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Build #3: La Charra: the Semi-Hollow Adventure Continues

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Freekmagnet, Jul 13, 2015.

  1. 19670968061_23ac056395_o.
    Reader beware: This may be a long post! It's also going to be a slow build, it's going to be a while before there's any kind of payoff.

    With my first couple of builds, I've learned quite a lot about guitar design and making and overall, I've come to conclusion that bass building is a fun, rewarding and expensive experience. One other interesting thing I learned was that I happen to know a few luthiers and so far everyone has been a really big help.

    I love semi-hollow basses. More than anything I love the look and I love the punchy tones that can be had from a nice semi-hollow bass guitar. What I don't like is the cost, the neck dive and the terrible ergonomics. It's not that I have the skills nor the knowledge to design a perfect and economical semi-hollow bass, but I feel that somehow, I need to briefly explain my obsession.

    This new design is going to be a semi-hollow bass. The body will be carved from a slab of wood with another piece of wood for the top. My last two builds were made from plywood and masonite, similar in construction to a Danelectro. This was advantageous in the sense that it was economical and didn't really require a lot of large, expensive or specialized tools. So far, the results have be been good using that method, but as far as producing a guitar that has that distinct, semi-hollow vibe, it's left me wanting a little more. I decided that this was a really good start for me, but I need to explore other options.

    A few weeks ago, I hung out with a luthier friend of mine who specializes in building traditional jarana jarochas (Jarana jarocha - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) which are those little 8-string guitars from the state of Veracruz, Mexico. Traditionally, these instruments are carved from a single piece of wood - neck, body and all. I should have taken a few pictures, but he showed me his little production set up where he takes on big, thick slab of mahogany (or more recently, alder), cuts the body and neck shape on the band saw, hollows out the inside, carves the neck and glues the top to the body. The walls of the body are about 6mm thick except on the lower bouts which he makes a little thicker for extra strength. He used a drill press and a large forstner bit to initially hog out the whole body which he then used a chisel and a router to finish hollowing out the interior. The result is a beautiful and nice sounding acoustic instrument. I'm basically going a similar method to carve a thin-line body on which to bolt a Fender style bass neck.

    Here's an image for inspiration:


    The above I believe is an Eko Master 400 Series guitar. I L*O*V*E the styling of this guitar. The li'l lady found it on my Pinterest page, and she pointed it out. I'm glad she did, because this guitar is the template for my new bass. This is a great example of Italian guitar design. The Jaguar-inspired shape, the crazy two-tone white and orange glitter finish, the matching pickup cover and wow, that bridge is f*****g beautiful. That bridge on my bass ain't going to happen anytime soon, but man, I can dream. The chrome pickup with that matching cover is just blowing my mind! BTW, I cannot believe the abysmal state of modern-day bass pickup design. Why is it that all we're left with are black shells with exposed slugs or featureless, flat black soap bars with an ugly white logo emblazoned on it? Where's the beauty? Where's the imagination? I've spent countless hours looking for nice looking pickups and even just solid, chrome covered pickups are hard to come by.

    While I'm on the topic of pickups, I've placed a Thunderbird pickup in the MusicMan position for now. This may change as things progress. See, I have a StingRay and it is my favorite bass. Of course, I don't want to build another StingRay, but really like the punch, the tone and the responsiveness I get out of the old 'Ray. It really suits the way I play. I would prefer a passive instrument, and I'm hoping that I can get some of the aspects I like from the 'Ray without depending upon the 'Ray preamp. I always worry that I won't be able to get enough low end out of a pickup placed so close to the bridge. Maybe if I could find a nice, bassy pickup, I could stick it there with no problems. I've never really been blown away by Thunderbirds, but they do have a nice, strong-sounding humbucker vibe which I do like. And, very importantly, there are a few pickup makers who offer them in chrome. However, the aftermarket T-Bird pickups tend to be quite expensive. I've seen some other pickups out there that could also be cool, like a few of the offerings from Jerry Sentell. He's got a really cool looking multi-coil pickup on his website as well as some other fat-looking humbuckers. Basically, I'm sort of faced with choosing a pickup and perhaps even building a mule beforehand to test for placement.

