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  #1  
Old 02-09-2007, 09:07 PM
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Wink My 'Neck' of the 'Woods'!

Hi folks, this new Thread is basically 'Neck Talk' as far as how we do things. Also, we can discuss the differences between various construction types of Necks as well as Fingerboard materials, Graphite Carbon Fiber, Truss Rods etc.

In our Basses we have used 3, 5 and 7 piece laminated Necks and we have also made each of these in several ways and with various materials. Fingerboards on Smith Basses are usually Ebony or Morado but we have used and tried some other woods as well over the years. These also include Indian Rosewood, Bubinga, Ziricote, Maple and Granadilla from what I can remember. For the Neck woods itself we have used both hard and soft maples, curly and non-curly. For Neck laminates we have used Indian Rosewood, Morado, Bubinga, Shedua, Purpleheart and Walnut.

As you can see, I have tried many many combinations and to date have produced over 5,400 handmade Smith Basses. From this kind of quantity and variety, I can easily see what works best for us and what doesn't. Also, I can see what works period or not regardless of the brand or maker.

So, tell us about your "Neck of the Woods" now...

Questions and discussions are welcomed...

Edit: You may find this link helpful in understanding some of the things we do as well as how and why we do them.

Last edited by Ken Smith; 02-12-2007 at 10:04 AM. Reason: link added
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Old 02-18-2007, 08:01 AM
Kraig Gregory Kraig Gregory is offline
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Default Neck of the Woods

Ken,

You stated you know what works best and what just doesn't work. In terms of sound quality, stability, and visual appeal; is there a noticable difference between a 5 and 7 piece neck?

Also most of the time you either see bubinga or purpleheart laminates. Are these woods used for their sound charactaristics or other factors? What has been your experience of using rare woods like shedua, cocobolo, or morado as laminates on a neck?

Maple is the standard as the base of all necks. Just wondering if you have found any exotic woods that work as well or better than maple. Also you don't see a lot of photos of flamed maple necks coming out of your shop, is that on purpose?

Bottom line with everything factored in, if you were to make a neck thru bass what materials would you use and how many pieces would it have to maximize tone and stability.

Thanks for your time.
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Old 02-18-2007, 09:19 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kraig Gregory View Post
Ken,

You stated you know what works best and what just doesn't work. In terms of sound quality, stability, and visual appeal; is there a noticeable difference between a 5 and 7 piece neck?

Also most of the time you either see bubinga or purpleheart laminates. Are these woods used for their sound characteristics or other factors? What has been your experience of using rare woods like shedua, cocobolo, or morado as laminates on a neck?

Maple is the standard as the base of all necks. Just wondering if you have found any exotic woods that work as well or better than maple. Also you don't see a lot of photos of flamed maple necks coming out of your shop, is that on purpose?

Bottom line with everything factored in, if you were to make a neck thru bass what materials would you use and how many pieces would it have to maximize tone and stability.

Thanks for your time.

Ok, this is a lot to answer in one post so I will do it as a Q and A thing.
-------------------------

Q:is there a noticeable difference between a 5 and 7 piece neck?

A:Yes, to my ear the 7pc nk is slightly brighter and tighter sounding BUT both necks need to be tested using the exact same woods like Maple/Bubinga.
-------------------------

Q:most of the time you either see bubinga or purpleheart laminates. Are these woods used for their sound characteristics or other factors?

A: I would say more for their strength and grain as these woods can be had in long lengths with no defects in them. I have found pin knots in Purpleheart but Bubinga is cleaner to work with and equally stiff.
-------------------------

Q:What has been your experience of using rare woods like shedua, cocobolo, or morado as laminates on a neck?

A:Never used Cocobolo for neck strips but Morado is my all time favorite for strength and tone. Shedua is rare at this this time buy may have a limited comeback.
-------------------------

Q:Just wondering if you have found any exotic woods that work as well or better than maple. Also you don't see a lot of photos of flamed maple necks coming out of your shop, is that on purpose?

A:Maple has been used for instrument necks for over 400 years. It has the best strength-to-weight-to-elasticity of all the woods I have seen. A neck needs to bend a little and if dropped or mis-handles be able to bounce within rather than crack like some more brittle exotic hardwoods. For making necks we buy 4/4, 5/4, 6/4 and 8/4 thick rough lumber for the various necks we use in our 4, 5, 6, and 7-string Basses made as 3, 5 and 7-piece laminates in either Bolt-on or Neck-thru. The Neck-thru gradually tapers from end to end the way we build them so we need some wide stock for some models. Maple is the only Neck grade wood we can get in long clean white lumber in the various thicknesses we use.
-------------------------

Q:Bottom line with everything factored in, if you were to make a neck thru bass what materials would you use and how many pieces would it have to maximize tone and stability.

