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An MTD style 4 string, Redwood, Ash, Wenge

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Drake Custom, Apr 12, 2014.

  1. Drake Custom

    Drake Custom Commercial User

    Aug 24, 2010
    Builder/Owner:Drake Custom Bass Guitars
    I was recently asked if I could do a customer designed bass to be similar to a MTD bass but in 33 inch scale and with a Pope Flexcore preamp instead of Bartolini.

    First a moment on my soapbox. I have moved away from having a line of models and have focused on one off bespoke "customer designed/ requested" builds. I know that many luthiers run the other direction from "customer designed" builds as the builds never come out exactly the way the customer has envisioned it in their heads. The customer then wants the builder to do a lot of re-work to make the instrument feel like they have imagined. The customer often thinks that the builder should eat the cost of the time and materials to do so. The builder loses money and time on such builds thus making the profit margin shrink to point of not being worth the trouble. I have been finding that if you can give the customer a good dose of reality up front then the process does not need to be as painful. Just a tip when approaching any of the builders on the LC to build your own personal design. The builder is the person who handles the material and has the knowledge of what works well and what does not. The builder should have some say in the design. Good communication! Listen to the advice of the builder about your design and keep an open mind to any criticism the builder may have over your design. A good builder, like any engineer, will try to point out weak points in your plan and then help design a way around the flaw. Also realize that you have months and months during the build that you will dream about the instrument to the point that when you close your eyes you can feel it in your hands. The finished bass will most likely not feel exactly like what you have imagined. A good way to alleviate this is to find a local luthier to do the work so that you can get the bass in your hands a few times during the build so that you can address anything that needs to be changed before the bass goes into the finish stage. This saves a lot of frustration.

    In this case my customer is pretty knowledgeable about how instruments are built and I have worked with him enough to know that there is little chance of a drama.

    The customer specified a Wenge on wenge neck with 22 frets, plus a zero fret, 33 inch scale, and a 2X2 tuner configuration. The customer also designated the shape of the headstock. I drew up some drawings and he approved them. Same with the body. I drew up a shape inspired by MTD basses. Although this bass is inspired by the work of Michael Tobias, there will be no doubt that my bass is not an MTD. I do not do exact replicas. If someone wants an exact Gibson Thunderbird bass then I would encourage them to buy a Gibson Thunderbird bass.
    For the body, the customer has specified an Ash body with a Burled Redwood top. We are going to have an accent line of Walnut between the top and back. we want this bass to be lighter in weight so I will chamber the back wood a little before the top goes on. There will be a large electronics cavity as well as a dual battery compartment so there is a lot of wood to be removed in those areas. With a deep belly cut I will only need to chamber a small area under the forearm contour.
    The customer has specified magnet covers over the battery compartment and electronics cavity. The reason for the battery is pretty obvious but the need for the electronics cavity to be quick on and off is to allow the customer access to two mid control switches that will be inside. The customer plays a variety of music styles and wants to be able to set up his EQ curve for the style he needs without too much fuss. I will cover more specs as we get to them.

    This is how the bass looks at this time. I will cover the steps that I have made to get her this far.

    This is the neck blank that I have purchased from Exotic Woods in NJ. They always send me good Wenge neck blanks.
    Here is a picture of the body template I made up to show the shape of the body. The body will be made of Swamp Ash.
    The customer and I selected this nice piece of Redwood to use as a top and to cut a peg head veneer from.
    I did not get a shot of the scarf joint jig this time so I used this picture from another build.
    I usually slice the head stock scarf joint angle at about 12 inches from the end of the neck blank. For this style of bass, the neck will run deep into the body. I am slicing off the peg head but will re-attach it with what I call a toe scarf. My regular way is to have the fret board overlay the scarf joint, but this type puts the scarf joint midway along the peg head and gives me a little more length to use. A good thing if you have a neck blank that is a little too short for a bass or need a super long headstock. Also, I will be gluing ears to the sides of the peg head so this is a real nice way of doing a angle peg head style without glue lines showing from the side. This will give me a few inches more on the blank that I can fashion a long tongue to reach into the body.
    The neck is upside down with my toothpicks to align the peg head tip during the glue up. Many of you see me use toothpicks as guide pins on my builds. It does not matter where I place them as they are going to be under veneers front and back. If I was not going to do a rear veneer then I would recommend placing them outside the foot print of the peg head so they will not show.
    Here is decent shot of how the blank looks after the tip is glued onto the peg head.
    You can see where the nut will be and where the joint is.
    I have cut the sides of the peg head off so that I can glue on some ears. The shape we have drawn up for the headstock exceeds the width of the blank so I needed to add ears. I hate glue lines and places where the grain does not match up, so I cut the sides off and laminated the ears on. From the side view of the peg head, you will not see any joints as the peg head shape follow within the lines of the ears. The tip of the headstock is all that shows any difference in wood grain.

