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Old 02-17-2011, 07:11 AM
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Brian Gencarelli Brian Gencarelli is offline
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Default Fixes to reduce string tension.

Good Morning,

Recently I have been reading a lot in various sources about reducing string tension on a bass. My instrument has a 43" string length and the overall tension on the strings is a lot higher than a lot of other basses I have been playing lately.

I know that switching strings could have an impact, but I have Pirastro Permanents on right now. I really like the way they are sounding on my instrument, so I would like some other suggestions.

What would be the order of operations to address this issue if you were hired to do this? (tailpiece, string height, etc...)

Any answers would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks!
Brian
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Old 02-17-2011, 09:20 AM
Arnold Schnitzer Arnold Schnitzer is offline
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Hey, Brian. Permanents are about the tightest-playing string out there, other than "stark" or heavy gauges. I think you should consider a softer string, especially because of the mensur of your bass. Recently, a client of mine asked me to set his tailpiece all the way down on the saddle, hoping to increase his perceived tension. I was skeptical, but gave it a shot. He was really happy with the change, so maybe you could try moving yours toward the bridge for the opposite result. You could also reduce the breakover angle at the bridge with a higher saddle. And sometimes a looser soundpost or different position can help a bit. How is the fingerboard camber? Often, excessive camber is the cause of a tight feeling.

Good luck, and I hope others will chime in with their remedies.
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Old 02-17-2011, 11:47 AM
Eric Hochberg Eric Hochberg is offline
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I tried everything Arnold suggests and the only significant change on my bass came with a new fingerboard with little scoop (camber?). I've got a plain gut G and D on there now with Spiro Weichs, and the bass seems to really like those, pretty loose feeling now.
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Last edited by Eric Hochberg; 02-17-2011 at 11:57 AM.
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Old 02-17-2011, 12:59 PM
Eduardo Barbosa Eduardo Barbosa is offline
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Default nut?

I hope this is relevant,
In my experience the height of the nut dramatically changed the feel of my basses.
I have it as low as I possibly can with no buzzes.
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Old 02-17-2011, 01:01 PM
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Cool camber..

Excess Camber is the biggest problem with string tension that I see. Pressing down the notes further to reach the fingerboard is no fun than if the board was mostly flat. I prefer a flat board, let the strings pull the neck a little, the camber/board leveled if not as perfect as desired and then raise the bridge height if you need more clearance to the board, not scoop the fingerboard. That also weakens the neck as the ebony laminated to the maple = strength. Shave the ebony and you weaken the neck. Then when you play, the excess vibrations you feel under your fingers makes it feel that much tighter.

Moving the TP up is something I always liked as the TP absorbs more vibration the closer it is to the bridge making it seem softer to play. The raised saddle also helps but now we get into neck thickness, overstand and neck pitch in the block. You can almost go back to zero and re-build the bass from the block to the string to make it the softest as possible. Sometimes trying to fix a bass starting in the middle is difficult as you fight other factors that can't be done without a huge expense.

Strings are the least of my worries on this as I have played with stark 92s on many basses with a stiff straight neck/board with no problem. Then I had Weichs on another two basses with bent necks and big camber. That was like fighting a giant.

Get the neck/board camber fixed or minimized as much as possible and go from there.

Also, I have played 39.5 inches that was tight and 44.5 inches that was loose, same strings. It's not the length or the strings, it's the neck in 99.999% - 110% of the time, in my not so humble opinion!
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Old 02-17-2011, 02:50 PM
Eric Hochberg Eric Hochberg is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Smith View Post
You can almost go back to zero and re-build the bass from the block to the string to make it the softest as possible. Sometimes trying to fix a bass starting in the middle is difficult as you fight other factors that can't be done without a huge expense.
Yes, I went through all the minor tweaks to little avail, finally got the new board and considered a neck reset, but think the expense-bass ratio for that might be overkill on this bass.
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Old 02-17-2011, 08:47 PM
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Thumbs up yes..

Quote:
Originally Posted by Eduardo Barbosa View Post
I hope this is relevant,
In my experience the height of the nut dramatically changed the feel of my basses.
I have it as low as I possibly can with no buzzes.
I re-cut almost every Nut if too high to as low as possible. The danger here is changing string gauges. If using a larger diameter gauge and you need it low and then go to a thinner gauge after lowering the Nut, then you might get buzzes. The fixes depending on the exact problem or degree of it is to either slightly shim the Nut or, shave the fingerboard back from the half position to the Nut or from somewhere in-between.

The music we play is hard enough. Why fight the bass more than you have to?
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Old 02-18-2011, 07:23 AM
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Thanks all, for your detailed responses!

