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Build thread: "The Red Lady" 4-string bass

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by dmarino, Sep 8, 2019.

  1. dmarino


    Jun 1, 2019
    Hi, it's Donnie in Colorado again. Hope you're all well this morning!

    I've been building away and snapping lots of phone pics, I thought I'd start up a build thread for this one to document the journey and share the build. This one is getting close to the finishing and assembly phase, so I'm pretty far along, but not quite there yet.

    The basic idea for the build came from checking out the EMG Frank Bello P/J set, which has red pickup covers. I didn't know at the time they offer red covers for a lot of their pickups, which is cool!I thought it would be a cool thing to make a design based around these red pickups. I wanted to keep the build otherwise visually clean, and just have the pops of red. My gal and I have been watching "Game Of Thrones" on DVD, so the name "The Red Lady" somehow got attached to the design in my head and that's what it's been called ever since.

    One cool thing about this build is that my family visited this summer, and my Dad helped me saw the neck wood and glue up the neck blank while he was here, so Pops had his hand in this one for the very first step. He asked me to text him pics while I did the build so he could kind of see the process, so there's a good many pics.

    Obligatory neck glue-up pics. Titebond II here. 5-piece all-maple laminate.
    Cut the scarf, and glued up. I've only done this twice, my technique could use some improvement lol

    I'm also building a 6-string. I have another build thread for that one going. I've basically put it aside and have been trying to finish this red 4-string.

    Got to have the red inlays to match the pickup covers! I prepared a plain maple board.

    I liked it, but I decided it was too plain, and I had some birds-eye maple on hand. What was I saving it for? Just use the good wood, make the current build as nice as you can!
    Slotted the neck. I'm using a regular Stew-Mac 2-way rod, no extra reinforcement. I put CF rods in the 6-string, but I didn't think this neck would need extra, hope it's good!

    Glue on the fretboard

    Some necks on the bench. I mentioned in the other thread the purpleheart neck died from an accumulation of small mistakes until I decided not to continue with it. That was a great testbed, though. I learned a lot messing with it.
    Rough-shaped the neck on the bandsaw. Added some ear material to the headstock.
    Little more rough shaping. Carved the truss rod access out with a 3/8" chisel.
    Needed to add thickness to the back of the neck blank, so I made a backstrap out of some flamed maple I had. I'll use this same maple for the control cavity rear cover and the truss rod cover.
    Starting to build the body wings. I had a large piece of basswood that seemed particularly light and resonant. I made the wings with a basswood core, and an African mahogany tone/accent layer. There will be a figured maple drop-top that covers the whole top, so these wings aren't the full depth of the body. The basswood has been somewhat unpleasant to work with. The dust stinks pretty bad, and it falls apart a bit on the rasps I like to use for shaping. It also dents/scratches too easily. I think I'll avoid it in the future, there are too many well-behaved woods to choose from.
  2. dmarino


    Jun 1, 2019
    Time to carve up the neck and start shaping the head. I did some rough-shaping of the neck with the little hand plane, which went well and sped things up quite a bit from last time when I ground it all out with the rasps.
    Action shot, hello friends! Stop by the shop, I'll get the beer as long as you sand something ;)
    Red side dots from Philadelphia Luthier Supply, got the red inlay dots there too.
    Broke out the template and drew it on. I always end up doing some in-place redrawing once I see it on the body blanks. I made a number of edits to the design based on the first build I did. I moved the waist neckwards and added some meat and roundness to the butt-end of the body. Evolving the shape over time, it should be somewhat better, I hope

    Had to recess the top of the neck for the drop-top. This took some time and patience. I ened up doing the parts beside the fretboard with a pattern bit on the router. I hate power routing, it's the best time to ruin some wood. Worked out fine, though.
    Laying it out, ready to rough-cut the wings.
    Rough-cut the wings, and mocking out the parts. You can picture a bass guitar at this point, so that's always an encouraging milestone!
    Chamfered the fret slots with a triangular file, ready to install fretwire. I got a small arbor and fret press, and I never used it at all, I just use the fretting hammer. It's easy and it works great. I don't think I needed that press after all.
    Starting to ready the drop-top. I glued the book cut together and rough shaped it on the band saw. I'm a little nervous about my ability to fit it tight to the neck.

    This time, I invested in the beveled fret end file from Stew-Mac. It was awesome, I got so much better fret-ends than I had done freehand before. Really happy with the fretwork this time, its so much better and it'll make the entire playing experience of this bass better. Love to see some improvement, all these tasks can seem so difficult!

    Preparing the drop-top neck aperture. It wasn't as hard as I thought to get it tight. Just approach the tolerances slowly with files and sandpaper, be patient. It worked out pretty well, but I made the tiny beginning of a crack at the corner of the neck there. We'll see more of that little crack in a minute, because it became a big crack later...
    Beej, Freekmagnet, wagdog and 3 others like this.
  3. dmarino


    Jun 1, 2019
    On with the top. I screwed in some MDF cauls into where the pickup routs will be to get the center tight and it was all clamps on deck for the rest.
    Tightening the clamps causes the little crack to open up. Gah! I'll have to figure out what to do to fix or hide it. Always something like this in a build for me so far, you really have to get crafty to deal with the endless errors.
    I have a standard p-bass pickup template, but it turned out the EMG FB's are a tiny bit smaller than standard P pickups, so I just went ahead and made my own template from the pickup itself.
    Routed the P/J. Difficult shapes, but it went ok. Always nerve-wracking, did I mention that I hate the power router? :laugh:
    More templates to make. I think this template will be of use on any future build with this body template, so I'll save it as the "Red Lady Type" even if future attempts aren't red.
    Routing the cavity. This went less well, but is ok to use.
    Here's what I mean by 'went less well'. The depth stop on my plunge base slipped and I did not notice right away. I came super close to punching through the top. Luckily, I noticed and shut down before that happened.
    The top is pretty thin, though. Not much more than 1/8" thick. It'll be brittle, I fear, but I think it's basically ok. Nearly a disaster. I got to do better with the router in my hand.
    Rear cover fits nicely, though! Matched the backstrap. Rough-carving the body shape with rasp and file
    I made a truss rod cover from the accent maple and threw the hipshot butter-knife tuners on the check it out. Love it! I need to re-do the trussrod cover, since I drilled the hole off-center. Doh!
    Very close to being done with the woodworking now. Not pictured, very many hours of scraping and sanding!

    Mocking up, it's getting real. I need to make some final decisions about the finish. I made this ramp, I may install it to cover up the crack in the top. I stabilized the crack with sawdust and #10 CA Glue. It seems good, but it's ugly/noticeable. There is some possibility to hide it with finish, but I kind of like the finger ramp idea.
    Need to finalize the design/look/finish

    And that's current as of now. I need to get into final sanding and touching up, then it's finishing and assembly/setup.

    I'll post up some pics as this one comes together over the next couple weeks.

    Thanks for looking!
    Beej, turindev, Gilmourisgod and 5 others like this.
  4. Scoops

    Scoops Why do we use base 10 when we only have 8 fingers Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 22, 2013
    Sugar Creek, Wisc
    I am me


    Nice to see new faces.

    Nice build you have going here!

    One thing I always thought peculiar was "Why did EMG make such ugly red pup covers"

    You have provided the answer.

    Nice color combo with the wood, pups and position markers.

    Freekmagnet likes this.
  5. dmarino


    Jun 1, 2019
    Thanks @Scoops, I've admired your work on this board for some time now!

    Yeah, the EMG red covers are kind of unique, they immediately got my wheels turning :cool:
    Scoops likes this.
  6. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    Nicely done! I would suggest going to a local hobby/model shop and buying a piece of 1/16" ( .060 +/-) aluminum sheet stock and cutting it to shape of the control cavity, then epoxy it to the "roof" of the cavity. I did this on a recent build with a figured top i had to cut thin. 1/8" is risky, you could punch knobs right through it if dropped. You can cover the aluminum plate with stick on copper foil before you glue it in. Bam! Shielding half done, and you can solder stuff to it easily. Stiffens up the top nicely. Aluminum that thin can be cut with a coping saw or bandsaw and cleaned up with a dremel.

    Last edited: Sep 9, 2019
  7. I’m digging the red vibe. Very cool!
  8. dmarino


    Jun 1, 2019
    Made a little progress on this, time for a little update

    Needed to do the jack access hole. Used a 3/4" fan bit in the drill, hand-held. It's always a little nervy doing these last big cuts after having so many hours in the build! Worked out fine, though.

    I have a Hipshot A-style chrome bridge for this build, and of course it can top-load or have string-through-body. I decided it would be dumb not to provide the string-through option. I only have black ferrules, though, so I had to order some chrome ones. Readying the holes here, I decided to use my new chamfering bits to recess the ferrule tops.

    Time to address the thin top in the control cavity. Thanks to @Gilmourisgod for the great example! I was thinking about doing something similar to reinforce the top of the chamber, so I made a maple board the right thickness to still allow the 9v battery, and put it in there with Titebond II. I think it went ok. The copper tape will hide the rest of this.
    Gluing in the control chamber roof patch with a chunky caul

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