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Another project bass

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by mje, Apr 4, 2003.


  1. mje

    mje

    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    A while ago I wrote about a project I was going to undertake- an older carved Chinese bass that took a ride down a flight of stairs in a bag with a bassist on top of it. I didn't get that bass after all- it went to someone with more spare time- but I did just pick up another project bass.

    This one is a Kay that has two problems: One, it needs a new neck. The old one was actually spliced together from two different necks (!) and was a mix of maple, some unknown softwood, and a large amount of Bondo and Titebond. The splice was done by someone without a lot of luthery experience, I think; it consisted of a 45 degree scarf joint with a thin spline of something dark, and wood putty. The lower part of the neck was maple, but the upper half appeared to be made of some softwood. Very odd. It had a thin "ebonized" fingerboard with a hard black finish that didn't resemble anything I'd ever seen on a Kay.

    We sawed and chiseled off the neck at the heel and found the usual Kay dovetail, with suprisingly large gaps filled with hide glue. Shouldn't be a major problem to fit the new neck with some careful shimming.

    My question has to do with the body. It feels solid enough, and tapping doesn't reveal any large Bondo patches or loose plies. But the whole thing has been sprayed with a heavy two-tone coat of what is probably auto lacquer.

    I'd like to take this off, but my luthier says "you may not want to know what's under there". He suggests just sanding it and putting a top coat on of my desired color.

    I'm not *too* concerned with sound, as I have a nice solid wood Gliga. The Kay is intended to be the bass I take out when I don't want to subject the Gliga to extremes of weather, outdoor playing and that sort of thing. Playing outdoors I'd probably amplify it. But it would be nice to take off some of that paint and let it vibrate a bit more freely.

    Any thoughts?
     
  2. I think the best thing to do would be try paint remover on a small spot and see if the painter bothered to sand down to bare wood or just painted over the top of the original lacquer. If the auto lacquer is on top of the original Kay lacquer, you might be able to make it look like a real bass again.
     
  3. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    ... and, if the old Kay is the one you don't mind gets a bit of abuse, why make the finish all pretty and nice? Keep the nuke-able finish, even if it is a sore sight for any eyes.
     
  4. mje

    mje

    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    It's a dark red two-tone finish- with metalflake. Not too much, but still.. There's a lighter stripe running along the sides. Sort of looks like a set of 1960s vintage Slingerland drums. I always dug that paint job. Still rather have this one in dark brown.

    My luthier thinks the paint was shot in a boat shop, and I have to agree it has the Bass Boat vibe to it. Maybe I'll mount a fish finder and a trolling motor to it.

    I'm cleaning out the neck pocket with a couple of chisels, small drills and occasional application of a dampened cloth pad, heated in the microwave to generate some local steam. The neck appears to be made in three pieces: Two maple, and a thin black spline between them- maybe carbon fiber? I thought it was ebony but I can't see making an ebony spline that thin. Cuts very easily, too.

    There's been some shimming- a piece of maple veneer is glued along one side of the dovetail. As soon as I get the pocket cleaned out I'll order a neck from Bob G. I know a bit about fitting a standard bass neck, having watched and bugged my luthier a lot. Any hints on the Kay dovetail? I imagine it's just like fitting a guitar neck: Get it as close as possible.
     
  5. Unfortunately, the Englehardt necks are not an exact duplicate of the original Kay design. For one thing, the dovetail on the neck is a little shorter (maybe 1/4") so you may have to modify the dovetail to get a good fit. If you can get out all of the old glue, life will be a lot easier, but don't be surprised if the new neck doesn't slide right in. The quality control on the replacement necks is not all that good. I've never seen two that were exactly the same. There is a very good chance that the belly of the instrument will cover the dovetail at the front of the neck block. You have to cut the dovetail through the top (or remove the top) if that is the case. Finally, make sure you carefully measure the overhang, the fingerboard height extended to the bridge, and of course make sure it is on straight in a dry run before you glue it in. Good luck!
     
  6. Tarpaper? :)
     
  7. tsolo

    tsolo

    Aug 24, 2002
    Ft. Worth
    If I can be nosey: Was it free? Heck tution in a luthier siminar is probably more than a new neck - lucky s***.
     
  8. mje

    mje

    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Thanks for the tips, Bob. I've already got my chisels laid out on the workbench along with wood for shimming. Speaking of which- should I use hardwood, like the neck, or a softwood, like the dovetail block, for the shims? Or does it matter?

    There's already a shim on one side of the dovetail pocket, which, along with the spline in the neck, makes me wonder if this wasn't already a replacement neck before the splice job. I have a neck on order from Bob now so I'll be able to start fitting in a week or so.