A:My answer is in the models and woods we use currently. If I thought I could do something better, we would. Years ago we mixed Shedua with Bubinga in the BMT 7pc necks. We ran out of Shedua back then and could not find any so we settled finally on just the Bubinga for that model neck mixed with Maple. Now we have some stock in Shedua that is not figured so I am planning at this time to use it in the necks in place of Bubinga when our current supply runs out. When the Shedua is all gone, we will buy more Bubinga as Shedua is not always available but Bubinga is quite plentiful. This change to Shedua will not take place for a few years as we have 100s of neck billets glued up with Bubinga and still some supply left. When we start making Maple/Shedua Necks, they will sit and acclimate for at least 1-2 years before going into a Bass which is our standard practice with all neck stock.
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Old 02-19-2007, 11:23 AM
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I've been kinda wondering about something as well. I've been contemplating how a bass would perform with a walnut neck and maple stringers. Is that something you've tried before Ken?

I've come to like the tone of walnut, and one of the things I'm contemplating for my next high end bass is one with as much walnut in it as possible. Something like a BSR5EG with walnut core, top, and maybe koa or ash laminates. I was wondering if a walnut neck with the maple stringers would be possible (and desirable) on that bass (I know you don't have any already made so you couldn't put one of these out for quite awhile).

Would this bass be like wearing a ball and chain over your shoulder?
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Old 02-19-2007, 12:05 PM
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Lightbulb Walnut Neck?

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Originally Posted by Bob Faulkner View Post
I've been kinda wondering about something as well. I've been contemplating how a bass would perform with a walnut neck and maple stringers. Is that something you've tried before Ken?

I've come to like the tone of walnut, and one of the things I'm contemplating for my next high end bass is one with as much walnut in it as possible. Something like a BSR5EG with walnut core, top, and maybe koa or ash laminates. I was wondering if a walnut neck with the maple stringers would be possible (and desirable) on that bass (I know you don't have any already made so you couldn't put one of these out for quite awhile).

Would this bass be like wearing a ball and chain over your shoulder?
First, No. I have not made Walnut necks BUT I have seen a few. Also, Walnut has many hidden defects like Pin Knots and is not the best thing for a Neck. Walnut has the density of soft Maple and not Hard Maple that we use. Also, Walnut is on the brittle side and not flexible like Maple under stress so it would be more prone to shock cracks than Maple is.

We take years in the process for Every Smith Neck we make from the Lumber to the finished Bass. We would take no less time with your experiment BUT, we will not warranty the Bass if using Walnut as you describe. If you like the sound of Walnut as you say, make sure the Bass you are comparing it to has the same Fingerboard, Finish, Pickups and Electronics (and body woods, shape and thickness) as a Smith Bass so you don't get caught comparing Apples to Oranges kinda syndrome.

That being said, If I thought Walnut was good for Necks (and we have about 25,000 bf feet of it in stock), then you can bet it would be on the Menu just like the choices for body wood parts are.
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Old 02-19-2007, 02:03 PM
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How about a maple neck with walnut stringers?

If you were picking woods on a 5EG for the best bottom end with good mids and sustain (I'm not that concerned with highs, but don't hate them either), what would be your choices for core, laminates, top/back, neck woods, etc?

Walnut, at least on the basses that I've played which were made with a lot of it tends to have a nice warm, "woody" tone to it. But I've never been able to sit down and compare several identically designed basses with different woods before. It's something I would enjoy, but not something that would be very easy to arrange I fear.

I'll definitely yield to your expertise on what works over time. To date I haven't had to even touch my bass neck as far as set up goes. The neck, while it does change with the seasons, has never moved enough to care about adjusting anything.
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Old 02-19-2007, 02:50 PM
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Cool nice warm, "woody" tone?

I think in my mind, those two words warm and woody mean something close to opposite as far as sound goes. For Neck stringers (the going term) Walnut is barely 60% the strength of Morado or Bubinga. We did try some decades ago but stopped after a few Basses. The Burners had them more for looks on the upper end models with the assumption that 5 piece of Maple/Walnut would have some opposing pull so it was at least as good as a 3pc Maple only Neck. We didn't have problems either way. Bubinga or Morado was out of the pirce budget for those and not so available then in Japan where the parts was made up.

