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BYOB! Build Your Own Bass! Reflections of an Amateur Bassist

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by ttmnky, Jan 31, 2009.

  1. ttmnky


    Nov 12, 2007
    Hi all,

    After lurking in this forum for quite a while, I believe it's time that I post up something meaningful and perhaps useful for those who are interested in modifying/ building their own bass.



    During mid December, there was a grand opening sale for Long and McQuade (Sam Ash/ Guitar Centre for the Canucks), and I spotted a wonderful Musicman copy for about $150. It had a solid Alder body (4 piece), along with a maple neck (is one piece neck and a separate maple fretboard considered 2 piece?) In the "sweetspot," there was a humbucker, not quite MM sized, but looked the part.

    I tested it for a while in the store with a Behringer Bass Amp (sounded pretty good), then bought it on the whim, thinking that maybe I could return it if I didn't like it.

    When I got home to compare it to my Yamaha RBX270, I found the overall output to be a lot lower, and the bass had a very trebly sound to it. Not my cup of tea, but not bad. I ended up playing with it stock for a few practises, but was asked by my worship leader at church to use my Yamaha instead.



    Fast forward a few weeks, I finally decided that the overall aesthetics weren't too amazing, and the sound was to my liking. However, I decided that with such a cheap bass which had such an amazing body and neck (nice chunky neck, opposite of Ibanez/ Yamaha), I would keep it and rebuild the bass.

    Soo, I ordered my parts from Guitar Fetish, and started praying.

    But before we get into the details, here's the "before" picture of the Bass, a Stagg Musicman 'Ray copy:


    Yes, I graffiti'ed it with my own signature on the upper horn and a caricature on the lower portion. It was whiteboard marker, which could be wiped off, and I didn't care too much about the original finish either.

    I ordered my parts at GuitarFetish the week before Christmas, and it was shipped up to Canada on the 28th, which was just under 2 weeks. During Christmas. Pretty good! I'll definitely order from them again. But here's what came in the mail:


    This picture shows the difference in the stock pickup vs. the Alnico pickup from Guitar Fetish:


    Soo, this being the very first time I had attempted to change my bass/ guitar, I stripped it all down, and tried to keep everything organized:


    Then, I went crazy with sandpaper (By Hand!!!), and sanded the original thick clear coat down, as well as started to shape a bit of a contour on the front and back. It was long, hard work, taking about 3 hours to do. I ended up using a variety of tools, from handsaws (not recommended) to 150 grit sandpaper (slow, but very good control). Here are some pictures, along with the process of filling in some holes:


    Sorry, but during the entire process, I was absorbed by the work, and didn't take a whole lot of pictures in this stage. After that, I went over the body with automotive spray paint (the ones in a can). The results aren't amazing, but since I was going for a matte finish which would easily be "weathered," it didn't matter too much.

    After a few coats and some sanding (be patient!!!!), I went over it with some satin clearcoat (the cheapest type I could find, in a rattle can!), and sanded some more:


    At this point, I was feeling pretty happy. Not at the perfection of the results, but that one of the toughest parts for me was over. I paint with acrylic, but I hate spray painting... Never was my thing...


    But enough with that.... Back to my bass.

    So, after that was all ready, I cut out a pickguard. I originally planned on using Plexi-glass, but in the cutting process, it snapped, and so I went with good ol' MDF material, which was pretty thin. I have no idea what it's called, and I really don't care. It was easy to work with, and it would serve its purpose as covering up the control cavity. I cut it to a Sterling-esque shape, and painted it black:


    The cutting was done with a scroll-saw, and the screwholes were all counter-sunk. I ended up going a bit crazy with the amount of screws to attach the Pickguard, but eh, not bad. I can always cut a new one if I need to.

    Next part was marking off the placement of the new bridge. The one I got was $20, which isn't bad at all. It serves its purpose, and it looks pretty nice. In retrospect, however, I probably should have gone with one which had springs on the adjustable saddles to make intonation easier. Using a technique I saw other guitar-makers use, I used fishing line to judge where the bridge should be screwed in.

    It was a mistake, however, to do so, since I forgot that the strings were different gauges. This ultimately resulted in a slightly misaligned bridge, but it wasn't a huge problem for me, since... well... I didn't care too much.