    This is what I have for today. Thanks for looking and please check back.
    bassvirtuoso likes this.
  2. Love how nicely you have the grain matched up on that scarf joint.
  3. SaintMez

    SaintMez Commercial User

    Jan 3, 2010
    Meridian, idaho
    Blood Brothers Guitars - Luthier, Porter Guitars - Contractor
    Looking good...Nice work as always!
  4. always love your wood work!
    Your rapping skills, not so much :bag:
  5. Drake Custom

    Drake Custom Commercial User

    Aug 24, 2010
    Builder/Owner:Drake Custom Bass Guitars
    So far I can't get my pics to link properly to the new TB so I guess I will have to suspend this post until I can sort this all out. I usually copy and paste my pics from my website to the post. Then I have to add [​IMG] after the link. That is how I have been posting all my pictures up until now. Now I log in and see that everything that worked so well has been changed. I don't mind changing thing every now and again but this new set up is not very intuitive to those of us who are not really tech savvy. Not sure what I need to do. I guess I need to find a 12 year old kid to teach me how this stuff works. Anyone have a suggestion on how I can link my pictures like we were able to with the old TB?
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2014
  6. lbridenstine


    Jun 25, 2012
    Are you typing the code part? It looks like you don't have to do that anymore. Just click the little picture button (the mountain postcard looking one) and insert the URL and it will show the photo in the reply box without clicking anything to preview.
  7. Drake Custom

    Drake Custom Commercial User

    Aug 24, 2010
    Builder/Owner:Drake Custom Bass Guitars
    OK, I think I have figured it out. Thanks for the advice, it helped quite a bit. It is late now so I will have to do this on Sunday.

  8. Drake Custom

    Drake Custom Commercial User

    Aug 24, 2010
    Builder/Owner:Drake Custom Bass Guitars
    Ok, here we go again. I think I have figured out how to link my pics like I did before.

    Today I will show the process I use for laminating my tops onto my bodies. I used to make each side and then glue them both together. That works fine for some things but I like to use accent lines of contrasting woods in between the tops, cores, and backs. When I glued up each side first, I had trouble getting the accent lines to match up and be seamless. To counter that I have made some changes.

