How To Setup Your New
There are many brands of bass fiddles on the market. It is
always easy to pick a name brand and spend a lot of money to get
what you want. Being from the USA myself, I like to support US
made products whenever I can. On the other hand, money can be a
problem when it is in short supply. One option is to
build a washtub bass which is not a joke at all; however, there are
some notes that can only be played on a bass fiddle. Though I
love both, my choice is the bass fiddle.
My bass is a Devilli, made in China. I ordered it from a
company that sells all of their products on eBay!
In 2003, I paid around $540.00, delivered. It was in a
crate, with some assembly required. It came with a bow, which
I will likely never use, and a soft case which is a must. When
it came, I quickly got it together and headed to the local mall
where a weekly jam session was going on. While the bass was a
beautiful piece of work, it played like something ready for the
trash. There was very little sound that came from it and I was
in pain from the thin metal strings with the high action. I always
take another instrument to assure that I have a spot in the group to
play, and that one I did play. Now that I have it set up, I
would put it up against the best, and I am glad I have what I do.
The problem was not with the instrument, but that
it had not been set up. You are likely to see the same bass in
a music store for around $900.00 to $1000.00, but they will be set
up much better. In that case, don't expect much more than the
action to be set with the cheep strings still on it. In this
section, I want to show you how to do the setup yourself so you can
purchase at the better price but wind up with a great instrument.
You might want to try the strings that come on the
bass, but I strongly recommend changing them. More on string types
Warning! Before you start to cut on your
bass, think about every move and go a little at a time to assure
that you don't go too far, and remember most of all, I am not responsible
if you mess something up due to my advice. Be careful!
|Setting the Action at the Nut
The nut is the piece of wood that holds the strings at the
top of the neck. The strings should be set in the grove
so that the bottom of the string almost touches the
fingerboard. It is best to cut it a little at a time so
you don't go too far. Cut a little, play a little.
You can decide how far depending on how it plays. If a
strings buzzes, it is likely your style of playing, try
different ways. If you do go to far, a drop of super
glue in the grove can give you a new area to reshape. I
use a 1/8" chainsaw file to shape all of the
groves. Notice in the picture how the file slopes away
from the fingerboard. This is so that the string has a solid
edge to sit on as it leaves the nut. Buzzing can result
if this is not done.
|The action (string height) is set at the bridge
for the lower section on the fingerboard. Notice here
how I can slip my fingers under the strings. That is
about how high the strings should be above the
fingerboard. Start high and slowly work down to what you
|The top of the bridge should be curved to better
match the finger board. Use the 1/8" chainsaw file
to cut the groves. The strings should be about 1/2 the
strings height deep; the rest is sanded off. If you go
too far, you can glue wooden shims on the bridge feet to get
some height back. A round bottom grove is best here to
avoid cutting the string.
|The picture the right is a picture of how the
bridge and sound post are set in a fiddle. The same
rules applies though the shape is a little different.
The rectangles are the feet of the bridge and the round circle
is the sound post inside the bass. I have seen basses
that had the sound holes in the wrong place. For a 3/4
bass, I set the string length to 42 inches from the nut to the
bridge. You will lose sound if the strings are too
short. Long strings mean more tension and more tension
means more sound.
One of the most important things on a
bass fiddle that controls sound is the sound post. If a sound
post is set correctly, the bass fiddle will be even in sound.
If it is set in the wrong place, one string can be dead while the
next string is strong. Sounds can loop the box as if there is
a rat inside it running laps. A sound
post should be straight up and down. If it is too far away
from the bridge, you might get a hollow sound. Too close, or
under the leg and it can be too stiff. The side to side
adjustment will control the evenness of the strings. If a
string is dead, move it over slightly and see if it opens up.
do you get in there to set it? A (fiddle) sound post tool
is a bent piece of flat metal that is sharp on one end. The
sharp point is used to stick in the the side allowing you to get it
wedged into place. For fiddles, the other end has curves to
give you push and pull capabilities. With that, you can move
one end at a time until you have it in place. See Soundpost
Setters. A fiddle sound post setter can be used to get the
post close, but the pushing end is useless on a bass because of the
size. For this I have another trick.
|I use a framing square to tap the post
around. To assure that you don't scratch your finish,
line the area around the hole with masking tape.
|You can make tools, such as I did here, that
will allow you to reach inside with a little more stability.
|Many times the necks on these basses are too
thick and will cause hand cramps trying to reach around them
to play. I cut my neck down until it felt right.
Unless you are an experienced person at wood working and
carving, you might not want to start this project. Find
a bass that feels good and copy it's dimensions. You
don't want to get into the dark finish because you will not be
able to match the paint. The area that is cut away will be a
different color which is normal. I used food coloring to
get the color that I wanted. After everything is to
shape and color, a coat of lacquer and buffing finishes it up
. I don't want to say much here because I have
heard of necks warping from this. By all means, do this
work with the strings off until the paint is cured.
About Strings? More on this subject later.