@Arnold- Thanks for your ideas. I can easily play with the tailpiece and the post. I was thinking that. I know you have a very fancy high saddle, and I wil probably be up your way in July. I hope to drop by the shop and bring the bass. I might play with the saddle height in the mean time. Also, I will throw a different G string on there to see if it feels better. I just like the way these sound on the bass. I don't believe there is excessive camber on the board, but I will get out my straight edge and turn out the lights.

@Eduardo- The nut is pretty low. I will double check with a couple of business cards, but it should be really close.

@Ken and Eric- I know that my overstand needs to be corrected, that is a fact. I am planning on bringing the bass with me to see Arnold this summer, so maybe he will be able to look it over and come up with a plan. I just need a "band-aid" right now. The bass is not unplayable, but it is harder to play that I would like. I am playing unaccompanied Bach, and a few other things that the tension makes harder to articulate with the left hand.

@All, the bass sounds really good. I just want to optimize it's playability. In the long term, I want to look at a neck reset and shortening the string length. In the short term, I want to try the most effective things I can comfortably do quickly to make it feel better to play. I can handle TP wires, bridge, FB dressing, SP movement, installing a different saddle, etc... and I should have a little time this weekend. (Thanks Presidents!)

I appreciate the suggestions,
Brian
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Old 02-18-2011, 09:35 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Gencarelli View Post

@Eduardo- The nut is pretty low. I will double check with a couple of business cards, but it should be really close.
i think ONE card should be enough
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Old 02-18-2011, 11:21 AM
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Cool yes, or..

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anselm Hauke View Post
i think ONE card should be enough
I agree but one card at the very most. On my basses that I have tweaked, you can feel the bass squeeze a piece of paper against the nut because I take it down almost to the board.

While you have your 'straight edge' out, check along the neck/fingerboard joint to see if the neck under the board is perfectly straight. Depending on how true your straightedge is, check everything with both sides of the tool. We have machined steel and aluminum ones here. They are sent out on occasion to be re-trued.

For the 'band aid' fix as you put it, lower the Nut almost to the board so that the single card is squeezed tight when slid under the string when it tries to touch the nut unless your board is perfectly flat. If flat and I highly doubt that, one card height for medium playing and two for animal attack hard playing.

On the sound post, place it right under the bridge foot, centered one post diameter below it. Further down or out might make the bass feel tighter regardless of the sound difference.

On the TP length, 2 octaves and a fourth in sound for the after-length but the A and E will be sharp with a regular TP so just the G and D tuned. The G to a C and the D to a G. That's your starting point for the tailwire but if you let the TP up more towards the bridge, at least you will know where 'one/1' is if you have to go back.

On the TP wire over the saddle, like you cut notches in the bridge, I cut notches in the saddle deep enough so the wires are in place and do not slide away. The width that comes out of the tailpiece to the endpin collar in a continuous taper if any is fine for me. No drastic pushing them tighter or further apart hokus-pokus in my book. Just secure so it does its job.

Down the road, as far as your neck-set goes or you string length, remember that shortening the length will push the notes higher towards the bridge unless the Top is cut or the bridge is moved up. I have had many 43's-44's shortened to 42" and it's not so easy to get the notes around the octave where you want them as the body of the bass with its shoulders were designed for that length you have now. Maybe the design is good or maybe not or maybe shortening will put the notes in even a better place. The good thing is as you mentioned is you are coming to Arnold's and he is one of the best in regards to placing where the notes go and so on. Working with him on several restorations and set-ups has greatly broadened my knowledge of the 'whole picture' concept in regards to this particular issue with basses that are too long. If you have an Eb neck, it's easier to shorten. If it's a D at 43", then you or rather Arnold has his work cut out to do this job in regards to note placement near the octave area.
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Old 02-20-2011, 10:22 AM
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Ken,

Wow, thanks for that detailed reply. My straight edge is a pinnacle that I paid $40 for just for this very thing. It is really true...

I will make sure that it is "one" business card, I have always heard two cards, so that is why I said that. I plan on putting it in "the bass clamp" today and tweaking the set up, TP wire, etc... seeing how that feels. Thanks for the pointers.

On our northern excursion, my wife has family in Conn., I plan on hitting all of the major shops on the way there or back. We are celebrating our 10th anniversary this year so we are going to take a couple of weeks and visit her family, and I get to see some areas that I haven't seen since I was very small. I have been to NY plenty of times, that's where my Dad was from, but I haven't been to NE much. We are going to plan the itinerary around the shops and "Diners, Drive-In's, and Dives". Should be a lot of fun!

