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 Keeping a bass tremolo in tune

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EricHaven
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PostSubject: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Sun Mar 22, 2009 2:08 pm

One of the most persistent questions I get is "How can I keep a bass tremolo in tune? There's no clamps or top locks. Can it be done?"

Listen to my solo. At the very end, I take all of the strings down as far as the trem will go and let it all grind. When I bring the bar back up at the end, I have a full "E" chord fingered on the neck. Listen closely, and you will hear that my bass is still in tune. No locks. No clamps.

For starters, the tricks for keeping a bass trem in tune is essentially the same as what you would do to keep a stock Strat trem in tune, and these techniques will work just as well on a stock guitar trem. In fact, that's where I got the first methods to keep it in tune. When I had my first Kahler, I was absolutely bent on making it work. So I pulled an old issue of Guitar Player magazine where Eddie Van Halen was first interviewed, and in that article he revealed his tricks for keeping his stock trem in tune (remember, it would be a few more years before the first locking systems came about). I later discovered some things on my own after years and years of experiments. The good news is that they're all fairly easy to do.

Think of the path of the string as it goes from the back of the bridge all the way down to the tuning key. You want that path to be as straight as humanly possible. Bad angles are notorious tuning killers when the bar is dropped. Remember that the string needs to settle back to it's original tuned position when the bar is returned. But if the path is angled too severely, the string will hang-up on either the roller or the nut because there is downward pressure being multiplied on these points when the string is brought up, so the string tends to settle too soon before it actually comes back to pitch.

1) Be sure your trem is properly installed so that your action can be set without having to elevate the rollers too high, but also so that the strings do not hit the saddles (I have another blog here related to proper installation).

2) Remove the string trees. These are a major cause of string hang-up.

3) Make sure the nut slots are not too tight on the strings. A set of jewelers files, or even a nail file will work. Lightly sand the sides of the slots to allow for just enough room for the string to pass back and forth freely without binding up. Do NOT sand downward into the neck, as you will ruin the string height at the nut, and you'll end up having to replace it.

4) Use graphite in the nut. An easy way to do this is to simply color the inside of the nut slots with a pencil. I have found that this works just as well as using oil or silicone without the mess. If you have a graphite nut, then even better. But all of my basses have still had the plastic nuts, and I never had any problems.

5) Wrap your strings up on the posts that sit closest to the nut. My "E" and "A" strings on my Precision are wound with the windings going up instead of down. This lessens the angle of the string as it passes over the nut to the key. But you have to experiment to find just the right amount because if you go too high, the string will want to pop out of the nut. The angles of the "D" and "G" strings are not too bad, so I usually wind them going down the posts as you would normally.

6) Stretch you strings out. Billy Sheehan taught me this in one of his videos. You put on your strings, and then you have to alternate between pulling, tuning, pulling, tuning, etc. I will put on a new string, and then with my left hand holding it down on the neck, I will use my right hand to stretch and pull upwards. Then I will tune it again, and repeat the process. In this way, I can usually get a brand-new set of strings to "settle" in just a few minutes.

Cool Use a good set of strings. I have been using SFARZO strings for the past couple of years, and they are top performers. I have found that nickel tend to have a little more "slip" in them then pure stainless do. The windings on stainless can also dig in a bit.

7) Try not to pull up too hard on the trem during play. I've seen locking guitar systems go right out of tune when pulled up too hard, because no amount of clamps can prevent a string from becoming stretched out.
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Mon Mar 23, 2009 1:37 am

Nice. It still boggles me the way my Hamer will stay in tune for months and months with one set of strings, but I can't for the life of me keep the strings from binding with any other type of strings. The way that bass reacts seems to defy all logic, but I've got to tackle one potential problem one at a time because it's a great instrument.
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Mon Mar 23, 2009 2:30 am

Sometimes it's simply a matter of finding what works and sticking to it, no matter how wacky it may seem. I, too, find that there are things I do to make it all work, but for the life of me, I have no idea why they work.
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Mon Mar 23, 2009 12:38 pm

I'm getting that feeling more and more. Damn, that Hamer needs new strings. Those things have been on there since last August.

