Serendipity - a fretless five-string

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by ctmullins, Dec 9, 2013.


  1. ctmullins

    ctmullins Registered thumper Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2008
    Location:
    MS Gulf Coast
    Hi guys! First, let me take a minute and thank all of the good people in the LC, for without you I would be lost in a sea of doubt and uncertainty. I have learned so much from all of you during my five years here on TB, and I get to play home-built custom basses, built to my own specifications!



    I have been planning on doing a five-string fretless build for some time now. I've been knocking around design ideas in my head whilst doing my other builds, really just daydreaming about what I wanted it to be. I knew I wanted it to have an unlined fingerboard, and a curvaceous body, and I knew I wanted to use one or two soapbar pickups with an ACG EQ-02 filter preamp. And maybe I'd try a slotted headstock this time. But beyond that, there were no particulars.



    Then I saw this Warmoth Dinky P body in the classifieds:



    [​IMG]



    Oh boy.



    Didn't need it, but it sure pushed all the right buttons! It remained for sale for longer than I thought it would, and I eventually had to submit an offer, which resulted in a sale! (Sorry for stealing it for such a pittance, Cam!)



    Now you're saying to yourself "But that's a four-string body, set up for a standard Fender four-string neck!". And you're right.



    But I like narrow-spaced five-strings, and I knew that I could make a neck to fit that pocket that could be wide enough for a fiver.



    I call this build "Serendipity", because so many things were just right about this:



    - while I'm not a fan of the traditional Precision shape, the Dinky P is very likely my favorite of all of the Warmoth offerings

    - the body has a flame maple top, which I love, and a walnut back, which I love

    - the body is routed for two EMG-35-sized pickups, which match what I have on hand and what I had planned to use all along

    - it also has a generous electronics cavity, with plenty of room for the ACG preamp and a couple of batteries

    - it also came with a side jack plate already mounted, and the contoured neck heel option with an included neck plate



    I already had some walnut neck stock on hand, that I had purchased a while back, not knowing exactly what I would use it for. And I already had nearly all of the hardware I would need as well.



    The seller included a very nice Hipshot A-style four-string bridge in the deal. When I received the body and inspected the bridge, I noticed that the screws were positioned a little differently than the normal A-style bridge; turns out this is the version designed to retrofit the five-screw Fender bridge (although it only uses three of the five screws). I was already resigned to drilling new holes to mount the five-string bridge, so I removed the Hipshot and saw that the body was drilled for all five holes. But wait a minute, that rings a bell. Could it be?



    Yes!



    [​IMG]



    It turns out that one of my candidate five-string bridges, the Schaller 2000, uses this exact same screw pattern!



    [​IMG]



    Between the screw hole pattern and the ability for narrow string spacing, it's almost as if this bridge were expressly designed for four-to-five string conversions. Serendipity! :)



    I ordered a truss rod and a mac ebony fingerboard from LMII, and when they came in, I had everything I needed to get to work.



    Here's the walnut neck getting tapered on the router table:



    [​IMG]



    And here's my new fingerboard taper sled for the table saw:



    [​IMG]



    While the neck heel is squared off to fit the Warmoth pocket, the fingerboard taper continues all the way to the end, which helps provide for five strings where there are normally four.



    As I mentioned, a slotted headstock was planned, which makes the neck construction a little different, and a little easier. There's no need for a tilt-back headstock, so no scarf joint, but it does mean that the truss rod access should be at the heel. Serendipitously, the Dinky P already had the recess to allow this. :) Here's the rod installed - first time I've done a heel access; came out pretty nice:



    [​IMG]



    Glued on the fingerboard, installed threaded inserts, shaped the headstock, carved the neck profile, radiused the fingerboard, and bam! Here we are doing our first test assembly:



    [​IMG]



    Still have a bunch of finish sanding to do, as well as a few coats of Tru-Oil, but here's the headstock - I think it came out pretty well:



    [​IMG]



    Just one pickup installed for now, and still a bit of wiring left to do, so no plug-in time with it, but I got the action set pretty much where I like it. The end of the fingerboard allows 22 "frets" for the G string:



    [​IMG]



    It's amazing how fast a build can go when you stumble across a perfect candidate body at a great price! :)
  2. reverendrally

    reverendrally

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2008
    Location:
    Sydney Australia
  3. dmac1961

    dmac1961

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2012
    Location:
    South Cackalacky
    Damn, I dig it all, especially the headstock!
  4. TheJoshinator

    TheJoshinator

    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2012
    Wow! That's a whole lotta coincidences. The name definitely fits! Not to mention that it looks fabulous.
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  6. camthebassman

    camthebassman Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2012
    That's great, Todd! Glad you had a good use for the body!

    Cam
  7. josiah goldfish

    josiah goldfish

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2012
    Location:
    E.Sussex UK
    Do the strings touch the headstock between the nut and the tuners?
    Nice build! This is one of the nicest 5 strings I've seen in ages :D
  8. ctmullins

    ctmullins Registered thumper Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2008
    Location:
    MS Gulf Coast
    Thanks guys!

    Actually, yes, the G string does touch the headstock, so I might spend a little time deepening that contour just a bit, but it's not bad as it is. I do want to do some general refining to the headstock anyway before applying the Tru-Oil.
  9. Triad

    Triad Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2006
    Location:
    Europe
    Disclosures:
    Bass Builder
    Love the headstock!
  10. ctmullins

    ctmullins Registered thumper Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2008
    Location:
    MS Gulf Coast
    Ah, Tru-Oil does such wonderful things to wood, doesn't it?