    Now, at this point, I went crazy and forgot to take more pictures. Sorry about this... hehehe...

    I went ahead with the wiring, having 1 tone and 1 volume knob, as well as a DPDT switch for Series/Parallel. The wiring was a nightmare, since it was the first time I had soldered ever. However, with a bit of patience, I got it all wired up, using the diagram from Seymour Duncan's site.

    When I plugged it in, all I could hear was buzzing.

    Oh no.... And I had wired everything with orange wire too... Finding out what had gone wrong would be a nightmare.

    Luckily, I had TB backing me, so I did a quick search, and found out that the most common reason for buzzing was due to a bad groundwire. So I went back and resoldered the ground wire (Note: I had to sand down the wiring to expose the actual wire before soldering... didn't know that before...).

    After doing that, I plugged it back in and there was no buzzing!!! Awesome!

    So, I went ahead and assembled everything. The assembly wasn't difficult, but I did mix up a few screws. Nothing catastrophic, except that the back of the body now has 4 holes in a line, since I used the neck screws to attach the bridge. My bad...



    If you made it to this point, thanks for reading! But I'm sure this is what you've all been waiting for.

    I assembled everything, and this is how it turned out:




    I'm sure you'll all see the influence in my work. It plays wonderfully, and the sound is now a lot beefier. Not the low rumbling of a P-pickup, but definitely humbucker-ish, and has a pretty good slap-tone (not that I can slap very well...)


    So the moral of the story?

    There are quite a few. But let's go over each of them in an organized manner:

    Economics: Was it cheaper to build the bass?
    I would say.... no. In the long run, I could have used the $300 to buy a nice used piece of equipment. Maybe a used MIM, or something... But what rebuilding a bass offers isn't this.

    It's all about getting what you want. I wanted a Musicman-styled bass for less money than they went for, even used. So I went ahead and did what I had to with what I had to get to that point. For me, it turned out financially beneficial, but that's not always the case. Plus, doing this didn't give me a Sterling/ Stingray. It gave me a unique bass which was tailored to my own specs.

    So, it's probably cheaper to buy the bass you want, unless what you want isn't being offered by anyone else besides boutique luthiers. At least in this case.

    Fit and Finish: Is the Bass nicer than store bought stuff?

    But that wasn't the point. If I wanted everything to be perfect, I would have ordered the finished parts from Warmoth or something, and assembled it. But that wasn't what I wanted to do. I wanted to create something which was genuinely MINE.

    Kinda like the Brian May thing, but at a more primitive level.

    In the end, the fit and finish was horrible. But to me, it was my bass, and I really didn't want to have a perfectly finished bass. Otherwise, I wouldn't have cut it up. I would have left it as-is.

    Now, part of my reason for doing this was because they didn't have white in stock with a black guard. If they had white, I wouldn't have repainted it. Maybe go over the entire body with some steel wool to make it matte, but I wouldn't have stripped the body. I would have left it as a slab body.

    But that's another bass.

    Difficulty: Was it hard to do this?
    I would say it wasn't difficult. Different, but not difficult.

    I had all the tools I needed to do this project. Drill-press and drill bits, Scrollsaw, Sandpaper, the works. I had access to all these tools, and someone was able to teach me how to use the tools. So it wasn't difficult for me.

    However, for someone who has zero background in certain parts, doing this isn't impossible. It just means that you need to work a bit harder at it. I can relate, since I had never soldered/ wired anything in my life before. It took me about 3 hours to wire everything up in the end, and I still had to trouble shoot the wiring.

    Now, I was lucky to have been able to have everything work out fine in the end, but some of it has to do with how motivated I was to do a good job. I had the wiring diagram printed out, and double-checked everything before I started wiring. It was time consuming, but I would say it was definitely worth it, especially since all the wires were the same colour. Hahahaha...

    Satisfaction: Am I 100% satisfied with my creation?

    I had originally planned on doing a P-MM styled bass, but factoring in the cost of the additional parts, as well has having to do the routing, I decided not to attempt making it.

    Now, I regret that decision.

