Build #3 (This time it is actually a bass! 5 string fretless, still mostly hand tools.)

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by rwkeating, Jun 21, 2017.

  1. rwkeating


    Oct 1, 2014
    Edit 7/8/17: Video demoing the instrument is in post #24.

    My main instruments are tapping instruments (build 1, build 2.) With this build I wanted to build a fretless bass, but I wanted to continue improving on my tapping instrument design. I incorporated some things that may not be ideal for a standard bass such as; parallel tight string spacing, a flat fingerboard and a minimum body. I was however most enthused about my design that shifts the instrument to the right to combat neck dive.

    Normally I don’t make a post until the build is done because it takes me so long to complete. I “should” finish in a week, so hopefully I am not jinxing myself by posting early :)

    Since this was going to be a fretless, I figured I would try some new things (for me) such as a multi-piece neck and a body cap. Turns out these things took way longer than the time I saved from not doing frets.

    I started with some wood I wanted to salvage. Last build I wanted to make a maple neck, but the piece of maple would twist and turn every time I touched it. Then I decided to make a cherry neck. It suffered from horrible tear-out. In the end both pieces ended up too small to use as a single piece neck. I decided to make a multi-piece neck for this build using that “scrap”..

    I planed both boards and cut them into strips.


    I wanted 3 maple and 2 cherry pieces but the maple was so twisted even after cutting that I had to go with 2 maple and 3 cherry.



    I learned this trick on line, but of course the threaded part got glued in. I finally got it out.


    The plane work I did originally made sure the glued sides were straight and flat. Then it was just a matter of a bunch of work to get the “new” top and bottom flat.


    In the end, it worked out. The part with the hole was “extra” and would be cut off later.


    Having complete that it was time to see what other wood I had available and to go to the lumber store (I love that place.)

    From left to right, I purchased African Mahogany for the body, White Oak as an accent stripe. I had the Sapele (for the body top). On the far right is Padauk (for the fretboard.) I was very excited to find the Padauk and at a very good price. I later learned it wasn’t a very good cut but … I used it anyway. The paduak suffered from “grain reversal” or a wave in the grain (thanks to TB for educating me on this.)

    Last edited: Jul 8, 2017
    SpiceMan68 and bastav like this.
  2. I-Am-The-Slime


    Jan 8, 2010
    SW VA
    Nice! Looking forward to seeing this come together :thumbsup:
  3. rwkeating


    Oct 1, 2014
    This is only the 2nd scarf joint I’ve done. It started out very ugly.




    I set up the pieces on top of each other and started the long cleanup.


    When finished, I glued it up.


    And did more cleanup. It is solid, but the stripes don’t line up. The headstock will have a cap so it will just be me seeing the misalignment from the rear as a sad reminder :(



    Next I glued the ears on.


    Planed it flat.


    Here is the template for the head stock I made using Google Sketchup. I really like when the strings go straight through the nut. Hope I got it right … this time.


    Had to ream out the holes since the Sperzel tuners I am going to use are an odd size.


    Then I roughly trimmed off the extra.

    William Shafer likes this.
  4. rwkeating


    Oct 1, 2014
    Time to cut the truss rod slot. Lining up the router plane.


    Setup and secure.


    And in a flash I was all done … I WISH! This time I didn’t put a plug over the end of the truss rod. In the past I did that and got some binding as the rod was adjusted. Hope this new way works out.


    Cut the fingerboard.


    And glued it on.


    I glue the fretboard on oversize.


    And plane it down along with the neck to get to the final size.


    This is a picture of inside my garbage can I use for wood. Prettiest garbage can you’ve ever seen hu?


    Next was neck shaping. I like this so much I forgot to take pictures. Here is the neck clamped in place. The blue tape marks where the neck goes into the body since I didn’t want to touch that part. The spokeshave I bought didn’t come in time for this so I used rasps and then sandpaper.

  5. rwkeating


    Oct 1, 2014
    Next I jointed the top plate and the accent plate. I cut the Sapele.


    Straightened the edges.


    Then used a technique I saw online that makes the downward pressure push the two pieces together.



    This was easier than I expected. I did this for both the sapele and the white oak and ended up with these.


    Got ready to cut the body wood (African Mahogany.) It was heavier than I thought so I supported it between two points.


  6. rwkeating


    Oct 1, 2014
    I’ll get back to the body but for now … I got my spokeshave and wanted to finish off the head stock. What a cool tool!


    Glued on the head stock cap.


    Cut off the excess.


    Spoke shave time.


    Drill holes through cap.


    Ream out the holes.


    And trim away for the truss rod access.


    Next I laid out the side marker dots. My last fretless was converted from a fretted so the dots were in between the frets. I knew this wasn’t correct so I was going to put my markers on the frets. Since I had been used to looking at these the other way, I needed to do something just a little different. I used single dots for the 12th and 24th position since there location is kind of obvious. I hope this subtle change will be enough so I don’t have flashbacks to the in-between dots. The template I used is from LMI (clear plastic.)


    Then I finally cut off the extra part of the neck. I left it on till near the end as it was good to use for clamping.

    Frederiek likes this.
  7. I-Am-The-Slime


    Jan 8, 2010
    SW VA
    R-dubs, you are now officially my hand tool homie! :D
    rwkeating likes this.
  8. rwkeating


    Oct 1, 2014
    @I-Am-The-Slime hope to not disappoint you but coming up I will be using a drill press and a powered hand drill. I have 'em so why not use them :) That and a bench grinder sum up the only power tools I'll be using for this build.
  9. rwkeating


    Oct 1, 2014
    It may look like I was jumping around in steps (and I was.) Sometimes I was waiting for things to dry (glue) but many times I was trying to figure out what or how to do the next step. Anyway, on to the body.

