Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Two Easy Ways to Improve the Tone and Volume of Your Double Bass

I have been reading Chuck Traeger's books on the repair and setup of the double bass for optimum sound.  In his short addition, Coda, he explains two easy ways to improve the tone and volume of your double bass.  I am trying them out, and will report back here how they worked.

1. Put .005" teflon pads underneath the feet of your bridge.  Chuck says these pads allow the body of the bass to vibrate with less constraint from the pressure of the bridge.  The result is a noticeable increase in volume (more vibration = more volume).

My solution:  I ordered some from Metropolitan Music (metmusic.com), here's the link.  Price is $10 for enough teflon for three basses, plus shipping charges of $9, for a total of $19.  Installation instructions are provided.

UPDATE:  I installed the teflon pads under my bridge.  I am not sure if it increases the volume, but the sustain seems much improved.

2. Change your metal end pin to one made of wood.  Most bass end pins are made of steel or graphite.  End pins do more than just hold up your bass: they vibrate and add to the volume and tone of your instrument.  Steel end pins don't vibrate very well.  Graphite vibrates better, with an increase in volume, but the tone isn't optimum.  Traeger experimented with end pins made of different types of wood, and was amazed at the difference in sound -- he has concluded that the end pin is even more important to sound production than the sound post.  Various woods produce louder or softer volume, brighter or darker tone.  The ones you choose may depend on whether you play arco or pizzicato.  You should consult Traeger's book for a more comprehensive discussion of the various woods to learn which may be best for you.

Chuck found black oak to work best, but cautions that every bass is different.  The end pin wood has to match the impedance of your bass.  The wood end pin you choose will depend on several factors, e.g. the construction of the bass, the type of wood it is made of, whether it is carved or a laminate.  Even the type of strings you use can be a factor.  Therefore, some experimentation with different woods may be necessary.

The wooden end pin must be 5/8 inches in diameter for optimum sound; larger or smaller diameters don't work as well.  I searched the internet for wooden end pins, and those available from dealers are few and expensive ($80 to $150).  Too rich for my blood.

My solution:  After browsing several bass forum sites, I learned that common drumsticks can be used for end pins.  To get drumsticks that are 5/8 inches in diameter (.630 inches), order size 2b.  2B drumsticks are thicker than most drumsticks, and are used for heavy metal and other ear-busting music.  You can buy drumsticks in different types of wood, like rosewood and hickory, but oak is probably best in most cases.  However, I couldn't find any in black oak, so I ordered some in Japanese white oak (see link here).

You can get a rubber cap for the end pin at most hardware stores.

Drumsticks generally cost around $10 a pair, with another $5 - $8 for shipping.  Or, try your local music store.

UPDATE:  Unfortunately, the collar for most bass end pins is smaller than than 5/8 inches, so you would have to drill the collar to widen the hole.  Probably not worth the trouble.  I did note, in some bass forum, that a bassist used a 3/8 drumstick instead of the optimum 5/8 size, and still had good results.  Rather than drill out my end pin socket, I will try using a 3/8 size dowel.

MY SECOND ATTEMPT:  Regular end pins are only 10 mm, slightly larger than 3/8 inches.  10 mm = .393701 inches.  You can buy wood dowel rods off of Ebay; the closest fit would be 3/8 inches in diameter, or .375 inches.  So the wood dowel would be slightly smaller than 10 mm.  I think it should still fit okay; in any case, I ordered a walnut dowel that is 36 inches by 3/8 inches.  If it works, I will have enough for both of my basses with room to spare.  I ordered such a dowel off of Ebay for $10, which includes shipping.  We'll see if that works.

Note:  For more details on these topics, buy Chuck Traeger's book Coda.  It also has other tips for maximizing your sound.

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