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Amature/hobbyist bass makers, questions for you

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by M_A_T_T, Oct 22, 2005.


  1. M_A_T_T

    M_A_T_T

    Mar 4, 2004
    Canada
    This is for the amature/hobbyist instrument builders who have made, or are making, an upright bass. What were/are your experiences like? Can you compare it to other kinds of instruments you've made? What was the hardest part? How much time and money did you invest? What tools did you buy, which did you make? How did the finished product turn out?

    Thankyou
     
  2. Hi Matt,

    I wanted to make a bass ever since I bought my first old German bass from Paul Warburton in the mid 80's. I knew next to nothing about woodworking so I started from the bottom. I took a woodworking class at the local community ed. All along I was reading everything I could find on the subject which was not much...Elgar books and Harry Wakes book. The best thing I ever did was study classical woodcarving at the School of Classical Woodcarving. This really opend my eyes and helped me develop skills. The Guild of American Luthiers has some great books on making your own tools.

    I ended up making quite a few tools but the best tools I have are professionally made. I like Japanese planes and have very good luck using them for different bass luthierie techniques. I can go into this specifically later. I only buy the best tools...once... and that turns out cheaper than buying cheap tools first then better later. I steer away from any power tools because I have found that for me I can really make a BIG mistake quickly! So I go slow and systematically with good hand tools. I do use an Excalliber Chain saw wheel on my grinder for plate roughing but I feel good control with it. I know others who have wished they never had picked it up though.

    I made a few violins and a bunch of classical guitars, and steel string guitars before making a bass. The bass was a lot harder! The wood is expensive and I learned to make lemonaid from lemons. Fixing mistakes is part of the job.

    Here's what I think separates the pro from the hobbiest: Proper design is the fundamental but after that comes 1. Arching, both top and back, longitudinal and crosswise. 2. Edgework, edgework, edgework!!! Look at David Wiebe's bass and his pictorial on making a cello on the web. A properly shaped edge, with good channeling is essential to good sound and looks. 3. Making the personality of the maker show in the work. Don't be afraid of tool marks, what ever they are, showing. An amateur job is easily recognized by smoothed and heavily sanded lines, edges, curves, grooves.
     
  3. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    The biggest challenge for me (and I haven't really started yet) is the wood. For my first bass, should I take a punt and spend big on good wood, knowing that the end result might be ordinary - it might equally be a beauty - or should I save a bit on initial cost of wood and make say a three-or four-piece top and back with reasonable wood?

    If I'm going to be spending hundreds of hours on something I'd want the result to be worth it, but at the same time I baulk at the price of spruce/maple wood, especially as I'd have to import it into Australia sight unseen.

    If I was making a violin I wouldn't have that problem, would I? But I can't get excited about a violin ...

    some might say what a waste of time, but maybe I should practice making a carved top for my ply bass first?
     
  4. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    I say find local wood for your project. A good bass can be made from almost any mid-density hardwood, and local pine or other softwood will work ok for the top. Get the wood as dry as possible to reduce shrinkage after construction. It should be easy to find wood wide enough for a 3-piece top. Make sure the joints are not at the soundpost or bass bar...I agree with everything Ken posted above, and I'd like to add that if the design is good, and you build with care, paying attention to details, odds are you'll come out of the project with a good-sounding instrument. BTW, I built my first bass with help from the Wake book, and many of the instructions are very good, especially as regards carving the neck/scroll.
     
  5. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    Joints across/through the F holes should be OK? Would you put any cleats in after carving?
     
  6. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    My Dodd has a 3pc top and just over 200 years old. The Joint runs thru the ff holes just inside the inner notch. Here; http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/Dodd/DoddBass.htm

    I think all the joints are cleated. Arnold had a quick look inside this Bass awhile ago. Maybe he can recall what he saw.

    My Martini has a 3pc back and has a strip up the entire length of each joint here; http://www.kensmithbasses.com/DoubleBasses/MartiniBass/martini_bass_2.htm

    I think most top and back joints are cleated the same way you would repair a crack and ofcourse 'after' carving so it fits flush with the finished thickness on the inside.
     
  7. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    What do you mean a strip up the centre of each joint? I can't see in the pics (But I do love the way you "document" a bass in pics, ken)

    Like a purfling strip? Or all the way through? If so do you think this would have been original, or a repair to a shrinking back?
     
  8. KSB - Ken Smith

    KSB - Ken Smith Banned Commercial User

    Mar 1, 2002
    Perkasie, PA USA
    Owner: Ken Smith Basses, Ltd.
    The Strip is patch shaped but runs the entire length of the joint from to neck to the end pin block area. The sides are beveled all up and down and at the ends instead of Studs every few inches. My Shen has Studs plus a strip of linen from end to end over everything about 1 1/8 wide or so. I would guess it's about 30mm wide similar the the wood strip in the Martini but the wood is about 3mm thick to give it some holding strength.
     
  9. M_A_T_T

    M_A_T_T

    Mar 4, 2004
    Canada
    I'd at least use instrument grade wood. I'd be dissapointed if I spent 6months - 1year on an instrument and it came out great, only to be limited by the fact that it's built out of 2x4's.

    When I started to make my violin I decided to use good quality wood. I used the mid - grade wood that was offered. I figured I'd just be wasting my time with the lowest/plain grain wood, but I also wasn't ready to be using the AAAAA stuff. I was quite impressed with what I got, too.

    I will be using Mvl Specialty Woods out of western Canada. They're about 15mins from my house, so I can actually pick out what I would be using. :)

    Thanks for your responses.
     
