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Intermediate Member
Username: jagerphan84

Post Number: 184
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2005 - 8:26 am:   Edit Post

I've noticed that in lots of ads for basses and guitars for sale, sellers will note "recently set up by" such and such...

Now is it just me, or does that make no sense? As soon as the bass is boxed up and thrown in the back of a delivery truck (and most likely moved to a different climate), doesn't the previous setup become irrelevant? Sure, if someone is making a local sale I could understand it, but it seems to me that this is akin to selling a piano that was recently tuned, and thinking that it's gonna stay that way after being moved.

Am I crazy, or does a setup add zero value to an instrument that's about to be shipped?

Username: keith_h

Post Number: 65
Registered: 2-2005
Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2005 - 8:59 am:   Edit Post

I don't think that setup adds any monitary value to the instrument. There is no guarantee that the setup is done correctly, changed during shipment or to my liking. In any of the cases it is work that would have to be redone.

You could infer that the setup implies the person selling the instrument cares about it but maybe it is so beat up it needed work to be sold. Likewise someone might conclude the instrument must be in good shape if it has been through a shop but again who knows what really got done. After all it does all cost money.

In a nutshell I look at it as a sales gimick that has no real relevance to the value or cost of the instrument.

Advanced Member
Username: rklisme

Post Number: 232
Registered: 5-2004
Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2005 - 10:39 am:   Edit Post

Hey Guys

I somewhat agree with your answers here but I think as in my case if you happen to use someone who is known for their craft it does help the consumer feel more confident about the purchase if they are familiar with his work.
If you were buying a used Mercedes Benz and the seller can produce receipts that it was serviced by a factory trained mechanic for the duration it helps at least mentally to know that the owner did everything that they could to maintain the vehicle. It doesn't mean the car won't break just that the owner attempted to keep it up.
I welcome a potential buyer to call my setup guy to ask questions if they so chose. These days you have instruments that have been modified greatly and you have people who think they know what they are doing and don't. So I believe it is a good tool in the sell/purchase process.
The instrument could arrive perfectly setup for me but be of little use to you as a buyer. So on that point I do agree. As far as adding value I agree it doesn't change anything. I think it is more of a confidence thing which in a way does add some abstract value.
By the way, my basses are all setup by Steven White of Berkeley, CA!

Advanced Member
Username: gare

Post Number: 207
Registered: 11-2003
Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2005 - 3:36 pm:   Edit Post

All good points.
The setup thing may instill confidence in a novice (for lack of a better word) buyer. Some people may be impressed by the drop of a name. But as mentioned, if its being shipped from say Phoenix to Alaska it would have to be redone anyway.
I'm glad I've relearned how to do my own setup. (thanks Joey)

Recently a friend sold his car,kept telling the buyer that he just had it gone over by 'Wally',which he repeated several times until I finally asked..
ahhh Al ? Who the hell is Wally ?
And the buyer kind of nodded like he even knew who Wally was.
Username: alanbass1

Post Number: 66
Registered: 4-2005
Posted on Wednesday, May 18, 2005 - 11:17 pm:   Edit Post

One other thing to consider is that if the set up included a fret dress, then you have the confidence that when you get the instrument a few tweaks should get it playing optimally. A friend of mine is an E-bay junky and often buys guitars 'cheap' that end up needing £70 - £100 of fret/set up/electrical work to make them playable.
Senior Member
Username: bigredbass

Post Number: 410
Registered: 9-2002
Posted on Friday, May 20, 2005 - 10:42 am:   Edit Post

You're Welcome, Gare!

It all depends . . . Who set it up? Was is done well by a real tech, etc.? But really, I've found that the quality of the instrument in question wood-wise is the secret. I recently bought a used neck-thru Yamaha via the net from a dealer in Austin (Bass Exchange, Austin, TX, delivered as advertised, no tricks, highly recommended). It was an 80s vintage and was real close to ideal right out of the box after a 3-day UPS ground trip. As I suspected when I began fine-tuning the setup for me, the wood was nice and stable and very predictable in its response to my adjustments. But it could have been otherwise . . . it's just the magic and curse of wood.

