Alright, so I'm writing this paper on the technical/mechanical side of an electric bass guitar. I'd appreciate it if someone could just get me thinking straight with this question, however ignorant it might be:

Why are the bass' frets farther apart? Since we're dealing with notes that are lower frequencies, and therefore less of a frequency change between notes, shouldn't there be less of a distance between frets? Or since we're dealing with heavier strings, does it take more of a tension change to actually change the note? Or is there another reason?

I know it might be a noobish question, but I never learned a lot of this stuff, and I ran into a problem with this. I'd also much rather check Wikipedia or UG before actually looking up real sources. And Wikipedia doesn't say why.

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i think it's the 2nd, that's what i always beleived, but i'm not sure either
but it's just a hunch
IM not sure but i think because its such a low frequency it needs larger frets sow you can hear the difference in notes.
The notes along the neck follow a certain simmetry, and you are working with a certain scale (in this case 34"), if you have a 34" neck and you play in the middle of the scale you'll get the octave of the open note, if it is a 50" the same, just a ridiculous amount of tension, but there is a pattern.
Also if you have a longer neck (say, 35") to produce the same notes, you'd have to move the patter acording to the notes you desire to play. I think that's the way it is. All this follows some mathematical calculations obviously.
he's asking about fret distance, i think on all standard guitars/basses, fret SIZE is about the same...
er...now that i think about i dunno...
That's what I mean, the distance between fret 1 and 2 in a 34" scale and a 35" is different because of what I just said. If you have a longer scale you need more tension to produce the same note. Imagine tuning a bass to guitar range. It follows a pattern, a scale.
Quote by watchingmefall
The notes along the neck follow a certain simmetry, and you are working with a certain scale (in this case 34"), if you have a 34" neck and you play in the middle of the scale you'll get the octave of the open note, if it is a 50" the same, just a ridiculous amount of tension, but there is a pattern.
Also if you have a longer neck (say, 35") to produce the same notes, you'd have to move the patter acording to the notes you desire to play. I think that's the way it is. All this follows some mathematical calculations obviously.

Oh, okay. So the frets are farther apart because of the distance the strings are stretched over? That makes sense. Thanks. I wouldn't have thought of it in those terms. I was looking at it the other way around (the neck being longer in part because the frets are spaced apart more).

And correct me if I'm wrong, but we have the longer necks because the strings would be too loose in order to reach the required frequency on a shorter neck, right?

Thanks again.
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Yes that's correct. we have longer necks because of string tension. That's why a lot of 5 strings use 35" scales.
I don't know what music theory is.

Quote by Geekis_Khan

And correct me if I'm wrong, but we have the longer necks because the strings would be too loose in order to reach the required frequency on a shorter neck, right?

Exactly, if you wanted a guitar in the same frequency as the bass the strings would be ridiculosly floppy (or they'd have to be metal rods bad joke), so we just move the scale.
Quote by watchingmefall
Exactly, if you wanted a guitar in the same frequency as the bass the strings would be ridiculosly floppy (or they'd have to be metal rods bad joke), so we just move the scale.

Same why males voices get lower when we reach puberty. Lengthening of vocal c(h)ords=deeper voice.
Thank you. I'll have to rearrange one of my paragraphs now, but at least now I know what I'm talking about.
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Same why males voices get lower when we reach puberty. Lengthening of vocal c(h)ords=deeper voice.

Wow, I never thought about it that way. That's why chipmunks talk that way
Here's the deal:

When you pluck a suspended clothesline, you can see the wave travelling back and forth from one end to the other. This also occurs on bass strings, but at a much more rapid rate of vibration. The frets are there to effectively shorten the travel distance of the waves, making the waves higher in pitch.

