Build alpha: Rob Allen inspired

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by adam.beauchene, Feb 3, 2008.

  1. adam.beauchene

    adam.beauchene Commercial User

    Dec 31, 2007
    Technician at NS Design
    Hello ladies and gents,

    I've been lurking around here for a while, as I'm sure a lot of people do when getting ready to build their first bass. I wanted to make something that has all the elements of my favorite basses, but really goes with where my playing and musical tastes are these days. So here goes: 4 string fretless, 32" scale, chambered body, fishman under-the-saddle pickup. Mahogany body, spruce top, ziricote/cocobolo neck, lignum vitae fingerboard/bridge. No controls on bass. Elements of Fender J and Ricky 4001 (favorite basses I've ever owned) and what rob allen's doing (never played one, but LOVE the sound.)

    I decided to post this now, because I'm starting to get the point where I could use some advice. So to to spin you up on where I am, I'll start at the beginning.

    First, designed what I wanted on the computer: This is where a vast majority of my effort has gone.


    Next I bought some wood. Lignum vitae, maple veneer, ziricote, cocobolo, and a big slab of mahogany.

    Next I made a neck billet: Ziricote outer wings, maple racing stripes, cocobolo center.


    After that I roughed out a fingerboard out of lignum vitae.




    Next I drove up to Dad's house (a.k.a. Woodworker Paradise) to rough out the body:

    And this week I built the bridge:


    Wifey modeling for me:

    And here's the body with the neck billet:



    So now I'm getting to the hard parts. I want to do the neck next, and have it finished before I do anything to the body. I have a question for you guys; in what order do you shape your neck? I'm thinking:

    -Rout for truss rod (using stew-mac hot rod.)
    -cut out side profile.
    -cut out top profile.
    -contour neck back and volute.
    -radius fingerboard.
    -insert truss rod.
    -glue on fingerboard, then trim.
    -final sanding.

    Any advice?
  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
    I bring all of my necks to this point shown here, and from there it depends

    BassNeckReadyForFretboardRad_Front.gif BassNeckReadyForFretboardRad_Back.gif

    if the neck has only a trussrod (especially if it's over 5 strings wide) I will rough carve the rear contour first. Once the movement brought about by carving that much wood away (if any) has stabilized, I will then radius the fretboard and then finalize the rear contour carving

    if the neck has graphite stiffening bars or if the neck is an unusually long scale 6-string, I will radius the fretboard and then carve the rear contour. in this case it is required to come back with a radiusing block and re-level the fretboard once the neck has stabilized after carving the rear contour (if it moves any)

    all the best,

  3. adam.beauchene

    adam.beauchene Commercial User

    Dec 31, 2007
    Technician at NS Design
    Thanks Rodent--that's a nice looking neck!

    How much movement do you encounter when you carve out the back? Should I expect a lot with cocobolo/ziricote versus maple?
  4. radii


    Feb 16, 2007
    I like the Rhino screenshot. Let us see a view of the neck profile ...

    Oh, the bass is pretty sweet too :)
  5. I have to ask about this. I've been very curious for a long time now as to why Lignum Vitae isn't used is guitars and basses. I know from a maritime background that L.V. is extremely heavy, extremely hard, and very oily. It's was used for bearing in marine applications due to those very properties.
    How does it work as a fingerboard wood?
  6. adam.beauchene

    adam.beauchene Commercial User

    Dec 31, 2007
    Technician at NS Design
    Here's the neck templates. I didn't loft it 3-d in Rhino, in this final form with volute.

    I can adjust the neck length a tiny bit without affecting the scale, by moving the bridge. As far as the truss rod goes--should the end be all the way under the nut, or can it stop somewhere just short?
  7. adam.beauchene

    adam.beauchene Commercial User

    Dec 31, 2007
    Technician at NS Design
    My takes on Lignum, since I started working with it (this is the first time)

    -Beautiful, super-tight grain.
    -Buttery-slick feel when polished, needs no finish.
    -Actually not that difficult to work with power tools, just have to go slow.
    -smells nice.
    -Has the 'tap tone' of a piece of plastic, i.e. no ring. (my neck billet rings like a bell in it's final glued-up form though.)

    I think it isn't used very much now, because it just got put on the CITES 1 list (pretty sure that means no one can cut them down and sell them anymore.) I'm being careful not to waste any of this stuff.

    I also know lignum from a maritime standpoint--it's great stuff on block and tackle aboard old sailboats.
  8. I'll be following this project closely...I really love your concept. R.A. makes beautiful looking and sounding basses, and you are creating an interesting variation on that theme!
    I'm very eager to see/hear how it turns of luck to you!
    Please tell us about your electronics package as you progress!
  9. adam.beauchene

    adam.beauchene Commercial User

    Dec 31, 2007
    Technician at NS Design
    DL- thanks for the encouragement! I'll definitely post the progress. I,m making another trip up north this weekend to rout the truss rod channel and bandsaw the neck profiles, it should be smooth sailing from there.

