Updated: Nov 28, 2019
One of my favorite parts of playing bass is belting out the low notes that reside on the extension. A few months ago, however, I began having trouble getting the gates to open and close smoothly without squeaking. It made playing some of those low notes a little less enjoyable and the squeaks got distracting during rehearsals and concerts. I learned a trick from Chris Threlkeld-Wiegand that remedied this problem and made using my extension as seamless as the day I got it. I hope he doesn't mind me sharing!
Check out Chris' incredible work here: https://www.heartlandsbs.com/
My extension, like most, consists of an ebony fingerboard with ebony gates mounted on brass stems laid into the side of the fingerboard. It was made by Jon Peterson in LA about four years ago and has a clean, professional look to it. I've had very few issues with it and it's always a joy to play and behold.
The Joys of Weather
Despite the joy my extension brings me, the young, wooden gates can be a little temperamental and whenever there is a major shift in Arizona's weather, they usually require adjusting to remain in good playing order. The biggest adjustment tends to happen in the winter, when the cold(ish), dry air causes the gates to shrink and rattle open when being played. This year, there were a number of drastic weather changes that sent my bass into a frenzy- bouts of heavy rain followed suddenly by warm, dry weather and at one point, a day of snow!
All these changes really did a number on my bass. I was having wolf tones and fingerboard buzzes come and go, my bass felt tight and my extension did weird things that ultimately culminated in two gates developing a loud squeak whenever operated.
It was annoying.
I suffered through the squeaky gates for a few weeks until I had the opportunity to meet Chris when he came to Tucson to show his newly-completed bass. The entire instrument was fantastic and easy to play, but I kept marveling over the smoothness of his extension gates. Perhaps I was just hyper-aware of them because I was so becoming so annoyed with mine, but whatever the case, I had to find out how he got them to feel so good.
The answer? Paraffin wax. He lubricates the contact points of the gate and it keeps things smooth, quiet, and efficient. He also said it was common for extensions the age of mine to start developing sticks/squeaks and suggested I give the wax a try. Unreasonably desperate to silence my gates, I did just that.
Before I continue, It might be worth adding that I am not sure how well this works on extensions that aren't similar to those made by Robertson's. I am not sure if it is necessary/effective on other styles of gate such as the Anzelloti Bass Capos. You will also see that I used way too large of a wrench. This is because I couldn't find anything smaller in 7/8" and I was too lazy to keep digging through my tools to find something more appropriately sized. Don't be like me.
The process itself is pretty straightforward and only requires some basic tools, paraffin wax, and a little patience. This guide was initially intended to describe how to fix squeaky gates, but I think what I wrote is also relevant to preserving the general health of your extension.
1. Remove the gates
Assuming your extension is like mine, just hold the center screw in place with a screwdriver while you use a wrench to loosen the nut underneath the mounting stem. Once the nut is loosened and removed, the center screw just twists right out and the gate can be removed.
I also chose to do this step one gate at a time to keep things tidy and organized.
2. Apply the wax
Once I removed the gate and the rest of its hardware, I applied wax to all contact points. I put some on the bottom of the gate where it touches the brass, the brass itself, the threads of the screw, and the washers that sit below the screw head.
I was also having an issue with my D gate sticking at 45 degree angle whenever I used it. Some closer inspection revealed that the bottom of the gate wasn't completely flat and had a slight ridge in front of the screw hole. A few light passes with a file smoothed things out got rid of the ridge. It now sits flush and operates without sticking.
3. Re-install the gate
After I waxed a gate, I put it back on the extension. The washers went back on the screw, the screw was interested into the gate and threaded through the mount, and the nut was fit back underneath. I waited until all gates were installed to tighten them back to proper playing tension.
4. Tighten each gate
This step is similar to the first one. Once you have tightened the center screw, hold it place with a screwdriver and tighten the bottom nut. If you need to further adjust tension, loosen the nut in the same way and make small adjustments to the screw until it's where you want it. It should be tight enough that it doesn't rattle open when stopped notes are played, but not so tight that is difficult to operate quickly when playing. The screw should also remain stationary.
Maintaining your C-extension is a pretty simple task. Like all parts of the bass, a little care can go a long way in preserving the optimal playing quality of your instrument. If you have any other tips for keeping your extension in good order, I would love to hear them.
And as always, feel free to share this post with your friends if you found it helpful and if you haven't already, please don't hesitate to subscribe to my blog!
Check out some of my other blog posts: