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  #21  
Old 12-29-2011, 10:32 AM
Robert J Spear Robert J Spear is offline
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Default string tension

It was quite a pleasure to return to this thread and find some activity on the fifths-tuning topic. Since I've just designed and built (or am building) a couple of new basses, including one five-stringer, the question of string tension is one that couldn't be avoided. What I learned is that string tension and tension on the top of the instrument are not the same thing. The tension of the strings is controlled by a lot of factors including diameter, materials, tuning pitch, and length, but tension on the belly is a function of the string angle over the bridge.

Consider if you had a bridge carrying strings at an angle of zero. There would be no downward tension to speak of on the belly except the bare minimum amount needed to keep the bridge in place. It wouldn't matter how many strings were on the bridge; pressure on the belly would always be zero. When you begin increasing the angle, only then does pressure on the top become a factor. If you add strings, the downward pressure increases; if you remove strings, it decreases. I've read many comments in the literature that indicate that the reason many old basses only had three strings was that it allowed a freer top vibration and produced less pressure.

Downward pressure on the top can be mitigated by decreasing the angle of the neck or by raising the saddle. I used a combination of the two, but it's a game that can only be played so far. It was a very interesting exercise. A couple of years ago I had the chance to hear a highly experimental 15" viola a friend of mine made that had almost no string angle at the bridge. When it came out of its case, my immediate reaction was that it was an ingenious design that would have absolutely no sound at all. I was amazed at how good it sounded! Lots of mysterious things to learn in this biz.
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  #22  
Old 12-29-2011, 10:54 AM
Robert J Spear Robert J Spear is offline
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Default More on 5ths tuning

We all know the advantages and drawbacks of fifths tuning; how the #$%@!* are you supposed to shift? The answer seems to be that you don't. A newer and more flexible technique is necessary. There have been a couple developed by Dennis Masuzzo in the USA and Silvio Dalla Torre and others in Europe. I understand the Joel Quarrington in Canada is also working on a method book that will, with luck, be introduced at ISB 2013.

But no matter how you finesse it, when you are playing on a bass with a string length of 41 1/2" - 43", fifths-tuning is a challenge. As a luthier and a long-ago bass player with only average-size hands, my feeling was that fifths tuning would get a boost when the instrument was designed for it; principally, when the string length was shortened. There are big problems with both, but modern string technology now allows for shorter string lengths with good sound.

It's also quite amazing that reducing the string length by just two inches makes a huge difference in fifths-tuning technique in the lower positions (except that you might have to think in a concept other than traditional positions). I actually had a bass designed with a string length of 38", but it required the thumb stop to be low and the shoulders got in the way (not by much) of reaching for the octave harmonic. The players definitely drew the line here. I increased the string length to 39" on a bass with a body length of 43 3/4", which is certainly in the realm of a standard 3/4 bass, and that reduced the problem considerably. It sometimes takes only a small adjustment to create a big-feeling difference. Perhaps the same would be true in how we think about a new tuning system and fingering technique.

In any case, I think ISB 2013 will be the place to be if you have any interest in the topic. And if you don't, it will probably still be the place to be!

Last edited by Robert J Spear; 12-29-2011 at 03:23 PM. Reason: #$%@!@ should have been spelled #$%@!*
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  #23  
Old 12-29-2011, 06:27 PM
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I think that if a bass is shortened or a bass is made shorter/smaller, it will have less depth in the tone than being 2 or more inches longer. I have and have had basses that were shortened in several ways from neck grafts, block cuts, false nuts and bridge shifts as well as some combinations of 2 or 3 items mentioned. The playability for finger stretch gets easier but often you are pushing the notes lower down away from the player in the upper register making that F# or G octave that much further away to find.

The sound is often more focused if that was a problem to begin with but there is some equal amount of depth loss in the process. The instrument being a bass to begin with is fairly deep anyway considering we are talking about a fairly large instruments over 3/4 or 4/4 even.

Now, from a players stand point, I don't see many people who are working to memorize fingerings for everything they play to avoid mistakes and intonation problems doubling on a bass in 5ths. Playing in 5ths is basically a move to playing a GIANT Cello that from a distance, is called a Bass!

You can play and double on 4-string in 4ths, 4-str. with C-Ext. of any variety or even 5-string bass BUT, with everything tuned in 4ths or occasionally the Low B moved up to C for some passages. Playing in 5ths is a Life change and is no small adjustment on ones mind either.

I can see some small improvements in playing in 5ths and some small numbers moving to it as well but I do not at all see this as a change in how the bass will be played in the future. It took centuries until the world agreed on the main tuning in 4ths with 4 strings and now some think they need to go back to a tuning that helped drive people TO playing in 4ths.

The 3-string bass in France was played in 5ths for extra range 150-200 years ago and then the switch to 4-string gave them that range and more. In most of Europe and partially in the UK, if you need the full Cello/Double Bass range, you play a 5-string bass. In USA, C-Extensions are much more common than 5-Strings but the 5s are out there as well.