I'm curious--have you ever tried shimming up the neck instead of counter-sinking the bridge if you have trouble with the height of the tremolo? Or have you only encountered this problem recently?
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Mon Mar 23, 2009 2:10 pm

Actually, yes I have. I did that with my Yamaha RBX bass, and I used a metal neck plate shimmed beneath the neck and body, along with a lot of super-duper adhesive. It actually worked really well! But later on, I was feeling like I had to stop being lazy, and re-route the trem pocket properly. So that's what I did here three weeks ago, and now the neck is once again seated all the way to the body in the pocket.
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Wed Mar 25, 2009 1:31 am

Man...you and your glue!! Laughing

My Hamer would love for that trem to be counter-sunk. Just need to get up the time and the courage. Cool


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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Wed Mar 25, 2009 1:58 am

Hey now! I love my glue! Laughing

The reason for the glue is two-fold. The first reason is because I beat the crap outta my basses so much that I want to make them as strong as possible.

The other reason is to maximize sustain.

OK folks, another quick lesson in bass biology.

You want the neck to be as tight as possible in the neck pocket. The reason is that the entire bass resonates with the notes you play, and if there are any air pockets or gaps between the neck and the body, you will lose sustain since the bass actually begins to wiggle unsympathetically at the neck joint. The gaps might only be microscopic, but they will still rob you of sustain. So the tighter and more filled-in that pocket is, the more sustain you will get. So the wood glue fills in those gaps.
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:38 am

Oh I understand, but I also dig your passion about the glue, man! lol!

The thing is that I like the ability to be able to take the neck off. Like when I went to Germany and Virginia last December, it was a godsend to be able to stuff my BTB in a duffelbag, take it out, and still have it play like it did before I took it apart. Now, that thing doesn't have the most burly neck ever (it's kinda flimsy), but it survives. The other thing is that the neck pocket is incredibly tight on that instrument. 5 bolts, tight contours, etc. Pretty cool in my opinion.

However, on a bass like my Roadstar, there's almost a 1/16" gap between the neck and the sides of the pocket. That one needs all the help it can get. I think that if the neck pocket were tighter, it would resonate better and sound more like my other Ibanezes which have great snap. Of course, that isn't everything...but I think it's a big factor indeed.
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Wed Apr 08, 2009 2:01 am

Hi there,

I read this interresting topic because I want to install a Kahler bridge on the next bass I will craft. I just have a question about the tuner: What tuners are the best for a bass with a tremolo ? I searched over the net but I didn't find any locking tuners.

I just want the tuner to keep the note beneath tremolo constraints. thanks in advance for your help and thanks you for thes tips to keep the bass in tune with a trem bridge Wink


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PostSubject: welcome DOS!!!!   Wed Apr 08, 2009 7:08 am

welcome to the board DOS>>>>>>>





among the many here Dos who have multiple trems, I only have one trem on a Charvel with the stock nut, stock tuners, and a pointyheadstock with the strings on an angle, but I can kill the trem bending up down whatever..., let go hit a chord, no real issues unless I'm doing 15 minutes worth of "hardplay", and really TRY to get the thing out of tune ( WHICH IT WILL DO ) Smile



I do keep the screws in the tuners a little tight, so there is NO slop in them and although it is a little harder to turn the knobs, eh...small inconvenience.
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Wed Apr 08, 2009 2:29 pm

Dos wrote:
Hi there,

I read this interresting topic because I want to install a Kahler bridge on the next bass I will craft. I just have a question about the tuner: What tuners are the best for a bass with a tremolo ? I searched over the net but I didn't find any locking tuners.

I just want the tuner to keep the note beneath tremolo constraints. thanks in advance for your help and thanks you for thes tips to keep the bass in tune with a trem bridge Wink

Alright, man!

From my experience, the tuners don't make too much difference (unless they are really bad. Madmike here on the forum had a couple of Ibanez tuners snap on one of his Ergodyne basses when he used his trem. That was due to poor alloys, probably). Normal Schallers, Hipshots, or whatever you like the most should do you just fine. Big posts or small posts, large or small tuning ratio shouldn't factor into it too much.

The biggest factors in stable tuning on a bass with a tremolo are the nut's material and if there are any major obstructions to the string's path, which will cause the string to possibly bind/catch on something when the tremolo is used, causing the string to come back to the zero position sharp.

There are locking tuners for bass made by Sperzel. http://www.basspartsresource.com/bass_tunerssperzel.htm

They are good tuners, however, they work just as well as any other tuner when it comes to holding tune on a bass with a trem. Eric and Hans have both put them on basses with the same result--the odd size of the tuners makes them more difficult to replace preexisting tuners with and they don't help (but also do not hamper) tuning stability.

When you do a dive, the wrap around the tuning post will loosen slightly and then come back into place. Theoretically, eliminating these wraps by using a locking tuner would help a lot, but for some reason it doesn't as much as one would expect. Would still be pretty cool to have, though!