    First, I prep the back piece. In this case we are using Ash. The blanks I get usually are way too thick so I first saw of about 5/8 on an inch from each half of the body blank wood (on two piece blanks) before gluing them together. I sometimes mark and use the piece that matches up with the wood on the back part where the control cavity will be. This way I can cut a matching cover out of the wood. Most of the time I can get a piece that looks right with the area surrounding the cavity cover.
    Here I have matched the grain and ran each side over the jointer before applying glue and putting it into the clamps to dry.
    I tried to make the grain match up as best as I can which helps hide the glue line.
    This is the top we have selected for the bass. I joined it together just like I did the back. No big deal with this.
    I have taken the template and routed it so that I can use it as a template for the chambering of the back before I glue the top on. I used the cavities under the forearm to route those areas but I changed my mind about the electronics cavity. I will route that from the back anyway. We are using a Pope preamp and once I saw the mess of wires it has, I will re-think the electronics cavity a bit. I used carpet tape to abchor the template onto the body back. Then I used my forstner bits to remove the bulk of the wood before switching over to the router with a pattern bit to clean the cavity out.
    With the back chambered and the top glued together, I then rough cut both pieces to the rough shape with the center clearly marked. I then spread glue onto the face of the back of the body. I lay a slice of thin Walnut veneer onto the back and apply glue onto that. Then I carefully center the top onto the Walnut slice and re-check to make sure the center lines are aligned. After I am sure of the alignment, I place the body onto a soft Basswood block in the middle of this big clamp press. I bought it from Grizzly for around $70. By placing the body onto a block of Basswood, I have given myself some room to apply clamps around the perimeter of the body. I first press the center down which lets the glue squeeze out to the sides. Note that I used a Plexiglas caul to spread the pressure out over the length of the body center. I then applied clamps around the perimeter.
    This not so great picture shows the layers with the top, Walnut veneer slice, and the Ash back after I have trimmed the shape of the body. In the center where the two halves of the body blank join, there is a perfect seamless accent line. It looks so much better than what I used to do. I am still refining my process with this and will probably start using the template as a caul for the press and clamps. I will also mount the press clamp onto a table of some sort to make working with it easier than getting down on the floor.
    After a trip over to the band saw and then the spindle sander, I have a fairly well shaped body. I leave the area around the neck pocket a little bulky as I use it to anchor my neck pocket template. That way the area I sink my pegs into is cut away during the final shaping.
    Here is a picture of the back side. I got to do some sanding to remove the glue and to level everything out before I start making my control cavity.

    Thanks for checking out my build. More to come.
    bassvirtuoso and pilotjones like this.
  9. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    Nice work, as always! Question: since that big clamp is not mounted to a table top (forming the other half of the clamp, in effect), what is it attached to?
  10. Drake Custom

    Drake Custom Commercial User

    Aug 24, 2010
    Builder/Owner:Drake Custom Bass Guitars
    PJ, Good to hear from you. The clamp is mounted down onto two pieces of MDF that are glued and screwed together. I do not crank down on the clamp so much that it warps the MDF. I will eventually mount it down onto a table along with a few others so that I can glue up more bodies at the same time. I will snap a closer picture of it without anything on it to show it better.
  11. bassvirtuoso

    bassvirtuoso My God, it's full of chrome! Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 28, 2006
    Haha, you hope :woot:

    But in all seriousness, this will be my third Drake Custom build. Andrew does amazing work, great eye for detail and will listen to all of my random ideas. He hits the nail on the head about having a luthier close to you, it makes the design and prototyping process much easier and less stressful.
  12. Drake Custom

    Drake Custom Commercial User

    Aug 24, 2010
    Builder/Owner:Drake Custom Bass Guitars
    BV, I see you found the post with your new bass in it. Things are moving along slow but sure.

    PJ had a question about the press clamp. Here is a closer shot of it.
  13. Drake Custom

    Drake Custom Commercial User

    Aug 24, 2010
    Builder/Owner:Drake Custom Bass Guitars
    Now that the body is glued up and machined to the basic shape I will focus some on the neck assembly.
    I have the fret board made from stock I had awhile back so I have not shots of the fret slotting. Many of you have seen my StewMac miter bow and saw before on these posts. The neck blank was from Exotic Woods in NJ. I have cut the rough shape of the headstock. Usually I do this later but this time around I am doing a little different type of construction. The neck blank is thicker than I normally use as this type of construction will have a tongue on the heel that will extend into the body. I have to leave enough thickness in this tongue to be strong enough for mounting the neck onto the body.
    You can see here where I laminated the ears onto the headstock earlier. It is difficult to make out, but if you look closely you will see the pencil lines that mark the perimeter of the headstock shape. They fall within the piece of wood that I glued onto the peg head. From the side view, you will not see a break in the grain pattern this way.
    I was moving pretty quick that day and did not take shots of the routing process for the truss and carbon fiber. You have seen me do this but here neck that I am making with reused veneers. This is a shot of the jig I use to guide my router. I use an edge guide, mounted to the router, to run along side of the jig. This allows me to cut precise channels for the truss and carbon. I epoxy the carbon into the slots. You can also see how I usually glue the fret board over the peg head veneer.

