Carving your own bass bodies

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by count_funkula, Dec 21, 2001.

  1. I can't seem to find any good material on building your own bass bodies? Any sites out there?
  2. I'm not carving my new bass.. i'm molding it :D

    ( Wood = bah... Luthite for ever ! ) :D :rolleyes:
  3. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Staff Member Supporting Member

    I think that some of the guys in Setup may be able to help you with this.
  4. This is a interesting question. It may have been asked before. Have u tried the Search Engine to search the previous threads? I have always dreamt of building my own bass.

    Hambone might know, he's the Setup Guru around here. ;)


  5. I was looking into taking this online course. It teaches you how to build your own bass. It's a bit expensive for me at $200 plus the cost of supplies and materials. It's also a pretty long course at 16 weeks. But here is the site if you wanted to take a look.

    I am in no way affiliated with this site, just thought you might be interested.

  6. Carving your own body is quite possible, even with minimal tools. Depending on your skill and tool selection you can spend anywhere from 4 to 60 hours designing, roughing out, and finishing a body. Keeping things simple for your first one is probably best. A neat thing to do is to re-body an existing instrument. That way, you take essential measurements from your current body and just copy it's style. Then transfer the hardware to your new creation and off you go!

    As an example you could score some 6/4 stock from ebay for around $20 - $30 including shipping. If you shop well, you might get some nice walnut, ash, or maple - probably in 2 or 3 pieces that you could glue up for a blank. Or you could get a nice swamp ash blank from Carvin for around $50 and have it already joined and ready for cutout.

    When cutting out, the better the saw the easier and more accurate the cut. Hardwoods are hard to cut (at 1½" thick) with a jigsaw but you could muddle your way through. Bandsaws are better but harder to find if you don't own your own. If you DO use a less-than-optimal saw, be sure to use a drum sander in a drill press to help shape the major contours easily and quickly. Rounding over is done with a router and sanding is done with palm sanders, jitterbugs. ½" sheet vibrating sanders or random orbitals. Sanding and shaping can start with 80 grit and proceeds through 600 grit and 0000 steel wool. Smooth when raw means smooth when finished.

    The most important part of carving a body at home is the proper design, placement, and execution of the neck pocket. If you are fitting an existing neck (and you should always use the actual project neck for measurement) you can use your computer to scan the heel and make a pattern for template making. Never attempt to freehand cut a neck pocket!! Make and refine a template to fit the neck perfectly and then route the pocket with a patterning router bit. This will make a smooth, good fitting pocket.

    There that's all there is to it!! ;)

    Actually there is tons more detail to each of the points I've touched on. I could write a whole book on all of the approaches, options, pitfalls, and recommendations that are possible. It's pretty much up to you. I can say with certainty though that the more time you take planning - before any dust starts to fly - the better the result. Read some more before you start. Try the MIMF mentioned above at . This is one of the best resources for info regarding luthiery. Join if you want and make sure the site is always there to help you. And always come back and ask questions here. We all have our own approaches and one of them might be just what you need.

    Hope this helps...

  7. Why don't you write a book??


  8. Would a simple hand router be enough? How do you keep the lines straight when routing?

    I have access to a band saw, jig saw, drill (not a drill press), and I was planning on buying a router anyway. What else do I need?
  9. ESP-LTD


    Sep 9, 2001
    Hambone is dead right, as usual!

    An alternate solution for "carving"-

    I bought a 1/2 hp motor at a garage sale, and mounted it on a couple of pieces of vertical 2x6, set in a concrete-filled 5 gallon bucket. I mounted a 7" sanding disk attachment to the motor shaft with a 60 grit disk.

    Mask up and use eye protection, and be careful not to touch the disk or you will lose some blood!

    I found that after I rough shaped the body with a saw (Skill saw or hand saw was fine) I was able to make nice flowing shapes this way. This rig will eat wood very quickly (up to 1/8" at a pass). Try and make long passes and smooth transitions.

    It's probably impossible to make the same shape twice however, and you want to make your neck/pickup routes before you start destroying all your square edges.
  10. Man, I can just picture pieces of skin and meat flyin' all over the place with that setup LTD! I'll stick to my previously-thought-of-as-real-dangerous routers and dremels.

    Yes, a hand router will work but there are ways to make the tool really do a good job:

    1. Make a body template from MDF (medium density fiberboard) or tempered hardboard - they are cheap and easy to work with. Cut out the rough shape and smooth it by sanding. Keep sanding (keeping the vertical edges square) until the shape is smooth.

    2. Use a "pattern" bit for cutting your blank. This is a straight cut bit with a bearing on the top of the blades. This bearing rides on the above mentioned template and cuts it into the blank precisely. Take small (¼") deep cuts until you're through the blank.