However, I felt like I had a few advantages going in:

--It was from Yamaha's time when LOTS of their best axes were Japanese production (first rate wood and build). It was also maple/mahogany center and a slab ebony fingerboard, certainly more stable than a two-piece bolt on.

--I've found that once basses pass about ten years of age, the wood, as Mica says, 'realizes it's no longer a tree'. Older instruments just seem to move around less as the wood has finally matured to its shape, finish, neck pull, etc. I have no real scientific evidence for this, only my own personal experience.

Plus I'm a big believer in buying from a business. EBay just makes me real nervous, unless the seller identifies himself as a business with a storefront, employees, etc. As this guy only sells basses, I felt even better about supporting him, especially since I could phone him and talk turkey about this instrument. I felt I had a pretty realistic idea of the condition BEFORE I bought it.

I think some people get the EBay Buzz: They get hypnotized by the photos and the deal, get carried away, and get jolted back to reality as soon as they open the box before UPS even made it to the corner. I sometimes think that's why you often see the same piece resurfacing on EBay after a couple of weeks with a different seller!
THAT'S when you find out that not all old guitars are 'vintage' . . . a lot of them are just old, tired, and need LOTS of work.

Here in Nashville I once found a VERY beat-up Point Series 1 four-string. This is BEFORE I really knew any thing about ALEMBIC, other than the legendary name. I thought (it was REAL cheap, $600),'well, I can just buy it, sand it down, re-do the oil finish myself, I got it MADE !'. Couldn't get it done, and someone else bought it. Only later did I find out the electronics were shot, no power supply, and a few other 'minor'problems. If I had gotten it, I'm sure I'd have spent easily several grand getting it playable (before finish and new hardware!), because I was just ignorant as to what was really involved. I've never forgotten that.

So try and do a lot of homework BEFORE you reach for your wallet !

J o e y
Advanced Member
Username: richbass939

Post Number: 265
Registered: 11-2004
Posted on Friday, May 20, 2005 - 11:14 am:   Edit Post

I’m no wood expert but my understanding about woods and instruments is that, at least in part, the wood should be allowed to dry and age for some time before being made into an instrument. The only luthiers I have known made acoustic instruments. I suppose that they would be more sensitive than solid body instruments because the wood is thinner and has a larger surface area exposed to the air. Solid bodies are “sealed” by some varnish or finish. I don’t know if that really keeps environmental conditions like humidity away from the wood or not.
One luthier I knew said that he always tried to get as old a piece of wood as he could find and afford. He said that in the old days he could get wood that had lain around, drying naturally, for 200 years. Later it was harder to find and really expensive. He told me that one of the best pieces of wood he ever had was a spruce post taken from an old Native American horse corral. It is very dry in this part of the west and the wood was stable. He found enough un-cracked pieces for several violin tops.
Username: sfnic

Post Number: 40
Registered: 3-2005
Posted on Friday, May 20, 2005 - 3:28 pm:   Edit Post

Oh, you can still find old wood. The Woodcraft dealer down the block just got some 450 year-old Western Red Ceder billets. If I had a few hundred in pocket, I'd have bought one or two.

In general, the main thing any woodworker looks for is stability. "Green" wood, that is, wood that's been recently harvested, still contains a lot of moisture from the growing process. Some logs measure out as almost 30% water. As that water evaporates out of the wood, the wood shrinks. The general goal is to get the lumber down to between 4% and 7%. By the time it gets to be that dry, it's shrunk about as far as it's going to.

Of course, just sitting there, it'll absorb moisture like a sponge. Right up until it hits either its maximum capacity or the ambient humidity. In the Bay Area, the RH generally sits between 40-60%. Higher in parts where it gets foggy (annual averages can hit 85% RH in some spots); lower in the more sheltered valleys in the south bay (20-30%).

So, it's kinda hard to air dry lumber to less than about 18% here. A lot of stuff is kiln dried which, as the name implies, uses an oven to bake the wood down to the desired moisture level.

Once you get the wood dry enough to work (4-7%), you build the instrument. Then you have the problem of absorption. Left unfinished, a guitar will suck in moisture until it hits equilibrium, back up in the 14-20% range. Pieces will expand, glue joints will be stressed, etc.

