HI , ive built a couple of cbg,s now , they look pretty good , but they are very hard to finger and make them sound right , and when you get up around the 12 fret they dont sound quite right , i dont know if its something iam doing wrong , or its just the way they are . i have a few friends that want one , but i really dont want to build them one if they cant be played right . can anyone give me some insite on what i might be doing wrong . Thanks, Billy.

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Hi Billy Heintz,

First, I assume you have fretted your instrument, and are not attempting to play an un-fretted instrument. When fretting an instrument, the first octave is pretty easy, and your fret positions don't really have to be spot-on to get recognizable notes. However, the second octave does need to be fretted as carefully (accurately) as possible, since any error in fret positioning is kind of magnified in this range where the frets come closer together. So, the problem could be one of "not accurate enough fret positioning".

However, there is one more trick you can try to tune your frets a bit better, and that is angling your bridge. I assume your bridge is "floating" (held in only be string pressure and is not glued in). What you'll need is a chromatic digital tuner to tune your instrument (lets say you have a 3-stringer tuned in D:  D-A-D'). Once the open strings have been tuned tuned well, beginning with your 1st string, tune it again, but this time with fret 12 stopped (press down on the string just below (left of) the 12th fret). This will usually be a bit off, often sharp. So, reposition the bridge back a bit and then re-tune string 1, first open, and then while stopped at fret 12. Repeat this until you get string 1 to play D spot on in both open and stopped at fret 12. Once you have done this, repeat this process for string 3, but make sure not to move the bridge relative to string 1. What you will be trying to do is to angle the string using the intersection of string 1 and the bridge as a pivot point. Once you can get string 3 to be pretty much in-tune for open as well as stopped at fret 12, re-test string 1 to make sure that didn't move out of tune. Now, be aware that you won't get perfect tuning, but you can get fairly close, and the result of this exercise should be an instrument that is tuned for maximal intonation that your instrument is capable of giving. (While your at this, you can also check string 2 to make sure it's relatively well tuned as well.) If you have any further questions about this, post them here and I'll get back with you in a day or so.

-Rand.

Hi again, Billy

In re-reading your post I saw that you said your strings are very hard to finger. This is probably due to "high action" and what you need to do is to "lower the action of your strings". What this means in layman's terms is that the strings are too high off the fretboard (or neck). The strings are under a lot of tension, and the further you have to push them to make good contact with the frets, the harder you have to push, making the instrument "hard to finger" and hard on your fingers (especially the finger tips). What you can do is to try and lower the bridge and/or nut until the strings are closer to the fretboard. There was some talk on CBN of using a dime and a penny (or was it a nickel - I forget) as the test for "proper" action. You should be able to slip a dime between the fret and the string at fret 1 and the penny (or was it a nickel) at fret 12. Likely I have the rule wrong, but it should bring you into the ball park of what good action should be.

When I build, I try to angle the neck downward by a few degrees to make achieving a low action all that much more easy. On a neck thur design, I cut the slot for the neck on the head side of the cigar box a little bit deeper (maybe 1 cm) than the tail side of the cigar box, which will force the neck to tilt down a bit. On a neck-almost-thru design, I move the tail end of the neck upward by about 1 cm or so and then drive a screw thru it to secure it in place. On bolt-on necks, the heel of the neck gets a few degrees worth of wood shaved off so that the neck will tilt slightly downward when it is butted up against the cigar box. However you do it, tilting the neck down 2 or 3 (or so) degrees really helps you to achieve a low action. However, if you are the type that plays the Delta Blues with a slide, then you will like a fret-less CBG with high action. Some other playing styles may also prefer higher action, but I like it low. Easier on the fingers.

-Rand.

Hi , Thanks Rand , ill give that a try

Rand Moore said:

Hi Billy Heintz,

First, I assume you have fretted your instrument, and are not attempting to play an un-fretted instrument. When fretting an instrument, the first octave is pretty easy, and your fret positions don't really have to be spot-on to get recognizable notes. However, the second octave does need to be fretted as carefully (accurately) as possible, since any error in fret positioning is kind of magnified in this range where the frets come closer together. So, the problem could be one of "not accurate enough fret positioning".

However, there is one more trick you can try to tune your frets a bit better, and that is angling your bridge. I assume your bridge is "floating" (held in only be string pressure and is not glued in). What you'll need is a chromatic digital tuner to tune your instrument (lets say you have a 3-stringer tuned in D:  D-A-D'). Once the open strings have been tuned tuned well, beginning with your 1st string, tune it again, but this time with fret 12 stopped (press down on the string just below (left of) the 12th fret). This will usually be a bit off, often sharp. So, reposition the bridge back a bit and then re-tune string 1, first open, and then while stopped at fret 12. Repeat this until you get string 1 to play D spot on in both open and stopped at fret 12. Once you have done this, repeat this process for string 3, but make sure not to move the bridge relative to string 1. What you will be trying to do is to angle the string using the intersection of string 1 and the bridge as a pivot point. Once you can get string 3 to be pretty much in-tune for open as well as stopped at fret 12, re-test string 1 to make sure that didn't move out of tune. Now, be aware that you won't get perfect tuning, but you can get fairly close, and the result of this exercise should be an instrument that is tuned for maximal intonation that your instrument is capable of giving. (While your at this, you can also check string 2 to make sure it's relatively well tuned as well.) If you have any further questions about this, post them here and I'll get back with you in a day or so.

