What is "opening up the top"?

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by greitzer, Feb 29, 2004.

  1. I've seen several posts, in different forums, talking about "opening up the top" of a new bass. Could someone explain what this means? Thanks.
  2. This means opening up the top.
  3. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I don't quite understand the physics behind it. I always thought is was sort of a zen thing, but you see it with all wooden instruments, even solid bodies. It is not just for bass. It is more prevalent in some instruments that others.

    As an instrument is played more and more, it develops a warmer, more resonant tone. With basses, I think the top actually becomes more accustomed to the vibrations over time and may even move more freely. The bass not only sounds better but is actually louder. It "opens up."

    I have heard countless hypotheses including that it is related to the aging of the wood. I have also heard that it is the continuous exposure to the sonic vibrations that create the magic. This one has even led to a process of mechanically exposing woods to vibrations to accelerate the process.

    If forced on the issue, I would wager it is more the later than the former, as I have a Gibson Jumbo acoustic that sounded great when it was new. After 15 years of being played regularly, it sounds absolutely amazing. I have ran across a few really nice acoustic guitars more than 20 years old owned by people who have played them very little over the years. Most still had a stiffness about them.

    I am sure there are countless arguments to explain the phenomenon, some more scientific than others. I wouldn't begin to speculate. All I know is that it is very real. It is almost as if the harmonic overtones aren't dampened as much, but that is just me rambling on.

    My teacher's 150-year-old bass is smaller than my Shen, but it seems twice as loud as my bass, even with me playing it with my bow. His bass has a very "open sound"
  4. Brent Norton

    Brent Norton

    Sep 26, 2003
    Detroit, MI
    Royal shot in the dark, but I'm very interested in this topic as well...

    I have to wonder if the sonic vibrations serve as a stress-reliever. During the making of the instrument, you'd think the glueing, carving, bending, clamping, etc., would introduce stresses to the materials not inherent in their natural states. My feeling is that perhaps the vibrations allow the molecular structures to sort of "fall back in line," for lack of a better phrase.

    Any scienticians(TM) on the board who can lend a hand here?? :meh:
  5. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Run a search for "Chladni" which is a term that relates to resonance patterns in tops
  6. John, i'm so sorry... I was being fecitious. I had just gotten up and thought you were asking about literally opening up the top .....Taking off the top! JEEZ!
    As Brent mentions about molecular changes inthe wood, due to sound vibrations....a common theory is that the molecules carve a path of least resistance through the wood of the top and only sound and time can produce this.
    The last time I brought this up, the luthiers were all over me like ugly on a gorrila! I had seen a program on the TV show NOVA, and some of the guys thought this guy was a charlatan.
  7. tplyons


    Apr 6, 2003
    Madison, NJ
    So the question is, is there a way to speed up the opening of the top? Would attaching an eBow to a string for constant vibration work? Some other thing to break it in quicker?
  8. Thanks everybody (and Paul, no problem -- I could tell you thought I meant "taking off the top" literally). I appreciate the (possible) explanations. For my purposes in posting the original query, I've got my answer from your responses. It means the bass will improve its sound quality over time, as the wood gets "broken in", for lack of a better term. I guess the scientific hows and why's are still a matter of speculation.
  9. Trevorus


    Oct 18, 2002
    Urbana, IL
    I have heard of people putting their instrument directly in front of a somewhat loud speaker in an isolated room for a couple of days. Works well for acoustic instruments. Solid bodies might need a different method. The Aura bass shakers would work well. A felt pad with the shaker on a clamp system would work well.
  10. This gives me the chance to share with everyone a story with a picture that was in one of the old, old ISB mags.
    This guy had gotten drafted into the US Army. He was a bass player and his Dad was, I think, an engineer. Anyway they made a "robot" to play his bass while he was gone! The picture showed one of those old fashioned metal bass stands, with a couple of pulleys mounted to it with an attachment to hold the bow. They mounted one of those kitchen stove type timers to it. The bass was put in the stand and evey day, the timer would kick in and the bow (with tons of rosin to get it started, I would think)would ride across the strings for whatever period of time they put in the timer. As I remember a couple of hours! Ths player insisted that the bass sounded much better after. How's that for good ole American ingenuity?
    I'll look for the issue and post it if I can find it.
  11. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    The amazing thing is, after a coupla weeks, the robot started getting gigs. Then it stole the guy's girlfriend. :bag:
  12. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I heard that he has been looking for a robot drummer to play with, but I think they are having a hard time programing one to randomly alter the tempo.
  13. I heard he got blackballed after his last gig, where he drank every drop of motor oil in the place and got the jukebox pregnant.
  14. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    ROTF,LOL...that one almost made me spit my coffee all over my PC.
  15. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    The Natural Progression of Things:
    • Who's that robot?
    • Get me that robot (for the band/session)
    • Get me something that sounds like that robot
    • Who's that robot?
  16. Heifetzbass

    Heifetzbass Commercial User

    Feb 6, 2004
    Upstate, SC
    Owner, Gencarelli Bass Works and Fine String Instruments, LLC.
    Then they got a synthesizer that could do it for nothing... not even free motor oil... and it played in tune. :p
  17. I shoulda known better...... :meh:
  18. mje


    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Many have tried such things... but most just don't put enough energy into the instrument to effect any change. Bob B posted an item last year (or maybe earlier) about a device that attaches to the top and really pumps it. I'll see if I can search for it.

    It has been hypothesized that vibration breaks down some of the glue jpints, that it opens up pores plugged with lignin, that it breaks tiny filbers and makes wood more flexible... who knows?
  19. jmpiwonka


    Jun 11, 2002
    i was told by somone that it is more evident in laminated basses because they have glue holding the layers of wood together and that keeps it from resonating as well.
    after you play it(alot) the glue loosens up or cracks up and allows the top and back to vibrate easier.

    makes sense to me.
  20. sean p

    sean p

    Mar 7, 2002
    eugene, oregon
    in my experience the 'played in' sound isn't nearly as evident in thoroughly-played laminated basses as carved basses. to the contrary, GOLDEN TICKET, i think all that glue in the laminated's parts keeps it from 'adjusting to the vibrations' as well, and over their long lives laminates tend to improve relatively little, sound-wise. on the other hand, a carved bass gets noticeably better with age and playing.

    sean p