new fingerboard!

It’s been ten months since my last post, and, well, a lot has happened. But I want to tell you about something really exciting: I got a new fingerboard on my bass!

The Background

I’ve had tendonitis in my wrists since January 2008 due to a workplace injury, and of course it affected my playing. To complicate matters, my fingerboard became warped due to the extreme fluctuations in humidity and temperature in Montreal. Also, I’ve been getting busier and busier playing music, which has a few important implications when it comes to my tendonitis: I don’t get time to practise anymore, which leads to weaker muscles, which in turn leads to the creation of bad habits while playing; and my tendons don’t get enough time to heal in between the gigs and rehearsals. And of course, everything spirals into a Catch-22 scenario: I can’t stop working because I need to make money to pay rent, but working makes the tendonitis worse.

A new fingerboard for a bass is expensive ($1500), and raising that kind of money on a musician’s income while also paying off debt is difficult. But I finally managed it. Mario Lamarre does all the work on my bass. He’s not cheap, but his work is amazing, and he’s a great human being.

The Test Drive

While at the luthier I played the bass a little bit and it sounded good, but it’s always hard to tell how an instrument sounds until you get it into a familiar space. So when I got home I played it a bit more, and was surprised at how big and full the sound was – but I still wasn’t able to really spend any time with it. So this evening I practised (I actually practised!), and really tried to pay attention to the difference in the sound. The results were interesting! Here’s what I noticed:

The notes really ring. It’s not resonance I’m talking about, though. It’s been over a month since my bass had been played last, and I definitely noticed that the instrument wasn’t resonating the way it does when it’s played regularly, but that didn’t bother me. A couple days of long tones and it will be sounding great again. But this ringing, I don’t really know how to describe it. I guess it’s partly sustain, partly brightness due to the new fingerboard?

However, there’s a tightness to the sound, and not in a good way. Again, I don’t think it’s the resonance of the instrument (or lack thereof) that I’m hearing. Various registers sound different – I mostly noticed this tightness on the A and E strings, as well as in the high register (previously, my bass had sounded quite even in all registers). I’d say this was most apparent when playing with the bow, although the high register tightness was obvious while plucking as well.

My left hand feels great! The action is now way lower, so it’s easier to play, and less tiring. This is exactly what I needed. Because the new fingerboard is quite a bit thicker than my old one, the whole neck feels bigger, but it’s not uncomfortable at all.

My right hand will need time to adjust. The action at the bottom of the fingerboard (where I pluck the strings) is way higher than before, so my right hand needs to work a little harder. I’ll just need to practise some technique, and I should be fine soon enough.

Conclusion

The new fingerboard sounds great overall, but I can’t wait till the bass opens up again to hear the full potential. Also, because the bass feels and sounds like a new instrument, I’m excited to play it and become (re)acquainted with it!

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