This article was sent to the 2xbass list and is reproduced here for your information.

Date: Fri, 17 Dec 1999 07:27:33 EST
From: BKolstein@aol.com
To: 2xbasslist@u.washington.edu
Subject: Fingerboard Adjustment and Shapes

Hello All,
First off I wish all subscribers my best wishes for the Holidays. I have posted below an abbreviated version of my compiled thoughts on Fingerboard adjustments, which includes shaping..pros and cons. Unfortunately, I couldn't include the graphics that I refer to
Again Happy Holidays to all
Barrie Kolstein


In the analysis of fingerboard dressing one must visualize a fingerboard consisting of a curvature ideally consistent throughout the length of the board (see Diagram #1). Naturally, this curvature is proportionately reduced as the width of the fingerboard decreases while approaching the lower positions of the instrument, closest to the scroll. The degree and consistency of this curvature dictates two factors in playing facility, that being cross string playing clearance while bowing and partial elimination of buzzing of the string when it laterally sweeps over the fingerboard while bowing or when pizzicato is applied to the instrument. Directly the degree of curvature will determine the amount that string spacings of the bridge may be closed in. The more curvature to the fingerboard, the more it will dictate a higher arched bridge, thus creating a situation of better cross string clearance, particularly when playing on the D and A strings in the higher playing positions of the fingerboard. It should be noted that if there is too much curvature to the fingerboard, then the bridge can be a determent to playing facility, as it could create a situation of having the bow not clear the center bout thus creating a negative response by making double stopping a most difficult task. Two styles of curvatures for the fingerboards exist. A full curvature to the fingerboard is one design as opposed to the curved fingerboard with the flat E bevel facing for the E string to sweep across (see Diagram #2). The choice between the two designs of boards is of total personal preference as I have always felt that a properly shaped and dressed fingerboard will function equally efficient regardless of design. However, many individual players strongly involved in arco aspects of the instrument seem to have preference toward the completely arched fingerboard. This type of fingerboard has potential for a greater overall curvature thus allowing more inter-string clearance, as well as the added potential for closer string space on the bridge, generally sort after, particularly for solo capacity performing. The flat faced design fingerboard for the E string is often more suitable for the commercial or jazz player who finds that this flat facing creates a level plain in which the pizzicatoed E string can accurately sweep laterally as well as longitudinally across with a minimum of extraneous surface noise. Again let me reiterate that we feel that when properly regulated both designs of the fingerboard function equally well. Dimensional analysis of the fingerboard set-up will be discussed later.

A second area concerning this curvature is that it will dictate the accurate curvature and shape of the bridge essential for the previously mentioned cross string playing passages. Lack of this curvature on the fingerboard and bridge will create a condition whereby the player will be hitting more than one string while bowing particularly in the upper register playing. It is imperative that both the bridge and fingerboard have relative curvatures for proper string height necessary for comfort and playing facility.

In conjunction with the proper and accurate curvature of the fingerboard and bridge, is the accuracy of the length of the fingerboard. Ideally when dressing or planing the fingerboard I strive for a true accuracy with virtually no hollow or dip existing throughout the length of the board. Due to physical properties of steel strings as well as playing requirements, dressing of the fingerboard with a minor degree of hollow or overall dip stretching gradually over the entire length of the fingerboard is a necessity. This minor hollow is essential to compensate for the inaccuracies in string construction and physical properties, as well as playing technique and requirements of the instrument. Too much hollow or dip will create a situation in which the player will be expending unnecessary energy in capering the string and potentially can create unnecessary tension in the Bass. A reverse condition of irregular dips can be created as well which will present an additional problem of high spots on the fingerboard causing the string to noticeably buzz on certain or in extreme instances, all notes.

To check the degree of hollow-concave or convex of the fingerboard on each string, a player may simply caper each string at its extremity and examine the degree of hollowness under the capered string. We have found from experience each string requires a different degree of hollow with an increasing factor from the G to the D to the A to the E strings. This degree is controlled entirely by the individual's playing technique and requirements demanded of the instruments set up and the instruments innate qualities.

Another area of consideration is the physical properties of the fingerboard wood utilized. Ebony, Rosewood, Maple, etc. all have properties which must be recognized in the proper adjustment of the fingerboard in a physical and aesthetic nature. One must be cognizant of the physical properties of the different fingerboard wood utilized. The harder or more exotic woods such as Ebony, Ironwood, Pernambuco etc. have a finer quality for intonation, rigidity, and solid transmission of sound as opposed to the soft fingerboard woods utilized for fingerboards such as Rosewood, Maple, Beefwood, etc. The actual dressing (planing, scraping, filing and sanding) of the exotic fingerboard woods is a much more tedious and often a treacherous task due to the inconsistent physical nature of said woods. In addition, the harder exotic fingerboard woods have the capability of being finished after the final processes of dressing by the use of natural crude black oil and pumice thus enhancing the quality to touch as well as the patina of the wood. We find that with the harder exotic fingerboard woods we are able to approach a higher degree of trueness in dressing the board in comparison to the softer woods utilized for fingerboards.

With all these factors discussed, fingerboard adjustment has become more acute with the use of steel strings, lower string action, as well as the ever increasing demands and advancements of the instruments technique, quality of musicianship and contemporary literature being composed. While gut strings were utilized a substantial greater degree of hollowness or dip in the fingerboard regulation was required. This was due to the increased inaccuracy in the physical property and the noticeable decrease in tension of gut strings as opposed to steel strings accounting for a higher degree of longitudinal sweep of the string on the fingerboard surface. With the advent and use of steel strings a higher degree of accuracy has become an imperative requirement.

The last area of discussion is the dimensional analysis. Our dimensional approach to fingerboard dressing is as follows. The upper fingerboard nut has string spacing of 3/8" or 9.5 mm. The string spacing for the bridge has a degree of variance. Depending upon one's playing requirements this will dictate the bridge spacing: solo orchestral capacity bridge spacing range from 1" or 25.4 mm. to a maximum of 1-1/8" or 28.58 mm. Consistency of these measurements is most imperative as they will determine a large degree of accuracy and comfort in playing facility.

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