Watching the plane next to ours being loaded It became clear how and why musical instruments often turn up damaged.
The acoustic bass guitar which I created in 2009 did not survive the flight between Australia and Germany. It arrived with the headstock almost decapitated and the sound board in two pieces.This is an astonishing thing to achieve considering it was in a case. It must have taken a very passionate and creative luggage handler to enable such a result .
Fortunately the bass was insured and I was given the opportunity to restore it. I had fond memories of building this instrument and her name is now Evelyn. Although she had great power and projection I promised Nicholas, her owner, that I could improve the sound sound quality as my soundboards have continually improved since her conception.
When Evelyn was finally rebuilt and restrung it was clear she was lacking in some of the power she once had. HOW COULD THIS BE? It took 2 days of head scratching for an answer which turned out to be so obvious…….The new sound board was fixed or glued on the sides and the old one was not. The old one was held in place by the down force of strings only. It was essentially “floating ” on the sides. I remembered the reason behind building the bass soundboard “floating” was to get as much freedom of movement as possible to enhance “bass response.” Needless to say the bass has been returned to her owner with a “floating” soundboard sounding better than ever.
The unanswered question is: Why the big improvement in sound with the soundboard floating? My guess is the reduced resistance to pivoting or rocking on the sides……Regardless of reason there had been a major shift in sound. Coincidentally I had just completed 2 identical mandolins. A perfect test for this floating innovation. The result was spectacular. One of the instruments suddenly became a Diva. By this point in time I was beginning to have some very warm feelings towards this anonymous luggage handler. I am sure by now he is the CEO of some demolition company
To summarize this has been a humbling experience. Once again some outside force has literally booted my work to a new level. It has been much unexpected and a whole range of possibilities has arisen.
A sound board can now be replaced as quickly and easily as a single string. This means one instrument can have a much bigger range of sound by using different timbers and construction specifications with different sound boards. They are the most likely part of an instrument to wear out or fail. This along with the opportunity to access the inside of an instrument easily makes a floating sound board, apart from its great sound, a good option.
Although it takes only minutes to change a “floater” it takes a good day to make one. This is still a whole lot better than a month or two to make an instrument so it will not take long to test out the best possible options for these sound boards. It is an exciting time for me as a maker. One of the things I have already observed is a much bigger variation in sound quality when the break angle of strings at the bridge is varied. For example with a shallow break angle the sound is gentle with lots of sustainnnnnnn. With a sharp break angle the “attack” is much stronger especially in the high frequency notes. Easy height adjustment of the tailpiece is now essential. With this achieved it will make the floaters much more useful for recording purposes as the sound can be adjusted for different tunes.
For people interested in this development I have sent Christos the very first of the Divas. This one is a little unrefined and not be for sale. However I am sure Christos will be recording something with her soon. . .
Thankyou regards Richard