    Here I have glued the fret board onto the neck. I use a ton of clamps. I pad the feet of the C-clamps so as to not damage the fret board. Sometimes the metal feet will compress the wood so much that even after sanding a lot off, you can see the compressed wood. Simple wood pads solves that problem. Since the headstock was roughly cut, I was able to glue on the peg head veneer at this point.
    Most of the time I glue on the peg head veneer before I glue on the fret board. The fret board lays over the veneer. I loose about 3/4 on an inch of over all length doing it that way, but it looks nice and clean when complete. This neck will have a thin veneer laminated on the peg head joined right up to the fret board. I see some other well known builders do it this way and I want to try it. It does make it easier if I ever have to remove the veneer because of a mistake or a customer changing their mind. In this case we decided to use another Redwood top after the start of the build and I was able to strip off the peg head veneer and replace it with one that matches the new top.
    You can tell that I started this project awhile back, and was not planning to make a TB post out of it, as I did not take all of the pictures I should have.
    Once the neck was out of the clamps I rough trimmed the neck profile with the band saw. Just prior to the glue up, I cut away some of the area around the neck heel. This is to add a longer tongue onto the neck so that I can have the frets easier to reach without the body joint being in the way. There is some of the truss access channel still showing on the tongue. The tongue will be recessed into the body and covered with a Redwood cover to match the body top. MTD does this sort of thing with a few differences. I will have to cut the screws shorter for the tongue area but can use regular length screws for the area under the fret board.

    I used my router and a piece of Plexiglas as a template, to finish the neck shape out.

    A close up of the peg head after the glue up.
    I cut the neck pocket using a template and was able to try the neck out. It fit pretty good and I drilled the mounting holes. You can see in the other picture the area that will have the cover made of redwood. It will be held in by screws instead of magnets as I don't like putting magnets under strings anymore than what the pickups have. Also, I think I put a radius on the FB by the time I took this shot.

    All I have time to show today. Thanks for stopping by.
  14. Drake Custom

    Drake Custom Commercial User

    Aug 24, 2010
    Builder/Owner:Drake Custom Bass Guitars
    Back today with some more pictures of progress.
    Some shots of the neck carving. I do this in stages so that the wood can adjust to the conditions in my shop. I carve away a bit and let it sit for a few days to a week. Then I carve more. The longer it can go before I do the final shaping the better. Same with the fret board. After the glue up, I do not radius it down straight away, but allow some time to go by so I can check it again to see if the water in the glue has changed anything. Then after a week or so (longer if possible) I put a radius on it. I used to radius and fret within a couple of days but that did not always work out so well. It seemed the water in the glue and the compression from the frets put the necks into way too much of a back bow. Then the water from the glue would dry and the neck would be in a permanent back bow. After a few necks went bad (I fixed the necks or rebuilt them before the customers received them) I made a change in process. My new process for fretting coupled with the wait time after the fret board is glued on, seems to have fixed that problem completely.
    This was a good time to laminate the rear of the peg head with Wenge to match the neck. This was made from the headstock when I slimmed it down so the grain and color is perfect. In fact this piece was cut from the same area of the blank and the grain lines almost aligned perfectly.
    The back of the neck is seamless and you can almost believe that the neck is a one piece construction. Wenge allows for nicely camouflaged splices and I love the species of wood for this reason. The sound is good too. No finish is needed to remain stable, which is another positive aspect.
    After the glue dried on the rear veneer, I carved a little more on the peg head to blend it all together. I also drilled the tuner holes at this time.
    My wife Rosie inlaid the crown that we are going to have at the 12th fret. We used MOP for this. I have not been doing much of the inlay work since Rosie started to work in the shop. She has very steady hands and the patience to do the fine work like inlay. Her very first inlay job was perfect and she seems to be a natural at it. We use the Stew Mac router base with a standard Dremel tool for most of this.
    The crown glued in.
    And after the crown has been leveled.

    Next time I will show some more carving on the body and the fretting process I have been using.

  15. Hopkins

    Hopkins Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2010
    Houston Tx
    Owner/Builder @Hopkins Guitars
    Having a wife who is an amazing inlay artist must be a very good feeling for a builder.
  16. Drake Custom

    Drake Custom Commercial User

    Aug 24, 2010
    Builder/Owner:Drake Custom Bass Guitars
    Hopkins, Yes it is good to have a wife who can do inlay. She had not tried it before I started but I was able to teach her the basics and she has improved upon my methods as she goes. I still do dots and sometimes wood inlay on bodies, but she takes care of the logos and custom position markers.

    now today I will show progress on the fretting.