Walnut for Top & Back with Maple Core is our best for edge and Mid clarity with the Maple warming up the more raw sounding figured walnut. Non figured Walnut has a different sound with less grain compression by far. Maple T&B with the Walnut in the center is almost the opposite. Maple spreads the sound more and Walnut brightens it up. It's the outer plates, T&B that makes the main sound for us and not the Core. All of our woods used in the Basses have descriptions on our website here if you find the time to read it.
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Old 02-19-2007, 03:20 PM
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It's very hard to describe tone in a text format. Woody to me means more of resonant, clear tone. I would describe warmth as a nice rounded sound spanning from deep lows to high-mids (not overly favoring a particular range too much). So subjective


Hmm, now I'm wondering about a flame maple core, ebony laminates and figured walnut top and back with maple neck and morado stringers. (same neck on my current Smith, no complaints with it so why mess with perfection I guess)

Ever used ebony laminates? Does it make the bass too heavy? What other woods would you recommend both tonally, and visually (contrast) as laminates in that configuration? I'm interested in a strong low end, so maybe bubiga? Not sure how that would contrast with walnut and maple though.

I know I'm working you over on this but at some point in the next few years I'm going to be looking for a new 5 string fretless, and kinda want to get the details hashed out now so I know what to look forward to.
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Old 02-19-2007, 05:35 PM
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Cool Ebony Lams?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Faulkner View Post
It's very hard to describe tone in a text format. Woody to me means more of resonant, clear tone. I would describe warmth as a nice rounded sound spanning from deep lows to high-mids (not overly favoring a particular range too much). So subjective


Hmm, now I'm wondering about a flame maple core, ebony laminates and figured walnut top and back with maple neck and morado stringers. (same neck on my current Smith, no complaints with it so why mess with perfection I guess)

Ever used ebony laminates? Does it make the bass too heavy? What other woods would you recommend both tonally, and visually (contrast) as laminates in that configuration? I'm interested in a strong low end, so maybe bubiga? Not sure how that would contrast with walnut and maple though.

I know I'm working you over on this but at some point in the next few years I'm going to be looking for a new 5 string fretless, and kinda want to get the details hashed out now so I know what to look forward to.
I have done Bubinga in place of Mahogany Lams but Ebony being an oily wood would not be my first choice for that. Also, we make all of our own veneers so double re-sawing a 1" piece of Ebony will not be cheap along with the wood itself. We make good sounding Bass so why not just choose from what we have done already with proven results. Design mistakes can be VERY expensive.
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Old 02-19-2007, 06:34 PM
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Ok so ebony is out as a laminate then.

I'm picking your brain because you know these things through experience where I don't. I just like to have a bass this expensive custom tailored for me. You don't offer much leeway in your custom builds other than wood selection so I'm going custom the only place you will .. With my 4 I had you build it with a Koa core with quilted maple top/back and let you pick the laminate. You picked walnut for the laminate. (my bass sounds so nice too!)

What is your impression of the flame maple core, bubinga laminates, and claro walnut top/back. Think there would be a good enough visual contrast between the walnut and bubinga?

I have so many different ideas and not sure what would work and what wouldn't. I'm sure I want a good figured walnut top/back this time, perhaps maple laminates. What do you think would make a good core wood that would both be a good visual contrast to those 2 woods in that configuration and really reinforce the low end character of the bass while not being too heavy?

I'm really working out a configuration I plan to order from ya in a few years. My wife and I are on track to get totally out of debt in a couple of years after which we're saving up a ton of cash and splurging on something for ourselves. My splurge is going to be another new Smith =)

She's still thinking on hers.
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Old 02-19-2007, 10:05 PM
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Cool In a couple of years?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Faulkner View Post
Ok so ebony is out as a laminate then.

I'm picking your brain because you know these things through experience where I don't. I just like to have a bass this expensive custom tailored for me. You don't offer much leeway in your custom builds other than wood selection so I'm going custom the only place you will .. With my 4 I had you build it with a Koa core with quilted maple top/back and let you pick the laminate. You picked walnut for the laminate. (my bass sounds so nice too!)

What is your impression of the flame maple core, bubinga laminates, and claro walnut top/back. Think there would be a good enough visual contrast between the walnut and bubinga?

I have so many different ideas and not sure what would work and what wouldn't. I'm sure I want a good figured walnut top/back this time, perhaps maple laminates. What do you think would make a good core wood that would both be a good visual contrast to those 2 woods in that configuration and really reinforce the low end character of the bass while not being too heavy?