  10. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    Its still a bit hard to know what proportion of any instrument's success is due to the wood, the care in construction, the experience of the builder, magick, or luck!

    I agree that use of the traditional woods, quarter sawn and nicely dry would increase my chances of success, but as Arnold pointed out, a local supply of wood would be an advantage. However we don't have maple and spruce available in Australia . There are alternatives, and guitar makers are using local woods with some success, but violin luthiers usually seem to come back to imported maple and spruce in the end.

    I'm keen to try our red cedar or King Billy pine (if I can find any, its rarer and rarer all the time) for the table and maybe blackwood or cherry for the back and sides. I'll have to wait and see what comes up. but I've yet to find a local sawmill who is splitting DB size billets!

    Sorry MATT, seems I might have sidetracked your thread a bit. I'm enjoying your website a lot. Very envious of that big bent gouge!
     
  11. I know it's not the same thing at all, but a local craftsman has just made me an EUB from Aussie woods - neck & back is blackwood from the Otway ranges, front is spectacular piece of red cedar, fingerboard and trims from Qld Walnut. The blackwood is very pretty and is a resonant tonewood - Maton use it a lot in their guitars. The guy has some pieces of King Billy Pine destined to be guitars & mandolins - I've never heard such a resonant wood! Tap a piece and it rings with the sweetest tone.
     
  12. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    Sounds nice - can you post a photo?

    yeah I know there is nice wood out there but luthiery seems to be fairly conservative when it comes to acoustic instruments. Perhaps because to keep the resale value high, spruce and maple are known quantities with a known tone and response.

    Stuart Pianos have a similar issue - they have made some fantastic new pianos out of local woods, but finding it extremely hard to get them accepted. he uses King Billy for soundboards. I should ask him where he gets his wood.

    Are you in Sydney?
     
  13. I'm just starting out on my first bass. I spent a great deal of time on the design so there would be few "in process" decisions or surprises. I'm picking up the tools a few at a time here and there as I do different things. I have Highland Hardware just about a mile away so I can get hard to find stuff easily. They have a great web site also. I have an extensive and nearly life long background with wood working of various sorts and was a professional picture framer for a while as well. If you don't have some wood working experience, pick up a few chunks to practice on before you get started on the real wood. Always test your tool on a scrap after you've adjusted it or sharpened it. Some tools like planes for instance have a certain sound when they are working properly. Pay attention to the sound and feel of your tools as you learn to work with them. Soon you will be able to tell when you need to stop to resharpen, etc.

    I like the flexcut knives (mini-pelican is my favorite) for working on bridges. I use a Stanley shoulder plane (no. 92) for fingerboard dressing (most people here recommend a block plane but the 92 can be used one string at a time with the bass under nearly full tension because it is only 3/4" wide). Also it converts to a chisel plane for working close to the nut without removing the nut. I also picked up a spoke shave (Lie Nielsen) and draw knife for fingerboard and neck shaping from rectangular stock. Good sharpening stones are necessary for anything you cut with and the Arkansas variety is the best but the ceramic ones are OK too. I kind of favor the german lignum sole joinery plane for getting good flat joining surfaces for top pieces. Find some place where you can see the tools in person and pick the ones that are balanced well.

    On the soon to obtain list: gouges, a couple of scorps, radius plane, and a large pelican flexcut. Like others have said, buy the good tool once. I am also not too fond of power tools because of the serious injury factor (one of my clarinetist just lost the tip of one of his right hand fingers to a table saw accident) and also the serious mistake factor Ken M. pointed out. Using all hand tools slows the production, but I'm not in any kind of big hurry anyway. Does anyone have a good suggestion for a manual substitute for a band saw?

    Most of the specialized clamps you can save $$ on by making those yourself. That is one of the biggest ways to save $$. I made a custom sound post gauge from balsa and bass wood scraps and a thin dowel. If there is a tool already made for doing that it would take longer to find than for me to make.

    My approach has not been to go crazy buying tools. I had a lot of tools already of course, but the best way to buy them is as you need them.

    The wood? I've made a committment to Nature to use only locally available wood (USA) that is responsibly harvested. I will probably use maple, redwood, persimmon, and poplar on this first bass. I have started on the top which is salvaged old growth redwood. I just looked around for whatever pine family board with a reasonable ring count was available in the size needed that was properly sawn and air dried. As it was the wood was still a little too wet when it arrived so I let it season indoors for a year and I'm convinced it is sufficiently dry now. There are several options to spruce and maple for tops and backs. I think the neck needs to be maple. For the reasons, ask Ken Smith, or read some of his posts here about that. The fingerboard needs to be ebony. I'm going to give persimmon a shot, just to see how it works, but I may end up going to (foreign) ebony afterwards

    Plans? I bought the Wake book and have some other bass plans I've collected. The Chandler book has some plans also. One could easily draw an original plan paying close attention to the ratios and principles. I like the Strobel books for design and working guides. Also you can copy an existing bass, which is not a bad way to learn at all. Also it doesn't hurt to read everything you can about any musical instrument's design and construction.

    As to my investment: It is already large and will grow. I haven't really been keeping up with it since I plan to make more stuff afterwards. If it gets real expensive, I may have to go into the business. I'm selling a piece of real estate so I can build a proper wood shop (there are just too many mosquitos on the porch), so it is likely to be tens of thousands at least. A good double garage workshop would work, but then where do you park the car? The biggest difference between building a bass and something smaller is the size and all of the ramifications of that. Primarily you need more space for everything, and tools with deeper throats, etc.

    The hardest part of any woodworking to me is putting it down once I have started and picking it up again once I have stopped.

    Good luck and perseverance. :)