5 String “Super P” with Nordstrand Bigrigs

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by honza992, May 7, 2017.

  1. 5 String “Super P” with Nordstrand Bigrigs

    (So not a 'P' at all then......)

    Hi All

    After I don't know how long lurking in (on?) Luthier's Corner, I've finally got round to actually taking a few photographs so I can start a build thread. It's taken so long partly because life always seems to get in the way (I have a 13 month old daughter, at the ripe old age of 46) and partly because I've always felt as though I have nothing to add. What little I know about building basses came from here, so it's always felt a bit like teaching grandmother to suck eggs – you really don't need me to tell you how to do it. But anyway, here goes.....

    Actually before we start, I should probably say if you are a hand-tool addict, look away now. While I have planes and spokeshaves and use them on occasion, mostly I use machines. Partly this is because I've never learned to use them properly, and partly it's because I like machines. It's in the blood. (My mother's maiden name is Archdale if there are any machine tool buffs out there).

    It's also worth saying that anything I say should NOT be taken as advice! There are people here who have one hundred (ok, one thousand) times more experience than me, so please learn from them. The best I can hope is that you will learn from my mistakes!

    The Specs:

    Fender-style 5 string “Super P”
    33” Scale
    Precision style Ash body with Redwood top
    Chambered body with 'f' hole
    Quater sawn maple neck
    Rocklite Ebano fretboard (an artificial ebany)
    Two Nordstrand Bigrig pickus and Nordstrand pre-amp
    ETS bridge

    I'm aiming for a maximum weight of 4kg. I try really hard to get a bass that balances well but is lightweight. I've had tendinitis in the past so ergonomics are important to me, more so that cutting edge design. I like the idea of building a bass from nice wood, but one that wouldn't look too out of place doing a pub night. We'll see.....
    GMC likes this.
  2. Ok, forgive the fact that I don't have pictures right from the beginning, but this is where I was as of a couple of days ago.

    So, a quarter sawn maple neck. The truss rod channel was done upside down on a router table (my preferred method if the neck blank has straight edges which can run along the fence). 6mm wide, 9mm deep, or thereabouts. The neck blank was thicknessed to 20mm then I used a straight edge to rout the sides of the neck. The headstock was routed using a template, but leaving extra wood above the nut to leave room for a dowel to help with the fretboard gluing. Similarly I've left the neck blank a couple of inches too long again so that a dowel can keep the fretboard from moving.

    The fretboard was supposed to be ebony but stupidly I left it face down on my table all night with my fan heater blowing directly over it. Needless to say it cupped. I'm putting water on it and leaving it dry side down, but so far the cupping has got slightly better, but not enough. Maybe over the next couple of weeks it will improve more and I can use it in a future build. So instead I'm using piece of Rocklite ebano, which is a manmade fake ebony. So far I like it. It sands nicely and has a very uniform appearance. Also, I like the idea of leaving some ebony for my daughter when she get's round to building basses :)


    The body is still rough cut and is ash with a redwood top, about 6mm. I chambered the upper half of the body, partly to reduce weight and partly so that I can add an 'f' hole, purely for aesthetic reasons. It's got a black veneer accent line and top and veneer were glued using West Systems epoxy in a vacuum bag supplied by Roarockit. They use a wine bottle vacuum and for the money are brilliant.

    Next, fretboard preparation.
    Last edited: May 12, 2017
  3. As I mentioned the fretboard is Rocklite Ebano which is a manmade ebony replacement. If you're interested they are here:
    Rocklite - Environmentally friendly tonewoods & hardwoods | eco friendly ebony

    One thing I've learned the hard way is to make sure I mark the centre line on all blanks (bodies, necks, fretboards), top and bottom. With ebony and rosewood it's easy to lose though, so I've started making a small notch with the bandsaw at either end of the board. Impossible to rub out or sand off by accident.


    The board was thicknessed on the drum sander to 5.5mm. For radiusing I used a new router bit bought from Australia from a company called SJE tools.

    It's a guided router bit (bearing at the top....or do I mean bottom? Furthest from the router anyway) but I just couldn't see how to use it with the bearing. So I took it off and made the jig below:


    Basically the fretboard blank is stuck to a plank screwed to a base. The piece of mdf above the blank means it can run along the fence on the router table. You rout half of the fretboard (in 4 or five goes, raising the bit a few mm each go) then flip it over and do the other half. I have to say it did a pretty good job. I finished the radius with a sanding block but it cut the time down significantly.

    And the end result:


    Next up....slotting...
    Last edited: May 7, 2017
  4. Subbed!
  5. Slotting was done thus....

    A Dewalt 1251 Radial Arm Saw. There's something I really like about this machine. In some ways it's a pain in the arse. I have a small workshop so I'm always knocking the arm, so it needs to be re-aligned. The handle to adjust the height rotates in the opposite direction to the one my small brain expects, so I'm always lowering the blade into the table so it needs to be re-aligned etc etc.....But as long as you don't look at it, or breath on it, it cuts fret slots exactly 0.6mm wide. One after the next. It was built in Italy in the early 90's, back when Italy still had a significant tool making industry. My wife is Italian and like the UK their industry has been descimated by competition from China, political incompetence and the disaster that is the euro currency. So much knowledge and experience tied up in family businesses that have been lost. Anyway, I digress.....I pull the saw with my left hand while placing my right hand on the smiley hand. And in that way ensure I keep both my thumbs attached to my body. (I should say the blade guard is always put back on before I cut!)
    Last edited: May 12, 2017
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    I cut a slot at the 'zero' position the same as all the frets to mark where the nut slot needs to go. The slot itself I cut with a 3.2mm wide flat top blade that cuts a very clean channel for the nut. Unfortunately because the the fret slotting blade is thinner than the nut slot blade, you can't just cut one after the other, the channel for the nut wouldn't be in the right place. It's only out by 0.5mm or so, but enough that intonation would be out. I have tried using dado spacers but it seems to be a bit hit and miss. This time I just aligned it by eye (and using a feeler guage to help). I'm hoping it was more or less spot on – I guess I won't know till I string up. Fingers crossed. If anyone else has any ideas about how to align the blade with an already existing slot, I'd love to hear it.
    Last edited: May 12, 2017
  7. DS0T-IPEHjKRaFQCJhTLtOhBKTnynA4vnXWzrUsuL6j41q7cXKza4PU42nCyrvJWx9izexDYnFFwQmATbTY=w904-h676-no.jpg
    Next is gluing and clamping. Nothing unusual here – titebond and lots of clamps. The heel of the neck was kept longer so I could use a dowel to help with alignment during clamping. I hate this bit. It doesn't matter how prepared I am, it's always a panic. Next time I may re-design the process so that I glue the fretboard on before slotting. In that way at least alignment isn't a problem so if the board moves it isn't too much of an issue.

    And cutting the heel off....
    Last edited: May 12, 2017
  8. Next I do the front curve on an oscillating spindle sander, sticking the neck to the same jig I used for the fretboard radius. This keep the neck in the right position. I mark in pencil how deep it needs to be.

    I thinned the headstock down to about 14mm using a very simple jig made from MDF. I find that it's better to do the front curve first then thickness, rather the other way round. I stick down a short straight edge to ensure the router stops at the bottom of the curve. It may not be pretty or sophisticated by it works surprisingly well.