Best,
Brian
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Old 02-21-2011, 04:06 AM
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This is a good thread - better than most discussion I've seen on the subject. But still, I feel obligated to note that there's still (like always) a lot of grey area and overlap on the issues of actual string tension, perceived string tension, string length (fingering/interval lengths), and instrument response ("tightness", "looseness"). Obviously all of these contribute to how easily an instrument plays, but they're radically different issues that may or may not influence one another or even have anything to do with a particular bass and whatever playability issues it might have.

I think we could add to the quality info here by trying to separate some of these different aspects of "playability" and clarify them - or maybe give them their own threads - if for no other reason than to not perpetuate some of the common fallacies that so often seem to involve the issue of "string tension".

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Smith View Post
Excess Camber is the biggest problem with string tension that I see. Pressing down the notes further to reach the fingerboard is no fun than if the board was mostly flat. I prefer a flat board, let the strings pull the neck a little, the camber/board leveled if not as perfect as desired and then raise the bridge height if you need more clearance to the board, not scoop the fingerboard.
Overlooking the fact that the shape of the fingerboard has no bearing on string tension, technically speaking, which makes my question a little off-topic for the thread, I'm not quite getting this - are you saying that with a new fingerboard you like to start with no camber (literally flat), and then evaluate it under tension and add minimal camber only as needed to get sufficient clearance - just sort of free-form? Rather than creating a particular "shaped" camber on the board from the start?
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Old 02-21-2011, 04:42 AM
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Cool well..

Quote:
Originally Posted by Thomas Erickson View Post
This is a good thread - better than most discussion I've seen on the subject. But still, I feel obligated to note that there's still (like always) a lot of grey area and overlap on the issues of actual string tension, perceived string tension, string length (fingering/interval lengths), and instrument response ("tightness", "looseness"). Obviously all of these contribute to how easily an instrument plays, but they're radically different issues that may or may not influence one another or even have anything to do with a particular bass and whatever playability issues it might have.

I think we could add to the quality info here by trying to separate some of these different aspects of "playability" and clarify them - or maybe give them their own threads - if for no other reason than to not perpetuate some of the common fallacies that so often seem to involve the issue of "string tension".

Overlooking the fact that the shape of the fingerboard has no bearing on string tension, technically speaking, which makes my question a little off-topic for the thread, I'm not quite getting this - are you saying that with a new fingerboard you like to start with no camber (literally flat), and then evaluate it under tension and add minimal camber only as needed to get sufficient clearance - just sort of free-form? Rather than creating a particular "shaped" camber on the board from the start?
Ok, it's hard to address so many points in a single post but on my comment about starting flat, I prefer that. Double Basses do not have Truss Rods to adjust from string pull so the attempt is to build the Neck with FB as strong and straight as possible. Putting camber/curve into a FB before you know how much the strings will pull the neck and add to the camber is not the best way to go. You cannot put the wood back in the FB after scraping it out. It takes a few minutes to string up a bass. It takes many hours to replace the FB after butchering it unnecessarily. I have seen many basses come out of well known shops that in my opinion needed a new FB AFTER it was worked on. I am very adamant about my set-up work being as perfect as possible.

I do not at all consider this free-form if you are referring to having no method or measurement. In fact, the opposite is the case. Putting a camber into a FB before testing the string pull I would say IS Free-form because the string pull was NOT tested before cutting wood away that can't be put back. So, your perception of my comment was just the opposite in my opinion.

As far as science goes in relation to actual tension, throw that idea out. No one cares what the laboratory measurements are. The care only how the bass feels when you play it, period. If less camber or moving the Tailpiece or whatever makes the bass easier and/or softer to play, then that is less tension on your hand, wrist and tendons.

I once heard that if every person had to learn things on their own, people would die stupid! So, listen to the more experienced people when ever you can. Been there done that is a fact of life after you have been there and done that. From what I have seen, heard and read on line, too many new DB players are suffering from lack of knowledge, at the hands of misinformation and not having the correct knowledge that is already in existence.

With DB's, trial and error is often the way people set-up and adjust playability over time. Every bass is completely different and it takes what it takes to get it to its most favorable playing condition for a particular player.

The IS a great subject and the OP is a VERY experience Bassist, Musician and music educator with more experience than most. I feel great satisfaction when my ideas and experience can help another professional.
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Old 02-21-2011, 04:54 AM
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Ok, thanks Ken for the clarification about fingerboard shape - I thought that was what you were saying, and I agree that starting with a concave fingerboard is counterintuitive.