I'm really working out a configuration I plan to order from ya in a few years. My wife and I are on track to get totally out of debt in a couple of years after which we're saving up a ton of cash and splurging on something for ourselves. My splurge is going to be another new Smith =)

She's still thinking on hers.
In a couple of years and your having me write this 'book' now? Talk about a starving writer!.. kidding..

Ok, we make that combination all the time but with Mahogany as the laminate and not Bubinga. Do not try to tailor the sound with a 1/8" laminate. It doesn't do that much for the sound BUT it should be compatable density wise and that's why we have these three flavors: Chocolate(Walnut), Vanilla(Maple), and Strawberry(Mahogany)!

No Bananas 'n' Cream, sry..

I would suggest Walnut T&B, Mahogany core and Maple Laminates. I know you want something special but after 5400 Basses, we just keep making the same sauce because it tastes so good!. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"!!

When you are ready, call me and we will see what we can do to 'spice up your dish'. Each piece of Walnut has different grain and figure so in a way, it will be a one-of-a-kind.
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Old 02-21-2007, 05:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Faulkner View Post
I know I'm working you over on this but at some point in the next few years I'm going to be looking for a new 5 string fretless, and kinda want to get the details hashed out now so I know what to look forward to.
Uh, yeah, I'll just have one of what he's having. Where's the end of the line?
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Old 03-05-2007, 08:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Smith View Post

I would suggest Walnut T&B, Mahogany core and Maple Laminates. I know you want something special but after 5400 Basses, we just keep making the same sauce because it tastes so good!. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"!!

Yep, dat be a great combo! Along with that one, I have a few favorites: Probably my favorite would be Coco T&B, Maple Core or Walnut Core, with Maple or Walnut Lams. Oh yeah, and give me that in a 7&7 please!
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Old 03-16-2008, 05:44 PM
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Default *Smith-ing While Intoxicated*

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Yep, dat be a great combo! Along with that one, I have a few favorites: Probably my favorite would be Coco T&B, Maple Core or Walnut Core, with Maple or Walnut Lams. Oh yeah, and give me that in a 7&7 please!
Well,
I'm an advocate of Walnut over Maple and a newly converted "Smithee".
I did my first show with my first Smith BSR 5TN .
Even though I have to re-learn how to play my bass because this thing
actually reacts to everything and anything you do on it.
The bass is intoxicating.
It takes a fraction of the effort with the right hand to do anything and everything because it responds like nothing I have ever played or heard.

The B string is a thing of beauty. Rich and deep but not overwhelming like every other 5'er I've played.

The best way to describe it is like strapping yourself into a Ferrari.
The bass responds up and down the spectrum to everything you do.

My sound engineer even commented that no matter where I played
on the neck, the volume was even and smooth and every note could be heard unlike all of my other basses.

It used to take so much effort to get those upper notes to sound out
but now I have to remind myself to just back off, play the notes, and trust the instrument. I'm not used to a bass that responds this well to whatever you need to do.

Is it the construction of the neck?
Setup of the neck?
The pickups?
Combination of both?
All three?

Ahhhhh.....
Wait....
It's got to be Ken's "Secret Sauce".

Crown and Diet coke for me, I don't have to drive my bass
again for three or four days.
Are there any laws against that?
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Old 03-16-2008, 08:55 PM
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All of the above.
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Old 04-10-2008, 03:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Smith View Post
In a couple of years and your having me write this 'book' now? Talk about a starving writer!.. kidding..

Ok, we make that combination all the time but with Mahogany as the laminate and not Bubinga. Do not try to tailor the sound with a 1/8" laminate. It doesn't do that much for the sound BUT it should be compatable density wise and that's why we have these three flavors: Chocolate(Walnut), Vanilla(Maple), and Strawberry(Mahogany)!

No Bananas 'n' Cream, sry..

I would suggest Walnut T&B, Mahogany core and Maple Laminates. I know you want something special but after 5400 Basses, we just keep making the same sauce because it tastes so good!. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"!!

When you are ready, call me and we will see what we can do to 'spice up your dish'. Each piece of Walnut has different grain and figure so in a way, it will be a one-of-a-kind.
Ken,

Wow, this has been an educational thread! Even more so, it's convinced me to put my money on the table. For a used 2008 BSR4TN, that is. I can't afford a new one just yet, but one day your "book" will pay off. I'd never heard of your basses until 2 months ago. And I was about to spend my money on a Victor Bailey Jazz...

It's been a 40-year learning curve!

