ahead and work on the bridge come summer time when my season for local orchestras and such ends.. thanks for your help guys.
  10. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    How much wood is between the top of the bridge (crown) and the top of the heart?
  11. Eric Rene Roy

    Eric Rene Roy Supporting Member

    Mar 19, 2002
    Mystic, CT
    Vice President: Upton Bass String Instrument Co.
    Hi Nick,

    give me a call come monday, 860-536-7555. Maybe I can give you a home town (state :)) discount...then we can do your bridge up right.
  12. theres a good2- 2 1/2 inches between top and heart. and this just in, my nut is about an 1/8" high, so thats a big part of the problem. mabey ill give eric a call, well see what happens.
  13. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    That's a great offer from Upton. I hear they do nice work. Don't wait too long. It's killing your practice time at the least.
  14. Yeah i was thinking about getting eric to do my bridge, he recently did some bow work for me which turned out great, so i know they do good work, i really just have lots of weekly thinigs going on that i need my bass for, so its hard to find time tom not have the bass. but hopefully i can convince my parents that this is a necessary repair/upgrade, which it most definitely is, so that i can get this problem solved.
  15. I joke sometimes about the nut slot height from the fingerboard being high enough on a (shop set-up) bass to accommodate tied on frets. But it is true that most basses come from the maker that way. I suppose it's because they don't know what you might do for strings, guts or steel or whatever. I filed my slots pretty close with a rat-tail needle file. Even then when my teacher played the bass he said they needed to go further, enough to pinch a business card. He gave me one of his cards to use. I've never seen a thinner business card! I did what he said and it was amazing how differently the entire instument played! Finally I was able to play in 1/2 position as easily as any other. Truly, a great set-up is the sum of many small tweaks, and these are all inter-related.

    As Ken stresses, it's not about how much you paid for the instrument and he is completely correct about the waste factor of practicing/playing a poorly set-up instrument. You might learn something, but most likely you will end up frustrated or worse, with some nasty stress injuries in your arms, shoulders, and hands. Time at the massage therapist/chiropractic clinic will also cut into your budget and your practice time.

    Another idea for a great set-up is to get your own business card;- think of every dime you spend as an investment and ask yourself beforehand if what you are spending it on will return some value to you later. Generally musical instruments go up in value. Video games and computers, new cars, do not. I'll give you the "When I was in High School..." etc., etc., but I'll stop with the short story: When I got my first EBG, we (mostly recruits from the marching band) put together a dance tune combo and hired out for birthday/holiday parties and the income from those put our hourly wages to shame. If you organize the band as a business, you can ammortize your equipment and depreciate it (including your necessary transportation and rehearsal space) and deduct everything you spend on you band on an IRS schedule C. If you lose money, that will reduce what you pay in taxes on your wages. If you make money, go ahead and give the taxman his cut. It doesn't always work, but if you are in a small town where there isn't much entertainment for young people, you might try it. We also rented the American Legion Hall, the Lions Club, and made a 50/50 deal with a skating rink. I spent a lot on gear then, but I still have most of the gear and it has paid for itself over and over. It was great fun, too.:bassist:
  16. yeah i know wat you mean... a properly set up bass makes all the difference. i played a real nice bass at a rehearsal this week, that seemed to be set up right, and man was i flying. i could play thinks quicker and cleaner than i ever could on my own bass. it was really amazing, but at the same time really disapointing. its now possible that im in the market for a new bass, but whether i get a new bass or not, business will be done with upton bass in ct. thanks again guys.
  17. krisnowicki


    Nov 8, 2004
    how much is a typical charge for some one to set up your bass?