Making a bass small enough to play in 5ths comfortably is just making in my opinion, a half sized bass with less bass depth in the sound. Most players I know are looking for more thick bass depth in their sound, not less.
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  #24  
Old 12-29-2011, 07:08 PM
Joshua phelps
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Default Gotta side with ken.

I have to side with ken 100% on this topic. The biggest thing for me as well is the notes. Great playing, speed & good intonation come from reputation and playing those same positions repeatedly for years, for me changing seems like a nightmare. On a side note, I've always been fascinated by harmonics (on electric) but there again they really mess with my head when I know this fret as #f or bG but for harmonics there can be two notes inside the same fret that differ from the fretted note.
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  #25  
Old 12-29-2011, 10:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Joshua phelps View Post
I have to side with ken 100% on this topic. The biggest thing for me as well is the notes. Great playing, speed & good intonation come from reputation and playing those same positions repeatedly for years, for me changing seems like a nightmare. On a side note, I've always been fascinated by harmonics (on electric) but there again they really mess with my head when I know this fret as #f or bG but for harmonics there can be two notes inside the same fret that differ from the fretted note.
Please, lets leave Frets out of this, lol..
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  #26  
Old 12-29-2011, 10:57 PM
Joshua phelps
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Cool Jeez ken...

I said "on a side note" jeez
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  #27  
Old 12-29-2011, 11:00 PM
Joshua phelps
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I meant to say "repetition" on that previous post as well, thanks auto correct
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  #28  
Old 12-30-2011, 10:52 AM
Robert J Spear Robert J Spear is offline
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I'll agree with Ken that the decision to embrace 5ths tuning is one that means no looking back. You've basically got to lock yourself in a room for however long it takes. I've been trying to do that on a chamber bass I made in high 5ths tuning (GDAE) because it's small enough that I can fool my brain into believing that it's a totally different instrument. On the bigger basses, it is discouraging to realize how hard old habits die, if they ever die at all, but you'd need to talk with guys like Joel Quarrington or Paul Unger or other fifths-tuners to get a more detailed recounting of what the switch demanded.

As for the rest of it, my feeling is that if you want to make a bass for the 21st century, you need to step back and reconsider how a bass should sound. For me, I don't want a massive and cavernous rumble from my bass; I want a clean and focused sound that follows the listener and finds him wherever he's sitting in the back of the hall. I can probably numb your skulls with the many various acoustical reasons that underlie such a bass, but a good ****ogy might be from guys in my age bracket who remember pre-stereo "high fidelity" speaker systems.

Back in the day, to get a convincing bass in the lowest octave, you needed things like a monster folded horn. If you look at audiophile magazines of the era, you'll find projects where people used 30-inch woofers and turned their basements into part of their sound systems. No kidding. It gives literal meaning to the idea of shaking the floor. As time went on and technology improved, you could get the same result by using a closet as the resonating chamber for your system. You will also find pictures of guys who mounted 18" woofers in closet doors.

Time marches on. Woofer enclosures came down in size to six cubic feet, to four, and then to three. With the advent of the acoustic suspension theory, we were able to put entire speaker systems on a bookshelf. You will not find people using closets for woofer enclosures any more. I have a subwoofer in a 1 cubic-foot enclosure. It has a single 8" speaker that pumps out bass at 32 Hz at a volume that'll make your bowels move ( needless to say, I dial it well back from that setting!).

Basses aren't loudpseakers, of course, but the idea is that we've gotten stuck in our thinking about basses. Bigger doesn't necessarily mean better or even lower. The demands of modern music are exceeding what can be done on what is basically a 16th-century gamba. My first question would be whether players would switch from their conventional basses to one that was smaller and had lower ribs if it would otherwise do as much as well as their normal bass. Next question would be whether the players would consider switching if there were trade-offs; that is, they had to give up some things they liked on the old bass to get even more (but different) things they liked on the new bass.
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  #29  
Old 12-30-2011, 01:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert J Spear View Post
I'll agree with Ken that the decision to embrace 5ths tuning is one that means no looking back. You've basically got to lock yourself in a room for however long it takes. I've been trying to do that on a chamber bass I made in high 5ths tuning (GDAE) because it's small enough that I can fool my brain into believing that it's a totally different instrument. On the bigger basses, it is discouraging to realize how hard old habits die, if they ever die at all, but you'd need to talk with guys like Joel Quarrington or Paul Unger or other fifths-tuners to get a more detailed recounting of what the switch demanded.

As for the rest of it, my feeling is that if you want to make a bass for the 21st century, you need to step back and reconsider how a bass should sound. For me, I don't want a massive and cavernous rumble from my bass; I want a clean and focused sound that follows the listener and finds him wherever he's sitting in the back of the hall. I can probably numb your skulls with the many various acoustical reasons that underlie such a bass, but a good ****ogy might be from guys in my age bracket who remember pre-stereo "high fidelity" speaker systems.

Back in the day, to get a convincing bass in the lowest octave, you needed things like a monster folded horn. If you look at audiophile magazines of the era, you'll find projects where people used 30-inch woofers and turned their basements into part of their sound systems. No kidding. It gives literal meaning to the idea of shaking the floor. As time went on and technology improved, you could get the same result by using a closet as the resonating chamber for your system. You will also find pictures of guys who mounted 18" woofers in closet doors.

