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Bass Building 101

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by callmeMrThumbs, Oct 7, 2005.

  1. callmeMrThumbs

    callmeMrThumbs Guest

    Oct 6, 2005
    Omaha, NE
    Hi, I'm new here and was hoping to get some helpful tips from the wise bass guitar luthiers of late. I've been messing around with the Dudepit for some time and haven't really had very good responses...haha.

    So here's the deal. I'm 16 and I've been playing bass for almost 6 years now. I play an Ibanez EDA-905 (5 string fretted) and a Peavey Milestone III (defretted, painted, and "extended"). I've done a lot of crazy things to my Peavey, obvioulsy. I think it was just to kind of get the feel for how a bass guitar really works. I wanted a fretless, so I took the frets off with a rusty screwdriver and put on a few coats of urythane. I wanted more than 20 frets...so I built a fingerboard extension out of poplar (bad choice...gotta learn somehow). And I wanted it to look like art, so I made it "art" by painting a white rose down the fingerboard...and then adding several more coats of urythane.

    Anyway, that's what I've done...and it all really worked out quite nicely. But now I've been playing with the idea of building my own bass guitar. Not a Warmoth assembly. I want to carve the body and neck by hand. Obviously, this is going to be difficult, long, frustrating, painstaking work. I understand this...but I've learned a few things over the years that I think will help me.

    To sum up this novel that I've been writing, I was just hoping someone might have a few words of advice, encouragement, discouragement, complaints, etc., etc. That'd be really great.

    I do have a question about making the neck and fretboard (installing the trussrod and such), but I'll ask that later. I'm thinking about building a 5 string fretless, so that should give you an idea of what I'm up to. Thanks again.


    PS Sorry for the really long post.
  2. Rodent

    Rodent A Killer Pickup Line™ Commercial User

    Dec 20, 2004
    Upper Left Corner (Seattle)
    Player-Builder-Founder: Honey Badger Pickups & Regenerate Guitar Works
    Hi Josh,

    Welcome to TB :)

    When you can, get your hands on a copy of "Make Your Own Electric Guitar (2nd Edition)" By Melvin Hiscock. It will answer the majority of the questions needed to get you started on the right path.

    All the best,

  3. I bought one laminated the pages and put it in a binder.
  4. AuG


    May 22, 2005
    Fort Collins, CO
    I'm in the same boat as you.

    To start off, make sure you have a solid build plan. Making changes spur of the moment will most likely result in many more changes down the road.

    I had a thread like this when I decided to start building my bass, and unfortunately I started before taking advice from the luthiers around here.

    One piece body, one piece neck. Go simple, but elegant. I decided to do a laminated body type deal and wish I hadn't.

    Measure 2 or 3 times and cut once.

    Buy a good book that has tons of pics and info on what tools to buy. Nothing else sucks more than finding out you don't have the right tool and going back to the hardware store 3 or 4 times a day to get the right file, router bit, etc.

    Buy your electronics and hardware before you begin building. It's nice to go straight from woodworking to electronics installation instead of sitting around waiting for the electronics to show up. (assuming you buy them online like me.)

    Just some tips I've picked up from the helpful members on this site. Oh and welcome to TB! :D

  5. callmeMrThumbs

    callmeMrThumbs Guest

    Oct 6, 2005
    Omaha, NE
    Hey, thanks a lot for the tips, guys. And thanks for the warm welcome!

    hehe...funny story for ya while you're reading this. THe choir director wanted me to play a bass part to one tune (he's excellent at guitar) and he said, "Take me to Funk City, Mr. Thumbs." ....and the name stuck ever since...

    Although my slapping is quite sloppy... ;)


    PS Does anyone have any opinions about which kind of pickups to use on a fretless bass. I'm looking for a lot of growl (mmwwaaahhh!), but I also want to be able to get an upright sound. I think a neck and bridge pickup of some sort would do the trick...but what brand?
  6. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    +1 on getting a book. Hiscock's is good, but my fav i Martin Koch's.

    Re. pups... For the classic mwah, you need a rather bright pup rather close to the bridge. E.g. a Jazz or a Music Man, which you can coil tap.
    For upright sound, get an upright. End of story, that sound is not reproducable on a BG. You can come close, though, with a really fat single coil (i.e. minimal height and huge width of the pup) placed at approx fret 15, combined with some kind of string damper close to the bridge. How feasible is that?
  7. callmeMrThumbs

    callmeMrThumbs Guest

    Oct 6, 2005
    Omaha, NE
    That takes all the fun out of it! I'm not gonna buy a whole bunch of Warmoth parts and throw them together! I'm not gonna just buy a pre-cut bass and throw some hardware on it. ...gotta be creative. It just wouldn't be my bass if it weren't mine.

  8. Phil Mastro

    Phil Mastro

    Nov 18, 2004
    You just made your life a LOT easier. And when in doubt, sand. As for the fretless tone, a single MM pickup in the bridge position works really well. I've built one with that (It's a Carvin Humbucker actually, their pickups are fairly inexpensive), and I put it a bit farther back than most would, and it turned out really nicely (in my opinion). It's a tad warmer than regular J's, but it still has that mwah growly thing going on, and enough top end to cut through.
  9. callmeMrThumbs

    callmeMrThumbs Guest

    Oct 6, 2005
    Omaha, NE
    Thanks Phil.

    I just got a book from a friend of mine called, "Make your own electric guitar and bass" by Dennis Waring and David Raymond. It looks like good stuff...should help me out quite a bit. But then again...I probably won't do anything too...traditional....hehe.

  10. justateenpoet

    justateenpoet Have you...killed the Venture brothers!?!?

    May 14, 2005
    That's a great book. Even if you're not planning on doing anything traditional, they present all of the solid basic concepts that you need to know.

    I've noticed that you haven't said anything about tools yet. What do you have available? You're going to end up needing a lot more than you'd expect. Luckily, the Waring/Raymond book gives a list at the front, so be sure to take an inventory of what you've got before doing anything.

    Other things to know to go completely custom:
    - Know exactly what parts you'll be using too before starting.
    - Get comfortable with soldering
    - I'd reccomend getting a pre-slotted fingerboard from Warmoth that you can fill in and shave down for fretlines (if you want them). Your book describes fingerboard making, but it's a real b*tch to figure out for your first project.

    Good luck :)
  11. Rodent

    Rodent A Killer Pickup Line™ Commercial User

    Dec 20, 2004
    Upper Left Corner (Seattle)
    Player-Builder-Founder: Honey Badger Pickups & Regenerate Guitar Works
    Thanks for the clarification Rene! :bassist:

  12. callmeMrThumbs

    callmeMrThumbs Guest

    Oct 6, 2005
    Omaha, NE
    Thanks for the tips, James. I get more and more excited everyday!

    I was looking at the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery and was thinking about checking it out. But I don't know if I should take a semester course there before or after college (because it seems like college is almost required of you in today's society). I'll have to look into that more.

    And this friend of mine who gave me the guitar building book, his father is a good friend of a woodworking facility, so it sounds like I'll be able to get some really cheap wood and some useful tools! Right now I'm starting to make a list and cost estimate of everything that I need to buy/recieve/steal.

    Thanks again for the advice! I really appreciate it.