Basic bass setup

Discussion in 'Tele Home Depot' started by Freeman Keller, Jun 7, 2019.

  1. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    Last week I put together a rather long thread about how I approach setting up a new or used guitar. About midway thru the thing forumite GPlo asked a very worthwhile question - he said "I have to do the initial setup for a bass guitar soon. I imagine the process is the same, just different parameters. Is that correct?"

    Ironically a few days later I got a call from an old buddy that went something like
    "Do you remember that bass guitar that you set up for me a year or so ago"
    "Yeah" (sorta, why whats wrong with it?)
    "Well you completely nailed it, it plays like a dream"
    "Oh sure, of course" (wonder what I did to it)
    "I've got a new one, would you do the same thing to it"
    "Well of course, bring it on over" (now where did I put my notes on his old one?)

    He shows up with the guitar, a slightly used acoustic/electric bass. We put it on the work bench.
    "Whats wrong with it?" I ask
    "Not sure, it just doesn't feel right. I think there is something wrong with the frets. And the other one is easier to play".....

    If you happened to read my other post you'll remember that my number one rule is BEFORE I DO ANYTHING TO THE GUITAR I MEASURE EVERYTHING AND WRITE IT DOWN. And number two rule is before I do any setup work I want the guitar stable with respect to humidity and structurally perfect. Third thing is before I do anything else I want the frets to be perfect.

    That was the Evaluation phase of the other thread, its the Evaluation phase of this one.

    One thing jumped out at me - look at the strings relative to the neck

    IMG_5392.JPG

    Yeah, they're about ready to fall off the bass side of the upper fretboard, here is another look

    IMG_5393.JPG

    This is a true bolt on neck (real hex head machine bolts going into metal inserts in the heel). They don't seem to be loose and there is no gap between the heel and body, but they sure are wonky.

    OK, make a note of that. Next I took a long straight edge and a couple of little short ones and started rocking frets. I didn't take any pictures but sure enough, there were about four frets that rocked, and 14 was really bad. There was no way I was going to get a good setup out of this without working on the frets.

    Next I took the three classic action measurements - relief, first fret action and 12th fret action. I'm not a bass player but the target values that I use for setups are the ones that comes with the StewMac string action gauge. This guitar was actually quite close - a hair high at both ends but not bad.

    Relief

    IMG_5394.JPG

    First fret action

    IMG_5395.JPG

    Twelfth fret action (hard to see)

    IMG_5397.JPG

    Write the numbers down.

    My friend is standing behind me, this probably takes 15 minutes and we chat about other stuff. I tell him that in my opinion we need to get the neck on straight, level and dress the frets, and make a couple of very minor tweaks in the action at both ends. Do it he says.

    Strings come off, loosen the neck bolts and nudge the neck back on center. This is something that happens a lot with screw on necks - be aware. Since I no longer had strings on it I used a straight edge on each side of the neck to point to the same relative place on the bridge - happens to be the edge of the pin holes - to insure that the neck is on center

    IMG_5398.JPG

    When I took the strings off look how much back bow jumped into the neck

    IMG_5399.JPG

    Backed off the truss rod to take all of that out, when the rod was neutral the fretboard was pretty flat.

    While I was marking the tops of the frets I noticed a couple of interesting divots in the fretboard near the 12th fret

    IMG_5401.JPG

    They have little cross marks exactly like a wound bass string. My guess is that the guitar had taken a pretty good thump on the fretboard that left the groove in the 10th and 12th fret and the f/b. Mmmmm, that might also explain the high 14th fret - I checked under the crown but it doesn't seem to be high with respect to the f/b.

    Marked the tops of all the frets, went to work with leveling beams. Didn't take a picture of using the long heavy one but it is exactly the same as the other thread. Here is working on the 14th fret hump with the medium bar. Its got 400 grit sticky back sand paper on it.

    IMG_5403.JPG

    I'm about to hit the picture limit, lets start a new window
     
    John Nicholas, Mr_Q, GPlo and 2 others like this.
  2. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    Got everybody nice and level and cleaned up a few sharp ends

    IMG_5400.JPG

    Crowned and polished the frets and f/b

    IMG_5404.JPG

    Put the strings back on. Now we can do the setup

    Checked the relief again (remember that I've taken the truss rod out). It was way more than my 0.025 feeler blade and my target is 0.014 so I started cranking the truss rod. It took maybe a half turn total (double acting rod) to get to 0.012 thou - thats what it was before and a good place to stop. No pictures, sorry, just 1/8 turn, measure, 1/8 turn, measure....

    Now that the relief is set I don't touch it. The first fret action was a bit higher than my target so I took the slots down a few thousands. My 0.050/0.060 nut file was fine for the G and D strings, I used a little jewelers round file for the A and E

    IMG_5405.JPG

    The 12th fret action was about 5 thousands higher than my target so I laid a 10 thou feeler blade against the bottom of the saddle and made a line
    IMG_5406.JPG

    Sanded down to the line, checking a couple of times

    IMG_5407.JPG

    Polished the saddle and dropped it back in the slot

    IMG_5408.JPG

    There isn't much that I can do about intonation other than make a new saddle, but it was 5 or more cents sharp before. Checking it again the G string is 5 cents sharp, the others are dead on. Lowering the action seemed to make just enough of a difference here

    IMG_5409.JPG

    Did the usual maintenance items - tightened the tuner bushings and mounting screws, snugged the nut on the output jack. A final double check is to play each string at each fret and check for buzzing, then measure the next fret action. Its pretty consistent at 4 or 5 thousands - there are no tight frets so I think the leveling went well. Filled out the spreadsheet

    IMG_5411.JPG

    Left a message for my buddy to pick up his guitar
     
    John Nicholas, Mr_Q, RodeoTex and 6 others like this.
  3. GPlo

    GPlo Tele-Meister

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    Another very interesting thread. And good timing indeed. My bass is almost finished. Making the nut now and constantly referencing your posts. Thank you very much.
     
