The zen of break angle mechanics and why tone relies more on the tail than the head.
It surprises me how some details of our instruments are discussed obsessively, while others remain unattended. One such example is the intense discussion about nut material, which we touched on in October 2020's “Does Fret Material Really Matter for a Bass?" It's an interesting discussion, because a nut's DNA is close to obsolete once we fret a note, yet frets only remain a topic when it comes to dimensions and playability.
Another good example is the question of whether a tilted or straight headstock is the way to go, and what their different break angles mean for tone and playability. Guess what? It's another topic that's as good as irrelevant once we start using our fretboard! So, it should be no surprise when a bassist is baffled at how the feel and tone of his bass has changed after shimming the neck.
Shimming is about changing the neck's tilt by adding a thin piece of plastic or wood into the neck pocket. When it comes to bolt-on necks, it's a popular way to help with a bridge that has run out of its range of adjustment. Simply tilt/maneuver the neck backwards, and you then raise the bridge to get back to proper action, or vice versa.
Like the bassist who inspired this column, after doing his own shim, you might be wondering about the likeliness that a neck-pocket shim could be the source of altered feel and tone. Well, a tight and evenly routed neck pocket has long been seen as an important proof of quality, with some builders even removing potentially disturbing lacquer from the pocket area. With that in mind, yes, throwing in small strips of a credit card rather than a wedge-shaped piece of wood seems like a sacrilege. However, it's not like creating small gaps in a neck pocket qualifies as acoustic chambering. Shimming might reduce the neck's actual total-contact area, but the overall pressure is force perarea, so it remains unlikely that any such small change would be heard or even felt.
Of course, our player did readjust his bridge after shimming, without thinking this could be the cause of the changes. Some of his colleagues even suggested that it felt and sounded different because the steeper the break angle, the higher the strings' tension.
Following is the formula for determining string tension (T) for a given frequency or pitch (F):
T = [UW x (2 x L x F)2] ÷ 386.4
Here, “UW" represents the specific weight per length unit of core and winding, while “L" is our scale length. Don't worry: There's no need to dig any deeper into this formula right now, except to simply absorb the terms involved. It is important to note that there is no mention of string length beyond the bridge or nut, and nothing about break angle or downward pressure. In mathematics and physics, this simply just means they are irrelevant.
Some musicians use the term “perceived tension" to describe their feeling of plucking a string, which comes a bit closer to our friend's concerns about his bass, but it absolutely collides with all things physics. Said perception is simply a matter of the elasticity to the string's elongation when plucked and moved out of its neutral position.
In a string, the core has to handle all the tension. Therefore, it has a significant and non-negligible stiffness that reacts to lateral movements of the string, which does highly depend on said break angle. The higher or steeper the angle, the higher the downward pressure.
Let's look at the two scenarios in Fig.1. Bass A has a break angle that's closer to zero—as in the case of a Fender-style 1-piece bridge—with just enough downward pressure so the string doesn't pop out when plucked. Meanwhile, bass B has a break angle closer to 90 degrees, representative of almost any string-through bass.
Plucking a string on bass A—with its slippery bridge contact—means it will be immediately lengthened from the anchor point of the tuner and tailpiece or bridge. With the higher downward pressure on bass B, there is far less slippage, which makes it more difficult for the part outside the scale length to stretch. It's less elastic and feels, well, harder.
It's not only about slippage, however. It's also about a different bending of the core. On bass A, the core stays relatively straight on both sides of the bridge, meaning that any core bending on the playing side causes a bending (and finally vibration) after the bridge, partially compensating for the core's stiffness. This doesn't apply to bass B since its core behind the bridge is perpendicular to the strings' movement, and is therefore unable to compensate. Since all bending of the active string happens on a shorter length, it results in a higher resetting force, which needs more power from your hand to get the same deviation of the string.
Whether you prefer the hard or soft feel—or something in-between—is simply a personal choice. And, as opposed to the nut's break angle, it has consequences for every note played.
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Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
Patented Railhammer Pickups take passive guitar pickups to a new level with rails under the wound strings lead to tighter lows, and poles under the plain strings offer fatter heights. With increased clarity, the passive pickup’s tone is never sterile.
Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.
Designed for utmost comfort and performance, the Vertigo Ultra Bass is Mono’s answer to those who seek the ultimate gigging experience.
Complete with a range of game-changing design features, such as the patent-pending attachable FREERIDE Wheel System, premium water-resistant and reflective materials, shockproof shell structure and improved ergonomic features, the Vertigo Ultra Bass takes gear protection to the next level.
The Vertigo Ultra Bass features:
- Patent-pending FREERIDE Wheel System that allows for wheels to be attached on the case in no time, giving you the option to travel with it seamlessly
- Upgraded materials, including a water-resistant 1680D Ballistic Nylon outer shell, plush inner lining and new reflective trim for maximum backstage and night visibility
- Enhanced protection with a shockproof shell structure and heavy-duty water-resistant YKK zippers for protection from the elements
- Improved ergonomics and functionality including added back support and load-lifting detachable shoulder straps with side release buckles
- Flexible storage options with added space for touring essentials
The Generation Collection of acoustic guitars features the exclusive Gibson Player Port designed to offer a unique and immersive sonic experience.
The G-Bird, the newest addition to the Generation Collection--represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird colliding with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port to add a new dimension to the G-Bird sound. The Gibson Player Port allows players to hear more of themselves as the audience hears it. With a tone that is crisp and resonant, all of the Gibson Generation Collection acoustics are designed to be comfortable to hold and play for long periods of time. All Generation Collection guitars feature the Gibson Player Port, slim, lightweight bodies, a flatter fingerboard radius, Walnut back and sides, Sitka spruce tops, and a stunning Natural finish. Additionally, the new G-Bird, and the G-200 and G-Writer are equipped with LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup systems which amplify deep bass and crystal-clear highs.
The G-Bird represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port adding a new dimension to the G-Bird’s sound. The G-Bird features a stunning solid Sitka spruce top and solid walnut back and sides for the ultimate in crisp, resonant tone. This square-shoulder dreadnought delivers all the rich low end and well-balanced mids and highs the original Hummingbird is famous for. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with chrome Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning. The utile neck, with its easy-playing Advanced Response neck profile, is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Modeled after Gibson’s pioneering small-body parlor acoustic guitars from the 1930’s, the G-00 is a top choice for blues and fingerstyle guitar performances. Despite its more compact size, the G-00 achieves a full, balanced sound. The G-00 fills any room with rich tones-which players can hear like never before, with the exclusive Gibson Player Port. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-00 is handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustic guitars. The G-00 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-00 parlor-sized body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-00 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
The G-45, a round-shouldered jumbo, adds the Gibson Player Port to its famous “Workhorse” J-45 style body, which is Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitar of all time. On the G-45, players can now hear more clearly than ever how this beloved guitar responds to every style and technique of playing. Powerful one moment and soft the next, the G-45 delivers all sounds with incredible dynamic range in an elegant, medium body size. The G-45 is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-45 features a slightly thinner round shoulder body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-45 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Gibson’s impressive range of square-shouldered guitars have become an expressive standard for rock, pop, folk, and country artists. The G-Writer is known for its wide range of sounds, from gutsy and loud, to soft and sweet; they are superb for all styles and shine, whether strumming chords or fingering intricate solos. The G-Writer comes ready for the stage or studio with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system and the ear-opening Gibson Player Port. The G-Writer is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-Writer features a slightly thinner cutaway body, is more comfortable to play and provides effortless access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Writer is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
Gibson built its first “Super Jumbo” SJ-200 as a custom order for country and western singer and film star Ray Whitley, who desired a big, loud, and deep flat-top over which to croon. The SJ-200 quickly became a staple of cowboy singers and horseback troubadours, and then country music, 60’s folk stars, and onto every acoustic guitar genre that has followed. Ray would be proud to hear the booming sound from the Gibson Player Port on the new G-200, which comes ready for the stage or studio with a LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-200 is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. The G-200 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-200 cutaway jumbo body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and provides excellent access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-200 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
G-Bird | Generation Collection
For more information, please visit gibson.com.