Quote:
As far as science goes in relation to actual tension, throw that idea out. No one cares what the laboratory measurements are. The care only how the bass feels when you play it, period. If less camber or moving the Tailpiece or whatever makes the bass easier and/or softer to play, then that is less tension on your hand, wrist and tendons.
Well, sure - on one hand there are so many measurements and variables that trying to apply much science to the thing is not going to be very productive. But that doesn't mean that we (bassists or luthiers, either one) should stick our heads in the sand rather than give some objective thought to the basic physical workings of the instrument, let alone blindly follow the fallacies and superstitions that float around the bass world and make no sense given a little consideration.
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Old 02-21-2011, 11:13 AM
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Cool Science..

Quote:
Originally Posted by Thomas Erickson View Post
Ok, thanks Ken for the clarification about fingerboard shape - I thought that was what you were saying, and I agree that starting with a concave fingerboard is counterintuitive.

Well, sure - on one hand there are so many measurements and variables that trying to apply much science to the thing is not going to be very productive. But that doesn't mean that we (bassists or luthiers, either one) should stick our heads in the sand rather than give some objective thought to the basic physical workings of the instrument, let alone blindly follow the fallacies and superstitions that float around the bass world and make no sense given a little consideration.
Sticking your head in the sand is a bit drastic. My point is not to call someone at MIT to help you set-up your bass. Go by feel and go with the flow! Measure what needs to be measured with simplicity and leave the Calculus in the classroom.
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Old 02-22-2011, 06:44 AM
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To reduce tension on a 43" mensure why not first try Solo gauge strings? You can get solo Permanents.
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Old 02-22-2011, 06:53 AM
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I think solo strings (tuned down) might be a bit drastic - I've played a few basses with solos tuned down in the past and found them to be pretty anemic. But, several strings come in light gauges. I know Helicores do, and apparently Flexocor92s do too, though I haven't seen them.
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Old 02-22-2011, 07:15 AM
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A status update:

So, I had a little extra time this weekend due to a light studio day on Saturday and having Monday off for President's day. I was able to get the bass out in the shop and get some work done.

1) The nut- it was about two business cards, so I filed the nut slots down some to lower it.

2) I scraped the FB and re-dressed it to address any extra scoop on the board. I didn't find it to be drastically scooped, but this took some of the extra out. Don't worry, I still have plenty of meat on the board.

3) I made a high saddle for the bass out of a nice piece of lacewood. I removed the old saddle, which was about the same thickness as the top and replaced it with one that sits about an inch and a half over the top. I left some space between the sides of the saddle and the top to avoid any additional saddle cracks. I also lengthened the TP wire (obviously) to accomodate the change and a little extra for feel.

4) The sound post was right on where Ken described, so I left it alone. (I have some ankle weights that I place on the top to hold up a sound post. They are covered in fabric and I just put a shop towel down underneath to prevent any scratches.

Result- The overall feel of the bass is much better. I don't consider the problem solved, but it is much improved. The raised saddle probably did more to alleviate the tension than anything. I think the tension is due to a geometry problem with the bass. I had one of my students here doing some odd jobs, so I got him to play the bass when he was done. It seems much more resonant to my ear.

Thanks again for all of the suggestions, I and my hands appreciate it!

Best,
Brian
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Old 02-22-2011, 09:25 AM
Arnold Schnitzer Arnold Schnitzer is offline
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Sounds like a productive day. One question, though; is your 1 1/2" saddle glued on, or held with some kind of fastener? I worry that it's going to topple.
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Old 02-22-2011, 10:45 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Gencarelli View Post
The raised saddle probably did more to alleviate the tension than anything. I think the tension is due to a geometry problem with the bass. I had one of my students here doing some odd jobs, so I got him to play the bass when he was done. It seems much more resonant to my ear.

Thanks again for all of the suggestions, I and my hands appreciate it!

Best,
Brian
Brian, if you have the time, go back to a normal saddle and compare. Then you can see exactly how much change the other things contributed without the saddle.

I used weich gauge Evah's on a few basses and the sound was just fine. On another bass I had solo Helocores and that bass was fine as well. I took them off and put them on my Cornerless bass for a bit and they sounded good there as also. I noticed that Christine Hoock has solo Spirocores on two different basses I have seen her play in YouTube, one of them the Tarr and one some Germanic style old bass. She sounds great!

So, after all is said and done, Weich or Solo gauge is not out of the question. Thomas, I don't know what basses you played exactly but some basses will work with solos and some not. The late Homer Mensch had a mix of Spiros on his bass, solo, weich and regular to make up his set. His bass as many know was one of the great memorable instruments out there.

Brian, it's good to hear you can tackle this on your own. Great skills to have on one's instrument especially with the great variety of repair styles out there in the field. I am still waiting to one day play the Heifetz.
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