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Clay/Porcelain bass?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Dan B, May 1, 2010.


  1. Dan B

    Dan B

    Oct 19, 2008
    Pittsfield, MA
    This idea has been in the back of my brain for ages now.

    Anyway, I was wondering if it is possible to make a bass out of (fired) clay? I am a ceramist; working with clay for me is one of my favorite activities (along with playing bass). So when I see instruments made out of metal, I think to myself, "why not fired clay?" I mention Porcelain, but that type of clay is extremely hard to work with (as supposed to stoneware clay); on the bright side, it's very light.

    Here's what I thought:
    - It would be hollow. A solid body might explode in the kiln.
    - You would have to sit down to play it. This isn't a problem for me, although I thought about putting eye hooks for straps..
    - It will be glazed.
    - It probably will have pickups
    - It will be passive.

    I know how I would build it. Building such a bass would be done with slabs, and I have done slab building before. The neck will probably be from All Parts or Warmoth; whatever is cheaper.

    Anyway, I was just wondering if this project is viable/possible.

    EDIT: I say it probably will have pickups but at the same time I am toying with the idea to make this into an ABG.
     
  2. barebones

    barebones Supporting Member

    Jan 3, 2005
    Denver, CO
    This is a heck of an idea. Scary even!
     
  3. Beej

    Beej

    Feb 10, 2007
    Victoria, BC
    Possible? Yes, no question. Viable? Ask a ceramicist. I'm not one, but I'd think it would be simplest to make a top, a back and side pieces all separately and then glue them together. Please do this and post it up. The kitsch factor would be overwhelming...
     
  4. I can see it now.........
     
  5. __HM__

    __HM__

    Aug 28, 2008
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    I work with clay, all the time.. I think you could pull it off. Clay's hard stuff, and the only thing that would concern me is the string tension on the bridge. But I think you'll be good. I'd suggest a string-through design though, for sure. A simple bolt on bridge seems to me like it wouldnt be very sturdy bolted into the clay body.
     
  6. Mortiis

    Mortiis Banned

    Apr 24, 2010
    UK
    Would the material stand up to the constant low frequency vibration?
     
  7. You, a ceramicist, would be the only person to really understand the properties of clay and whatnot and be able to tell us if clay would be able to withstand the tension and other pressures and factors. I'm not sure how easy it would be to mount the hardware either, but maybe if you do it while it's wet it could work.
     
  8. Couldn't you just epoxy the bridge/hardware on?
     
  9. I think the body would snap under the tension of the strings because clay is so stiff/brittle, however, I'm no expert in building basses or using clay, so I'm probably wrong.
     
  10. Dan B

    Dan B

    Oct 19, 2008
    Pittsfield, MA
    Thanks for the responses.

    Anyway, what I was thinking is to make all the pieces separately (meaning build, fire, glaze, fire again), then bolt them together. I might try epoxy if I can find something that is strong enough. This goes also for epoxying the bridge to the body.

    I see where you are coming from. What I was thinking is making all the marks and drilling the holes for the hardware while the clay is still "green" (meaning dry but not fired yet). Drilling while the clay is fired (but not glazed) MIGHT work but I am afraid of the body cracking.

    This is something I am thinking about. Thing is, with clay, (from what I have been taught at least), you don't want the clay to be too thick otherwise it might explode. That and it will be heavy. Too thin, and it might crack under tension or might crack from the frequencies. It will be a tricky balance indeed.

    At worst it will break but at least it will be something that probably hasn't been done before.
     
  11. It could work, tho maybe best to try and make some sort of composite, maybe some steel reinforcement rods running the length of the neck and body with some sort of mesh in there too?

    Dunno, just a bit of brain storming there.

    Tho, I'd make sure to get some pretty good strap locks on it if you make it!
     
  12. Dan B

    Dan B

    Oct 19, 2008
    Pittsfield, MA
    The neck will most likely be bought. Until I feel confident in making a working neck out of clay, I'll stick to Warmoth/All Parts. The steel rod idea might work, but I don't know what steel would do in 2200 degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures.

    Strap locks will be eye hooks if anything. The first one built will probably be made for playing sitting only.
     
  13. Mortiis

    Mortiis Banned

    Apr 24, 2010
    UK
    Steel melts at 2500 Fahrenheit, so it won't liquidise. It will expand when heated and contract when it cools, so I think that'll probably spell disaster for the clay.

    I'm no expert though, just going on my rudimentary scientific knowledge to theorise what would happen.
     
  14. Hmm, that comes to about 1200 deg C, the melting point of most steels is around the region of 1300 deg C. iron is even higher, but:

    The thermal epansion would be a bit of an issue too! As mortiis brought up and I didnt think of.

    Just was thinking how a composite material could be more useful than the clay alone.
     
  15. jtb

    jtb

    Apr 27, 2008
    London and Bangkok
    I'd definitely order one if I could get the matching teapot as well.:D
     
  16. Dan B

    Dan B

    Oct 19, 2008
    Pittsfield, MA
    Unfortunately I know nothing about how to deal with composites.

    Stoneware-type clay is very durable, mind you. It is heavier than Porcelain (and it doesn't have the visual niceties that Porcelain has), but at the same time, it is a very strong material when fired.

    The only issue with it is that stoneware is quite rigid (compared to wood or metal), and it might not take the frequencies that wood and metal can handle. With that said, I don't know if it does, and if the project is successful, then I will be extremely happy.
     
  17. Jazzdogg

    Jazzdogg Less barking, more wagging!

    Jul 29, 2006
    San Diego, CA
    While reading this thread I was reminded of an accident I once witnessed in which laborers were unpacking several hundred toilets at a construction site. One of the toilets was broken. The worker who lifted it found out it was broken when it amputated the fingers on his right hand. I don't think I'll be signing up for a ceramic bass.
     
  18. Dan B

    Dan B

    Oct 19, 2008
    Pittsfield, MA
    To be honest keep in mind the number of accidents when working with wood. A teapot or vase will not cut you.

    Sounds like he wasn't wearing proper gloves. Yes, ceramic material is quite sharp if you are not careful with it, and from the sounds of it, the guy wasn't.

    I have never been seriously injured when dealing with broken ceramic pieces.
     
  19. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    I was about to post about how a toilet can support a 300 pound person, so why not make a bass... until I read Jazzdogg's post.



    Isn't shrinkage in ceramics somewhat uncontrolled and unpredictable? Luthiery requires tight control of form and dimension.
     
  20. Dan B

    Dan B

    Oct 19, 2008
    Pittsfield, MA
    Yes shrinkage in ceramics is, as you said, uncontrolled and unpredictable (although inevitable). This is something I have to work around with. That's art.

    And I want to say something concerning Jazzdog's post. Any form of "hard art" (ceramics, woodworking, metal working, glass) has the definite potential of gravely hurting you. You can amputate yourself in ceramics. You can also amputate yourself in woodworking (and I have heard more stories of that happening in woodworking than ceramics, mind you). You can also burn yourself gravely in metal and glass. Saying "I'm not going to get a ceramic piece because I saw someone getting injured" is honestly rather silly. That's like saying "I won't get a guitar because I saw someone who was amputated by a router" which eliminates 99.5% of guitars made.

    Again, a teapot, vase, or plate will not hurt you. Neither will this bass.

    Concerning shrinkage, what I was thinking now is to install the hardware after it is fired (and of course drill the holes before it's glazed).

    I'm looking forward to starting this project.
     

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