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A Different Custom P-style Bass

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by iiipopes, Mar 29, 2011.

  1. iiipopes


    May 4, 2009
    OK, here's my custom P-style bass I designed myself, acted as my own general contractor, and did the electronics work myself. My old left arm and hand injuries have haunted me. So about 10 years ago I set out on a quest for an instrument that I could play more than 20 minutes without cramping up. Nothing commercially worked, of course. Then I stumbled across the Novax site, with links to Sheldon Dingwall. But fanning both ways made it worse, not better. Then I stumbled onto an etching of a 16th century lute called (translated) "Pandora's Box," with a square nut and fanned frets forward. I was off and running.

    I measured my hand very carefully at rest to arrive at a 1.67 nut width and 2.38 (1/8 narrower than standard) heel. I like the full 34 inch for tone on the low E string, but the 33 1/4 Rick scale for feel on the G string. Under the bridge cover is a repro "bolt stock" bridge cut in two with half of it moved up for the G & D strings, narrowed to 2 1/16 overall spacing for my right hand; crown radius 10 inches; .875 thick @ the 1st fret, C profile with rounded edges.

    The P position pickup is a Rick HB-1 measuring at @ 14kohms. The J pickup is a DiMarzio UltraJazz neck version to match the narrowed spacing. Since they're wound the same, they sound the same from neck to bridge. The HB-1 is placed proportionally in the position of the GD segment of a traditional P pickup, and the J pickup is between the '60's and '70's position. Notice the angles are different to match what would be the continued fanning of the frets if carried through.

    The strings are through body, with the G string at a perpendicular angle down from the bridge saddle for maximum sustain and the E string as shallow as possible to retain as much brightness as possible. The alder body was from a no-name bass I was just going to use to whittle on to make sure the neck worked until I could get a better one, then I bumped it against the Am Std P-bass I had at the time. They tone-tapped the same tone, and I got lucky when I got under the paint: real 2-piece alder, well seasoned, not too heavy. A friend routed the pickup routs for me.

    The neck blank, traditional maple w/ rosewood, came from an east coast wholesale supplier custom turned to my width & thickness, and was fretted by Sheldon Dingwall with Dunlop 50X100 frets so I have a lot to crown over time with wear. The tuners are Hipshot Ultralights, which weigh 1/2 as much as traditional Fender-Schallers, so no neck dive. I shimmed the neck on both sides of the heel for a really tight fit in the neck pocket.

    The electronics are straightforward Jazz wiring VVT, with a .033 orange drop tone cap and a .01 inline cap to the J pickup to eliminate phasing and comb filtering with both pickups full on. CTS pots, of course.

    Let's see: there are four actual Fender-brand parts on it: the string tree and the three knobs. I've added bone shims at the nut to eliminate string stretch pulling sharp at the 2nd & 3rd frets.

    How does it sound? Huge. It's not just deep in the groove, it's digging it deeper. Even though I've played everything from Friday night to Sunday morning, the best way to hear it is my one lucky gig: the last Lawrence Welk Special, "Precious Memories," which was taped a few years ago and airs occasionally on PBS fundraising week. I'm straight into the board with just a touch of compression for broadcast and a slight broad dip of a couple dB at 1.3khz to even out the response of the pickup.

    The pickguard started out white, and has patina'd nicely. This is my #1, and if anybody is interested, I have a hardtail 2-HB Strat-style guitar to match and another guitar with active minibuckers in the pipeline.

    Attached Files:

    krovx and Fabian_Aryo like this.
  2. Nice!

    What kind of bridge do you have on there? I'm curious as to how you accommodated the different scale lengths and kept it all under the bridge cover. Any pics of that bit?
  3. iiipopes


    May 4, 2009
    The bridge is a reissue "bolt stock" bridge so that the string spacing can be adjusted. I just hacksawed it in half, moved the half for the G & D strings up 3/4 of an inch and screwed it back down, drilling holes through the plate for the string through.
  4. Thumpin_P


    Nov 26, 2006
    Limestone, TN
    Very nice, sir! Awesome way to make things more comfortable or you! Love how it turned out! Congrats!
  5. daveman50

    daveman50 Supporting Member

    Feb 24, 2007
    Westchester County NY
    Very nice indeed! Innovative. Can we please have more pics?!? --thanks.
  6. iiipopes


    May 4, 2009
    If I have time, I'll try to shoot more pix. But there's nothing really else to see, as the rest of the bass, front to back & top to bottom, is all standard P-style. No special treatment to the neck pocket, just standard rectangle plate & 4 screws, and standard string-through at the bridge, albeit offset for the fanned scaling. No exotic wood species, grain or laminations/veneers, just plank lumber with a plain finish. I designed it like that on purpose befitting a bass player whose main job is to stand by the drummer and make everyone else sound good and not call attention to himself.

    Thanks for all the supportive comments.

    I gotta relate a great story: a small blues band I was in a few years ago was playing a typical weekend gig at at joint. It came time for break, and we went to the back of the place and relaxed for the break in a booth with a draw. We watched as a guy who had obviously been there all evening walked in front of the stage to peruse everything after getting his next draw. He saw my bass under a stage light, stopped, did a double-take, looked at my bass, looked at his beer, looked at my bass again, shook his head, set his beer down on the first empty table, and left! We all laughed so hard it was a good thing we were in a corner booth.
    seansv likes this.
  7. NKBassman

    NKBassman Lvl 10 Nerd Supporting Member

    Jun 16, 2009
    Winnipeg, MB, Canada
    Pretty neat build!

