Custom Performer/Supersonic bass

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by JIO, Aug 3, 2012.


  1. JIO

    JIO Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2010
    Location:
    northern CA
    Disclosures:
    musician/artist/owner - Gildaxe
    While my project thread (check it out!)- "Coming soon; Steinbacker fretless" is awaiting a pro finish, I will be starting this new and exciting build/project.

    I really love the mid 80's Fender Performer bass, and for many reasons. It was a moment in time when Fender actually attempted to do something new and different before they locked into retro-rehashing. It was designed by John Page to be top of the line above the venerable Jazz bass, a mighty task indeed. In that respect, it seems a bit much to think that it could be considered above the J, but on the other hand it was a fearless idea. A 24 fret / 34" scale neck (and a very narrow, un-Fender like one at that!), relatively new for the time active electronics, and a super-hip Jetson's-like design. Cueing the back of a Stratocaster, it has a "Jazz bass in space" moderna look that was fresh and new, yet distinctively Fender. Colour options included classic sunburst, black, pearl white, a dark teal-ish blue, a dark magenta red, and a bright gremlin green metallic. It also sported a pointy headstock - another very un-Fender-like design choice. I personally think the pointy headstock was less a specific design choice for the Performer than it was a cost-cutting move dictated by the Fender money watchers. At the same time the Performer was released, they also released the very pointy Katana. Thought process probably was "two different headstock designs? - no way! use the pointy one on both". Check it out- the pointy headstock works well with the Katana's body - much better than w/the Performer. Regardless, give Fender credit for that bass also, as it was attempting to align w/the pointy guitar trend that was all around them.

    So where was I.., I never have even had a Performer in my hands, and considered trying to buy one - but stopped short due the going cost of one and feeling hesitant for a couple of reasons. The thin neck, and from what I've heard an equally thin sound and that clash of design integrity (pointy headstock vs curvaceous body) left me with only one alternative... pick up the design task of a super J starting w/the Performer and finish it properly. In the spirit of the Stratocaster, I will be naming this bass the Supersonic. (I also like Supernova... opinions?)

    I decided to use a 1 piece alder blank for the body (ordered), and keep it pretty much the same because Page nailed it there. (if it ain't broke...) I also wanted a 34", 24 fret neck, but not as narrow as the Performers. And I wanted to re-design the headstock to flow w/the sexy space-curves of the body. Aside from that, I will use standard J style pu's and individual string bridges (ordered) and will also make it string-thru. I have yet to determine which J-style pu's to install or which active electronics I will end up using, but that's a ways off and your recommendations on those choices will be welcomed. I have an alder J w/Fraylin split-pole J pu's and an Audere preamp and love the tone I get from that combo - but will consider other options.

    So here we go - I enlarged the (blurry) Performer technical drawing found in "The Fender Bass" by Klaus Blasquiz as close to scale as I could w/o having an actual Performer to measure. (anyone who has one that can send me basic length/width/depth numbers will help very much here) Shown is the enlargement with my redesigned headstock and a ruler to visually gauge the design balance overall.

    [​IMG]

    I'm considering installing a Stratocaster-type chrome jack-port (faintly seen) and want to finish it in Firemist Gold, one of my all-time favorite Fender colours. Pickguard colour yet to be determined, but I'm initially leaning toward aged white/mint green. Then there's the control knobs... later, later grasshopper.

    [​IMG]

    Here's where the rubber meets the road design-wise. I scaled the headstock after a stock Jazz/P-bass and modified from there. The lower bout is identical to a J/P and the upper section design relates to the body horns. I ordered Gotoh open-gear clover-leaf tuners specifically for their size and design compatibility. (pics will be shot once they get here) The neck is being made by local SF luthier Dan Ransome. It will be maple w/an ebony board devoid of face markers (side only), and the headstock will be a 2 piece tilt-back (Gibson-style). I decided not to reproduce the string-tree burdened flat Fender-style, which was a manufacturing over best function design choice. As I initially stated, I want to make an improved J-style bass here. It will have a 9.0 fingerboard radius, 24 med jumbo frets, 1.5" nut - 2 3/8" butt, .80-.925 jazz feel 34" scale neck, and a MM spoke-wheel trust-rod adjuster (at the butt). The overall length of the bass will be approximately 46", consistent w/most Fender Jazz basses.

    Stay tuned in the weeks ahead for the Supersonic/Supernova (cast you vote now!) to evolve! :bassist:

    [​IMG]
  2. ctmullins

    ctmullins Registered 8er Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2008
    Location:
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm about as anti-Fender as they come, but this is intriguing. How about calling it the "Superformer"?
  3. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Nov 8, 2001
    Location:
    US-NY-NYC
    Cool idea, redesigning this bass. I like the looks your headstock with the body.

    I played one of these a few months ago. One thing of note: even with its narrow (but somewhat deep) Ibanez-style neck, it was a neck diver. You might want to think about stretching the body somewhat to move the upper strap lug to the 12th fret area. J's and P's balance nicely, with it at about the 11.5 point.
  4. JIO

    JIO Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2010
    Location:
    northern CA
    Disclosures:
    musician/artist/owner - Gildaxe
    thanks for the "heads up" (pa-dump phsssh) :p I could do the body in maple, which would weigh it down a bit. I'm also a long-term T-bird guy, so neck dive is something I've learned to live with - but will give it consideration here.
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  6. JIO

    JIO Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2010
    Location:
    northern CA
    Disclosures:
    musician/artist/owner - Gildaxe
    I sat down and reconfigured the left horn to extend to the 12th fret area. The Fender Performer body was designed a bit squat to service the 24 fret neck, so after my redesign it ends up to be a similar length as a Jazz bass, and aesthetically it doesn't disrupt the original Performer body shape/scale. Thanks pilotjones! :) This was an example of knowing something but not actually realizing what I should have known all along. :rolleyes: (the general 12th fret balance rule) Live and learn!