    I use a new method for fretting. Well, new to me anyway. I think this has been around for awhile. I basically use the Stew Mac fret barber to remove the barbs off of the fret tang before I install them. I was having issues with compression fretting on some necks. I had not had the issue prior and blamed Stew Mac for changing their wire dimensions. Well I was wrong. After new wire, a new saw, and several headaches I realized that I needed to do something different. I saw the Fret Barber a long time ago and thought, what a goofy thing to buy, but I tried one and it works beautifully. Now the frets go in smooth (you still have to hammer them in) but without adding stress to the neck. I use my arbor press for special jobs but I find that I enjoy hammering the frets in. I have more control and I can feel the fret seat well.
    The drawback is that I can't use pre-cut short wire sections that I get from Jescar. I have to buy the longer lengths as you have to pull them through the Fret Barber. Check out the Stew Mac site for a video or info if you wish. I also radius the wire with my machine. I make it a few inches tighter that the FB radius.

    Once I have removed most of the barbs, I gather super glue with a fine tip, my fret hammer, my neck support with two cork blocks, and some paper towels. I sometimes need to use a tiny three sided file to chamfer the slot openings. I do that on Ebony so it is less likely to chip.

    As with painting, prep work is everything. I carefully check each and every slot for depth and to see that it is correct in depth and is unobstructed. On chip prone woods I open the slot with the three sided file. This acts like a funnel for the fret as well.
    I cut the prepped wire into correct sizes and store them in the fret block so I can see the order they are in. On my block I drew a miniature fret board with the numbers and even position markers to keep me from getting out of order. I cut each fret a little long to be able to wrap a rubber band around the ends until the glue is dry.
    I do every other fret as I believe that it helps spread any stress on the neck out. This also allows me to cut the frets off close to the FB, especially in the higher areas where the frets get close together.
    I start by applying a very thin and controlled bead of super glue over the slot. I seeps into the slot but I also tap in the fret which forces the glue down and around the tang. Any voids under the fret (on flat bottom slots) get filled with glue. I start with the hammer on the side closest to me and tap the wire from one side to the other. This seats the fret smoothly and forces the glue along and out the other side. I use a blue shop towel to wipe off the excess glue and I then wrap rubber bands around the fret ends that stick out. This hold the ends down while the glue dries.

    You can see that after the first frets are in and the glue has dried, I cut the ends off to allow me to work on the next set. I then install the rest of the frets.

    And here is the completed fret job. There is no back bowing or compression issues. The neck is as straight as it was when I started. The customer specified vintage thin EVO (gold) fret wire. This wire has the hardness somewhere in between nickel and stainless steel.

    And now for some carving on the body.
    I have rough carved everything but there are some dings and dents to soak out. The Redwood and Ash are so soft that just by looking at it now, you are putting dents into it. So stop looking at it!

    I will address those issues during the final sand out after I get everything drilled and routed. We are going with a cavity cover that will utilize magnets to fasten it to the body. I have to make the cavities (battery and control) rapidly accessible as specified by the customer. We are using the Pope Flexcore preamp that has two mid-control switches that will be mounted inside the electronics cavity. This is so that the customer can configure his bass for different gigs.

    Here is a preview of the preamp. This is how it arrived. No manual what so ever. I may need adult supervision for this one.

    Next time I will show the control cavity detail and how I got all of this into the bass. I want to do a pre-finish assembly with this one for sure. I will have to shield the cavity which will be another adventure.

    Until then, thanks for all of the feedback and views.
    UK Philip likes this.
  17. wraub


    Apr 9, 2004
    ennui, az
    deviated prevert
    Have I mentioned how much I like your build threads, and how much I love the looks of your basses?

    'Cuz I sure do.
  18. UK Philip

    UK Philip

    Sep 5, 2013
    really enjoyed this - thanks.
  19. Good stuff
  20. lbridenstine


    Jun 25, 2012
    That redwood looks amazing.