Build 4 - headless fretless chambered 6 string

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by reverendrally, Jul 14, 2013.

  1. I've been collecting parts for this build for some time now. In fact, it's build I intended from the start. A proper custom built 6 string bass. So far I have these...
    ETS and 16.5mm spacing.

    Barts, although I also have MM6 Wilkinson PU as well. It just depends what I decide to do and What I want tone wise.

    For strings I ended up getting two sets of GHS brite flats for less than $30 each! I also have a stack of timbers for building. Vic ash for neck and body maybe, jarrah for fingerboard, silky oak and LOTS of kauri pine (yep, pew wood) for bodies.

    With my F-birds getting close to completion I felt it was time to start making proper plans. Having just been away for a weeks holidays, I took a pencil and book to try and draw up some ideas. I had the intention of having a finished blue print drawing, but alas, just came home with more ideas...

    This body design is from a while back. I like it, but I still think it could do with adjustment.

    These four were from last week. As you can see, I liked the upper ones enough to finish off the treble side of the body as well. After a few days of drawing, it was easy for me to see why fodera's emperor basses like they do. It's pretty hard to stray too far from that look with a single cut design, without doing really out there things. The bass on the upper right is actually my favorite. Although I reckon it looks like the millenium falcon. lol. The reason I've gone for a bass side without an inward curve is that I came across something else cool while I was away.

    I was looking in an antique shop and found one of these...
    It's called a "Rebec" and predates the violin. The one in the shop was very cool (although obviously not period) and I was very tempted to buy it... until the shop owner told me the price and that she'd "oiled it" to make it "look nicer". Great. However, it did give me some great ideas re construction.
    Instead of having a carved belly, the rebec had a curved convex belly (with bracing bars) and a body carved to hold the belly slightly convex. This stops the belly caving in, but means you don't need to carve it. So, I'm seriously considering this sort of design. The body will, like the rebec, be solid but carved out to give it a chamber. All this means I need to consider some sort of design for a tailpiece on which the headless tuners will live. Hmm, food for thought.
  2. Ok, let's see you pull this off!
  3. Alright, with the F-birds finished, it's time after more than 2 years to design and build the bass I wanted to start with. Last night I got started and tonight I have some preliminary drawing I thought y'all might like to see. I'm not revealing much, but suffice to say, it's an idea that totally rocked my world a few weeks back. If it works, and I think it will, it should awesome. Anyway, enough talk... and let me apologize for the drawing. I haven't "inked them in yet" so the pics were hard to get visible, but here goes anyway.

    Front view...

    Side view...

    Again, sorry for the quality of the pics but that was the best I could do.
  4. Took a ride out to Wheeler Guitars (ex-Gilet guitars/timbers) in Botany to buy some timber for a top. As per usual, we received a phone call when we were almost there to tell us my youngest son had something particularly nasty seeping out of one ear. So it was a high speed visit. I came home with this...


    To those with eagle eyes, you've probably already noticed that the book matched top there is in fact... umm,
    Alaskan Sitka Spruce. :bag:

    Yes, I know, it's not native Aussie timber. Buying it nearly did my head in. Mostly I'm not used to choosing book matched top sets, let alone 'imported' top sets. And then there was the price. It's more than I've paid for any single piece of timber yet. Don't get my wrong, the price was good, and it's AAA Spruce I think.

    Let me try and explain. The first thing is, this instrument I'm building will be closer to an acoustic guitar/upright than anything else so far. I need the top to really work. Really work, or it's a bit of a failure. Sitka works, it's the standard. The next thing was I didn't have anything else that was up to par that I could re-saw, ie. quarter sawn, reliable, known timber. For an electric body that doesn't matter, but like I said, it has to work. Lastly, when I talked to my mentor, who has built many acoustic guitars and ukuleles, he said, "just buy some Sitka Spruce, you could use Bunya, but I've never liked it". So call it, 'tipping my hat to convention' ... or call me a sell out. In any case, I bought the biggest bit there, so if I screw it up, there's room to fix it.

    The black stuff is dyed laminate for neck pinstripes... if I want them. It was pretty cheap for what it is too. And of course then there are the 2 pieces of plain black binding. So that will be a new challenge too.

    Time to choose a back timber next... :hmm
  5. 6stringpanda


    Aug 9, 2013
    Cant wait to see more.

    Always wanted a headless 6 string.

    One day.
  6. Finally started working timber for the bass this week. Not before having more adventures though... :rolleyes


    Picked up this custom made resawing blade for my bandsaw. Course, when I got it home I realized it (and the other blade I'd had made) were 600mm too short for my saw. Not really my fault, but pretty frustrating all the same. Anyone need some 2362mm bandsaw blades? :/

    Having got over that, I got the neck blank glued up...