Alkso note that the opposite can occur. I've talked with a few Asian builders who have sold guitars to customers in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt, who have had their instruments implode because the ambient air's too dry. The guitars literally shrunk themselves to death by pulling all the the glue joints open. Of course, these guitars were built in shops where the ambient RH was around 90%...

Anyway, the older a piece of wood is, the lower it's moisture equilibrium point becomes. It's not dramatic, and does take a while, but over time the cellular structure of wood gradually looses its ability to retain moisture. Which is why we tend to look for older pieces of timber.

It's also why we finish the things. As Rich points out, finishing seals the wood and, for all intents and purposes, prevents the wood from absorbing or shedding moisture. Oh, there's _some_ vapor-barrier effect and any finish is really a semi-permeable membrane, but the rate-of-change is miniscule.

Acoustic guitars are a bit more vulnerable to moisture changes, if only because they're rarely finished on the inside. The exterior of the guitar is sealed, but the interior usually isn't. It's a trade-off between stability and environmental compliance (in that the instrument can more easily adapt to the local conditions if the wood can breath a bit). Cost is also a factor, as is the desire to not add too much extra mass to the soundboard by coating the underside with finish.
Senior Member
Username: bigredbass

Post Number: 411
Registered: 9-2002
Posted on Saturday, May 21, 2005 - 3:15 pm:   Edit Post

So Nic . . . . could my three basses (1985, 1991, 1992, all multi-ply neck-thrus),
all 'encased' in thick poly finishes (2 in solid colors, the Alembic a ruby stain clear) have reached an 'equilibrium' humidity-wise beneath their finishes, and this plus their age would imply this stability I seem to see in them?

I'm really enjoying having your experience around here !

J o e y
Senior Member
Username: bigredbass

Post Number: 412
Registered: 9-2002
Posted on Saturday, May 21, 2005 - 3:21 pm:   Edit Post


I certainly couldn't give you a better anser than Nic! Older, properly-dried wood is certainly the best choice (but remember this wood quality can be dependent on the price point!), and acoustic instruments by design must be lighter than our plank-based solid body instruments.

J o e y
Username: sfnic

Post Number: 43
Registered: 3-2005
Posted on Monday, May 23, 2005 - 4:31 pm:   Edit Post

Joey -

Let's take the '92, as the others will be further along the trail, so to speak.

Born in '92, likely started in late '91. It's a given that Alembic knows what they're doing with wood, so the raw stock was stable in the storage barn for at least 6 months, more likely 3 years before being cut.

(Take a look at some of the stuff that's still available in the Wood Bank, then work backwards to see the dates Mica first posted the info. There're boards available that she first posted in November '2002; they were at least a few years old at that point!)

Anyway, at the minimum, the wood for the '92 was "shop-ready" around the beginning of '91. Now, they generally use 4/4 stock (that is, timber that's "4 quarters of an inch", or 1 real inch thick). They often get billets in that are "8/4" stock, which is 2 inches thick, then split them several times to get to the final 1/4" thick bookmatched pair for the top and back, or, for mahogany cores, down to about 3/4" thick.

The key is that the raw stock is generally either 1" or 2" thick when they start working it.

Woodyard rule-of-thumb is that it takes 1 year per inch of thickness for an average hardwood do dry out from full moisture/just cut down to "shop ready". Somewhat longer in the Northwest, where it's a bit damper. Alembic gets a reasonable amount of lumber that's sourced from NorCal, Oregon and Washington. (We're a great source for Walnut and Big Leaf Maple.)

So, let's assume 4/4 stock, cut in this region. Figure 18-24 months to dry down to shop level (stock doesn't get into humidity controlled storage right away; it can take a few weeks to get from the forest to the mill, then a few more before it's milled for drying). Call it 2 years. That backs us up to early '89 as the earliest "harvest" date.

So, the wood in your '92 is probably no less than 16 years old, at this point. The instrument, if left unfinished, would have reached an initial equilibrium point by late 1990, but would still be susceptible to humidity-based dimensional changes for about another 7 years. The wood was finished in 1992, however. This both protects the wood from moisture, but also slows the final equilibrium-reaching stage (because the wood can't breathe as well, after a polyester finish). So, figure the wood was 2 years into its 7-year settling period when it was finished, and that it would take twice as long to settle afterwards. 5 years x 2 = 10 years later, the wood would have reached it's final equilibrium point, where you can pretty much forget about humidity-based dimensional changes.