    How do you like the Ric pickup in place of a traditional P?
  8. iiipopes


    May 4, 2009
    Much, much better. Tonally, it is broader with both more lows and highs that are more easily eq'd for the mix. Ergonomically, I never liked the feel of the corner of the P pickup to anchor my thumb, and even though I understand Leo seeing that bass players played in octaves a lot, hence the design and offset of the pickup, I have always preferred the tone of a straight across pickup. Those are two of the main reasons a Rick 4002 was my main bass with no backup for many, many years, until my hand, wrist and elbow injuries indicated a different approach.

    That's one reason for the fanning from a conventional nut forward: the forearm naturally pivots to keep the wrist relaxed in relationship to the frets. A player does not have to duck the elbow or pronate the wrist to play patterns on the upper part of the fingerboard. It is sooooooo relaxing to play, and since it is natural to the way the elbow and wrist want to flex anyway, there was absolutely no, and I mean no adaptation time needed. As I remember, I gigged it the weekend I finally got it all together, and never looked back.

    I still bring out the 4002 when Rick tone is de rigueur, or the gig is less than a half hour or so.

    One caveat to the RIC HB-1: it may not work as a standard install on a Fender style instrument in the traditional Fender placements, because the RIC pickup is only made for a 2-inch or so RIC 4001/2/3 string spread, not the 2 1/4 + of a Fender bridge. As you can see from the picture, even with narrowing the string spacing with the "bolt stock" bridge, I'm right at the limit of width, especially with the rotation to match the fret fanning.

    Let's see: Stu Cook of CCR put a Rickenbacker toaster up next to the neck of his P-bass, where the strings get narrower, and it fit fine on a otherwise conventional P-bass. But again, that was in the neck position analogous to where it would be on a 4001.
  9. MarkA

    MarkA *** Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2008
    Old thread, but I love the idea and the execution. Never played a fanned-fret instrument, but I'd love to try one like this. (Curious as to how a similar "fan" would work for fretless, too.)
  10. iiipopes


    May 4, 2009
  11. THAT is a thing of beauty. Serious awesomeness in the details.
  12. christw

    christw Get low!

    May 11, 2008
    Dayton OH
    I want to be Tesla (tinkerer at Dayton Amp Co)
    That's really, really cool. I don't know what more to say.
  13. Stilettoprefer


    Nov 26, 2010
    It would make playing a fretless ridonkulously difficult I would think.
  14. MarkA

    MarkA *** Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2008
    Might at that. I've seen (albeit in photos only) lined fretless Dingwalls, though.

    At any rate, the little fan on this P-bass is intriguing, and I'd be curious to play it and see how it affects the feel of the upper registers. (I haven't played any fanned-fret instruments before.) I play a Squier P that I put a fretless neck on. That and seeing this thread have me wondering about putting together a fretted P like this one... and then, remembering the Dingwall photos, wondering about the fan sans frets.
  15. iiipopes


    May 4, 2009
    Any time you're going to be in southwest Missouri, just give me PM heads up before hand so I can arrange time. As far as the upper register, you don't notice it. What you do notice is that every bit of tension in your elbow and wrist is gone, and your elbow doesn't "duck under" trying to get to those high frets playing patterns across the strings.
  16. Akami

    Akami Four on the floor

    Mar 6, 2005
    I may be wrong but I'd be willing to bet that, for the exact same reasons he made the bass in the first place, that it would be extremely natural and effortless - probably a blessing for first time fretless players actually.
  17. cassius987

    cassius987 Banned

    Apr 20, 2007
    Denver, CO
    I'm lucky enough to have played this bass! Scott, you should post the Welk stuff if it's on YouTube.
  18. iiipopes


    May 4, 2009
    OK. When I started this thread, it had not been posted. Now it has, in eight parts. Like the music or not as you will, but listen to it on a good sound system attached to the computer, not just the little speakers, to see what it really sounds like. YouTube is really, really compressed and bandwith limited. When it was recorded, it was direct to board. The only things the sound engineer did was a slight cut at 1.3kHz to tame the peak of the Rick HB pickup, but not so much it lost its character as to how it sounds live, and a slight touch of compression for the benefit of the broadcast limits.

    Here's part one, and the other parts of course follow. Strings are Roto Swingbass 45-60-80-105. I'm playing everything except the obvious orchestra dubs. Yes, everything. I even used a volume pedal to emulate bowing on the Lennon Sisters rendition of "Ave Maria."

    Check out part 2 @ 10:07.
  19. christw

    christw Get low!

    May 11, 2008
    Dayton OH
    I want to be Tesla (tinkerer at Dayton Amp Co)
    That thing sounds good! :eek:

    I'm sure I have to give some credit to the player too. :p I really dig the tone you're getting, especially on "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands."
  20. iiipopes


    May 4, 2009
    Thanks. War story alert. On "He's Got..." that was originally arranged as a duet for Mary Lou and her husband, Richard Maloof, who was Welk's bass player in the '70's. He had retired by this point, so I was playing her husband's part off original manuscript!