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Another virgin builder. Plans, pics, questions!

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by 6Hz, Mar 3, 2008.

  1. 6Hz


    Jul 12, 2007
    Berkeley, CA
    Hi Everybody,

    I've been wanting a fretless for a long time and lately I've been thinking,
    why not build it myself. This forum has been really helpful in the planning
    process, so I hope to give something back through progress reports here. I've
    got a full furniture shop and quite a few years of making wood things behind
    me, but I know exactly zero about gee-tars so it should be an education.

    What's really gotten me started is a beautiful piece of subtly-figured english
    sycamore I picked up a few months back for a box project. I think it will
    make a very nice top. The rest will be maple with bloodwood veneer accents
    and a bloodwood fingerboard. The sycamore and maple are very similar in
    color, so I should end up with a nice, bacon-y white/red axe.

    The overall design I'm taking from the Alembic Stanley Clarke. I love
    the symmetric, broomstick-in-a-pumpkin look. My current bass is a
    Warwick Thumb BO and I'm very happy with the feel so I'm pulling the
    overall dimensions off of that.

    So anyway, I've got tons of questions and would appreciate any help,
    speculation, criticism, questions, whatever.

    Specs at the moment are:
    Neck-through -- 5-piece maple with 2 bloodwood pinstripes
    44" overall length
    34" scale
    2" body thickness -- sycamore/bloodwood/maple/bloodwood/sycamore lam.
    Neck width -- 1 1/2" nut, 2 1/2" at 24th fret
    Neck thickness -- 3/4" nut, 1" at body joint

    Electronics and hardware are undecided at this point, but I'm leaning towards
    the butt-simple side: a single passive middle pickup and one volume control.
    I'm very much a minimalist in that respect.

    Here are some problems I'm seeing already --

    On the Warwick, the fretboard is raised 5/16" above the body. But since
    it's a bolt-on, 2/16" of that height comes from the neck stock and the fretboard
    is only 3/16" thick. If I want that height on a neck-through, I'm going
    to need a 5/16" fretboard, right? One reason that's an issue is up at
    the nut end .. If I'm going for an overall 3/4" thickness there, and trying
    to install a 3/8" deep trussrod, I'm going to be left with a 1/16" wall
    between the trussrod channel and the back of the neck. That's not going to work.

    Another concern, apparently Alembics have serious neckdive issues even
    with their short scale. Adding 3 1/4" to the neck can't help, and sycamore is
    a pretty lightweight wood. Should I go for a thicker body to help counterbalance?
    But if I go much beyond 2" will it start looking too much like a banjo?

    Relatedly, where is the neck-side strap button on the Alembic? Is it
    on the neck?

    Anyway, at this point, I've laid out the plans on a piece of MDF which I'll
    use as reference for now and eventually cut out as a template for routing
    the final body shape. And I've glued up the neck blank. Photos below for
    your entertainment. Further pix, details, questions as things progress.


    To give you an idea of the colors I'm going after, here's the box that got
    this all started. The sycamore has some nice figuring and is pretty easy
    to work with and just glows under a shellac finish. Bloodwood I've got a
    ton of from an earlier project and I try to work some into everything ...

    Here's the raw stock. 4/4 sycamore in front, a pair of short 8/4 maple boards,
    and enough 4/4 bloodwood to make 50 basses. please ignore the mess, the redwood
    stump, the extraneous piles of lumber ... :)

    Drew out the body shape in photoshop, printed, then transferred to MDF template board.

    Birdseye view of the extent of my planning process so far. It was hard to train the
    shop bird to use a camera, but oh so worth it.

    Neck glue-up. Looks like some big fun scraping off the squeeze out later:

    The shop jointer is this monstrously dangerous and out-of-tune hunk of iron.
    I'm going to avoid using it as much as possible. Good for a quick pass to
    clean off the glue on one side, though.

    Jointing on a table saw works if you're real careful. Getting the blade
    absolutely perpendicular to the table is crucial. An engineer's square is
    probably my most-frequently used tool.

    Cleaning up nice.

    Ta da!
  2. DSB1


    Mar 8, 2006
    A 1" neck is massively huge IMO and the neck does not need to get thicker towards the body.

    First, the height of the fingerboard above the body is going to be a compromise between personal preference and the range of adjustability of the bridge you're going to use. In other words, I wouldn't make any decisions until you have your chosen bridge in your hands.

    Make your fingerboard a 1/4" thick. This is the best compromise between ease of truss rod adjustment and neck stability. If you need that extra 1/16" then step the body down.

    I believe 2" will be good for this setup.

    This is very dangerous. Make a guard for that ASAP. Also, always adjust your fence so that the smallest ammount of blade is showing. I can see where you ran the neck through and there is still plenty blade showing. I cannot stress enough that the jointer is the most dangerous tool in the shop. I
  3. 6Hz


    Jul 12, 2007
    Berkeley, CA
    Yup. Don't get me started on this disaster. It belongs to another guy in
    the shop and it's taking up valuable space that could be inhabited by a
    decent tool. Not shown in the photo are the giant pushsticks I was
    using. There's no way to make this one safe -- if the fence could
    move, I would have moved the fence ...