Call it 2002, or thereabouts.

Now, the wood can still shift a bit, but not traumatically so. Rember, it's _all_ hardwood of varying degrees, and Alembic is careful about grain orientation and glues and properties-of-motion. So the neck and body will generally expand and contract in complimentary--if not relatively identical--ways.

Probably the weakest joint on the bass, as far as two pieces of wood wanting to go in different directions, are the headstock laminations. But they also have a lot of mechanical help in retaining their relationships: the tuning pegs. The mass of the pegs helps stabilize the interior temperature of the headstock (think "heatsink"), which in turn helps keep the wood's interior moisture level constant. The pegs also act as continuing clamps for the headstock sandwich. So the head isn't going to de-laminate. I might expect to see some lifting of the to lamination at the tip of the standard crown peghead, but probably not for at least 20 years, and that only if the instrument is left outside most of the time. For a regular gigging instrument that travels in a case and stays indoors 95% of the time? Headstock lams should never be a problem. And, as I say, those are the joints _most_ suseptible to dimensional creep.

So, yeah, I'd say your three basses have reached their "point of maximum stability", and should keep that for at least 50-100 years or so, assuming the finish is not excessively damaged and the instrument is reasonably well cared for.

By comparison, we're seeing some classical guitars that are sonically dying, because the woods have dried out to the point where they're losing flexibility. They're still structurally sound; the instruments are in no danger of losing structural integrity, but they're simply losing their voices due to age. These are mid-19th century instruments that, generally, have french-polish finishes externally and no finish internally. The hide glues used for the construction are still sound as adhesives, but they are drying out as flexible membranes that allows microtesimal movement between the braces and tops and backs. So the mechanical impedences are changing, and the instruments' voices are shifting (and being dampened out).

But these guitars are 150+ years old and, in many cases, have been played a lot for their entire lives. And the voicing effects are more due to the glue joints drying out than to the wood losing moisture equilibrium.

But it is possible that sometime around 2125, some of the earlier Alembics may start to lose compliance in their necks. Maybe sooner; maybe much later. Hard to tell, because the surface area of ther glue joints involved are so much larger.

Last thought on the wood: there are 14-15th century lutes that, while not playable because the glues have all dried out, still have perfectly solid wood in the necks and bodies. That's pushing 500 years.

If you can still find 6L6GC power tubes in 2505 AD, we'll worry about your Alembic's neck crumbling. ;-)

Username: davehouck

Post Number: 1786
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Monday, May 23, 2005 - 4:45 pm:   Edit Post

Nice post Nic!!!!
Username: sfnic

Post Number: 44
Registered: 3-2005
Posted on Monday, May 23, 2005 - 9:44 pm:   Edit Post

It's been real helpful to me, regardless of whether it helps others (which I'm _very_ glad it does). I'm right in the midst of designing a few new instruments, and having to think hard about wood recipies and construction techniques is helping me focus on what I really want to achieve.

Right now, my partner and I are deep into designing a Parlour-sized acoustic. Based largely on discussions here in the club over the past few weeks, we're going to try a prototype that will make traditionalists cringe.

So, I've tended to write these horribly long posts, which usually go way beyond the question being asked. This is mostly a brain-fart on my part, as I'm thinking out these design issues.

The ProtoParlour, btw, will be made with a Sitka Spruce top and Padauk backs and sides. That's not so unusual. But because I intend to string it as a soprano guitar (take the higher octave strings from a 12-string set), I want more support for those strings fundamental. i.e., a more controlled lower-midrange.

So I'm going for a stiffer neck, ala Alembic, and will be using the standard Maple/Purpleheart laminate mix. Probably with a stacked all-Maple heel. Purpleheart fretboard and bridge, both for mechanical and visual reasons (I _like_ Purpleheart and Padauk together. I'm sick, that way.) Purpleheart face veneer on the peghead; Padauk on the rear, Maple lams in between.