    The boards were planed. To keep them aligned I screwed them together. Here you can see the holes.


    I glued them together lining them up with toothpicks.


    Once together I removed the toothpicks and put in screws. I had carefully planned out all my clamps and nothing I planned worked. I had to run around looking for the heaviest stuff I had to put on top of the boards. I ended up with this monstrosity. At least it worked :)


    The body required some rough trimming just to get the extended stuff off.


  10. I-Am-The-Slime


    Jan 8, 2010
    SW VA
    You are forgiven! I too am guilty of the first two sins, and avoided the third only due to lack of access, I'm sure ;)
    rwkeating likes this.
  11. rwkeating


    Oct 1, 2014
    Next I started to work on the neck pocket. I could finally use a power tool … my Harbor Freight drill press with a forstner bit.


    I still had a ton of work to do with the router plane to get to the final results, but still …


    Next came the pickup cavity. This entire time I did not cut the body to shape as I needed the excess for the router plane to ride on.



    I used a template I made in Google Sketchup to outline the body.


    I-Am-The-Slime likes this.
  12. rwkeating


    Oct 1, 2014
    A few shots of making the tail piece out of aluminum. I ended up doing this twice (just like on my last build.) Seems that I have a hard time calculating break angle because I am never that sure of my final bridge height.




    Here is the first tailpiece. I knew from the start I was going to counter sync it in order to be able to cover it up (hide it) later.




    Prior to the tailpiece work I routed out the control cavity and the battery cavity. I also made the covers for the cavities. Now that all my routing was done, I could cut out the body with a Japanese saw.


    The larger cutoffs would be used to make knobs that would match the body.


    I ended up with this …


    And then I used every “scrapy” tool I had to round off the body getting down to the outline.


    William Shafer and joselorellano like this.
  13. rwkeating


    Oct 1, 2014
    I started playing around with making knobs. This time I tried using a hole saw. Started it with the guide bit and then removed the guide bit to drill out the entire plug without making a hole all the way through.



    This left me with a plug that was too tall. I put it in a drill and cut it down to size as the drill spun it. Then used sandpaper to smooth to smooth the sides.


    In the end I had 4 plugs read to be made into knobs (foreground) and 4 more plugs (background) that could be made into knobs if I put a cap on them to cover the hole. I only needed 2 but since I was making them anyway … what the heck. This process was easier than what I did last time but still not ideal.


    In the end the knobs look like this. They have the same layers as the body. I like the angle because you can feel the knob position and don’t need to look at it. I put in a fret marker as a pointer, tapped the knob for a set screw and applied danish oil. I am concerned about the set screw threads as the mahogany is very soft. Last time I used maple, so that wasn’t a problem. Not sure what to do if the screw doesn’t hold.


  14. rwkeating


    Oct 1, 2014
    The pictures are more sparse and more mixed at this point, but I’ll try to stay on track. Along the way I finished the neck and body with Watco Danish Oil. I don’t have any pictures of that (not really much to show anyway.) Next it was time to work on the tail piece.

    Here are the two I made.


    I used the one (on the right) that had a lesser break angle.


    This monstrosity had to be covered. I decided to go with a tail piece similar to an upright bass. The problem was that an upright bass tailpiece is thin and long and the space I had was wide and short. I came up with this idea as a starting point.


    And started cutting it out from padauk.



    These larger holes were made with a forstner bit on the drill press. They still needed a lot of hand work to make them open ended circles.

    In the end I ended up with this. Success!

  15. I-Am-The-Slime


    Jan 8, 2010
    SW VA
    rwkeating likes this.
  16. Frederiek


    Aug 8, 2016
    rwkeating likes this.
  17. William Shafer

    William Shafer

    Apr 25, 2017
    Nice use of limited tools!
    rwkeating likes this.
  18. rwkeating


    Oct 1, 2014
    Here are two random shots. I didn’t cover all the work that happened up to this point but you guys know what goes on :)

    Neck bolted on and strap bar installed.


    Control cavity. Once again I made it too small. Could hardly fit everything inside. I don’t know why I have a fear of removing too much wood and having the body fall apart.


    The bridge was the last part. It was supposed to be the most simple, but took the most experimentation. I wanted a bridge that sat on top of the body, would move back and forth for intonation and be height adjustable. Turns out that there wasn’t enough room for the thumb wheel height adjusters along with enough bridge material to hold up the strings.

    I made 3 bridges. Two had a fixed height and one could take spacers. I tried them all and chose the one that sounded best.

    This first one (padauk) used a fret. It sounded good with a fairly full frequency response that you would expect from strings sitting on metal.


    The second (also paduak) was supposed to be adjustable by inserting spacers between the top and bottom parts. I was going to use aluminum as a spacer as I have some very thin aluminum that would give me very fine adjustment. The 2 post are there just to keep the parts together. I never sanded this down to the point of needing spacers.

    The sound of this one was much darker than the first with far fewer highs. Of the two, it was closer to the more organic sound I was looking for. I was surprised at how big the difference in sounds was.

    Here is is prior to shapping.


    And this is how it opens.


    And finally installed.


    The next one was made out of maple. This one sounded the best (although it looked the worst.) It was close to #2, but had a high frequency attack that #2 was missing. It reminded me a bit of an upright attack followed by the darker tone. I decided to go with this one.


    Experimenting with the bridges was fun and educational. I am surprised at the sound difference between each one especially since this is a solid body instrument. Live and learn … cool!

    Tomorrow I’ll post the final pictures of the finished instrument.
  19. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Vancouver Island
    Nice work on that tailpiece - cool idea. For a tip on the set screws of your knobs, try soaking the internal threads with CA glue and then retap them. I've done this and they've lasted for many years in active service... :)
    rwkeating likes this.
  20. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Sep 19, 2021

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