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A few simple questions as I plan my first bass

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Ozzel, Oct 6, 2004.


  1. I am going to build myself a five-string solid-body bass, although I have no woodworking experience whatsoever. I guess it's a crazy idea. Any rational person would probably just buy a bass, but I feel compelled by my creativity and the desire to own something that no one in the world has. (No, I am not doing this to save money.) I've got lots of time to plan this project, and I know the support in this forum is always top notch, so I'm determined. Before I make any wood chips, I'm hoping you luthiers out there, both amateur and pro, can answer a few "simple" questions I've got.

    1. The body will be two pieces, joined right at the center. It will have a bookmatched top. I may also decide to put a veneer of a contrasting color between the body and the top. With that many layers going on, one of them being very thin, am I right in assuming that it's easier and better to glue the layers to each half of the body, then join the halves together?

    2. Do I have to make sure each of the layers is the correct thickness before gluing, or can I thickness sand the whole piece once the glue is dry?

    3. Do I cut my body shape before or after joining (or is it jointing) the two halves?

    4. What is the proper surface preparation for the layers before gluing?

    5. What is the proper surface preparation for the body halves before gluing?

    6. Concerning string spacing, nut width and width of the last fret, what would be considered standard measurements for someone like me with medium-sized hands? I am currently planning on a nut width of 1.75", 3" width at the 24th fret and a bridge which will accommodate .75" spacing. Does that sound good?

    7. I've already ordered my slotted and radiused fingerboard from lmii.com. Their fingerboards are 5/16" thick. How much, if any, should the neck rise above the body to ensure I won't have any string height problems? If it helps, the bridge will be a Hipshot A, and there will be no neck angle.

    That's all I can think of for now. Hopefully I've given enough info so you all can give accurate answers. Thanks, everyone!
     
  2. Here's my approach to some of your questions...

    1. The body will be two pieces, joined right at the center. It will have a bookmatched top. I may also decide to put a veneer of a contrasting color between the body and the top. With that many layers going on, one of them being very thin, am I right in assuming that it's easier and better to glue the layers to each half of the body, then join the halves together?

    I've found that this can sometimes be problematic getting and keeping the accent line aligned at the front and rear seams. It requires that both composite halves be exactly the same thickness. I prefer to make my body back, then attach the face pieces across the entire body. I've even done that several ways including joining a bookmatched top as it was glued onto the main body blank. It was dicey but it came out fine. I've recently done one that I glued the top on the blank before routing the shape, then I cut the body shape so that the top and sides were cut at the same time. There are lots of ways to do this and you'll find a way that's comfortable and accurate for your own shop and tool array.

    2. Do I have to make sure each of the layers is the correct thickness before gluing, or can I thickness sand the whole piece once the glue is dry?

    Sure, you can, say, leave the top a little thick, glue it on, and then thickness sand to a desired width. But I would only attempt this with a dedicated thickness sander - you will be at it awhile and the results won't be as accurate if you try this with hand sanders. Hand planing would be a good hand method to thin a top after attaching.

    3. Do I cut my body shape before or after joining (or is it jointing) the two halves?

    Anytime I can leave a blank with square, flat edges through the glue-up process, I do. It's just easier to locate and seat clamps to get a good grip. Once you've got a rounded body shape, you have to use cauls and the like. It's just a hassle for me.

    4. What is the proper surface preparation for the layers before gluing?

    I don't do anything for most glue-ups of hardwoods other than sand smooth with 80 grit sandpaper. You don't have to make your surfaces super smooth, in fact, it's best you don't. The slightly rough texture increases the surface area, provides more "tooth" for the glue to attach to, and helps blend the look of the two halves at the seam

    5. What is the proper surface preparation for the body halves before gluing?

    See above

    6. Concerning string spacing, nut width and width of the last fret, what would be considered standard measurements for someone like me with medium-sized hands? I am currently planning on a nut width of 1.75", 3" width at the 24th fret and a bridge which will accommodate .75" spacing. Does that sound good?

    Nothing sounds out of place here.

    7. I've already ordered my slotted and radiused fingerboard from lmii.com. Their fingerboards are 5/16" thick. How much, if any, should the neck rise above the body to ensure I won't have any string height problems? If it helps, the bridge will be a Hipshot A, and there will be no neck angle.

    It varies all over the place. I've got bolt-ons that have fretboard and some backwood showing above the body and I've got some that don't. My Kawai (neck-thru) only has the thickness of the fretboard above the body. My own personal preference is keeping things as tight to the face of the body as practical because I like a thin "feeling" instrument.