I especially want to hear what a PH fretboard and bridge will do with this mix. We've already done a few Parlours with the Spruce/Padauk box, and know how they sound. I want the PH to soften the hard edge on the bottom (Padauk tends to bark a bit). I also want to see how PH holds up as a fretboard material.

So, all the conversation here on the board about wood mixes and construction techniques and neck geometry and so forth is all bubbling in my head for this new acoustic. Most helpful, and thanks to everybody for indulging me in these letterbombs.

Senior Member
Username: bob

Post Number: 439
Registered: 11-2002
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 12:15 am:   Edit Post

Keep it coming, nic.

I'm going to get around to pursuing your recent 'quarter wavelength' comment one of these days, when I have a little more time to spend here. As background, there's a long and winding thread referenced in the Must Reads section, about hippie sandwiches and glue joints and such.

Your 'horribly long posts' don't seem to be bothering anyone yet, so please continue to share your thoughts and insight.

If you (hopefully) continue to write stuff like this, you should consider starting new threads. This sort of discussion doesn't deserve to be buried under 'Setups and Shipping'.

PS: have you ever looked into the work done by Dr. Carleen Hutchins on the violin and viola families? Oriented towards acoustic instruments, and particularly plate resonances, but the characteristic response peaks are especially interesting, and I've spent some time trying to simulate them with my SF-2.
Username: davehouck

Post Number: 1797
Registered: 5-2002
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 1:22 pm:   Edit Post

I too appreciate your long posts. I like learning stuff!
Username: sfnic

Post Number: 45
Registered: 3-2005
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 4:17 pm:   Edit Post

Thanks, guys! In that case, I'll keep thinking out loud...

Alas, I'm woefully under-read on the advances in viol-family acoustics. So I haven't come across Dr. Hutchins' work yet. I've got enough "physics of acoustics" theory in my head to get by, from years of doing live sound and tuning rooms and so forth, coupled with a certain amount of basic electronic and mechanical engineering chops. So I can read Siminoff's stuff on tuning the air chamber on a mandolin, and can sorta follow Doc Kasha's stuff with Richard Schneider on structural impedence and boundary effects, but still get lost in the more academic approaches.

As to using the SF-2 to mimic plate resonance peaks, well, yeah it can be done to a degree. The downside is that you have virtually zero ability to control the phase response of the filter, other than by being aware of the basics of a state variable filter.

(The high-pass and band-pass outputs are 180 degrees out of phase to each other, and each is 90 degrees out from ther bandpass output. Then they're summed for the combined output and, often, mixed wet/dry with the original signal which may or may not be 180 degrees out of phase with the bandpass pole.)

And, even being able to discern the phase/amplitude response relationship in the SF-2, you have no way of measuring (or simulating) the same relationships in an instrument or environment you're trying to model.

Ultimately, what the response peaks represent is a combination of the actual generated tone comb-filtered through the plate and cavity amplitude and phase resonances of the environment.

All of which is why DSP processing of audio signals--with the intent of simulating various amps, cabinets, instruments, etc.--has been so difficult until recently. These days, the approach is to make reference recordings of the source item, then use advanced DSP techniques to "discover" the phase and amplitude structure. Then use that as a baseline with which to adapt the model's signal attributes to match.

Fortunately, the human ear is a much more sensitive measurement instrument than it's given credit for, and with some practice, it's quite possible to get "close enough" in modeling to achieve satisfactory results. The big hurdle in learning how to do that kind of aural modeling, though, is to gain an understanding of how phase changes affect what you hear. One easy way to do that is to run one channel of a stereo through a phase shifter pedal that's had the sweep function disabled. Listen, then change the phase shift and keep listening. Change it again. You'll get to the point where you recognize the characteristic sounds of a pair of tones at an identical pitch, but with varying degrees of phase delay between them.

Once you can recognize the "type" of sound of a phase differential, you'll be able to hear it buried in the complex signals you're working with with the SF-2. So you'll have a better idea of what to push or pull, frequency and amplitude-wise, to get closer to the tone and timbre you want to mimic.