The spacing of the frets comes about from a long line of music theory. Initially, it was the ancient Greeks who discovered that by placing your finger gently on a stretched string in a certain place (halfway point, 1/3 of the length, 1/4 of the length, etc.) you get other notes--harmonics of the original (fundamental). You get the following:

no finger holding down harmonic--fundamental, or root note
finger at halfway point--1st harmonic, octave above root
finger at 1/3 length of string--2nd harmonic, 5th (if root was C, then this is G)
finger at 1/4 length of string--3rd harmonic, 2 octaves above root
finger at 1/5 length of string--4th harmonic, major 3rd (if root was C, then this is E)

Ignoring the octaves, they discovered that they could get about 7 distinct notes, which could be dropped in octaves to fit into pitches between the root and the octave. This gave rise to the do, re, mi, fa, so, la ti, do (Ionian) mode, derived from harmonics.

At some point, someone discovered the in-between notes (the black keys on a piano) and meantone temperment was discovered. However, the white keys were still based on harmonics, so playing a song in C was beautiful, but transposing it to play in B, the notes would be really dissonant (sound off-key). C# and Db were considered DIFFERENT notes!!! Many compromises were made to the intervals to allow certain transpositions to sound less dissonant, but someone eventually discovered a mathematical way to set 12 intervals into an octave, using logarithms. If you start with the C and multiply its frequency with the 12th root of 2, you get C#. Do it again, and you get D. And so on. All modern keyboards and western instruments use this as a standard, but it is a compromise. The C and G of ancient Greek times were perfect harmonics, meaning there was NO dissonance (off-key sound) in the interval--it sounded really powerful and PURE. Play a C and G on a modern keyboard and it is not as pure sounding, there is a slight warble. But most people can't tell this because they grew up with the compromise and are used to this tone. But when they go to hear a church organ in meantone temperment, they wonder why it sounds so majestically PURE--it is because of the slight difference in pitch correction due to the logarithms. This compromise of the intervals is known as equal or well temperment, and was utilized first by J S Bach on his well-tempered clavier compositions.

The frets on a modern guitar and bass follow this logarithmically compromised scale. Some modern luthiers have made high-end basses that use the older meantone intervals--and they sound regal, but only in certain keys. Others have developed an equal 19 tone temperment (19 logarthmically equal-intervalled notes in one octave), which is a purer sounding instrument, but having 19 notes in an octave (7 black keys instead of 5 in an octave) makes for a hard-to-play instrument.

On the electric bass, the frets are further apart compared to a guitar, because of the "sliding scale" nature of logarithmic intervals--the bass neck is longer, so the frets furthest away from the bridge have to be further apart.

Other cultures, such as the north Indian tradition, use instruments (like the sitar) that have movable frets. Indian music is still based on harmonics, so when they transpose or use a different mode (e.g., go from major to minor) they have to adjust the fret spacings slightly.

Jaco de Lucia.

The Zen of Duh: How low can you go? Zero Hertz. That's the lowest anyone can go. Just turn off your bass amp and not play.

Q-tuner PUs (0X0 configuration) and HG Thor Labs for the best fretless bass tone. MWAH FACTOR!!!
By the way, the wavelength (governed by the distance between the fret and the bridge) and the frequency are inversely proportional. The smaller the wavelength (i.e., shorter distance from fret to bridge), the higher the frequency or pitch.

The speed of the vibrations is given by a simple relation:

wave speed on a string = (string tension / string's linear density)^1/2

Knowing this, and

wave speed = wavelength [which is twice the length of string] x frequency

gives the means to calculate how much tension is on each string on the bass when you plug in the "open string" frequency for frequency above.

Too much tension and the bass will bow forwards, and not enough tension may cause back-bowing. This is where the truss rod adjustment comes in handy--to compensate for the tension in the strings.

I am a physics professor, so if you need any more info about the physics of bass guitars or pickups, I'm your man.
Jaco de Lucia.

The Zen of Duh: How low can you go? Zero Hertz. That's the lowest anyone can go. Just turn off your bass amp and not play.

Q-tuner PUs (0X0 configuration) and HG Thor Labs for the best fretless bass tone. MWAH FACTOR!!!
Thanks to all of you who helped. Just thought I should let you know, this is officially one of my works cited as "E-mail Communication".
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Geekis, you are truly the Ghandi of our time

Quote by thefitz
Man, I really have to stop sigging you...