    Anyway, thanks for the suggestions! I've got plenty of height on the
    neck to step it down at the body if necessary, so that will solve that
    problem (if it becomes a problem).

    One more question .. when tapering the neck towards the headstock,
    do you generally start the taper at the end of the instrument or where
    the neck emerges from the body? I'm using the Waring and Raymond
    book and among its many weaknesses, it is utterly silent on the issue.
    ("refer to the master drawings on p65" they say, and on p65 they
    have a drawing of a body and a drawing of a headstock and these
    two drawings are at different scales!
    And there is no indication of what
    those scales are! Hrm.)
  4. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    Alembic players with similar shapes, as far as I have read, either live with extreme neck dive, or use a bizarre but effective two-strap arrangement.

    I wouldn't go near that shape unless it were headless, and the bridge were way down at the butt of the body (which might ruin the upper fret access). Making a heavy body is one way to try to balance a design, and also a way some people get severe neck/shoulder problems.

    Hiscock's book is very good. My library was able to get it from another branch by interlibrary loan.
  5. DSB1


    Mar 8, 2006
    I am a little unclear about what you mean. Are you talking about tapering the neck itself, or the taper of the fingerboard? I mentioned earlier that I would not recommend tapering the neck. It serves no purpose and adds unnecessary weight.
  6. 6Hz


    Jul 12, 2007
    Berkeley, CA
    Aah, sorry. I've still got a ways to go with the vocabulary ...

    At the nut, the neck is 1 1/2" measured across the strings.
    At the 24th fret (or where it would be if there were frets) the
    neck is 2 1/2 inches measured across the strings. So the sides
    of the neck are not parallel. What I'm wondering is if this angle
    continues all the way to the end (heel?) of the guitar or if the
    neck sides become parallel when they meet the body.

    Here's a very exaggerated sketch of what I mean. Imagine
    the bridge on the left, nut on the right, looking at the bass
    from the audience perspective. With A, the neck taper ends
    at the body, with B the taper continues all the way through to
    the end.

    Attached Files:

  7. DSB1


    Mar 8, 2006
    If we're on the same page, then basically there are two ways of doing this. The important thing is 1. the fingerboard is X wide at the 24th (or whatever), 2. the fingerboard is X wide at nut, and 3. everything is centered and even.

    In this pic, the body wings are glued on parallel to each other. The neck started out square. Notice the strings at the bridge are outside the neck.

    On this bass, the body wings are glued on in a line that is a continuation of the edge of the fingerboard. The neck started out tapered. Notice the strings at the bridge are inside the neck.

    Either method is fine, I'd recommend the former for you since this is much simpler. I hope I illustrated this clearly enough for you.
  8. jordan_frerichs


    Jan 20, 2008
    nice with the maple and bloodwood. hope by fretboard looks good with that wood combo (maple board, bloodwood inlay blocks)
  9. 6Hz


    Jul 12, 2007
    Berkeley, CA
    OK, I've got the main components all cut and glued up. Now I just have
    to wait for the hardware to start coming in. The truss rod from LMII
    should be here tomorrow. Bridge and tuners from stewmac sometime
    next week.

    I'm still undecided on the pickup. At the moment, I'm leaning towards a
    single DiMarzio Mark One mounted as close to the neck as possible; looking
    for a nice, deep EB-1 sound. I'm thinking it will go well with a fretless,
    but I've never (knowingly) heard one in that arrangement. Opinions?

    Here's some shop porn, for those of you following along at home ...

    This is the lovely piece of sycamore which is going to get split to
    sandwich the maple core:

    Normally, you'd resaw it on a bandsaw. But our bandsaw is a bit out of
    tune so we're going to use this guy to do most of the work. Notice the
    shop-made zero-clearance throat plate. This is very important when
    slicing thin veneers on a tablesaw to keep the piece from getting sucked
    into the saw between the blade and the fence:

    The board is a lot wider than the saw blade is high, so it will take a couple of
    passes. Despite the exposed spinning death of the blade, this isn't a
    terribly dangerous operation. The primary danger is pushing with a finger
    right where the blade exits the end of the stock. Sticking some tape above
    the exit point and studiously avoiding a handhold below should keep us safe:

    A perfectly perpendicular blade and a helping of care keeping it against
    the fence are important. A featherboard helps a lot:

    Halfway done. Flip it over and make sure to keep the same side against
    the fence:

    That's the best we can do with the tablesaw:

    A quick trip through the bandsaw will take care of the rest:

    We're left with a little ridge down the middle which this guy should be
    able to clean up no time flat:

    No matter how sure you are, it's very easy to lose track of where the
    resawn pieces came from. Marks like these make it easy to re-orient

    Same procedure with the bloodwood. The one on the left will be sandwiched
    into the body, half of the one on the right will be the fingerboard.