It gets back to one of the things Mike Tobias showed me: he had tuned a solid-body bass to "D". He could rap the upper horn and get a very clear tone. He could also rap the lower body, near the controls, and get the exact same tone. But when we put it up on the scope, we found that each "zone" was 90 degrees out of phase with each other. Rap the horn, and the body zone resonated in "D", but 90 degrees forward-shifted. Rap the body, and the horn was 90 degrees behind.

Turns out that was pretty much the ideal, for that particular bass design. He had done one earlier where he managed to get the zones in phase, and of course the bass simply wolfed out at that resonance. He realized that where you plucked the string determined which zone has precedence, and so determined the real-time phase angle of the complex signal. It led him to some interesting experiments with pickup placement. Unfortunately, he didn't have any way of measuring the comb-filter effect the pups had in interaction with the string, at any given note. So it was back to tuning by ear, but with a better inate understanding of how a given change in design would change the tone.
Username: sfnic

Post Number: 46
Registered: 3-2005
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 4:22 pm:   Edit Post

Oh, and a side note: these phase/amplitude relationships are one main reason why "time alignment" of loudspeakers involves a lot more than merely lining up the voice coils. Ron W seems to have a supernatural understanding of these elements. Of course, he cut his teeth designing magnetic tape heads for Ampex, way back when. Many hundreds and hundreds of hours of aligning 16-track and video record heads to minimize inter-channel phase shifts will train the ear...
Username: sfnic

Post Number: 47
Registered: 3-2005
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 4:24 pm:   Edit Post

...Of course, it's possible to LOSE the ability to discern phase/amplitude relationships, after listening to Dark Star at live volume for the six thousandth time...
Senior Member
Username: bigredbass

Post Number: 413
Registered: 9-2002
Posted on Wednesday, May 25, 2005 - 11:08 am:   Edit Post


Don't EVER quit thinking out loud for us ! You have to remember that some of us here gravitated to ALEMBICs because we have a thirst for the straight technical truth. And I also truly believe that Ron must have the ears and mind of someone that only comes along once in a very great while, and should easily be included in that very short list of giants like Les Paul, Leo Fender, Randall Smith, etc.

Thank You.

J o e y
Username: sfnic

Post Number: 54
Registered: 3-2005
Posted on Thursday, May 26, 2005 - 2:44 pm:   Edit Post

Well, I have been blessed by being in the right place at the right time, to learn from some of the finest and most innovative people to ever grace the "industry."

It's odd, though. I had essentially left the instrument production community, years ago. My day job (computer security industry technical writer) was engrossing and massively time-consuming. I hadn't though about instrument design or electronics or woodworking or audio physics for, literally, 15 years or so. When Stars Guitars shut down and we sold off our PA company, I pretty much turned my back on the whole deal.

So, there I was at 48 years old, happily chatting with a friend who's a network design guru. He mentions that he builds acoustic guitars. I say, "yeah, I used to do guitar work, way back when."

One thing leads to another, and I'm just about to turn 50, and am in the middle of a full-blown mid-life "crisis" and am completely resurrecting my involvement in this entire circus. (My wife says, "as long as it doesn't involve Ferraris and/or groupies, it's fine.")

So I've been indulging in a crash course in re-learning what I used to know, and filling in all the gaps that I never bothered to worry about back then. Posting here in the Club has been a fantastic aid for me to re-organize my personal knowledgebank and recharge my own creative juices.

It's also put me back in touch with some superb people I hadn't really known very well, but really respected and, it turns out, missed a great deal. When I dropped by the factory a few weeks ago, I was reminded of how much raw fun it is to talk with Ron about some nice, deep technicalities. I reconnected with Susan's wicked sense of humor, and have been delighted at how her inate artistry has grown and matured over the years.

And Mica. What can I say? I wish I could have been around, at least from time to time, to watch her grow up. I like to think I cover a broad range of subjects in my lutherie-centric interests; Mica has been living on the cusp between 22nd-century state-of-the-art electronic design, and 12th-century classical artistic and music instrument design and construction her entire life. Throw in botanical physics and a thousand other odds-and-ends, and then throw on that she's a shit-hot blues player, as well. She's a total treasure.

So, mega-thanks for indulging me. :-)


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