    Another thing I really like about this guitar is the rounded back. Since I'm building a semi-hollow bass, a tummy cut would be pretty tough to execute. I'm thinking I can use a larger round over on the back to achieve a similar result. The binding on front would be a little sharp on the forearm while playing. I'm hoping that the sharp looks would make up for the sharp edges.

    I've posted three variations in pickguard and f-hole design. Feel free to chime in. I'm leaning toward Fig. 1 right now, but Fig. 2 has been growing on me. I know that the guys here on TB are pretty weird about pickguards, but I'm putting one on because I don't want to deal with cutting a control cavity in back. I did that on my last bass, and not that it was a huge drag, but I'd rather just cut another hole in front and leave all the holes on one side. We'll see - if it looks like I can feed the electronics through the f-hole, I'll just use a clear pickguard like the one on the Eko pictured above.

    I'm not in a huge hurry to start building this yet. I have a couple other projects to finish, and funds are an issue as well. I have one guitar I have to start painting this week, so we'll see how that goes. I do really like the look and the vibe of this one, so it's definitely up there on my list.
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2015
    Stumbo, DirtDog, theNecatoR and 4 others like this.
  2. *fastens seat belt and gets ready for the ride...*
    Freekmagnet likes this.
  3. ctmullins

    ctmullins fueled by beer and coconut Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    Subbed, this should be fun!

    Peavey T-40 pickup. Seriously. Huge output, with lots of lows, and a big chunky chromed-out aesthetic.
    Freekmagnet likes this.
  4. @ctmullins - great suggestion! The T-40 is definitely on my list of all-time awesomest pickups. It's a shame there's no real viable replacements for it. I know there's plenty of old ones floating around out there. I guess it'd be a question of finding one in good shape at a decent price. I saw one on eBay the other day for $160!

    Actually, it's even more of a shame the T40 weighed a ton. I'm convinced the excessive weight is the only thing that's kept it at "cult classic" status as opposed to "bonafied classic"!
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2015
    ctmullins likes this.
  5. CatSquare


    Mar 7, 2014
    Sooooo cool! I love that inspiration guitar! Those knobs are great, I've never seen an instrument with wheel knobs like that.
    Freekmagnet likes this.
  6. randyripoff


    Jul 12, 2008
    I like option B. Love the reverse scimitar.

    I assume you're aware of [url-http://www.fetishguitars.com/]the Fetish Guitars site[/url]? Tons of lovely images of Italian guitars.
  7. Yeah, like I said Fig. 2 has been growing on me.

    And yes, I do know about that site. I think that the image may be from Fetish Guitars but I'm not 100% sure. I like Drowning in Guitars as well. And of course, there's Fatdawg...
  8. CatSquare


    Mar 7, 2014
    I like fig 3, by the way. Very pleasing curves on that pickguard and the f-hole compliments it well
    Spectrum and Freekmagnet like this.
  9. wraub


    Apr 9, 2004
    ennui, az
    previated devert
    If I may:
    Completely enjoyed your previous build, definitely in this for the distance. That Eko is stellar. Not 100% sold on those controls, or their placement, but the gestalt is very strong.
    Mockups( all imo, of course.): I find fig. 3 very Talman like, for some reason, and fig. 2 very traditional. Was leaning heavily towards fig.1, until fig.4 showed up. Now, fence balancing.
    I believe my relatively strident stance on pickguards is on record, but, as nice as this body shape is, the pickguard provides a vital visual balance imo, and, all that said, the fence is tipping me towards fig. 4.
    Maybe I just need a different fence... :D
    Freekmagnet likes this.
  10. Thanks! #3 has its virtues. The sound hole on #2 is my fave, but coming up with a nice pickguard for it is tough. The sound hole on #1 and #3 is easier to work with.
  11. @wraub - Thanks for your input! As always you have proved to be an excellent source of sound and humorous insight. I'm glad you enjoyed the last build and are going to be watching this one as well.

