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fingerboard extensions

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 11 years ago

The problem is...


If you wanted to make it really difficult for the editors of this site, how would you do it?


How about take away one of their fundamental assumptions?









(a similar image of an extended bottom string on a double bass, a bit big for this page)


for what they've done to us! The five-string banjo was bad enough.


These extensions are actually a great idea. For an orchestral bass player, it gives you those pesky few extra notes that modern composers are now demanding, without needing a whole new string to do it. What's one string between friends? Oh, just a new bass-bar to take the extra tension, a new fingerboard and headstock... cheaper to get a whole new bass. And then get used to replacing this one new string that's heavier than any of the others and costs twice as much as any of them, and doesn't come in any of the standard sets. And when you're playing things that don't need it, you still need to tune it of course. So you're the last one ready to play. At these times, sux.


The extension has its drawbacks. The string needs to be a LOT longer, because it needs to go those extra few inches, then turn around and come back to the tuner. So again, pay more every time you change it, and make sure you carry a spare, 'cause nobody else will have one to lend you and the local music shop will never have seen one even in the catalog. While with an extra bass B string, if you break it chances are you'll still be able to play the remaining four. OK it also depends a bit where and what you're playing...


And the answer is...


Um, dunno.


With harp guitars and the like, we just quote the open string. That's what you get if you play it. It never gets fretted. No probs. And that's what everyone else does too. And with five-string banjo, again we just quote the open string for all strings including the melody string. This string can be fretted but very rarely is. So like everyone else, we just quote the open string tuning.


But with the extended bass string, we're not comfortable with this. It's not really a different tuning, is it? The chord shapes, the scales, everything but the open string and the few extra notes are just the same as if the extension weren't there. The whole point of the extension is you can forget it's there whenever you don't need it (except when buying strings, which is when you REALLY don't need it... (;-> but we're raving a bit).


I guess so long as you make it clear what you mean, it don't matter a lot... see Standards and Conventions if you didn't come from there already...


So in practice...


  • For drones on harp guitars and similar, we quote the open string, regardless of how long it is. This is both sensible, and standard practice elsewhere. Same for the sympathetic strings of the sitar.
  • For the altgitarren we quote the open strings, but we're a lot less comfortable doing so compared to with the harp guitar, as the altgitarren fingerboard extension is fully fretted. So although strings 7-11 are used and intended primarily as open strings, they're obviously frettable and intended to be fretted ocassionally.
  • The five-string banjo has a shorter 5th string, and we quote its pitch as measured at its head nut. We can argue this one both ways, but it's the standard elsewhere. Same for the two short drones of the sitar.
  • The extended four-string bass of the violin family has a longer E-string, generally with a mechanical device that allows it to be shortened to various positions including the normal head nut. We quote the pitch of this string from the normal head nut in tunings, and its open length in the text. It sounds complicated when you spell it out here, but it seemed to make sense writing the article! 
  • If all or most strings are extended, we quote the tuning as from the actual head nut, for example the long neck banjo.

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