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Tuners, headstock mass, and tone

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by growlngrind, Dec 20, 2004.

  1. Hey guys,

    I am putting together a Jazz style bass and have reached a decision point. So I am hoping that I can call on the wisdom of the masters who frequent this forum.

    Does anyone know how much the mass of the headstock, including the weight of the tuners affects the tone of a bass? I have always felt that part of the sound of a Fender bass has a lot to do with the mass of those big Schaller tuners. I guess my idea has been supported by products like the "Fat Finger" and Washburn's newer basses with the brass inserts in the headstock.

    I realize that lighter keys will often reduce the amount of neck dive and improve balance. But, with all else being equal, is their a noticable trade-off in tone or sustain when using the lighter-weight keys?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
  2. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Well, isn't this a tricky question! There are many that will argue that more mass adds to tone and sustain - others will argue that mass should be deleted(!) for perfect tone and sustain. :confused:

    Physically, it's a matter of keeping the resonance frequency of the system (=bass) away from the frequences you want to produce. And in this endeavour, the neck is indeed the more important part...

    Now, some theory:
    meaning that the resonance frequences are functions of stiffness divided by weight. And the distribution of that ratio! :(

    If you add weight, the resonance f will decrease. If you add enough, it will be well below the range of the bass. But the head will be heavy... In the process, you will gradually move the infamous dead spot, from C to something lower - but it's a long way to go below low E!

    If you instead take away weight, the resonance f goes higher. The dead spot goes up the chimn...sorry, the neck, and it's possible to remove it entirely! You may of course add stiffness to the neckk as well, which is doen successfully by very many "high-end" luthiers.

    Then, there is the personal perception of "sound". Some will appreciate the emphasis on low overtones (heavy and weakish), while others prefer the emphasis on the fundamental (light and stiff). That, my friend, is entirely up to you! :bassist:
  3. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    What he said.

    Looking at it another way, the Fender design with the insanely large headstock and tuners (ok, that might be a tiny bit of editorializing! ;) ) produces an uneven frequency response, and dead spots, due to the resonant frequencies being in the same range as the notes' fundamental and lower harmonic frequencies. This can be evened out by moving the neck resonance away from the note frequencies as Sub said, either by lowering the resonance frequencies (by adding mass, or decreasing stiffness) or by raising them (by reducing mass, especially out at the end of the neck, or decreasing stiffness).

    The only hitch is that if you want it to sound just like a Fender (and mind you, all Fenders don't sound the same), you've got to build it the same way, and get the same Fender drawbacks.
  4. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
  5. JP Basses

    JP Basses

    Mar 22, 2002
    Paris FRANCE


    JP (member of the pilotjones/suburban/jp physics fellowship) :D
  6. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    ;) :D
  7. Thanks you guys!

    So, the way I understand it, if I reduce some of the mass at the headstock by using a more narrow profile and lightweight tuners, and then stiffen the neck by adding carbon fiber rods, I should be able to maintain most of the desirable aspects and eliminate the undesirable ones. That was my initial plan, but I did not realize the physics behind it. Please correct me if I misunderstand. :)

    I am not looking for the exact Fender sound. Mostly I wanted to go with a design I was comfortable with for my first build, and, hopefully, I wanted to eliminate some of the previously mentioned drawbacks without drastically affecting sound.
  8. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    Sounds good.
  9. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    :D :D

    Don't do this, JP, you make me fall off my chair - AT WORK!! Imagine the looks....

    Yep, spot on. You may also consider really stiff neck wood and a not-too-thin neck profile, to avoid the bars.