    IMAG0339_zps4b35639b.jpg [/URL]
    3 piece; 2 x vic ash and a dyed maple pin stripe


    + 2 more vic ash = 5 piece :)

    Then a quick go through the thicknesser and voila!



    This pic doesn't show quite what I intended. The centre two vic ash pieces are actually quarter sawn on the other end. Oh, doesn't matter that much. Just helps to keep things even.

    Then I put the jarrah board blank through the thichnesser as well.
    This stuff will looking amazing all oiled and polished. Still mystifies me as to why people choose ebony over Jarrah.

    Time to sort out the body timber.
    I spent about half an hour thicknessing the cupping out this slab of Kauri pine. It's flat sawn and you can see the huge knot in the middle. The thicknesser worked a LOT harder when it hit the knot. Still some more thicknessing to do on it too. This timber won't be used in a slab, so I'm not too stressed about checking and knots, I'll just pick my way around them and lay out the patterns to get the best cuts. Other thing I noticed about this timber is, it's a heap better than the newer Kauri pine I've used in other projects or machined for friends. It's just so much more dry and stable than the stuff I machined off the timber yard rack a month back. I guess 30 years sitting in and under a church hall will do that. :)

    Have to say, today made me very glad I bought the dust extractor earlier this year. It made a huge difference to the all machine I did this week. I thought my old vacuum was good, but this is a lot better. Probably save my lungs as well.
  7. These turned up today...


    A 6mm scroll blade for fine stuff and a 27mm hook rip blade for resawing. Looking forward to making dust!
  8. Ok. so a bit of an update. I'm still waiting for a set of SGD custom pickups for this bass so it hasn't moved much in months. I have the back and top resawed and bookmatched. I also have some templates sort of started, but that's the limit of progress.

    I've spent the last few days at a really good conference. I had mental space to doodle and think a bit while listening and I realised... "I hate the design I have". I mean really hate it. It looks half done in so many ways. The lack of headstock is the worst of it, but there are so many other elements that fail to make the grade as well. Various colourful words come to mind, but basically it looked homemade and chopped about. This is the thing about Fenders and Gibsons, they're a whole design concept, like for instance the VW beetle.

    What I wanted was something organic, classic, functional and attractive. I really like the body style I'm using for the surprise 6 string so I took some cues from that. Anyhow, I started drawing and came up with this...


    Needless to same I'm vastly happier. The next trick is to transfer it to a specific design and draw it to scale. I'll specifically be using the headstock from the baritone and surprise 6 string. Another 5 string bass is getting the same headstock too.
  9. GKon

    GKon Supporting Member, Boom-Chicka-Boom

    Feb 17, 2013
    Albuquerque, NM
    Sub'd!! Looking forward to seeing your progress.
  10. RedMoses

    RedMoses Supporting Member

    Jul 4, 2012
    Interesting, Sub'd
  11. Man... I feel like I've got nowhere with this project. The last thing that happened was the arrival of the pickups from Nordstrand a little while back... I gave up on the whole SGD debacle and thankfully my bank got my cash back for me.


    So last night I came home and did something rather than just sitting in front of the web/tv/youtube. I blew up the concept drawing I did last year on the photocopier and started coming up with some measurements.


    It's still at concept stage, but I feel like I have somewhere to start. Some initial scaling gives me the following specs...

    Scale length; 35"
    Body width; 553mm
    Body length; 611.5mm

    The good news, the top I have is well big enough for this. Which is just as well, because it's HUGE. It's bigger than my dreadnought acoustic by a good 100mm in terms of width. I gasped a little when I realised this, but then considering what I'm trying to build, the top needs to be this big.

    Some of you might remember my last 6 string being 33-31" scale, but for this bass I want to go bigger. I even considered 36" but decided 35" was enough. The point is, long scale fretless is a lot more forgiving on intonation.

    The other thing I realized is that the end of the fingerboard is a about 2 frets short of 24 on the rough drawing. You can see where I drew in the 24 fret. I'm not exactly sure what to do about this. I made a similar mistake on my last 6 string and access to the 24th fret is compromised there. At the same time, It's a 6 string for crying out loud. The high C allows for plenty of 'making guitarists nervous' register notes without going up all the way all the time. The issue for me is that aesthetic is pretty good as is. do I want to mess with it for just a smidge more access? Hmm, have to figure that out, coz I don't really like the look of Fodera style 'full access' cutaways on their singlecuts. The bodies look all unbalanced to my eye.

    I guess the next step is blowing it up even more and drawing it up properly.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2014
  12. Alright, so tonight I blew up the drawing a little and tried to get a feel for what it would be like at full size...


