Correcting "rising tongue" on a 1966 Precision Bass before refret

Hi all, this is my debut post on this very helpful forum and this may well have been discussed before in detail; if so, I'd appreciate it if someone could direct me to the appropriate thread(s)!

Common problem: my '66 P-Bass has the old "rising tongue", beginning around the 13th or 14th fret, i.e., it's possible adjust the rod for a near-flat board from the nut to the 13th fret or so, where the "kink" is located. The problem is a bit worse on the E side. I've been setting the action for easy playability up to that fret, but beyond there, of course, there is little else beyond buzzing when set up this way.

I've refretted a number of guitars that had this problem to a lesser degree, and have always simply radius-sanded the board flat before refretting, but this bass is in excellent condition apart from this and I'd like to keep it as undisturbed as possible. In addition, being a '66, it has the "veneer" board rather than a thick slab of rosewood, and one would have to sand right through the board at the heel of the neck in order to flatten it that way.

I've considered a compromise in which I radius-sand the heel end of the board just a bit above the 13th fret - as much as I can without decreasing the board's thickness too noticably - and then install the largest/widest frets I can find from the nut on upwards, followed by somewhat shorter/narrower frets onward to the heel, figuring those smaller/narrower ones would retain more of a crown after leveling and crowning. In this approach, I'd be trying to "make it up in the frets" to a large extent.

However, I know that steaming is a common - and controversial? - approach, and am intrigued by Dan Erlewine's Bass Player article on compression-fretting a vintage P-Bass, after using a neck heater on it. I'd prefer to try Dan's approach, but - and this is the main question - can anyone point me to a source for a neck steamer/heater? LMI used to carry one; I've been unable to locate one elsewhere. Barring that, does anyone have a good approach that doesn't involve using a specialized heater?

Thanks so much in advance for any help...
Bill Rodrick

Tags: bass, fretwork, heat, leveling, neckheater, risingtongue, steam

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I've had some success with cooking out fenderitis, using a neck heater from about F10 to the end, and clamping the living s**t out of it.
Thanks, Jeffrey - would you happen to know of a source for neck heaters?

Some folks will heat up fretboards to slip the board/neck glue joint back to where it wants to be. Although I stopped doing that a few years ago, I only did that when the glue joint had crept. I've always figured the type of neck distortion that you're talking about was the result of the neck essentially pivoting where it experiences a significant increase in mass, not the glue joint creeping. In anycase, should you ever find heating and slipping the board/neck glue joint appropriate, you could probably use LMI's fretboard heating blanket in conjunction with a flat/stiff piece of metal to clamp over the blanket (I've never tried it that way so I can't vouch for it!).

As you've pointed out, your instrument's fretboard essentially has two planes. When I encounter the problem you're describing I do what you suggested above: I sand the secondary plane at the upper frets down as much as I dare (which isn't much), then refret the instrument with really tall stainless steel fretwire (the same size fretwire throughout the fretboard in order to maintain continuity of crown profile and width). That way, when I grind down the frets at the secondary plane by say, .020", there's still enough crown height left for a comfortable feel. I think stainless steel is the way to go in this type of scenario because it will take a lot longer to ware than nickel silver. The last thing you want with this type of neck is to have to do a level and crown because you're new upper position frets will already be pretty low.

I've seen this style of fender board come in a few times where the secondary plane had already been knocked down to the point where the fret slots are at their absolute maximum depth in the rosewood. I do not want to cut those fret slots down into the maple so I've taken to grinding the fret tang down. It's tedious if you do it by hand so I made a simple jig for the dremel tool that does it quickly and painlessly. I have a description of the jig as well as photos and a quick rundown on how to make one on my shop's website. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post a url to my own website so you'll have to google "fret tang grinding jig" if you want to see what I'm talking about.

Another way to go would be to buy a nice replacement neck and set aside the original neck should you decide to sell the bass in the future... That definitely makes sense from a collecting point of view. I hope something in my ramblings is helpful.

Thanks so much, Nate, that's really helpful advice, and I hadn't thought of using stainless steel rather than nickel silver - that certainly makes sense. In fact, these all seem like really good ideas - I'll have a look at your site too.

Yes, I had considered the idea of a replacement neck, and I'll give that some serious thought - I'm leaning about 50/50 in either direction at the moment. Certainly makes sense from a resale/collecting point of view, and although I don't plan to ever sell this bass, you never know - times might get sufficiently tough to consider that, etc. etc.

Thanks again!

I have used the different hight fret wire trick on my buddies Tele bass before...Maple neck, with a couple dips and rises...It did work for me...Stainless is good, but there is a tonal difference...It is brighter!...I refretted two identical squire strats, one nickle/silver. I set them up exactly the same, so I could A/B them...Stainless was definatly brighter and possibly more volume..( I should swap out the necks to be sure )....As for neck heaters, I have a piece of ductwork that I put a restruant food warmer in, propped up and face down...I have a shelf built over that where I place the neck clamped in position...I bring the temp up to 180, and turn it off...The ductwork is covered with a blanket and the neck is left inside 24 hours to cool slowly. I have actually cooked bolt on necks in my kitchen oven using the same deal, only I used an aluminum bar 1 inch thick and 4 inches wide for clamping the neck...Same deal...180 degrees and cook for about an hour..A side of potatoes and a nice salad and....voila!..bolt on neck with taters and greens!....P.S....To clamp neck, I use thick leather pads covered in paste wax to protect the finish..Don't clamp too tight.
Bass players usually don't put as much wear on frets as string bending guitar players do. I think high quality NS fretwire should hold up just fine and be less of a pain to work with in a situation like this where you'll be blending 2 or 3 different fret heights together, plus shortening the tang depth so it's not going down under the veneer shallow slots.
Have serious doubts about heat treating a body-joint rise, but maybe that's just me.
Maybe if the neck is shimmed in the pocket, there's air space that caused part of the problem.


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