Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Anatomy of a Part

This might be boh-ring. I'll try for scalpel-like editing and terse sentences.

It was clear in the early aesthetic evolution of the Barker Bass that something needed to happen in the center of the lower bout. The tailpiece was the logical reference to the vaguely ancestral orchestral bass.

At the same time I had imagined a bass with extra long strings that went through a custom bridge and then were gathered near the top of the tailpiece, just as orchestral bass strings attach there.

That concept was a failure for a number of reasons, the most compelling of which was the bother of the longer strings. I wanted owners to be able to access the delightfully wide range of available standard length electric bass strings in order to plumb the depths of the sonic possibilities of the Barker body. (terse sentence score: -14)

Another downside of this string-gathering idea was the necessity to remove the tailpiece to change strings. Not attractive, as were the screws to allow that.

So along with the upside of the sleek tailpiece came the challenge of attaching it in such a way that, while the fasteners were invisible, the tailpiece itself could still be removed in the prelude to a refinish job sometime downstream.

It took a while. I keep a gallery of failures on my wall, silent sentinels reminding me of ways not to make a Barker Bass. They are indeed my friends, and the idea of relegating them to the dumpster was repugnant.

Poring over unlikely catalogs of fasteners finally yielded the answer: A "semi-permanent" (their words) two piece attachment device which, though inexpensive on a per each basis, required considerable development in the preparation of the mating surfaces and the eventual development of a purpose-built machine dedicated just to inserting the part into the tailpiece. (terse sentence score: -21)

The machine is named after Jim Erickson, longtime co-member of the Dry Canyon Philharmonick, who was helping me in the shop at the time. I will subsequently take a picture of the machine and back-post it on the blog (translation: the camera is at home).

Violin family instruments typically and traditionally have ebony tailpieces which match the ebony fingerboard and provide a nice visual completion of that strong central line. I preferred not to use ebony for the tailpiece and save that highly valued wood for fingerboards, its highest and best use.

The next deep challenge of the tailpiece was to make it look so much like ebony there would never be a question whether it actually was. Again, over time, the solution was developed to a measurable degree beyond my highest expectations. (TSS: -9)

Most think it's ebony. You are now on the inside! Maybe it was worth the unterse sentences!

Thus ends this brief exposition on the history and development of the tailpiece, a visual component of the Barker Bass unique to the B1 series. How it got there is still cloaked in a little mystery, but somewhat less than when you started this boh-ring post.

Not bad, eh?

I know, I can do better.

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