    Last edited: May 12, 2017
  9. Finally for today I put in the side dots. I use Stewmac's centre-finding ruler (which I use all the time) using the newly sawn fret slots as guides. I then draw a line from the centre point back across the side of the fretboard using an engineers square. I centre the dots on where the ebany meets the maple. I use the point of a 2mm brad point bit to scribe a hole and when I'm happy with the location I drill...very carefully. The brad point really helps to prevent the bit from wandering around. For this build I used 2mm white plastic, wicking in some thin CA glue once they were in place.
    Last edited: May 12, 2017
  10. gsnad2000

    gsnad2000 Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2011
    Owner of Wrong Way Customs
    Sounds like a great build you have going on there. :)
    Unfortunately I can't see almost all of your pics. :(
    kris pung likes this.
  11. nonohmic

    nonohmic Supporting Member

    Dec 13, 2005
    ABQ, NM.
    Yeah this sounds awesome. Can't see much tho unfortunately!
  12. Stevorebob

    Stevorebob Well... I Am Here, Aren't I? Supporting Member

    Sep 29, 2011
    Los Angeles
    Yeah, pics aren't coming through.
  13. OK I think i have gone through and mended the links. Can someone shout up to let me know all is ok.

    Also, are the pics coming through a bit big? Thats how they come off my phone. I seem to remember i can add in a tag of some sort when i am inserting the picture location which will tell your browser to automatically resize the photo to something abit more manageable. Or do i have to go through and edit each photo individually? Seems a bit 20th century....

    Cheers All,
  14. the baint

    the baint Supporting Member

    Jan 1, 2010
    Greenville, SC
    Techtronic Industries, North America employee. Opinions are my own.
    Pictures are working for me now. Nice progress!
  15. gsnad2000

    gsnad2000 Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2011
    Owner of Wrong Way Customs
    Looks great! Pics are there and size wise are fine on my cell. Love the smiley face hand :laugh:
  16. Neck Pocket is next, and it takes a while so bear with me.....


    First I used double sided tape to stick down a set square at the scale point. I then rest the neck on top of the body and use two straight edges to align the neck. The bridge has 72mm string spacing and I assumed 4mm of gap either side of the low B and top G strings. This gives a total widge at the bridge of 80mm, and I'm relieved to see both straight edges more or less at 40mm (the total error is about 0.75mm, which I think is acceptable for a hand cut neck). Once I'm happy with the alignment I draw round the heel of the neck to show where I need to drill out. I then mark this with tape because pencil isn't enough of a deterrant. That isn't to say tape won't stop my tiny brain from drilling in the wrong place, but at least it helps....

    A forstner bit in the drill press does most of the work. I always try to get the neck pocket deep as possible – I don't think it makes any difference to the strength of the join, but aesthetically I prefer a deeper set neck. I use the following equation:

    Neck pocket depth = (Height of neck at thinnest point, ie under B or Gstring) + (Height of frets) + (Height of string above frets) – (minimum height to which the bridge can be adjusted)

    In this case, neck pocket depth = 23.5 + 1 + 2 – 11 = 15.5mm

    You'll note for the moment I have not cut out the body. In the past my impatience had got the better of me and I have found routing the neck pocket much more difficult because there is no wood under the template to hold the router level. Never take any wood away until you have to. That may be a good rule for building guitars in general.
  17. Next I make a custom neck pocket template using the neck itself. This technique is entirely stolen from an excellent series of posts on how to make a guitar, here:

    How to build a bass guitar – Neck pocket template fabrication part 1 | eBass

    Step one:

    Cut some pieces of 6mm MDF. One piece 20x20cm for the template itself. Three pieces 15x5cm for the sides.


    Step two:
    Glue the end piece of MDF (use titebond, not CA which will just get absorbed)

    Step three:
    Glue to the side piece of MDF pressed up hard against the neck. In the photo I used FAR too much glue. Put the glue on the side of the MDF away from the neck – you don't want to accidentally glue your neck to the template. Use clamps to apply slight sideways pressure.

    Step Four:

    Wait 10 minues, by which time the glue should have dried sufficiently. Use the band saw to roughly cut out the inner of the pocket template, then use a guided router bit in the router table to get the final shape of the template.