    Don't get me wrong, this has replaced my Yamaha RBX270 as my main go-to bass, but it's not 100% of what I wanted. I wanted a nice bass with the shape of a Musicman, which had tonal variety. I wanted a P sound, as well as a MM sound.

    But I let my fear of the difficult get in the way.

    So don't let fears get in the way. If you screw up, you can always patch it up. Maybe cover your mistakes with a larger pickguard. Or perhaps seek expert advice. You can do anything, but don't hesitate to go all out to make your bass 100% of what you want.


    GAS: Having your own creation will cure you of GAS

    I'm seriously GASsing for so much stuff right now. I want a G&L bass, either their SB-2 or their L2000. I want an American Standard P (white with black Pickguard and Maple neck), or a Jazz Deluxe in Orange with a black pickguard.

    But having this bass allows me to control my GAS. Whenever, I'm sure that the bass i had just tried was my next bass to be purchased, I would grab this bass, and noodle away, and remember what exactly I wanted in a bass.

    With this bass, I remember not to compromise anything when looking to purchase a new instrument.

    So making your own bass will help control your GAS. But it won't cure it.


    What's Next?

    Well, at this stage, I'm satisfied with my creation. I've named it Scotch, to match up with the RBX (named Butters for its smoothness). Put the names together, and I get Butterscotch, the original colour of the bass.

    Now, I'm GASsing for a G&L L2000, which is impossible to find used in Canada at a price I'm willing to pay (I did find a transparent green one on CL for $800, with Leo's signature on it.... Maybe I should jump on that?)

    However, since I've gone through the process of rebuilding my own bass, I'm also considering maybe purchasing another Stagg bass, and rebuilding it. Maybe a black Musicman copy for my P-MM pickup combo. Or a Jazzmaster copy with 2 humbuckers and some more series/parallel fun.

    Going through this entire process let me realise that I don't have to just look to what's manufactured to find what I want. In addition, it was a great fun project in which I was able to try my hand at a bit of everything.

    So what's next?

    Maybe a used, mass-manufactured bass (Anyone in Canada with a G&L L2000, Maple neck and burst finish?). Maybe another bass rebuild. I'll have to see.



    So this is the stuff which I forgot to mention above, and don't know where to fit it.

    Sound-wise, my band loves it. They love how it cuts through the mix (5 piece classic rock cover band). My Worship leader loves its looks and sound now. I'll see if I can record its sound. Chances are, I won't be able to record it in the near future, but maybe... I'll see what I can do.

    Overall, for a beginner self-taught bassist, (2 years of playing, gear consisting of Butters, Scotch and the SWR LA15 (named Hilary) this was a lot of fun, and it also taught me a lot in not only building a bass, but also finding and selecting a bass for future purchase.

    If you have the chance to do this, please attempt to do it! You won't get everything right, but you'll learn a lot more!

    Links to stuff I used:
    www.guitarfetish.com (Good low prices for budget goods. Not top of the line, but good for simple builds)

    http://www.staggmusic.com/ (site of the bass which I had worked on. Good prices for a basic body and neck. Kinda like the store-based Essex basses for Canadians)

    http://www.seymourduncan.com/support/wiring-diagrams/ (All the wiring diagrams you ever need. Look at the Guitar stuff too. I used a guitar diagram and it worked out fine)

    http://www.talkbass.com/ (BEST BASS COMMUNITY. EVER)


    I think that's it for now. It's 2:30 AM, and I have work at 8:30... (Gotta support my hobby!). Sorry for any typing errors…. But I’m not functioning well right now.

    If you guys want any more pictures, feel free to ask, and I'll try to answer as many questions as I can. I'm just like everyone here; a student who's interested in expressing themselves with a unique instrument, and sharing my passion with everyone else.

