CNC Bass Lutherie

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by DWORKIN, Jan 18, 2010.

  1. I am curious, how many bass luthiers use CNC milling and for what? Roughing the top? Necks? Tailpieces? Scroll?
  2. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    CNCs are pretty standard production technology today. I'd bet that quite a lot of the prdouction shops and most of the factories use them; it is the only way you can really stay competitive from a dollars standpoint. Think your $900 Chinese bass shaped object is hand carved?

    That said the double bass world is also pretty embedded in the crusty world of old school imagery and a fascination with several hundred year old instruments. In the guitar world, having a cnc machine is considered pretty trendy. I doubt that hardly any double bass builders are willing to give up the old grey haired Italian master hand carving everything one at a time marketing image and reputation for that of a computer carving your bass. Ever hear violin makers debate how using any power tool "shocks the wood"? I've had that conversation with several who kept the closet door closed so nobody could see the stacks of cnc'd tops and backs. As for necks and scrolls, carve one just one time out of one of the harder maples and you will have no problem with the idea of a cnc...

    I've carved by hand, used pantographs, and cncs. If I had the space, the money, and someone who could do all the programming for me, I'd gladly make room for it in my shop- but only after hours. I worked in a small production shop where we had one of those going all day. The noise drives me nuts and I'm pretty sure it will cause permanent hearing loss. Imagine a giant multi axis router running all day long right next to you. The finish quality level you can get in today's cnc machines is extremely impressive- basically ready for light sanding. I've seen F5 mandolin tops come straight off the machine that were ready to be glued to the ribs (don't forget those tone bars!) Who could argue with a perfect purfling channel cut to within 0.0001" and not a single error?

  3. JtheJazzMan


    Apr 10, 2006
    What about part automated part hand crafted?

    Seems like even a traditional maker could save a lot of time by having a machine cut a top down to a nominal shape, then finishing it by hand.

    The finishing by hand part does seem pointless at first, but I had a conversation the other day about a maker who used tea leaves on a vibrating top as he was making it to carve each top to an optimal shape depending on how the leaves gathered.

    So theres always room for a human mind in the process to apply an art.
  4. keep your eye on that guy with the tea leaves ;)
    i believe some makers are doing the down dirty component manufacturing in one location and assembly in another. as JC coments..the two processes do not harmonize well side by side.
  5. robobass


    Aug 1, 2005
    Cologne, Germany
    Private Inventor - Bass Capos
    I had a prototyping shop in NY for a few years with a stepper motor based CNC knee mill. I was cutting mostly plastic and nonferrous metal. Because of the construction of the building, the mill would excite resonances in the floor. It was actually really wonderful. The machine would "sing" as it plodded along. A neighbor had a huge CNC router and used it to cut "ultralight" (a lightweight kind of MDF) all day. That thing was so loud that you didn't want to be in the room even for a minute while it was running!
  6. bejoyous


    Oct 23, 2005
    London, Ontario
    I remember Peter Chandler showed me something like an angle grinder with a toothed wheel he used to take out 90% of the wood from the top. He said it saved hime a lot of time.
  7. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR
    That thing is called a "lancelot" tool-- there may be other brand names. It is essentially a short section of chainsaw blade, stretched in a tight circle, on an attachment for an angle-grinder. I have one, but no longer use it.

    It works well, but is a wicked wood-mover, and if you make a mistake it will cheerfully ruin your bass or you or both, as the opportunity presents itself.

    I switched to using a 9" angle grinder with a sanding disc attachment-- much safer. I used 18-grit to remove large sections of wood very rapidly, and with good control. The scroll I carved entirely by hand, after rough shaping with a bandsaw.
  8. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    Using a CNC tool effectively requires the development of some serious skills in the areas of programming, jig-making, and tool selection. These are not the type of skills most luthiers (who have spent a lifetime to become decent at building/repairing instruments) have the time or inclination to develop. On the other hand, use of CNC tools can mean the difference between profit and loss in a production environment. Many production shops use the CNC machine to rough-out parts, which are later hand-finished. One of the benefits of this method is that there is time between operations for the wood to acclimate and stabilize. CNCs are here to stay and have had both good and bad effects in the instrument-making world. On the negative side, some factories are pumping out absolute crap which amounts to a waste of a precious resource (beautiful figured woods).
  9. Cody Sisk

    Cody Sisk

    Jan 26, 2009
    Lilburn, GA
    Ronald Sachs Violins
    I'll sometimes get noise complaints when I'm simply running a scraper on a bass top, I can't imagine the noise a cnc machine would make rough carving one..
  10. Matthew Tucker

    Matthew Tucker Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2002
    Sydney, Australia
    Owner: Bresque Basses, Sydney Basses and Cellos
    Imagine away!

    ... which is why I prefer a gouge ... (and perhaps a bunch of tealeaves;))

    But if I had a factory, or a huge backlog, or deadlines, I suppose it might be another story.
  11. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    Well done Matthew; 'nuff said.

  12. mpm


    May 10, 2001
    Los Angeles
    I wouldn't be in the bridge adjuster biz if it wasn't for 2 things; a CNC machine and the talented people that run it...
  13. Thanks, I am learning CNC and wondered if it might be a stepping stone into lutherie. It sounds like not so much. But maybe useful after learning how to make instruments?
  14. scotty77


    Jan 31, 2008
    Victoria, B.C.
    All depends on what you want to do. If your doing one-offs, probably not that usefull. If your doing production work, as you can see from the youtube video, you can do a lot in a little time. Especially if you have the knowledge of how to use the CNC machine. Are you thinking of making parts for others? How would you compete with all the big companies? If your talking slab basses, maybe easier to come up with something new or different that you can produce. (In my local paper today I saw a story of a guy from Vancouver making aluminum guitars that sound very much like wood. He's found a market for them ad sounds like he's doing okay with it.)
    I've worked on a few projects where I wish I had a CNC machine. Sure, I made the projects, but not in the time neccesary to make it profitable. But, to buy a CNC machine and take the time to learn how to use it, would have been undoable as well.
    Just my 2 cents.