    3. For best results, use bearing bits whenever possible. These don't mar the wood or leave burn marks like those that come from simple bits with stems for guiding to a pattern.

    4. Always were eye and ear and respiratory protection during these routing sessions. You will be making a LOT of dust and you'll breathe it, eat it and get it in your eyes. Some woods are VERY toxic and having the dust internalized is a sure way to get sick.

    Merls, the reason I don't write a book is that I'm still learning this stuff myself. Everyday I'm discovering new approaches so I think it's best to be the student for awhile before trying to really pass the wisdom on.
  11. OK, Hambone.

    So you are saying you actually use the router to cut out the shape of the body as well as the neck pocket and pickup holes? That is cool!

    I am going to invest in a router but I'm not sure what I need. I was looking at some Craftsman stuff yesterday. I guess I need the router and a table right?

    Do you guys have some router brands/models that you can recommend? Also a table that I can use for what you are talking about doing?

    Thanks for all the help!
  12. ESP-LTD


    Sep 9, 2001
    I would have to agree that it's not the sort of production tool you find with an OSHA sticker on it, and it could sure bite hard if you danced with it wrong! The usual disclaimers apply: don't try this at home, and don't call me if you get hurt.

    I think I have more scars from the Dremel than anything else.
  13. As far as brand goes, I've always been of the opinion that tools bought for occasional use (as opposed to production use) can be of the lesser expensive variety. Nothing wrong with Craftsman, Ryobi, Black & Decker etc. Any router you choose should be at least ½ HP and it's nice if you can use both ¼" and ½" collets in the rig. You might want to look into 2 other features found on hand routers that will come in very handy: First, investigate "plunge" type routers. These have the motor mounted on vertical, spring loaded guides that allow the router to be placed in position, turned on and then plunged into the work. This comes in handy when routing pickup cavities where you can't enter the work from an edge like when doing a body. The second feature is a dust collector body that allows hooking up a vacuum to your router to keep dust down. You simply wouldn't believe the amount of dust a router generates! Aside from being bad to breathe, it leaves a nice thick coating on just about everything in your shop.

    Another approach to hand routing is to use your router in a table. Router tables allow mounting of the router motor from underneath, exposing the bit to the top surface a of a small table that the work rides on. This system makes it very easy to guide the work instead of the router (which can try to steer itself on occasion) and is a bit safer. Either way, the same router can be used with the removal of the base.
  14. In my experience using a router to cut out a body shape would be a waste of time. What I prefer to do is cut the rough body shape with a band saw (I don't trust jigsaws for accurate work) and then use a drum sander on a drill press to get the final shape. Tools I see as a must are router, table saw (especially if you make a neck), band saw and a drill press (other tools that are necessary for small parts you should have anyway, if you have any of these tools). I like access to a jointer and a power planer, but these can be replaced by a bit a creative thinking (I often use a table saw to square up edges after glue-up as I don't have a jointer yet, just remember to leave an extra 1/4" to play with).

    Constructing a body for a bass should be very stright forward, provided you spend the necessary planning time, and DON'T RUSH. Other than that it should work out well, for anyone with wood working experience.

    Oh, don't forget to make templates like Hambone suggested, they make life really easy...just make sure you think about how to secure them to the body before making them...I made this mistake once.

  15. dingz2, if you are going to take the time to bandsaw a shape then smooth it with a drum sander AND you approve of the template method, you may as well use a router to cut your body. My reasons are fairly simple:

    1. You won't be able to remove all of the imperfections in a body caused by the band saw with a drum sander. But you CAN easily smooth a nice tempered hardboard or acrylic template.

    2. Time is not wasted when subsequent smoothing operations are not needed. A router with the right bit can make a cut that is nearly perfectly smooth.

    3. You can't use a template with a bandsaw to perfectly repeat a contour.

    4. Bandsaw technique is a learned skill that isn't easily accomplished first time out with an expensive piece of wood (perhaps your only piece of wood). Templates are where you want to make your mistakes.

    5. Bandsaws capable of doing a decent job on 1½" thick hardwood are much more expensive than a decent router, bits, template material and a blank. Probably twice as much as all of this.

    No, for a first timer, a router is a more preferrable choice. And since a router is needed for pup inlets and neck pockets, it is in the tool repetoire anyway.

    Your observation about attaching your template is well placed. I've used double sided tapes, direct attachment, and even rubber adhesive. All worked well. If you are unsure about how to use some of the exotic methods, just tack the body template to the blank in a place that will be routed out later like the neck pocket, pickup hole, or even under the bridge. Anywhere it won't be seen after assembly is fine.

    You are right on about taking your time. Think long and hard about the project BEFORE starting. Even a well planned project will likely have it's procedures altered as it progresses so make sure the initial planning is very thorough. Practicing on scrap is always recommended.