    A couple of passes through the planer and the laminate layer is looking sweet:

    Test-fitting the hippy ham sandwich -- almost exactly the desired 2 inches:

    Big fun with clamps and glue. Notice that in this arrangement, the top
    and bottom are not going to be bookmatched (even though we just
    went through considerable pains to make a bookmatched pair. After
    staring at the board for a long time, I decided to go for a slipmatched
    top. This means that the front and back of the bass will be identical
    but the upper and lower wings will be different. I'm going for a
    contrast to the symmetrical shape. Might work. If not, there's always
    next time ...

    Looking nice. Fingerboard, left wing, through neck, right wing. Now all
    we need is some hardware:
  10. 6Hz


    Jul 12, 2007
    Berkeley, CA
    Indeed! Thank you very much.

  11. DSB1


    Mar 8, 2006
  12. Great documentation and it really looks like you're moving right along!

    I am starting my first build too, so I am watching you like a hawk!
  13. 6Hz


    Jul 12, 2007
    Berkeley, CA
    Thanks! In fact, things are moving forward. There's been a bunch
    of progress that I haven't updated yet. At this point, the neck is rough
    cut and the truss rod and fretboard glued on. The body is cut out.
    I have a bridge and tuners but the pickup and strings are still
    to be determined.

    I'll post photos in a couple of days. I'm currently on the road
    so it needs to wait until I'm back home.
  14. Great looking build so far, nice choice of woods, and bloodwood makes a killer fretless fingerboard. But....

    ..hopefully I've found this thread before you've cut too much off the neck taper (=tapered width from #24 to the nut). You're missing one critical piece of advice for that.

    Forget about your width at #24, the neck taper is determined ENTIRELY by the width at the nut and the width at the bridge (adding ~1/8" on each edge outside the outer string courses)...your neck width at #24 is a result of this, and can be either calculated (CAD, trig) or measured by drawing it out full-scale.

    Your neck width at #24 will match your Warwick only if you have chosen a nut width and bridge with the exact same string spacing....if not, it will be off.

    Same goes for fingerboard height above the body. You basically want the height of the fingerboard to match the height of the bridge saddles when they're lowered down as far as they can go (and be careful which saddle you measure, some bridge baseplates are radiused).

    The bridge is THE most important piece of hardware to have in hand at the start of the build, because so much depends on its string spacing and up-down range of saddle motion.

    I think with this body design, you're pretty much stuck with neck dive. Most designs fix this by placing the upper strap button even with the 12th fret or thereabouts.

    Watch out also when finish-shaping the neck, you want to avoid getting the darker-colored wood dust into the maple, this is especially important with bloodwood. This can be avoided by using scrapers, or by taping off the darker wood, applying shellac to the maple, then removing the tape and sanding away.
  15. 6Hz


    Jul 12, 2007
    Berkeley, CA

    Now you show up ... :)

    Fortunately, I think I dodged a bullet on that. I wasn't considering
    the possibility that the bridges would be different widths. But when the
    bridge arrived I laid things out and it looks like the string courses
    are good. Another thing the book wasn't very clear about.

    Fingerboard height is still something of a mystery. It definitely
    has the feeling of something I'm going to realize how to do right
    immediately after I've irreversibly done it wrong. Story of my
    life. Version two will get it right though.

    Here are a couple of more progress pictures. It's slow since
    I've been out of town for a week and won't be back until

    Thanks! Pix follow.

    [ Hey, G'burg? I grew up on the edge of the endless cornfield
    near 355 and Shady Grove. It's not exactly recognizable anymore.
    And it wasn't all that long ago :( ]

    I put this little contraption together to make a radiused sanding block.
    The router is screwed to a board. There's a pivot bolt through the
    board 12 inches back from the tip of the router bit. It's a quick
    and real dirty version of a nice jig I found described online somewhere:

    An old scrap piece of 2x4 becomes the sanding block:

    Apparently, this is what a 12" radius arc looks like:

    Truss rod channel routed, neck rough cut, the body pieces
    are cut out but not attached yet. Two pictures from a
    couple of angles:

    Fingerboard getting glued on. Yes, again no cauls. There's some
    waxpaper between the fingerboard and the workbench to keep
    it from sticking and all that wood on the back is going
    to get carved away:

    That's all for now. More in a week or so.
  16. Thanks for the post and pics. I'm about a year(+/-) from my first build and sucking up all the info I can. Can't get enough of this Luthier's Corner. I would be interested to hear some input on the P/U placement on this project. BTW,I'm about 15 mi. south of you, you'll have to let me stop by and say hello. Also, Alembic is just north of us here. It's what got me started with this whole deal. (I suspect I'm not alone here). They do a tour once a month. Ever been?

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