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Tone?, Volume?, Resonance?, Can't explain, please read.

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Tim Skaggs, Nov 2, 2002.

  1. Tim Skaggs

    Tim Skaggs

    Sep 28, 2002
    So difficult to describe. I bought a new Englehardt M-1 this summer. I played it first, then bought it. I didn't know that it sounded so crappy until I went to a few festivals and played a few other basses. My bass has a "choked" sound, something like the strings are dampened or muted. I played a few old Kays, and even a few Chinese made that have a much fuller "blooming" tone, with more of an open sustain. I have tried a few "improvements" without much success yet. So far, I've replaced the tail piece "bracket" with a flexible wire, & put on set of Spirocore light gauge. Both of these changes made some difference in tone / volume, but only a slight improvement. I lowered the action some by removing some of the top of the bridge, but this did nothing other than improve playability. People tell me the sound may improve over time with playing & vibration. Are there any suggestions out there for the next step? These old basses I've played at festivals that sound so warm, full, open, and loud are all old, and many have had supernils or something similar. My bridge seems to fit quite well, so I'm at a loss of where to turn next. Suggestions please!?!?!?!:confused:
  2. Hey Redbone,
    Has your Bass ever been "Properly" Set-up?


    If the world didnt suck we would all fall off......
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Ditto the setup question. My carved Czech bass is only a few years young, but the setup made it blossom. I imagine it'll get louder as it ages, but the tone is already there. My guess is that your soundpost could use some adjustment (this is often the cause of that "choked" sound), and the fingerboard could be dressed better. When you say Spirocore "light gauge", do you mean Weichs or solos? Solos are notorious for having very little punch.
  4. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    Redbone, I know exactly what you mean. I agree with the other guys that a luthier may be able to help. I purchased a plywood Strunal, without playing it (via 'Net), and was a little disappointed until I had a good pro setup...worked wonders. As Chris mentioned, a properly placed and fitted soundpost worked wonders, as did having the bridge feet shaped so they fit properly against the body. Finding the right strings for your bass helps a lot too....mine responded well to Helicore Pizz Mediums, and none of the others I've tried seem to work nearly as well.
  5. jimclark68


    Dec 16, 2000
    Morganton, NC

    I've had the exact same experience with my EM-1. Remember, when you hear these guys playing Kays that sound like cannons, they're playing 40-year-old basses. More experienced musicians in this discussion group will tell you that it takes a bass sometimes several years before the sound really opens up. I am not certain about the differences between carved and plywood basses in terms of the length of time and degree to which they open up over time. I did not get noticeable improvements in volume until I had a quality bridge fitted and switched to Spirocore orchestra mediums. But, I also practice with a bow and have read that this helps a bass open up as well. I do feel like it is louder than when I first got it, although it is hard to separate improvements in the bass from improvements in technique.
  6. Tim Skaggs

    Tim Skaggs

    Sep 28, 2002
    1. The bass has not been "set up" other than some changes I have made myself to the bridge. The soundpost is in the position it was in when I picked it up from the store. The store owner has offered to attempt to make changes, but admits he is not a luthier.

    2 The strings are Spirocore Weichs.

    3. The bridge "feet" fit the top very well. A .0015 feeler gauge won't go under the feet at any point other that just a tiny bit at a couple of the corners. (less that 1/16 will go under any of the feet corners)

    4. It appears to me that the soundpost is to far down toward the tail piece. I moved the bridge back toward the tail piece about 3/4" as an experiment. This actually imporved the sound some, but now my scale length is more like 42.25 rather than 41.5. This was only an experiment, I would like to return it to the original position.

    What should I expect of sound characteristics for a soundpost being to much toward the tail piece? How about if it's too far up (toward neck)? I assume the sp being too far toward the "F" hole or too much toward the bass bar would also make a difference. Still accepting suggestions. I'm new at DB, but fairly experienced at violin set up.