  4. Ducerro

    Ducerro Tele-Meister

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    Well detailed!
     
  5. RodeoTex

    RodeoTex Poster Extraordinaire

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    Very good thread. Thanks for sharing.
    But....
    What is that strobe unit?
    I think I might need one.
     
  6. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    The strobe is a Peterson StroboFlip - I don't even know if they make them any more. I bought mine a long time ago when I started experimenting with tap tuning plates in acoustic guitars. Like any tuner is should be calibrated against a known frequency signal such as a tuning fork. Its a digital recreation of the old flashing strobe tuners that we used to use to set the speed of our turn tables (does this date me)

    You can get a pretty good strobe tuner app for your phone but I use this all the time
     
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  7. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    FWIW I just got a text from my friend. He said the frets are awesome and the setup perfect. What can I say? Of course they are.
     
    John Nicholas likes this.
  8. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    Basic Bass Setup Chapter 2

    Shortly after finishing the A/E bass another one hit my bench. This is a Ibanez electric bass, someone had screwed up the truss rod adjuster (wrong wrench, too much torque) and then the owner further screwed it up thinking he could replace the t/r. He bought a cheap neck off evil bay that was probably intended for a P or J bass, when it didn't fit the Ibanez he brought it to me.

    The neck was the same scale (34 inches but it actually measures 16-15/17 to the 12th fret). The heel was close but different and the new neck was one fret shorter than the Ibanez). I lined the 17th fret of the new neck up with the old one

    IMG_5415.JPG

    And sanded the heel so it would fit in the pocket.

    IMG_5427.JPG

    IMG_5428.JPG

    Lined it up carefully with bridge and drilled the holes for the mounting screws

    IMG_5422.JPG


    Wiped a few coats on it to hide where I'd done the sanding

    IMG_5424.JPG

    That work really isn't setup, but as we've discussed before, getting the geometry correct is always my starting point.

    The next problem was that the frets on the new neck were garbage. It arrived with a huge amount of back bow, I backed off the truss rod until it was neutral and the neck was as flat as I could get it. Just about every other fret rocked and the ends were so sharp they would cut your fingers. Marked the tops of the frets with a magic marker and got out the big beam

    IMG_5416.JPG


    IMG_5418.JPG

    You can see that some of the frets where filed quite a bit, others barely touched

    IMG_5419.JPG

    Crowned them and did the ends

    IMG_5420.JPG
     
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  9. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    Now we are ready to set it up. Put some string on and let it pull in the tension. The relief shot up to 60 thousands. Remember that we said that a business card is about 10 thou, there are six of them under the string

    IMG_5429.JPG

    A full turn of the correct truss rod wrench brought that down to 0.014 on the bass side, 0.012 on the treble. The quick and dirty business card trick showed that we had about 50 thou at the first frets

    IMG_5430.JPG

    A little work with a rat tail jewelers file and my biggest nut file brought those down to 0.020 to 0.025. That is a cheap plastic nut and it files really fast - it is easy to go too far and then you end up making a new one

    IMG_5431.JPG

    IMG_5432.JPG

    Crank the saddles up to my target for the 12th fret action - about 0.095 for the G and 0.110 for the E, the others fitting nicely in between (bad picture but you get the idea)

    IMG_5434.JPG


    Last but far from least, set each saddle for intonation. I set them with the strobe tuner but just for chuckles checked them against the scale length. Pretty much what you would expect.

    IMG_5435.JPG

    I'll let it settle in for a few days before returning it, I rather expect the relief to change a bit.
     
    John Nicholas likes this.
  10. LuckyJinx

    LuckyJinx TDPRI Member

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    Not really related to the setup itself (really good stuff, thanks for that), but should that gap between the heel and the body not be plugged with some sort of shim?

    Normally there would be wood on wood contact from the heel being jammed into the body counteracting the string tension. If there is that big gap that tension is being carried by the screws, and friction between the bottom of the heel and the bottom of the pocket. Also, that little bit of neck pocket that is unsupported by the neck is being acted on by a massive lever.
     
  11. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    That is a very good point and we did discuss it. I told the owner I could glue a block into the cavity but then he couldn't put an Ibanez neck back in if he ever wanted to. He said it would be OK to leave the gap but I also agree with your concerns and think now that I will put a spacer in and lightly glue it in with HHG. That way it would take care of the structural concerns that you raise but still be removable if he ever wanted to change necks.

    Thanks for the suggestions
     
  12. Freeman Keller

    Freeman Keller Tele-Afflicted

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    One less thing to worry about

    IMG_5446.JPG
     
    Jim_in_PA likes this.
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