My blog:
http://david-hates.blogspot.com/
Holy ****; my brain is trying to kill itself right now. That was way more information than I can handle at once.

Quite useful, however. Thanks for the lesson.
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Could be, but the most important thing to remember is that it wasn't your fault, even if it was.
YEa... pretty much it is a ratio of scale length... the 12th fret has to be 1/2 way between the bridge and nut so a 34" scale has the 12th fret at 17".... fill in the rest from there
Interresting. Make it into a column.
An errata needs to be cleared up:

I referred to the harmonic 12 note scale as the mean tone temperament, but this is technically not correct. Twelve notes created using harmonic ratios is called the chromatic scale. Mean tone temperament is a slight adjustment to the notes using an interval known as the comma--an anomaly that occurs when you create a scale using harmonics. If you start with the F and go up to C (a fifth above), you can continue upwards in fifths until you get to the E# note. E# in modern equal temperament is the same as F, but NOT in the chromatic Pythagorean scale, which is based purely on harmonics. They are off by a small margin. Taking the ratio of the interval F# to F and dividing it by the interval from B to C gives us the comma. The mean tone temperament adds or subtracts a fraction of the comma to the notes that don't quite sound in tune with the rest of the scale, averaging out the notes to make them sound more pleasant--hence the term "mean".

Just intonation uses something similar, but applies different fractions of the comma to notes. Again, they are all approximations to make the notes sound good with each other.

Equal (or even) temperament came about to produce a mathematically produced scale that will sound equally "in tune" (or equally out of tune, since it is compromised) no matter what key the song is in. An Etude in C will sound equally as good if it transposed to B. You can't do that in mean or just temperaments--the notes will sound enharmonic and dissonant.

Sorry for the mixup. I hope it is not too late for your paper.
Jaco de Lucia.

The Zen of Duh: How low can you go? Zero Hertz. That's the lowest anyone can go. Just turn off your bass amp and not play.

Q-tuner PUs (0X0 configuration) and HG Thor Labs for the best fretless bass tone. MWAH FACTOR!!!
Last edited by jaco de lucia at Oct 24, 2007,
There's a lot of information, but I think I may add something that might clear a few things up. The whole string length thing is totally referrential. Jaco de Lucia explained the whole 'interval' thing well, but I don't thing your original questions about why the frets are proportionately farther apart (as compared to, say, mandolin, guitar) has been answered.

Again, it's all a point of reference. To get a certain note for an open string (regardless of where the in-between notes lie), you need to make some calculations. You can represent any note at any pitch in any octave with any string length. You could get a low B on a short-scale parlour guitar. You'll need several things to make it sound right, though:

An open string is basically the product of several things: the frequency of the fundamental, the string length, and the thickness of the string. You can change around and control these variables to give a desired string tension. The shorter the scale and the thinner the string (while pitch remains constant), the floppier a string will be. This is why people sometimes want that extra inch to their scale for a 5-string. Anyway, you can get a low B on a parlour guitar (i.e. scale length and pitch is constant), but it'll either be insultingly low tension, or your string will need to be almost comically thick.

From what I understand, the bass' 34" scale is simply a comfortable point of reference that Leo Fender used back in '51. Gibson decided on 30.5", and then later 34.5". They could have made the necks 76" scale if they had wanted to, but they would need different gauged strings. But no - they decided on the scales that they did as they were comfortable. They were much easier to play than the standard 42" upright scale.

And speaking of uprights, as you go down the size list (4/4, 3/4, 1/2, etc), the scale lengths actually shrink. A 1/4 sized upright has just over a 36" scale. As long as you put your fingers in the right spots, it doesn't matter what the scale is, as long as the string gauge and tension are comfortable to play on.

In conclusion, the scale length and proportional fret distance doesn't need to be bigger that other instruments. However, it's a good point of reference, because if the scale length was shorter, you would need to compensate for loss of tension by thickening the strings, and this would result in an extremely thick neck. But hell, late '50's P-basses had 1.75" nut widths.

Anyway, I hope this helped.
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