    It strikes me that some of these questions could be answered by working with a full size (or scaled) drawing. You haven't mentioned having a plan and that could be a problem. If you don't, you really should draw up this instrument and all of it's details so that you can see how things like fretboard height can be approached. Hell, I sit here all the time with my digital calipers and measure my hardware to put in my drawings for this purpose. It cuts down on the time spent solving these problems in the shop and it also cuts down on my own frustration by not having things go right - or at least like I think they should. You're reading this post on your best drafting tool so get to work! :D
     
  3. Mark Chandler

    Mark Chandler

    Aug 25, 2004
    Houston TX
    I had some issues with quite a few LMI fretboards so here are some things you may want to pay attention to when you get it. First and most importantly, check the fret spacing. Make all your measurements from the nut to eliminate compounding errors. Also verify that the peak of the radius is in the center of the board. This can be corrected on an LMI board because they are so thick. But if you purchase a a radiused board then you should not be doing the radius yourself.

    Make sure it is right, and if it isn't, send it back.
     
  4. Check out 'Make your own electric guitar' by Melvyn Hiscock- it will answer these & other questions. David J. King's site is also very informative. If you want to just swim in information, do a search on bass (& guitar builders). Post pics when you're done (& before)!
     
  5. Thanks for your detailed answers, Hambone. I forgot to mention that I am a graphic designer by profession. So yes, I have already begun planning this thing out with my illustration software. That and the kind help of everyone here should help me keep mistakes to a minimum. My only real weak spot is going to be my total absence of experience with the tools I will be using. I must be patient!

    Mark, I will inspect my lmii board very carefully. Thanks for the tip. If everything's correct, that'll be a very difficult part of the project already done for me, and at a very reasonable price, too.
     
  6. arcobigj

    arcobigj

    Sep 14, 2004
    Easley, SC
    Wish you the best in your endeavor. One piece of advice that I would like to add is TAKE YOUR TIME. It is so tempting to want everything finished now, but don't be hasty. If you find things are not going well or your are getting tired, walk away. Also remember, this is supposed to be a labor of love. Enjoy your work. Good luck and keep us posted!
     
  7. Suburban

    Suburban

    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    I am going to build myself a five-string solid-body bass, although I have no woodworking experience whatsoever. I guess it's a crazy idea. Any rational person would probably just buy a bass, but I feel compelled by my creativity and the desire to own something that no one in the world has.

    Sooo, Mr Ozzel, you are calling me names?? :eyebrow:



    1. The body will be two pieces, joined right at the center. It will have a bookmatched top. I may also decide to put a veneer of a contrasting color between the body and the top. With that many layers going on, one of them being very thin, am I right in assuming that it's easier and better to glue the layers to each half of the body, then join the halves together?

    No, not to my experience. The thin veneer line will probably not be straight in the joint, and you will hate it.
    If you first join the body core, then make it really flat (or domed, if you prefere), then add the veneer (in several pieces if you wish) the fitting will be great, and you will be happy.

    2. Do I have to make sure each of the layers is the correct thickness before gluing, or can I thickness sand the whole piece once the glue is dry?

    Well, I would - I do! This too, to make sure to avoid these steps in the joints - ugly!

    3. Do I cut my body shape before or after joining (or is it jointing) the two halves?


    After. Its hard to glue shaped halves together, compared to rectangles. I tried... :( [



    This was rather repetitve to Hambones post (of course) so I quit here and refer to his point re. the rest. :D

    Oh, and good luck, and be patient!
     
  8. Ozzel, a designer too!? Welcome to the club. I've been in that biz since pre-digital days and I've made a living of it. I've worked in everything from my own design and print production studio, to my own sign shop, to my current position and art director and chief designer for a $30 mil architectural sign firm. I like to say I've designed one of everything but a kid!
    It's as fun as music - this getting paid for what comes outta my head naturally :D

    When you get your tools and start practicing, try tearing up some poplar. You can get it easily here in the south in Home Depots. It's got a tight grain, is much harder than conifer woods like pine and spruce, is just softer than maple but machines like it, and it's relatively cheap. It will be good for you to begin to "feel" how the bits and blades cut and what spindle speeds and feed rates to use for the routers. Poplar will even make a great sounding body if you're so disposed but you'll likely want to paint it after building.
     
  9. I agree with Hambone's last comment. When I was first learning the basics of my new tools I bought some poplar 1x12s from Home Depot. I glued two pieces together to make it about 1 1/2" thick and made a couple of small bodies with it.

    One of them will be used to make a small short scale bass for my 4 year old son. I'll make a neck for it, paint the body, buy some cheap hardware and have a nice Christmas present for him. Doesn't have to go to waste.....