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Set-up Your Bass!


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Well, the answers are going out of the realm of physics. Intonatating a string is not the equivalent of a lube job or taking arthritis medicine.


It's obviously something to do with the mass and thickness of the string.


As the strings age, they do lose their roundness and their elasticity. This may make intonation adjustments necessary.


But if you get to that point, you should replace your strings.


In fact that's one way that I know that it's time to change strings....when the intonation goes out that's a good clue.

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Point taken, I'll get serious for a minute.


The advice I got from two of the people (40 and 15 years experience) who I see a few times a year for bass work is to check the intonation at least once every season, and if your travel takes you to a serious climate change for more than a couple of days. It's not just the string changing mass, it's also the neck shifting from humidity changes and shock from long travel periods.


Again, I don't know the hard physics behind this, just the concept that the strings represent a load under continued stress so that eventually it wears them down. Consider that the adjustment is one-ended, so that the most stress is on the part of the string traveling over the bridge piece. Next to that is the stress of the strings passing over the nut or against a string tree. These are friction points.


Since I spend a lot of spare time watching TV, I find it a useful time to break an instrument out of its case now and then and check out everything.


Changing them frequently is an option, which I turn to if I'm using the same instrument three or more times a week for a period of time. If I only use an instrument once or twice a month I'd rather get a little more mileage out of them by detuning them when I don't use them or a wipe-down with lemon oil and/or one of those coating solutions whose names escape me at the moment.


And on the classic instruments? When I get a good sound out of an old set of strings (usually flats) I'd keep them until they rust off.


Again, all this is just one man's opinion.


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Originally posted by Fred the bass player:

If I only use an instrument once or twice a month I'd rather get a little more mileage out of them by detuning them when I don't use them....

Is that good for the neck? I would think that keeping the tension off the strings would make the neck go out of whack and make the bass less playable.


I always thought you had to keep tension on the neck or it would toast it.

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For JC:

Setting the intonation is adjusting the length of the string such that the octave harmonic occurs pretty much right over the 12th fret. (Or in practice, adjusting the length of the string so that the harmonic is in tune with how you stop the string at the 12th fret.) It's also a good idea to check the harmonic above the 19th fret with the stopped note at the 19th fret.


The ideal harmonic series on a string is based on a uniform, flexible and elastic string. Real strings fall short of the ideal. You are correct about old strings. As they get older any accumulated crud will make it so the string does not vibrate as uniformly along its length. I addition, the frets will indent the windings of the strings which also make the string less uniform.

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I should've defined what I refer to as "detuning". What I do is drop the tuning a fourth (E to B, A to E, etc.) before storing the instrument. If it was going to be stored for, say a month or two, I'd detune about a whole note (2 frets) or a note and a half (3 frets).


I usually check each instrument at least twice a year for problems. Occasionally I've needed to make neck adjustments, but very minor ones (1/4 turn). I've yet to find a long-term problem with my method of detuning in the past 20 years.


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