    Step Five:

    I then put the neck vertically in a vice and use a flat hard sanding block to sand the end of the neck so its round. I check often with the template – it's very easy to take away to much, and much more tricky to put it back. Once I'm happy with the template it's time to rout the pocket itself.....

    reverendrally likes this.
  18. I rest the neck back onto the body and again use the straight edges to align it correctly:


    This time I clamped the neck down pretty tightly. You really don't want the neck to move at all - a 1mm twist at the neck will translate into quite a few mm inaccuracy at the bridge. I put 3 good sized pieces of double sided tape on the bottom of the template, and once I'm happy with the location of the neck then the template is dropped over the top and pressed down, hard. The site I copied this technique from recommends using a fretting hammer to sharply hit the top of the template to really make sure it's stuck well. So that's what I did. The neck is then removed and you are left with a custom made template in what is hopefully the right place. My advice is then to triple check the alignment and the scale (ie the distance from the nut to the bridge). You only get the chance to rout the neck pocket once.


    Routing itself is then fairly straightforward. I use a handheld router with a ½ inch diameter bit to do most of the removal. I then finish the two corners with a miniature guided bit from amana. I think the one I have has a diameter of ¼ inch, but I also notice they have a 3/16” diameter bit. I use these miniature bits for the corners of the neck pocket and also for pickup routs. They are fantastic and deal with ash and mahogany no problem at all:

    And the finished pocket:

    Now for the scary bit. Does it fit??

    The sides are absolutely spot on. The neck drops in easily but there is no visible gap. You do NOT want a tight pocket. If you struggle to get the neck in now you definitely won't be able to get it in once you have applied a finish, particularly if spraying. A bolt on neck does not get its strength from the physical fit, the strength comes from the neck screws/bolts forcing the neck and the body together. You could have a 1cm gap all the way round the neck pocket and it would not affect the sound or sustain at all. Gaps look rubbish though, which is why I try to avoid them....

    ....which in this case I haven't! The sides are good but the end isn't quite as good:
    The gap is acceptable, but next week I'll spend a bit more time on rounding the corners. You can see in the photo that if I take a little bit more off the right had corner it may allow the neck to sit that last half millimetre into the pocket....or it may not help at all. I may simply have failed to align that piece of the mdf correctly when I was gluing up the template.....

    Anyway, I'm pretty pleased.

    If I get the chance next week is neck bolts, body shaping and possible starting the neck carve.
    lbridenstine likes this.
  19. Today I did the neck bolts.

    This current build is bass number 8 for me (if you include several utterly useless aborted efforts good only for firewood:rollno:) and the third one where I've used bolts and threaded inserts rather just wood screws. The first time I did it because I thought the bass I was building was one I would take to Italy regularly (my wife is Italian and we visit family there often) and so it would help if I could take the neck off to fit it into a suitcase rather than pay for an extra seat or excess baggage. I was sure that normal wood screws were good enough from a strength point of view but I was worried that after 10 times of taking the neck off the screws would begin to lose their bite. Anyway, it worked well so I'm using them again.

    So, given it's the third time I've used them, you would expect me to have the process pretty much down by now. For some reason though I have a mental blank about making any notes about the process, presumably because each time I think I'll remember what I did, and each time I can't:mad:. And given it took me days to work it out in the first place, some written notes probably would have been helpful.... This is probably in more detail than anyone else wants, but it will at the very least remind me how to do it next time!

    I'm in the UK where it's a pain trying to find anything. We have no industry left and we all work in coffee shops. Or at least that's how it feels sometimes. So I finally managed to find some reasonable quality threaded inserts here:

    The Insert Company (UK) Ltd - Specialists in Zinc, Steel and Brass Threaded Inserts for Wood and Plastic.

    Here's the process. I haven't got many photos unfortunately. I think the success of the process is dependent on all drilling/tapping/inserting being done in the drill press so that everything is at 90 degrees. I've found from bitter experience that if I do any part of this process with a hand drill it's just not reliable enough, ie it's not at 90 degrees and the bolts and inserts don't align properly.

    Here goes...