    Hmm, I already knew it would be big, but this might be too big. That's just the lower bout you can see there. You can see the pile of post-it notes as a reference as well as the pickups and the headless bridge. I'm starting to think I need to shrink it down a little other wise it might be too hard to hold onto and play.
  13. EddiePlaysBass


    Feb 26, 2009
  14. So I blew up the whole body to full size measurements and this is what I got...


    That's pretty big, especially when you lay a P bass over the top!


    If someone has a Warwick star bass, I've to know the dimensions... :hmm
  15. ctmullins

    ctmullins Dominated Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    Nice one, Rev! My tuppence: If you want this to have some acoustic qualities at all, keep the body large. The larger the better for that. Don't worry about how "unconventional" it might look. Wait, I've seen your other builds; you clearly aren't afraid to build and play unusual-looking instruments!! ;)

    So what is it exactly that you're worried about? Ergonomics? That's valid. Might want to do a large cardboard mockup (including body depth) to see how difficult it will be to wrap your arm around it. But honestly, it doesn't look so huge as to be problematic. Certainly no bigger than an Ernie Ball Earthwood, and mortals played those. So I say press on, good sir; carry the vision forward, and let the worries fall away from you!
  16. I'm digging it, but man, that's gonna be a beast.

    One question: With the bridge that far into the body, what is your plan for providing comfortable access to the tuners? Just a rough routed dugout under the knobs? A smooth contour, sloped-to-the-backedge? Just wondering.
  17. Is this an update? Hmm, maybe not... maybe it's the light at the end of the tunnel or that could be a train, but anyhow.

    I've been sick for almost a week now with a cold. I've been coughing up a lung with a head full of glue, but being that I find it almost impossible to sit still, I cleaned up the bench. Til then it was (literally) knee deep in car parts.


    That's right, I'm sick in the head too. At the same time I figured it was about time to clean up my desk and file a few papers... which was when I came across the files with all my previous build in them. That was when I noticed this folder for build #004.


    It's the only folder in the cabinet that represents an unfinished bass. Hmm. It's also the one instrument I've thrown the most $$$ at so far. If it were a car project, it'd be under a tree in the backyard awaiting some love. Truth is, like a lot of car projects (one of which I'm in the middle of), there have been many ups and downs in this bass build. In fact, in the process of building... or not, I've been through no end of designs, and 3 sets of pickups. Even still, today reminded me that I really HAVE to build this thing and finish it.

    My brother is promising me a stack of guitar parts to build some interesting things with. I'm looking forward to all that. But really I need to get back on track.

    A couple of recent thoughts in terms of design...
    1. Both Steve Swallow's and Randy Jackson's basses and they're on the way to sort of thing I want.
    2. I don't know if I really need another fretless.

    No.1 is no great surprise. No.2 kinda turns things upside down... a little. I'm even considering multiscale bass like the last 6 string I built.

    Anyway, there's a beetle (Read; "moneypit") on jackstands. Time to get that finished and then I can hit this bass build properly.
  18. Marial

    Marial weapons-grade plum

    Apr 8, 2011
    Too bad none of the photos are coming through here.
  19. yoshi


    Jul 12, 2002
    England, London
    Wow, what a build. 2 years R&D! Really exciting to see it begin.

    Please please hurry up and sort out the install of the ETS tuner - I am planning on using one on my current build and haven't a clue how to do it!

    Your latest design, offset by the P, looks far too big. I suspect it will be awful to play in terms of bulk, balance, and create a sore picking hand from having to navigate the belly of the beast. I am speaking from experience after buying a high-end bass in the past that was just "too big" and had all of these issues. Sad times ensued.
  20. @yoshi - I'd love to see a pic of the bass you're referring.

    To be honest, I kinda ended up thinking the same sorts of things you were thinking in terms of width. The last thing you want is something that just gets in the way of your arms. I do think though, there is a way of building something quite large and getting used to getting your arms around it. I recently got this 000 guitar. It's not a Jumbo, but it took some getting used to with such a round bottom to the body.


    At the same time I'm pretty committed to a large sound chamber. Just need to find a way to make that work I guess. Steve Swallow has. This is his Citron bass.


    Anthony Jackson has also done a similar thing...
    The Anthony Jackson Presentation II
    I also think it's a matter of your own physique. I'm 6'4" with pretty large hands and long fingers. I've also played upright for a long time. The last 6 string I built has a large body on it and I find it pretty comfy to play in terms of the body. It's based on a 'O' sized resonator body. Here it is next to a dreadnought.


    I guess I'll just keep on working at something that I think is going to work ok.