    [​IMG]

    I cleaned up the headstock contour somewhat, making it a bit more open, especially near the nut.

    [​IMG]

    Paua abalone side dots - 3mm at the major positions, 2mm elsewhere.

    [​IMG]

    I wanted to add some depth to the headstock, so that I would have plenty of wood surrounding the tuner holes. I grabbed some 3/8" walnut that I had lying around and glued it to the back of the headstock. It's from a different board, and is likely a slightly different species - it's darker and has more figure. I don't mind, though. :)

    [​IMG]
  11. ctmullins

    ctmullins Registered thumper Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2008
    Location:
    MS Gulf Coast
    Got several coats of Tru-Oil on the neck, with some buffing for a satiny shine. Finished wiring it up, slotted a nut, and it's playable! Using some GHS Pressurewounds from a prior bass, still nice and bright. The flexibility of the ACG preamp is astounding, and that's with only running a Delano SBC in the neck position (still undecided on the bridge pickup). Truly a chameleon. It will take me a little while to come to grips with the range of tones on tap.

    Glamour shots from the backyard (ignore the gaping hole where the bridge pickup would be!):

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

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  12. ctmullins

    ctmullins Registered thumper Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2008
    Location:
    MS Gulf Coast
    Decided to pull the SGD Sidewinder from the OctoBird and install it in Serendipity's bridge. Wow! That was the right choice! Had to swap the leads and move the shield connection (they're out of phase otherwise), but they really complement each other well. The Delano is wired in series, and it has such a thick, velvety tone, with sparkle if I dial it in on the HPF stack. But the Sidewinder on its own is another thing entirely! Bright and clear up top, while still retaining enough growly low end to make sure you don't forget that you're playing a bass. Harmonics just jump right out (Ross Valory's line on Send Her My Love!). And with the blend in the middle they produce a typically smooth slightly scooped modern tone. Add in the filter stacks, and I truly think this might be the last fretless I'll ever need (yeah right). :)
  13. Beej

    Beej

    Joined:
    Feb 10, 2007
    Location:
    Canadia
    Nice job. :) How do you like the " Holey Headstock[SUP]TM[/SUP] "? That's my vote for a name for that kind of headstock design... :D
  14. ctmullins

    ctmullins Registered thumper Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2008
    Location:
    MS Gulf Coast
    Hehe! Aesthetically, I like it. Functionally, I like it - all five tuning keys are within easy reach of the left hand, and they all five turn the same direction! :) I have a small concern about the vulnerability of those tuners while being transported, but honestly, it may turn out to not be a problem; it's just something in my head.

    The only other slight concern is the way that the headstock fits into my usual Hercules stand. The Hercules cradle is just barely large enough to accommodate the increased thickness.

    [​IMG]

    But since the body's lower bout is symmetrical (unlike my 'birds, and even my Tobias), I will probably just use one of these awesome little thingies instead:

    [​IMG]
  15. ctmullins

    ctmullins Registered thumper Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2008
    Location:
    MS Gulf Coast
    Took it to rehearsal last weekend. Man, this thing sounds good. :). The Delano in series is velvety thick, with plenty of smooth highs and a pillowy bottom. The SGD at the bridge is its polar opposite - bright and cutting, with a narrowly focused tight bottom. The two together have this fantastic modern, hi-fi sound. And the ACG pre just turns it into an absolute chameleon. Not to mention how incredibly useful it is to be able to match the levels of the two pickups with the trimpots.

    Many years ago my very first bass was a cheap Yamaha fretless. I used it on everything, and prided myself on the unconventionality of it all. Now, with Serendipity, I'm feeling that way again. Might also have something to do with reading some old Tony Franklin interviews... ;)
  16. jmorbita

    jmorbita

    Joined:
    May 15, 2006
    Location:
    buenos aires, argentina
    Soundclips required!!! :D
  17. Thumpin_P

    Thumpin_P

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2006
    Location:
    Limestone, TN
    Great job, Todd!! She looks beautiful, and I am totally diggin' the headstock!
  18. ctmullins

    ctmullins Registered thumper Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2008
    Location:
    MS Gulf Coast
    Thanks bro!

    Yep. Here are some quick-n-dirty ones. First, I apologize for the buzz - I blame the house wiring. :) Just try to ignore it, if you can.

    Second, thanks for the lick Chuck Rainey. :) Although it is a bit more challenging on a fretless….

    Reminder - neck pickup is a Delano SBC wired in series, bridge pickup is an SGD Sidewinder wired in series.

    First, a clip showing the pickup pan, with the preamp at a baseline setting (all knobs in the center of their travel) - neck, then both, then bridge:

    Pickup pan demo

    Second, a clip showing the variation in the filter stacks, using the pickup pan in the center:

    ACG-02 demo

    And a bonus clip for fun, showing harmonics (thanks Ross Valory!):

    Harmonics demo
  19. jmorbita

    jmorbita

    Joined:
    May 15, 2006
    Location:
    buenos aires, argentina
    cool sound!
  20. eukatheude

    eukatheude

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2012
    Location:
    Italy, Brescia
    Sweet! Does the headstock design create any trouble with normal gigbags?
  21. ctmullins

    ctmullins Registered thumper Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2008
    Location:
    MS Gulf Coast
    I currently use an inexpensive Gator double bag, and the headstock is indeed a bit tight. But when I move up to a better bag (Mono, Reunion Blues, or similar) I expect it will have a roomier headstock area.

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