When it Rains
As they say, when it rains, it pours— oil onto my fingerboard, that is! For those in-the-know, it is a common and necessary practice to oil natural wood instruments, as a part of regular maintenance. My natural wood instruments require a string change and a good fingerboard oiling a few times a year, with additional care during colder months (when the heater is running), to prevent any kind of damage to the fretboard, frets, or the rest of the instrument. While it takes time to complete this care ritual, the results are undeniably rewarding.
The first fingerboard I ever oiled was on an Ibanez Boutique Bass (BTB).” It was one of my first production line instruments and I still have it, to this day. There were a few other basses purchased around the time of my Ibanez, but the BTB was really the last production instrument I ever bought or played. I'm fortunate to have graduated to Michael Tobias Design (MTD) and currently, the MTD Saratoga—an Alder and Rosewood masterpiece, packed with great electronics (Bartolini), two batteries to boot, an unmatched level of craftsmanship, and a tone to be reckoned with.
MTD Basses and guitars are probably the most aesthetically pleasing and eco-friendly instruments on the planet. You won't find any wasted woods or cheap plastic on these planks of beauty. Even the finishes are applied where necessary. Washing my hands before handling is an integral part of my maintenance ritual, as well as the strict avoidance of belt buckles, jewelry, or any other potentially sharp objects, while in the presence of an MTD. Nothing pains me more than seeing "rash" on the back of a beautiful instrument. Adhere to this level of etiquette with your instrument and you will thank yourself for it later.
Untreated fingerboards (the plank of wood that houses the frets) must be rubbed with lemon oil or any good quality fingerboard conditioner, at the time of every string change. This an exceptionally important ritual, especially during the first 12 months of owning your brand-new bass or guitar and should be done on a monthly basis, for the first year. Strings should be changed carefully, but quickly, as the neck actually maintains its shape according to the tension of the strings, on a properly tuned instrument. With the removal of strings, the neck will naturally want to bend back to its original shape and position. Players call this bend “ relief.” In the neck, providing just enough clearance between the strings and frets, will prevent buzzing during play. With that said, it is also important to note that an instrument with lower action ( the height and distance of a resting string above the frets) is easier to play. It's up to you, to find the sweet spot!
A guitar or bass with "active electronics” contains a cavity which houses one or two 9 volt batteries. The batteries should be changed on occasion, depending on how often an instrument is played. Thankfully, a set of batteries could get you through several months of uninterrupted play, before having to swap them out.
Active pickups have a hotter (louder) output than passive pickups. Active pickups are characteristically bright and clear, with a snap to their tone. Passive pickups tend to have a warm, full, round, dynamic tone— their fat, punchy tone is their appeal. When you think passive pickups, think Beatles / Motown era music. When you think active pickups, think TOOL or old Red Hot Chili Peppers. Fortunately, MTD basses have an active/passive switch that allows the player to toggle between both settings, giving players the best of both worlds.
At the end of the day...
No amount of features or flare can supplement the need for musical skill— after all, we live in an era where it takes time, dedication, energy, and money, to pursue an endeavor with any level of seriousness. The one thing I will say is that both the player and their instrument must be up for the challenge and that in the end, the best sounding instrument is the one that has been properly maintained.