    - ttmnky
    cdef likes this.
  2. Nice - you should "bump" this to when there's more people reading - interesting :cool:
  3. cool man
  4. ROON


    Aug 5, 2006
    Sydney, Australia
    :) Looks much nicer now. Good job.
  5. Thats a cool looking bass , well done , and thanks for posting about it.
  6. robert43


    Jun 5, 2007
    Very nice. The pickup that is in the bass I presume its the orginal ?. The bridge I had 1 of them the only problem / complant I had about them was when you take off the strings the saddles can fall out .
  7. rapturebass


    Dec 6, 2008
    Sweet bass...........I WANT IT!
  8. Where are you located?I think I saw this exact bass a few months ago and passed on it :meh:Thinking back maybe I should've bought it.
  9. Neat work. I have a cheapy squire jazz 20th anniversary ( bass-ically has a darker red color and metal knobs. Some silly anniversary thing on the neckplate. Still a cheapy) that I got for like 75 bucks and I'm considering something like this. I already "customized" the pickguard (spray painted it, but its neat), and I want to do more. You have given me some ideas. I hope this inspired some other guys with cheap stuff laying around too.
  10. synaesthesia


    Apr 13, 2004
    Not to rain on your parade, but surely this is a re-finish and a parts upgrade rather than a 'build'?
  11. RBrownBass

    RBrownBass Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2004
    Tough call there. Had he bought the parts pre-finished from Warmoth, it would be (correctly) called a build by most people here. So using that as a reference, ask yourself whether he's done as much work as he'd have done with Warmoth parts.

    OTOH, if you're saying that there's an issue with calling it a build because it was a complete bass before he got it, I agree. In this case, I'd call it a rebuild.
  12. Love the pickguard. From a distance, you can fool people into think its a five string stingray:)
  13. synaesthesia


    Apr 13, 2004
    If you sent this to a luthier, he would call it a refinish and a parts upgrade. Yes there is some work you do that you might do when you 'build' - as you might fit lightbulbs and paint walls when you actually build a house, but changing a lightbulb and painting the walls of your house is just that, it is certainly not the same as building your own house.
  14. Rush-2112


    Dec 14, 2008
    New York City
    I'm confused...I thought this was a System of a Down convention? :meh:


    But seriously, nice work man. I want it! :p
  15. Nice job on the mods! In this picture...

    ... was the pickup cavity already routed large enough to fit an MM type pickup but the manufacturer just installed the little one?
  16. J. Crawford

    J. Crawford

    Feb 15, 2008
    I gotta ask, why didnt you do some of that kickbutt painting on it, then clear coat it?!

    Man, that art is incredible! Like the bass. Not a fan of the pickguard, but to each his own.
  17. flea claypool

    flea claypool

    Jun 27, 2004
    wow.... plain and simple great job..
    throw in a decent preamp and its nearly as good as the real thing!!
    i have a similar project in the works but wont be spraying it myself...
  18. ttmnky


    Nov 12, 2007
    Thanks for the comments!

    Robert43: Yeah, the P/U in the routing (smaller P/U) was the original. The bridge is okay, as long as you tighten all the hex nuts. In the future, I'll probably pay a bit more for the Hipshot bridge, or just go for the generic Fender-styled ones.

    Ronbeast: Vancouver. I had originally tried to trade the bass away for a jazz or precision to make into a fretless. Decided to keep it in the end.

    Synaesthesia and Auriaprottu: In retrospect, yeah, it's really a rebuild. I'm sorry if I mislead anyone. Haha, in my excitement and lack of sleep, I miscategorized my own work. Love your analogy though, Synaesthesia.

    Diogenes: Yup. I was surprised to see that the routing was pretty much perfect for a full-sized MM style pickup. Just my luck, I guess. If it wasn't routed like that, I probably would have done a swimming pool route (hack-job), and went from there.

    Jordasch: I had thougt about that, but decided that as my first rebuild/ refinish/ upgrade job, I would keep it simple. Plus, I like white basses. Maybe for my next bass (black?), I'll sharpie some art on it, then clearcoat. I actually am not too happy about the pickguard, since the bottom curve is off. Maybe I'll go back and redo it some time...

    Hopefully, prospective tinkerers can take a bit away from my experiences!
  19. the_hook


    Apr 9, 2008

    Glad I spotted your thread. I just got an OLP MM myself. It plays ok, but I've read a few guys switch to the GF pickup. Does it make that much difference in sound? Did you consider putting 2 of them in?

    I'd like to figure out which pickup to go with that would get me as close to a MM sound (passive) as possible. What strings do you use?

    Nice work by the way.
  20. MakiSupaStar

    MakiSupaStar The Lowdown Diggler

    Apr 12, 2006
    Huntington Beach, CA
    Nice. :)