  7. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    Redbone, if you'll PM me or email me with your email address, I'll send you a compilation document of information on soundpost positioning. It was compiled from postings on the 2XBasslist by a couple of well-known luthiers. Very informative.
  8. Tim Skaggs

    Tim Skaggs

    Sep 28, 2002
    Well, I finally tried some further "adjustments" to my bass. First the sound post was removed and shortened slightly to allow some movement toward the "F" hole. The SP was about half it's diameter toward the inside of the "G" side bridge foot. It is now centered on the "G" side bridge foot. Second, the SP was moved to about half it's diameter from the "G" side bridge foot toward the tailpiece. It was previously about 1.25 inches toward the tailpiece. This greatly reduced the sound and deadened all the strings. The SP was moved back to it's original position (up and down, but was left centered on the "G" foot) and then adjested about 1/4 inch further toward the tailpiece, a total of about 1.5 inches below the "G" foot. This improved the sound slightly, opening up the "D" string, shich was already the loudest of the four. Sadly, nothing that was done improved the sound of my bass much at all. This includes a flexible tailpiece wire and new Spirocore Weichs which I had already done earlier. The only thing I haven't tried yet is a new bridge. My current bridge fits well. I doubt a new bridge will help. The bass is just not very loud and sounds "choked" or dead compared to other plywood basses I've played. The "A" string and other "A" notes on the bass sound "muted" or deadened, with very short sustain. Still looking for suggestions.
  9. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    The A woof sounds kinda normal for a plywood, even set up right. I'd recommend that you drop the self-luthiery bit -- you'll likely end up causing damage (read: $$$) to the beast -- more than a road trip would cost you. Just get the thing to someone that works on the things all day, every day.
  10. jugband


    Jan 16, 2001
    It works pretty much like violin, only bigger.

    Changing the position of the soundpost relative to the bridge-foot can sweeten tone, at the expense of volume, or give extra volume while losing some tone.

    Mostly what I've heard though, is that the choked sound you're getting is caused by a soundpost that's too LONG, rather than too far up or down in the body.

    Depending on how your swell tapers, and how far too low the soundpost is, I suppose that a proper-length soundpost, in the middle of the F-holes could find itself being too tall when farther down, where the thickness of the body begins to decrease.

    Of course, if your soundpost is too long, it will damage the bass eventually.

    As the saying goes; "How you look depends on where you go". ;)
  11. jimclark68


    Dec 16, 2000
    Morganton, NC
    As I mentioned, I also have an EM-1 and experienced the same things you are experiencing. It is 1.25 years old. Things I have done to improve my sound:

    1) Researched different strings and found something I am happy with based on my wants. I settled on Spiro Orchestra mediums. High tension, which means lower action and less effort to cut through the din at bluegrass jams. I find the sustain a plus in unplugged folk/bluegrass settings.

    2) Fitted a higher quality adjustable bridge, replaced the tailpiece wire with cable, had a decent endpin installed and had the soundpost adjusted.

    3) Practice and play as much as possible. I try to play each day.

    When my bass was new, I had a great deal of difficulty blending with others; I now have much less difficulty. All of the things above have helped. One last tip: read the threads about de-glossing your bass. It won't help your sound, but then instead of your bass being *&#@ ugly, you can improve it to just plain ugly.
  12. Tim Skaggs

    Tim Skaggs

    Sep 28, 2002
    I appreciate your concern about my instrument. I certainly can't afford the repair of the damage. I've done violin and acoustic guitar setup & repair for several years. The mechanics of the work are within my abilities, but my intimate knowledge of upright specs. & setup terminology was limited until recently. I've performed the setup steps any luthier within 100 miles of my location could perform, possibly better than they could, at least from what I've been told. The reason for my post was to obtain knowledge of plywood basses and see if there's something that I don't know yet or haven't tried yet. The "luthiers" within reasonable driving distance would likely cost me more than any damage I could do to my bass. My discussions with couple of them included suggestions of replacing the bridge with self fitting feet for $300 or re-setting the sound post for $200. One of them had a customer's bass in his shop for repair when I stopped by the first time in July. It needed a new sound post and a fingerboard dressing. It was still there last week, hadn't been touched. I know not all luthiers operate like that, but it's the reason I started violin repair & setup several years ago. Perhaps I'll have learned enough soon to provide some input on the board. I sincerely thank you for the suggestion. With help from this board and a few other resources, I'll get it worked out eventually (or trade for a different bass!!). Thanks to everyone else for all suggestions. Those I have tried all helped to some degree. RR
  13. Bijoux