Time marches on. Woofer enclosures came down in size to six cubic feet, to four, and then to three. With the advent of the acoustic suspension theory, we were able to put entire speaker systems on a bookshelf. You will not find people using closets for woofer enclosures any more. I have a subwoofer in a 1 cubic-foot enclosure. It has a single 8" speaker that pumps out bass at 32 Hz at a volume that'll make your bowels move ( needless to say, I dial it well back from that setting!).

Basses aren't loudpseakers, of course, but the idea is that we've gotten stuck in our thinking about basses. Bigger doesn't necessarily mean better or even lower. The demands of modern music are exceeding what can be done on what is basically a 16th-century gamba. My first question would be whether players would switch from their conventional basses to one that was smaller and had lower ribs if it would otherwise do as much as well as their normal bass. Next question would be whether the players would consider switching if there were trade-offs; that is, they had to give up some things they liked on the old bass to get even more (but different) things they liked on the new bass.
I hear you, agree with you and, I remember that old Juke Box bass sound as well. I have a few great Orchestra basses here to compare. The Hart, Storioni and Tarr. The Hart is the easiest to play, the Storioni is close but the Tarr has a big size to it. Sound wise in a big Orchestra, you want the Tarr, hands down but this is not normal Germanic style gamba Tarr. It is one of the 9 basses Tarr made for the Orchestra some 30 years before it became the Halle, a 4/4 violin model. The Storioni is a true and quality old Italian sound but the Tarr literally shakes the room. The Hart on the other hand is the sweetest bass I have had but because it was built on the early Baroque Maggini/D'salo pattern and made with narrower/more normal Rib depth, it doesn't have the power of the other two monsters. It is not a huge difference to the Storioni but noticeable. To the Tarr, it's no contest in the power/projection department. Which do I take out more often that the others? The Hart, and the others in the sections I play in love it. The Storioni is a bit over the top within the section but is pure gold under the Bow. The Tarr scared the other 7 players the night I brought it to concert. I was more focused on the bass than the music that night but fortunately, I had played those pieces before so no harm, no foul..

Now, I did work with Arnold recently on making a quasi modified copy of the Storioni and it came out great. Now, it just needs time to age as it did have somewhat of a new sound on day one to my ear as might be expected. To others as well as Arnold and myself, it sounded somewhat older than new due to the wood and design. Being that I had the original to compare it to, I knew the exact difference. Most people wont. Also, I did play an old Testore recently that was long bodied but not deep ribbed and it had a smooth and powerful deep-smooth sound. It was NOT thick sounding, just deep. Thick sounding is what I consider a deep powerful bass should have and not just deep and smooth. From having my basses tried by many orchestra players I often hear comments like that. Sweet and dark doesn't always cut it for them. They want to engulf the stage floor when they play. Right or wrong, this is what I hear. One night I brought my Neuner to a rehearsal just after using the Tarr with that same Orchestra. The principal turns and says something like , "hey, we need a section of those basses" referring to its power. I said something like. "this is NOT my big bass, it's just my back-up/rehearsal bass". He replied, "it's BIG Enough!"

So, for today Orchestras, I think deep and loud is more desired. Sweet and clear is for your own pleasure or for Chamber or solo playing. The Orchestras want THUNDER. Can you imagine the early 19th century Manchester Gentleman's Orchestra with 9 Tarr basses? I think that was the 7.5 earthquake they had that season..

Hey, for Jazz players, it's a totally different menu. I am speaking above mainly about Orchestra bowing basses, 4ths, 5ths or whatever!
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  #30  
Old 12-31-2011, 10:08 AM
Arnold Schnitzer Arnold Schnitzer is offline
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I propose a compromise between the fourths tuners and the fifths tuners: Tuning in augmented fourths will extend the range of the bass, and a side benefit is that the player will only have to know the notes on two strings. I propose, from bottom to top, D, G#, D, G#. Who will be the first to adopt this method?
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  #31  
Old 12-31-2011, 10:36 AM
Robert J Spear Robert J Spear is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arnold Schnitzer View Post
I propose a compromise between the fourths tuners and the fifths tuners: Tuning in augmented fourths will extend the range of the bass, and a side benefit is that the player will only have to know the notes on two strings. I propose, from bottom to top, D, G#, D, G#. Who will be the first to adopt this method?
Arnold, I think you might have found a tuning that has been overlooked for centuries. I can only imagine playing double-stopped fourths or fifths and what it would do to what's left of my brain. And an Eb scale?? Well, why not?

There's plenty of room in the bass world for all kinds of variations on the theme. Happy New Year to all on the forum, and after tonight ISB 2013 will be next year!
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  #32  
Old 12-31-2011, 01:36 PM
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Wink lol..

Quote:
Originally Posted by Arnold Schnitzer View Post
I propose a compromise between the fourths tuners and the fifths tuners: Tuning in augmented fourths will extend the range of the bass, and a side benefit is that the player will only have to know the notes on two strings. I propose, from bottom to top, D, G#, D, G#. Who will be the first to adopt this method?
Arnold, April fools is in April.. lol
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