    I should clarify that I don't care for those Eko controls, either. They're placed in the worst spot possible and making those wheels, I imagine, would be a time consuming and expensive exercise in silliness. But yes, the overall vibe of the Eko is tremendous.

    And it's funny you mentioned the Talman - I saw one of those at GC the other day, and my immediate thought was, "Hey, this is a cool, cheap bass!" But, as always, there's always something about Ibanez that makes it an Ibanez - up close and in person, the headstock is just way too large for the body. You can't really tell from the stock photos but it really is ungainly. It may sound like nitpicking, which it is, but Ibanez is one of the largest manufacturers of guitars and basses in the world! It seems like they could maybe budget in a little extra dough to hire a better industrial designer.

    Yeah, I'm liking #4 as well. I'm kinda going between that and #1, although I'm sure there will be more sketches before any sawdust is spilt.
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2015
    wraub likes this.
  12. wraub


    Apr 9, 2004
    ennui, az
    previated devert
    Release the additional sketches!!

    And thanks.
    Freekmagnet likes this.
  13. The correct answer is Fig. 2.

    I want one. :)
    decentbassbreh and Freekmagnet like this.
  14. Jon Clegg

    Jon Clegg Supporting Member

    Feb 9, 2015
    Northern Virginia

    Another good site for a walk on the crazy: SUBWAY GUITARS: European Guitars & Basses

    That EKO is gorgeous; something like a toaster pickup would look good I think or another lipstick.
    randyripoff and Freekmagnet like this.
  15. Ha-ha- Yeah I know Fatty. I grew up in Berkeley, and I started kicking around his shop when I was 12 years old. He's a real character, that guy! I could tell you some stories... I moved out of the Bay Area years ago, but I still try to stop in when I go up north on occasion. Subway is a real scene.
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2015
  16. scottyd

    scottyd Commercial User

    Nov 17, 2006
    Waco Tx
    Builder/owner Redeemer Basses
    Figure 1 grabs my eye the most.. The pick guard mostly.
    David2501 and Freekmagnet like this.
  17. Jon Clegg

    Jon Clegg Supporting Member

    Feb 9, 2015
    Northern Virginia
    Never been there, only experienced it via the web. Probably a dangerous (to my checkbook) place for me to walk into. Wish I had known about it when I lived in that area or when I was traveling there on business.

    Figures 1 & 3 grab me the most. I like figure 4 but I think it would look better with the f-hole reversed.
    Freekmagnet likes this.
  18. Well, picture a small, corner store packed with literally thousands of junk guitars. I wouldn't worry about the checkbook too much - most of his stuff is unplayable at best. On rare - and I do mean rare - occasion you'll find a real gem in the pile.

    One thing great about that place is if you're a kid with $50 in your pocket, he'll have something there for you.
  19. One thing I neglected to mention was that my buddy gave me these pieces of mahogany...


    They're about 4" thick. I'm pretty sure I have enough wood width-wise, and I have to double check but I think if I stagger the pieces length-wise I may have enough material to cover my shape. I'm also thinking that if I'm careful enough ripping these blocks of wood in half. I might be able to get two bodies out it.

    This is where my lack of woodworking experience comes in. While I do have lots if sculptural knowledge, I know how to cut and refine shapes and make the look pretty, but when it comes to stuff like this, I'm like, "duh..."

    I guessing, so please correct me, but I'm thinking I'll shave the uneven side on the table saw, rip the boards length-wise, plane and sand the edges down to 180 and just glue them together with Titebond.

    I'm going to need to start focusing on building myself a better work bench...
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2015

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