Jack
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Old 04-10-2008, 06:17 PM
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You won't be disappointed.. I've had my Smith for pushing 7 years, and to this day, through all of the instruments I've picked up and played in that time, I can't wait to put them down and play my Smith again. It just feels right. It plays effortlessly. It sounds simply amazing.

I think I've settled on getting a BSR5TNE unlined fretless with 7 piece body wings when I get ready to splurge again.
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Old 12-14-2008, 06:07 PM
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Default Walnut for Fretless, Maple for Fretted

Hi all,

What about the difference between THE fretted and THE fretless neck wood ?

After 30 years of bass playing I am totally enthusiastic about my tone and feel with Smith basses. My favourite body wood combo is a) mahogany core with maple t&b and b) walnut core with walnut t&b. a) is punchy aggression and b) is warmer growl But only for fretted basses, and as far as I understand there are not so much options to choose a neck wood...;-)

I tried those combos out with fretless Smiths and I found out, that I'm again impressed by the attack and tonal response, but I missed the tonal complexity of an old Tobias fretless I own. So my favourite fretless neck is ... walnut with purpleheart stringers. By the way - I own several Tobias' and the walnut neck is not only good for fretless... but for fretted I would prefer Maple with Laminates...

Ken, did you check walnut for fretless necks ? What is your favourite wood for fretless necks ? Do you think that there is a difference between tonal woods for fretted and fretless basses ?
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Old 12-14-2008, 08:06 PM
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Lightbulb Walnut Neck?

First off, this Thread is about MY Neck of the Woods and not some other brands or ways of building. I will not discuss other brands or build styles here. I do what I do and will tell you what I don't do what I don't. Or, is that why I do do what I don't? English Professors to the rescue?.. lol

On Wood properties and the 'whys' and 'why nots', I will compare Maple and Walnut for you as Neck Wood Candidates.

A Neck must have in my opinion some flexibility and some natural shock absorption for safety as well. Maple is strong and hard as well as flexible to a degree. If dropped, it might absorb the hit and just dent but in weak areas and bad falls, any Neck can be broken. Walnut on the other hand is a quite a bit lighter and less dense. It is also equally not as strong when it comes to absorbing hits or bends. Walnut is more brittle than Maple overall.

I have TONS of Walnut in stock in various thickness that would easily make the specs for Neck Billets. The wood I have was mostly air dried in the building and ranged from 6-10 years old on average. Great acclimation for a musical instruments except for one problem. Maple works better, period.

I am sure that if I made some Walnut Necks they would work but I have seen our Basses from even the 1979 batch with all kinds of dings and hits. Would Walnut take as much punishment? Would Walnut be able to be carved as thin? Can you have such little wood in comparison behind the Truss Rod route in the back center and not loose sleep if it was made strong enough?

I can make a Neck out of Pine if I like but it wouldn't be the best I could do. One of the hardest woods to find is white hard Sugar Maple in big clean pieces and free from defects, stains and knots and in various thicknesses and without distortion in the lateral growth rings. Walnut? Can you see the defects in this dark wood, its needed straight grain? Maybe not. Dark woods and dark finishes can hide a multiple of sins in woodworking and overall quality? Can you hide anything using transparent finished white Sugar Maple? Nope! No where to hide even a pimple in a Maple Neck.

The Maple I use has been in my building for many years with some of it from last century. I prefer to go with what I know and repeat proven results rather than to gamble with YOUR money. If something goes wrong down the road, it becomes MY money that gets affected as well.

We do what we do, bottom line..

For Fretless or any other Neck, the Fingerboard adds the Strength in. That is why we mainly use the highest quality stable aged Ebony for our Fretless Basses. We even use thicker stock to make up for the Fret height, and fretting strength that is missing on a Fretless. This in itself can help save a Neck over time.
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Old 12-15-2008, 05:39 PM
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Bob Faulkner Bob Faulkner is offline
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Join Date: 01-22-2007
Location: Atlanta
Posts: 281
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I won't argue with Ken on necks.. He refused my custom neck request 7.5 years ago when I ordered, but he explained to me in fair detail why he doesn't do custom necks and I accepted that.

To this day I take him for his word.. We rehearse in my basement, which is not temperature controlled other than what seeps down from upstairs, and the temperature changes down there require me to retune all my other basses every time we play. The Smith rarely needs to be retuned, and most of the time when it does it is so little out that the simple change in tension of tuning the E string the 1/4 step it may be off brings the rest back in tune. As we rehease the amps will heat the basement up so we'll see a temperature swing down there of 20 degrees during a session, no need to retune the Smith.. That neck is solid as a rock..
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