Welcome to the board!! Very Happy
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Wed Apr 08, 2009 5:07 pm

Greetings and welcome DOS! Glad to have you aboard!

Both Amimbari (Mike) and Chowderboots (Martin) make excellent observations.

About the Sperzels. They are a really superior key, but since they only come in a small size, they are a bear to have installed properly, since most basses use the larger-sized keys. Honestly, any good brand of keys will be fine, provided you do all of the correct steps in putting on new strings. The only time you would see a difference, as was said before, is if you had a really crappy set of keys.

I have found that the stock keys on the old Yamaha BB300's were excellent. I also had a Kramer that came with really well-made stock keys. The keys on my SX are also pretty decent.

If cost isn't an issue, then upgrading to Hipshot or Gotoh would be a step-up from the stock variety.

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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Wed Apr 08, 2009 5:19 pm

I like keys with hefty posts and machine heads. It seems like they should be sturdier and sound better or something, but I think I like the way the big tuners look and feel--they tend to have better action and they tend not to have those annoying plastic washers that fall out sometimes if the heads get too loose.

http://www.allparts.com/store/tuning-keys-bass-tuning-keys-tk-0990-003,Product.asp

My very favorites are the ones on Ibanez Roadstars/later Destroyers (Smooth Tuner II) and Charvel 3Bs (I believe Schaller with Jackson stamped on them)
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 12:11 am

As these guys said, the tuners don't make a big difference. The nut changes the tuning stability much more. If you're building a bass from scratch, I'd use a graphite nut.

Welcome to the forum, dude! afro
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 12:27 am

Or better yet, a graphtech nut. Wink
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 12:50 am

Thank you all Wink

A little warn: Sorry if I make mistake when writing posts. My english is not perfect rabbit

Yes I craft the bass from scratch and I wanted to use a graphtech nut Wink I already bought one for the first bass I am crafting for the moment Wink

If you want to see my project, you can visit my blog here http://dos.isa-geek.com/lutherie/blog (It is writen in french) Very Happy

Thanks again for your kind welcome Wink


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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 1:24 am

Dude--I love the Wavebass body blank!!! Shocked That looks incredible!!

Woohoo--here's to 4 years of French classes not going to waste! Laughing


Ooh and the Asmodeus bass looks sick, too! What did you use to draft the design?
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 1:37 am

Thanks ! Smile It's a pleasure to see my designs are apreciated Smile

I used Inkscape to draw the Asmodeus plan (for now, I only have a face plan the side plan and neck sections will be drawn soon Smile ) Inkscape is an Open Software (So it's free Smile )


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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 1:46 am

Seriously--I think that thing looks fantastic! I can't wait to see until you've completed it!

Cool. My father's an open source software engineer, so I was exposed to Linux and stuff at a young age haha I was just asking since I'm beginning to get more interested in drafting due to my job (stage technician) and I might be needed to draft light plots and whatnot. What a Face
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 2:06 am

Yeah Very Happy In fact I use linux on my home PC and work PC Smile but Inkscape is not developped for drawing plans or technical draws. It is made for artistic purpose but i used it because I'm fluent with those types of softwares like Illustrator or Inkscape Wink

For technical drawing, I suggest you use QCad Wink (Open too) It's a CAD soft and can import DXF files but not the DWG/DWF files (from autoCAD) but if you create directly from QCAD, it's not a real problem Wink


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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 2:12 am

I figured from the name that it was probably a more artistic program, judging from the name. haha

I totally dig the ideas behind Linux, but I never got into it as a user. I'm very lazy and, at this point, very set in my ways about how I go about using different OSes. So power to you, man! But I just frustrate myself when I try to figure out Unix-based stuff.

I'll definitely look into QCad! The cool thing is that since I'm a student, I can get Vectorworks 09 for free! My boss keeps telling me to get it for him! Laughing Apparently, the new Vectorworks communicates with a program called Lightwright (a program for organizing everything you need to know about a light plot and the related paperwork--from color to focus to circuiting and patching it, all in a file that can be printed out in different formats for different electricians' tasks. This opposed to painstakingly creating numerous Excel spreadsheets--what would take hours or days can take an hour or two and a click of a button).
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 9:08 am

Chowderboots wrote:
Or better yet, a graphtech nut. Wink

Actually, those are just normal graphite. The molecular structure of graphite makes it self-lubricating, so any graphite nut will work.
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 4:46 pm

Again, DOS, it is a pleasure to have you here, and you have some awesome bass design mojo going on there!

Don't even worry if your English doesn't flow perfectly. Mine doesn't always either, and I was born here! Laughing

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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 6:40 pm

Kugelspot wrote:
Chowderboots wrote:
Or better yet, a graphtech nut. Wink

Actually, those are just normal graphite. The molecular structure of graphite makes it self-lubricating, so any graphite nut will work.

Oh, I'm sure, but isn't graphtech supposed to be better in some way than graphite? Having never used graphtech in comparison to graphite, I am a poor judge of this, but maybe someone like Hans could shed light on the idea?
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 6:45 pm

Graphtec are just pre shaping it to standard specs of popular axes.

And of course they make graphite bridge saddles, and other products.
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 6:46 pm

Oh, and Delrin is even better material, its harder, and more slippery, and can be found pre cut as nuts under the name "Slip-stone"
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 6:52 pm

Good to know, Bill Cool


The more you know! Wink
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 6:53 pm

Indeed dude, its good to have it wrote down for future, too.

EDIT: Delrin also, is a white/yellow colour, it looks like bone as a nut.
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 7:21 pm

Huh...I'll have to look into that.

Seeing that graphite is self-lubricating, what's it like to file and shape?
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 7:23 pm

Chowderboots wrote:
Huh...I'll have to look into that.

Seeing that graphite is self-lubricating, what's it like to file and shape?

Pretty easy and quick, feels odd under the file.

This is the downside with Delrin, its a ***** to file slots in.......
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 7:33 pm

That's good to know. I figured it'd feel kinda slick (duh! Laughing) to file file or cut.

What's with Delrin, then?
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Apr 09, 2009 11:58 pm

Chowderboots wrote:
That's good to know. I figured it'd feel kinda slick (duh! Laughing) to file file or cut.

What's with Delrin, then?

Just a severly slippery, hard plastic, self lubricates like graphite, I believe.
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Fri Apr 10, 2009 12:26 am

Thanks for all those infos.

For sure a graphtech is really easy to file. But I didn't know about the Delrin nuts. Is it easy to find ? I will search for some Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Fri Apr 10, 2009 3:29 am

Darkstrike wrote:
Chowderboots wrote:
That's good to know. I figured it'd feel kinda slick (duh! Laughing) to file file or cut.

What's with Delrin, then?

Just a severly slippery, hard plastic, self lubricates like graphite, I believe.

What makes it difficult to file? Does it clog the teeth or something?
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Fri Apr 10, 2009 4:02 am

Dos wrote:
Thanks for all those infos.

For sure a graphtech is really easy to file. But I didn't know about the Delrin nuts. Is it easy to find ? I will search for some Smile

StewMac. Or a local plastics supplier, you'd usually find it where you'd get acrylic and perspex.
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Fri Apr 10, 2009 4:03 am

Chowderboots wrote:
Darkstrike wrote:
Chowderboots wrote:
That's good to know. I figured it'd feel kinda slick (duh! Laughing) to file file or cut.

What's with Delrin, then?

Just a severly slippery, hard plastic, self lubricates like graphite, I believe.

What makes it difficult to file? Does it clog the teeth or something?

Its a combination of being so hard, slippery, and the teeth getting clogged.
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Fri Apr 10, 2009 4:20 am

Uh huh...sounds like fun Laughing
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Fri Apr 10, 2009 4:27 am

Chowderboots wrote:
Uh huh...sounds like fun Laughing

It is indeed, right down to the large stabwound that was in my left hand after my first attempt at making one.....
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Fri Apr 10, 2009 4:29 am

Youch! What happened?
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Fri Apr 10, 2009 4:47 am

Slippery file, slash, blood, all in a days work. Rolling Eyes
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Fri Apr 10, 2009 4:56 am

Ow yeah. I am not a fan of hand injury...sucks when you put yourself out of playing for a little while...
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Fri Apr 10, 2009 5:24 am

Very much so!
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PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Wed Sep 28, 2011 3:58 pm

Thanks for all of the info above!

I finally got a Kahler here via a Fame/Hondo Bassmaster for very cheap(much less than the NOS part + install). It needed work but works fine now except for minor tuning issues found during "first live gig performance" last night. I need to confirm the install and setup plus replace the strings that came with it. All I had time to do was reset the neck and put Straploks on it. Removing the trees, winding posts different, and graphite will be done after that.
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Barklessdog

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Join date : 2009-03-27
Age : 57
Location : Chicagoland

PostSubject: Re: Keeping a bass tremolo in tune   Thu Sep 29, 2011 1:42 pm

Your a sight for sore eyes. Welcome to the club !
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Keeping a bass tremolo in tune
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