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    I also got the individual bridge units and the Gotoh tuners. The bridge's allow for string-thru, and positioning for correct spacing. The Gotoh tuners are exactly what I wanted - clean, classic design, light and well made. Sorted! I'll be ordering the alder for the body this week now that I've determined size, and the neck should be done very soon. Onward! :bassist:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
  7. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Nov 8, 2001
    Location:
    US-NY-NYC
    It looks good. In fact I think it's an improvement over the original design.

    The original might look fine with a guitar neck on it, but it's not proportioned well for a bass instrument, unless you're used to looking at Hofners all day.
  8. Mister Know Not

    Mister Know Not

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2011
    Location:
    Papendrecht, Holland
    I'll second that!!!
  9. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2010
    Location:
    Houston Tx
    Where did you get those tuners, they look nice.
  10. JIO

    JIO Gold Supporting Member

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    Jun 30, 2010
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    northern CA
    Disclosures:
    musician/artist/owner - Gildaxe
    They are nice. I'm very particular about tuners in general, and I looked at/considered many options for this project. Can't recall where I first saw them, but Allparts had them for ninety bucks. They were back ordered but just arrived. Gotoh makes a number of nicely designed and well made bass tuners.
  11. JIO

    JIO Gold Supporting Member

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    Jun 30, 2010
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    northern CA
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    I agree, it now has a bit more jazzy sweep to the lines -
  12. iJazz

    iJazz

    Joined:
    Jan 9, 2012
    Location:
    Sussex, WI
    Awesome project. I have GAS for both a Performer and a Katana. Now I have GAS for a Super(sonic)(former)(whatever), too. Your headstock looks great, but honestly I really like the pointy shape on the Performer. It's sort of in your face unexpected "Who you lookin' at?" It just works for me.

    Can't wait to see the progress you make.

    iJazz - There are exceptions to every rule.
  13. guitarist09

    guitarist09

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2012
    That really looks like an exciting project! Cant wait to see the finish product! :D
  14. webelo

    webelo

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2011
    Location:
    Douglas, MA
    This is super cool. I like that you extended the upper horn, but the proportions between the upper and lower horns seem off to me now. From a merely aesthetic point of view, you might want to consider extending the lower horn.
  15. NKBassman

    NKBassman Nerd Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2009
    Location:
    Winnipeg
    Very cool. I love that headstock design... reminds me of the Warwick Buzzard basses.
  16. JIO

    JIO Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2010
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    northern CA
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    It's a consideration, but I'm attempting to follow a philosophy of making an ultimate Performer - one that supersedes the, what I feel, corporate-stunted attempt of the original design. Fix what was broke and leave what worked well alone. A tricky but fun design problem yes? So full access to the 24 frets was spot-on on the original design. Also, the lower horn's utilitarian function is to act as a cradle/leg-rest when played seated. Aesthetics needs consideration for sure, but more horn =more weight and I'd like to keep it in the standard weight range of 7-8 lbs. Once I trace it onto the wood and see the outline clean I'll make the final call, but I think it will actually work nicely design-wise. Like NKBassman noted, my headstock re-design has a sort of Warwick Buzzard bass look, which isn't what I intended but it's ok w/me. In that regard, the more exaggerated body will play off of that. Like I stated earlier, I'm riffing off of the Jetson's-like space-age modern design of the original Performer. :cool:

    Headstock designs are always a make or break for me. Great body design w/a non-flow headstock... :rolleyes: oh well. Mostly a visual call, but I think good industrial design means the whole enchilada. My inspirations for the headstock was part late 60's Yamaha "hockey-stick" headstock, part upper horn of the Performer, scaled to a standard P/J. More soon! :bassist:
  17. NKBassman

    NKBassman Nerd Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2009
    Location:
    Winnipeg
    Me too. Luckily yours looks great! I think it suits the body perfectly.
  18. JIO

    JIO Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2010
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    northern CA
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    musician/artist/owner - Gildaxe
    Planed down the alder to 1.5" and drew the profile on it. Once shaped and sanded, primed and painted, it will end up under 1.5" but since it's custom it really doesn't matter much. I also may do some chambering under the pickguard to keep the weight down. I'm going to leave the lower horn as is because I feel it looks good and still reads Performer in design. I'll determine this when I cut it out, but I know I tend to rest my basses a bit higher (closer to the head) against my body which puts me more forward of a standard belly bevel. Same with seated playing. So having the stubbier body sit just behind center will aliegn me and the bevel. Will get the neck tomorrow which will determine the neck-pocket to complete my outline... and then it'd wood-shop time!

    [​IMG]
  19. TinIndian

    TinIndian

    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2011
    Location:
    Micco Florida
    This is going to be an interesting build. Keep it coming!
  20. JIO

    JIO Gold Supporting Member

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    Jun 30, 2010
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    northern CA
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    check out the thread on the Basses section - Let's talk Headstocks...
    I just found it. It was started in 05!
  21. Webtroll

    Webtroll Rolling for initiative Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 23, 2006
    Location:
    Austin, TX
    Awesome! I had a performer years ago and wish I hadn't sold them (back when they were cheap anyways). Your mods look good.

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