    Aug 13, 2001
    The are theads about bridge placement, the instrument was designed to have the bridge at a very especific location. I myself would like to know more about that. I have asked ew people hy this is so rigid, heard many explanations but they didn't totally make sense to me, I personally think that this is an area that deserves more exploration, but for now I stick to the rules.
    BTW I use to have a engleheart M-1, and a luthier in Denver Bob Moroney set up my bass beautifully, some of the guys here played my bass and they couldn't believe that was an engleheart, an expirienced luthier can do wonders for your bass.
  14. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    I think your bass suffers from polyester-itis. Those heavy catalized spray finishes do nothing good for tone. And Engelhardts are built heavy for the rigors of school and band work. Forget about "playing it in". This is a concept which, IMHO is 90% psycho-acoustical. Bass-ically, the player learns, over time, how to extract the best tone from the instrument. The changes you'll hear in your lifetime are pretty minimal. If a bass does not sound good when new, chances are it never will. Of course you can tweak a few things, and I think you are on the right track there. To really make an improvement, get that crappy finish off and find a way to remove about five pounds of wood from the bass...
  15. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    This is a great post, very informative. Does this apply to plywood basses only? If not, it opens up a whole can of worms for me, as my anonymous Czech carved bass is also fairly heavy and has great tone, but is not as loud as some other basses I've seen and played. I wonder if the volume is related to the weight?
  16. While I agree with almost everything Arnold said in a previous post about polyester-itis, I must disagree with his comment on "playing it in" being mostly psycho-acoustical.

    Professor Gerhard A. v. Reumont (Germany) received a German patent (#P2712268) in the early 1980's for a process of mechanically playing in of string instruments. Prof. Reumont calls the process vibration-dedamping and has licensed many European instrument makers to use the process. When his patent expired, he wrote a book (in German) titled The Practice of Vibration-Dedamping to Improve the Tone of String Instruments. The book has been translated to English and published by the well known Oregon violin maker / publisher Henry Strobel .

    I have been using the process on basses for the last 3 years and found it to work extremely well on both new instruments and instruments that have had major repairs. It works particularly well on plywood instruments. In conversations with Mr. Strobel, I have come to the conclusion that the vibration-dedamping or playing in causes minute fractures in the glue (hide) that reduces the rigidity of the instrument. A plywood bass has a huge amount of glue holding the plys together in addition to the glue holding the top and back to the ribs. These minute glue fractures make plates more flexible and more responsive. When I first started offering the process for my customer's basses, I made them an offer that I would charge them nothing if the process did not make the instrument sound and play better. I've never had a case where I did not get paid. Interestingly, if an instrument is not played for a long period of time, it seems to revert to its old playing state. I think this is due to the glue absorbing moisture from the air and reverting to it more solid state.

    I also think that "playing it in" manually by the player accomplishes exactly the same thing, but just takes years to accomplish what vibration-dedamping does in a few days. I'm sure there is a certain amount of psycho-acoustical improvement, but I'm certain that it is far less than 90 percent.
  17. Tim Skaggs

    Tim Skaggs

    Sep 28, 2002
    The Practice of Vibration-Dedamping to Improve the Tone of String Instruments. I'm ready to try it. Bass Player also wrote about this technique for electric bass several years ago. They did it with a MASSIVE power amp, a servo driven "shaker table" and a tone generator of some kind. There is no doubt instruments change tone / volume over time (Stradivari?). I also agree the heavy finish is probably damping the whole body some but I haven't been able to bring myself to attack this thing with sandpaper yet. The latest soundpost move did more good than originally thought after I played the bass some more. Nothing drastic, but another marginal improvement. Getting to be something like a community project now, 'cause I try almost every suggestion. Every little bit helps.
  18. Sorry, but that's not it.
  19. Tim Skaggs

    Tim Skaggs

    Sep 28, 2002
    I didn't intend to imply Bass Player actually performed the process referred to as Vibration-Dedamping. They just did what I described as a test and actually obtained positive results. With the EB they probably didn't get any drastic change, but they did get a tone difference in recording the test instrument they described as an improvement. I would expect an acoustic instrument would undergo a greater change. I didn't know there was an actual patented process. Does it require a Harley-Davidson?;)
  20. The process you describe is similar to ones that have been floating around since the 1960's. The idea is to basically put the instrument in front of a big high powered speaker and then run various sine wave or other wave forms thru the speaker. In theory, this will case the instrument to vibrate and somehow make the instrument sound better. In fact, you could never get evough energy transmitted thru the air to do any thing that a good hard playing job won't do.

    Professor Reumont uses a mechanical method to exercise the top, back and ribs at energy levels hundreds of times more powerful than could be done with a speaker. I will not go into describing the process, but if you are interested enough to buy the book(about $30) from Mr. Strobel, you can find out the details. I can tell you that the equipment required is not something you find around the average house or shop. It requires an initial investment of approx. $1,000.00 for the basic equipment and it is helpful to have a soundproof room as the process takes several days. The process is really not something that the novice should attempt since it is quite possible to harm the instrument if you don't know what you are doing.

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