    1. Mark out the location on the back of the neck and mark with tape

    2. In the drill press make a 2mm hole through the body.

    3. I then put the body vertically in my table vise. I put the neck in the pocket and clamped it firmly in place. By hand I then put a 1.9mm drill bit through the 2mm hole I had just drill in the body and twiddled it around a bit by hand (technical term) so that it left an indentation on the neck. I've now got alignment between neck and body.

    4. I unclamped the neck from the body and put it upside down on a radiused sanding block so it was level on the drill press then made a shallow 2mm hole where the indentations were. The purpose of this was just to provde a pilot hole for an 8.5mm brad point which I then drilled 14mm deep (the inserts themselves were 12mm long).

    5. I then used an M10 tap to carve out the thread. I rotated the drill chuck by hand with one hand while exerting constant downward pressure with the ….not sure what it's called...I've got a wheel but I think most drill presses have a series of 3 handles.

    6. I then used the drill press to drive the insert into the neck. I find it really hard to do this by hand and have it go in at 90 degrees. So again I used the drill press. The inserts are hex driven, so I got my dremel and cut off the end of a 5mm allen key, so it was now staight rather than L shaped. You can see this in the photo. I put the insert onto the end of this and again used the drill press turning by hand to twist the insert in.

    7. Going back to the body, I used the 2mm hole that I drilled right at the beginning as a pilot for a 15mm forstner to make the holes for the neck ferrules, depth 4.5mm. Then without moving either the body or the drill I replaced the forstner bit with a 5.1mm normal drill bill and drilled through the body...... Finished!

    8. Time to check whether everything was aligned by bolting neck and body together. I find it easiest to do this again putting the body vertically in the vise. I found that 3 of the bolts went in smoothly. The last one was biting on the thread ok, but I could feel that the alignment was very slightly out making the bolt quite stiff. I re-drilled the hole through the body with a 5.2mm bit (ie expanding the hole very slightly) and this was enough for the final bolt to tighten smoothly.
    That's it!

    Frankly it's a bit of a rigmarole, as we say. It took me a loooong time (and countless test holes) to finally get a process down that works for me. If you don't intend frequently to take off the neck of your bass (or if, unlike me you actually know what you are doing and can put threaded inserts in while asleep), then I'm not sure that it's worth the effort – wood screws are perfectly capable of providing enough clamping pressure. I'll probably keep on using bolts and inserts though, cos I'm stubborn like that. :)

    Probably there's a much much much simpler way of achieving what took me most of a day....in which case can someone let me in on the secret :hyper:

    Cheers all,

    Last edited: May 15, 2017
  20. Today the body began to take a bit more of a shape. And not always in a good way. I bandsawed the body, then routed it to shape with a template. Routing the top roundover though I failed to set the depth correctly so I've got a couple of inches of gouge:

    I think I had probably decided to increase the size of the rounder over anyway. It's currently 1/4”, but I think I may increase it to 3/8”. The redwood top is about 7.5mm thick so the black accent line is only visible from the side. 3/8” would give a height of the curve of 9.5mm so youd be able to see the black accent line from the front. Time to test on some scrap first.

    The second problem that came to light today was this....

    The accent line is several narrow pieces of black veneer. At the time of gluing I used some tape to hold them together, but I obviously failed to think about where I was putting the tape – you can clearly see it here. What a numpty.....

    Obviously there's no way of getting the tape out, so I need to camoflage it in some way. I'm wondering whether I might be able to dye it black. My plan was to do a black grain fill on the ash, that may help a bit. Or maybe I could use a scalpel to scrape the top layer away, and fill the gap with black grain fill. Again, time to test on some scrap.

    I'm really discovering that building guitars is not only about doing things right, it's also about avoiding unforced errors. Not my strong point:rollno:

    My plan is string the bass through the body. I drilled some 7mm holes than glued in some ebony dowels. The plan is that the string will go down through a hole drilled in the dowel. The redwood top is pretty soft, so I thought the strings would tear up the top as the strings came out of the body. So I thought some ebony would solve this issue.....and hopefully look cool.

    I basically just glued the dowels in with titebond then left it overnight.
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