Monday, 2 August 2010

Bridge-Building


I spent all yesterday replacing my double bass bridge. It's not as simple as it might sound. You don't just loosen the strings and do a swap. Even if it were that easy, there would still be the risk of the soundpost falling over. For anyone unfamiliar with the arcanities of string instrument acoustics, the soundpost is wedged, not glued, between the front and the back of the soundbox between the f-holes and under the bridge. Loosen the strings and clunk! the soundpost goes for a burton. Cue for an hour of effing and blinding trying to retrieve it from the depths of the soundbox, through the f-holes, with a pair of barbeque tongs. Then you have the pleasure of trying to stand it up.

Observant readers will have noticed that there's a pencil taped to a bamboo cane in the first picture. This was for job number one: to draw round the foot of the soundpost on the inside of the back. Then, if it falls over, at least you know where it has to go.

The reason I did the job myself was that it costs and arm and a leg to have the job done for you. Now I know why. (No irony was intended in the choice of Saturday Guardian supplement used to line the bench. It's just the one I never read! Perhaps I should pay more attention to it). Observant readers, again, will notice how thick the bridge in the picture is. This is because bass bridges come as "blanks": not only do you have to trim the feet to fit the contours of the instrument's belly, you also have to plane the thing so it tapers to the top. You also have to get it just the right height: too high and the strings are hard to press down, too low and the strings buzz when you play them. If it ends up too low, there is a way of putting it right - if you remember to cut a few thin strips off the feet before you cut them to size. These can be inserted under the feet later if you chop too much off the top:


Once that's done, there's no putting it off. It's time to start the irreversible stuff. Once it's chopped off, it's off!




I won't bore you with a blow-by-blow account. Let's just say I spent the afternoon, plane in hand, stripped down to my shorts, sweating over a hot bridge. In the end, I got there. Fortunately, nothing went wrong!



The job needed doing: the original bridge had warped. It curled upwards and was threatening to fall over. New bridges can be very expensive (80 quid plus), but I got mine from janika's music shop for twenty quid, and it came the next day, so I don't mind giving them a plug. They seem to deal in parts and accessories for string instruments, guitars, and percussion.

12 comments:

Dave King said...

Simple? What made you think it sounded simple? I am in awe of anyone who can tackle stuff like that. A fascinating post.

John Hayes said...

I echo Dave's comments; that's pretty darned enterprising of you. Out of curiosity, do you know what caused the bridge to warp?

Gwei Mui said...

WOW yes I bow to you and your sense of adventure and the fact that you went ahead.

Sepiru Chris said...

Hi Dominic,

Congrats on your successful surgery.

Did the double bass require any anaesthetic?

Hopefully you raised a libation to Greece's Euterpe and to Rome's Silvanus (Patron God of Woodworkers and of Foresters... who had a predilection for music, too...)

Glad to see that there were no attempts to use those tools to come closer to Django 'form' to better achieve his style in a "method-acting" format...

And, I'm really looking forward to hearing the music when it comes to the wider world via your blog!

Tschuess from a returned blogger,
Chris

tony said...

And The Music Will Sound All The Sweeter For Your Love & Care.
I Always Think That A Good Tune Builds Many Bridges....

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank goodness you didn't tell me you were doing it yesterday, otherwise I would have been worried all day. So glad it turned out well.

Titus said...

Eek! And I thought poem 2 below was arcane!
I am in awe.

George said...

I know nothing about the architecture of bass fiddles, all of which made this little tour of your repairs interesting. Where else but on a blog would anyone find instructions on the repair of a double bass bridge? Congratulations on your success. I'm quite sure that I would have destroyed the entire instrument.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for all these comments, everybody.

I have to say, it wasn't that hard. I've had worse days putting up shelves and, as for trying to plaster a wall - argh! Never again! The blank bridge comes with all the twiddly bits cut out in the middle - you just have to plane it and shape the top and the bottom. I'm not sure what wood it's made out of - but it isn't too difficult to work. As for the twiddly traditional patterns, when you work on the bridge, you realise why they're there: they help you line things up if you want to use the old bridge to help you "mark out" the new one.

I'm not sure why the bridge warped in the first place. The instrument didn't require anaesthetic, although it did feel like an operation at times!

There is an interesting page on how to fix bridges here:

http://www.musictrader.com/string4m.html

although I should say I didn't follw his fastidious instructions to the letter!

Argent said...

Having observed my hubs battling with the intricacies of stringed instrument repair/construction, I am under no illusion about how fiddly and potentially disastrous this kind of thing can be. Kudos to you for pulling it off. Barytio! OK, this has to stop.

the watercats said...

You and The Ronald should get together.. every guitar that comes within an inch of the house gets taken apart.. and 'set up'... there's something about musical instrument bits that are so aesthetically lovely though :-)

Erratic Thoughts said...

Ohhh waaow.What craftmenship Dominic!Just not so simple to carve it.Great job buddy.
God bless!