-Rand.

Just an update. I recently researched this topic and found that the downward tilt of the neck should be 3 degrees in almost all cases. This setting is often referred to as the "neck back set angle". It is well illustrated in this drawing:

I think the angle may be slightly exaggerated here, so go with the 3 degree angle your protractor tells you, not with what may or may not be accurately represented here. Also, if you extend the line of the neck (fretboard) back over the sound box and then draw a line up from where you plan to place your bridge, it will show you how tall your bridge will need to be.

 

-Rand.


Rand Moore said:

Hi again, Billy

In re-reading your post I saw that you said your strings are very hard to finger. This is probably due to "high action" and what you need to do is to "lower the action of your strings". What this means in layman's terms is that the strings are too high off the fretboard (or neck). The strings are under a lot of tension, and the further you have to push them to make good contact with the frets, the harder you have to push, making the instrument "hard to finger" and hard on your fingers (especially the finger tips). What you can do is to try and lower the bridge and/or nut until the strings are closer to the fretboard. There was some talk on CBN of using a dime and a penny (or was it a nickel - I forget) as the test for "proper" action. You should be able to slip a dime between the fret and the string at fret 1 and the penny (or was it a nickel) at fret 12. Likely I have the rule wrong, but it should bring you into the ball park of what good action should be.

When I build, I try to angle the neck downward by a few degrees to make achieving a low action all that much more easy. On a neck thur design, I cut the slot for the neck on the head side of the cigar box a little bit deeper (maybe 1 cm) than the tail side of the cigar box, which will force the neck to tilt down a bit. On a neck-almost-thru design, I move the tail end of the neck upward by about 1 cm or so and then drive a screw thru it to secure it in place. On bolt-on necks, the heel of the neck gets a few degrees worth of wood shaved off so that the neck will tilt slightly downward when it is butted up against the cigar box. However you do it, tilting the neck down 2 or 3 (or so) degrees really helps you to achieve a low action. However, if you are the type that plays the Delta Blues with a slide, then you will like a fret-less CBG with high action. Some other playing styles may also prefer higher action, but I like it low. Easier on the fingers.

-Rand.

As Rand has pointed out, there are several potential and inter-related causes for what you describe.

Trying to fret an instrument with high action is both more difiicult and hard on the fingers, and it can effect intonation as you stretch the string to fret it.

Assuming your fret locations are correct, you have two things to check, nut location and bridge location. This is easiest with an electronic tuner. With the strings tuned to pitch, check the changes on the first few frets. If they are out of tune the nut location may need tweaking, usually a very small adjustment. If the pitch is correct there but wrong further up the fretboard, usually checked at the octave or 12th fret, you need to compensate at the bridge. This compensation is to correct the different effects string guage has on the slight stretch when fretting. It usually results in a slight angle at the bridge and is a comprimised adjustment unless you have a bridge that allows individual string adjustment. Look at some other guitars for examples. Just get it as close as you can.

Get the action, nut and bridge set pretty close and you should find it much easier on the fingers and ears.

Stick with it and you will have a better playing guit and learn something along the way!

Have fun,

Mark

To go back to fretting for a moment: One thing I've discovered when doing a fingerboard is to switch over to metric for calculating slot positions. A 23" scale length works out to 584.2 mm. With the finer "grain" of a millimetre ruler it's easier (for me) to more accurately eyeball the fret locations than it is with a standard ruler. The Experimental Musical Instrument website (good source for piezo materials BTW) has a handy online fret calculator. It does inches and metric so you can pick your poison. You can get to it by clicking  here.

 

Another very useful (and free!) tool is something called WFret. It does much the same thing as the online calculator above, but it's downloadable so it can be used without a web connection. PLUS there's a bonus! If you have a laser printer, it will print out a template you can cut out and use as a fret ruler for your build. It's accurate to within a few 100ths of an inch, so for all practical purposes (or at least to my ears) it's close enough to "perfect" that it makes no difference. There's some discussion about fret placement and a link to WFret on  this page. The direct download link for the software can be found here.

Luck!

 

very good info, but the software link on the pages does not work??

Theres a link to download wfret here.

Use what works for you, I use the fret calculator available on the Stewmac site and a metric yardstick. Works for me.

Thanks for the great info Rand. I'm planning on doing the 3 degree angle on the build I'm doing now and think it will help in a lot of areas. It should provide more  space between the top and the strings, allow a taller bridge for better angle there too and give more flexability with bridge/saddle design and thickness.

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