    Cost: No, it wasn't free. Got a few bills in it, but that includes all the hardware, of course. The machines are old Klusons mounted on a plate. Here's a question for the knowledgable: What are those sideplates made of? It's a silvery metal that appears to have a gold lacquer sprayed on. They don't feel like steel, and there's no sign of any rust; nickle silver, maybe? Or nickle plated brass?
     
  9. mje

    mje

    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Given some of the other details on the neck, I wouldn't be surprised....
     
  10. I don't think it matters a great deal. I like to use poplar. It is a hardwood, but softer than American maple and fairly easy to carve. Once the neck is glued on, you'll be the only one that knows.;)
     
  11. mje

    mje

    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Thanks again, Bob. Based on that, I suspect basswood might be good, too; fine grain, easy to carve.

    Still deciding whether to strip/scrape the paint as well. It's not a bad paint job... I just don't want a metalflake bass ;-)

    I'm either going to strip, stain and varnish, or just scuff sand and repaint. Still have a few gallons of latex left over form the house remodel...
     
  12. tsolo

    tsolo

    Aug 24, 2002
    Ft. Worth
    Latex would probably sound as good as that polycarb crap all over my englehardt. I've seen insects in amber that weren't sealed as well.
     
  13. mje

    mje

    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Project update: I've got an Englehart mostly-shaped neck from (all hail) Bob G that I'm fitting (and carving the scroll on a bit as well). The finish is definitely coming off. I've scraped a bit but I think chemical are called for. If it's warm this weekend I'll do some outdoor stripping.

    Most interesting discovery so far: Bondo under the paint. Well, I had intended to make it a long-term project....

    Second most interesting discovery: Microplane rasps are just great for shaping wood (http://www.microplane.com/). Saw my luthier using one to shape a cello neck and bought my own.

    Third most interesting discovery: Seems the previous owner thought you were supposed to glue the endpin in.
     
  14. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    ... you mean the endpin shouldn't be glued in? Oh my gawd!!
     
  15. I once had one come in to my shop that was sort of "concreted" in with white wall plaster.
     
  16. mje

    mje

    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    I'm still in the middle of stripping the old bassboat metalflake finish. I'm using spray-on CitrusStrip; it's not real aggressive but it works well, and no nasty methylene chloride fumes or holes eaten in my clothes. Given the Bondo underneath (mostly around the corners) I think I'm going to do more of a paint job than a varnish job. I'm thinking of a sort of sunburst, black around the edges, dark brown and some light brown showing through, maybe with some fake applied grain applied with an old brush. If there's some decent looking wood on the table I may do a partially transparent finish.

    I'm working in parallel on the neck, which has to be fitted to the dovetail pocket and deepened a bit as well- Kay/Englehart necks are really thin. After I fit the dovetail (but before I actually glue the neck on) I'm going to glue a layer of 1/4" maple to the neck, glue the fingerboard to that, and shape the neck flush with the fingerboard.

    I did solve the problem of how to rig up a hot melt glue pot: I just broke down and bought a Hold-Heet pot. Might as well; I've got some guitar repairs to do,a nd there's an old fiddle in the closet with a few splits in the top...
     
  17. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    ...(cautious throat-clearing sound, polite interjection) uhh, "hot melt" glue? You're talking hide glue, right?
     
  18. mje

    mje

    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Oops, yeah. Excuse the Martha Stewart impression I was giving....
     
  19. mje

    mje

    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    More discoveries: This thing has the prettiest plywood I've ever seen- looks almost like a carved top. It's real slab cut veneer, not the typical rotary cut veneer. Not too much bondo after all... unless that base coat is actually a thin coat of bondo. Hmm. There's a little patch of wood putty that came off. Might have to carve a spruce patch for that.

    Also discovered under the paint: a really neat white-black-white purfling- looks real, not painted, too.

    I dropped by Rob Wilson's shop to pick his brain some more. Got some good tips on varnish, aligning the neck and cutting the bridge. Might have something nice to play by August.

    I also played a bass there with Spiratone Mittels again. I am definitely going to get a set.... they're really nice and meaty. Less twang than the Weichs, but just as much sustain. Fatter arco sound, too.
     
  20. mje

    mje

    Aug 1, 2002
    Southeast Michigan
    Correction to previous post: I said there's wasn't too much Bondo. Well, what I thought was an automotive primer coat was Bondo. The whole freakin' bass has a skim coat of Bondo on it!!!! I really want to meet the butchers that did this....

    In retrospect, the body was surprisingly resonant for all that Bondo. But I'm still going to take it all off. The problem is that it doesn't come off as easily as the two or three paint coats over it. I'm trying bronze wool along with the non-toxic strippers for the Bondo. The paint comes off nicely with plastic scrapers and occasionally my metal scrapers.

    Whatever method I use, this bass is gonna be an all-summer project.