    For the electronics, i'm using a Fishman Matrix natural II, that's it. Maybe a volume knob. I want to avoid the necessity of a separate electronics cavity (and subsequent shielding)...the point being to keep the chambers big, and let the spruce top resonate as much as possible. Hoping this will add tiny bit of natural reverb and a more woody, upright-ey sound.

    As for finish on the body, I haven't decided. I think it would look good under an oil finish, kind like a violin. Under gloss, I think it would look a lot like the old gibson SST guitars...can I say giutar on here? Is that like swearing? :eek:
  10. adam.beauchene

    adam.beauchene Commercial User

    Dec 31, 2007
    Technician at NS Design
    Never heard of that, but looks like a good product! I was just checking out the L R Baggs, too. I already bought a Matrix II, so I'm going with that...but I was thinking about a tiny mic inside the chambers, to blend with the piezo. I'm inclined to keep this one simple, though.
  11. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    I should disclose that I'm "one of those people" who believe that the finish on a solid-body electric bass has virtually no effect on its sound. However, because your instrument will be semi-acoustic in terms of the resonance you hope to capture, and because you've selected a resonant top and a chambered body, I'd probably steer away from a traditional oil finish in favor of shellac (the basis for "spirit varnish" traditionally used on violins, violas, cellos, and acoustic basses), lacquer (either water-borne or nitrocellulose), or a comparable film finish.

    If I were interested in producing the appearance of an oil finish, without damping the resonance of the top, I might try Tage Frid's "emergency finish," which is produced by applying the smallest quantity of oil needed to pop the grain and add the warmth one normally associates with an oil finish, followed by shellac, applied while the oil is still wet. I've used this finishing method successfully on furniture, but I've never tried it on an acoustic instrument. I use dewaxed shellac, because it's compatible with virtually every other finish on the market; once the shellac has cured completely, you can top coat with a finish that's more durable than shellac if that's your cup of tea.

    Good luck with your project! :)
  12. adam.beauchene

    adam.beauchene Commercial User

    Dec 31, 2007
    Technician at NS Design
    Jazz--thanks for the info. What can you put over shellac?

    What about french polish? Has anyone here ever done that? Is it really that fragile? This bass most likely won't be played anywhere but in my living room.

    My Schaller BML extra light tuners just arrived...starting the neck this weekend!
  13. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    You can apply just about any finish over de-waxed shellac. If your shellac isn't de-waxed, some water-borne and urethane finishes may not stick to it.

    French polish is, in oversimplified terms, just a way of applying a shellac finish. I've successfully applied french polish to several pieces of furniture and a few stringed instruments; it's an acquired skill: if you want to try it, I'd suggest you perfect your technique on scrap before trying it on a valuable instrument.

    I strongly recommend you complete finishing "test pieces" to test the the interaction of finishing products and the wood species you're using, and to perfect your technique, before applying any finishes to your bass.

    Jeff Jewitt has a finishing website that offers lots of invaluable finishing information:

    Good luck!
  14. ziricote/cocobolo neck? this reminds me of my first bass. it had an ipe/jatoba 5 piece neck. I wish I had used something less stiff and less heavy. hopefully the same won't happen to you.
  15. PunkerTrav

    PunkerTrav Guest

    Jul 18, 2001
    Canada & USA
    That's a very pleasing design. Subscribed!
  16. adam.beauchene

    adam.beauchene Commercial User

    Dec 31, 2007
    Technician at NS Design
    wil- I thought about that. I'm banking on the short scale length and horn placement to keep it from feeling neck-divey, and the chambered mahogany body to keep the overall weight down. What was the drawback of being overly stiff- was the truss rod ineffective at straightening it out?

    trav- thanks! I spent about a month designing the body. This is version 17...seriously. And now I have to change the headstock a little because the tuners won't fit. Glad I hadn't started cutting yet. I'll post some screen shots of early iterations later.
  17. Not saying that this will happen to you, but it was just my experience with extremely stiff woods and over-strenghtening. The stewmac truss rod snapped while I was trying to introduce some relief because the neck was so flat that string tension did not introduce relief as I had planned. That could have probably been avoided by using clamps to force the relief and ease the action on the truss rod, but you shouldn't NEED to do that to a neck.
  18. adam.beauchene

    adam.beauchene Commercial User

    Dec 31, 2007
    Technician at NS Design
    Thanks for the advice so far, folks. I'll definitely have more questions soon.

    Here's my schaller tuners-

    I got a new router (Bosch 1617EVSPK, got a deal with an edge guide) and cut my truss rod slot. I cut the headstock face w/ an 80 tooth blade in my 10" contractor saw, came out nice! Headed up to Dad's to bandsaw the profile this weekend.
  19. adam.beauchene

    adam.beauchene Commercial User

    Dec 31, 2007
    Technician at NS Design
    Progress on the neck this weekend!

    Drove up to Dad's, played with the bandsaw.

    After some belt sanding, laid it up on the counter...starting to look like a bass!

    Back home Saturday evening, began rough shaping with the spokeshaves. Tell you what, those curls of ziricote feel like steel wool. Tuff stuff.

    This morning, some further shaping with the palm sander.





    And a little while ago, gluing on the fingerboard w/ west system T-88.

    More fine shaping, drilling for tuning machines, and oiling this week!