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Coming up with a model? How did you do it?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by reverendrally, Mar 7, 2013.

  1. This is one for all the pro and semi-pro guys.

    I'm thinking (after the fundabirds) of coming up with a model that I can make long term templates for and build a few of. I'm interested in how people went about deciding on the following...

    A. Headstock
    B. Body shape
    C. Construction
    D. Hardware

    Also how did you come up with a design? How many prototypes did you build? How did marketing come into it also? I'm also wanting something that can be both headless or conventional so input on that would help too.

    I know there will be variation electronics and materials somewhat. I'm not planning on a full time thing, but building something reproducible and clearly mine is near where I'm up to.

  2. a. The headstock I determine by first placing the tuners straight in line with the strings and in a layout that I like (how far apart, left and right etc.) and then I draw a shape around it. Usually takes lots of tries to get a good one. If I still like it after a few days, looking back at it, it's ready for some fine tuning. Then I cut the template to see if it's okay IRL too. I also try the tuners on the template, before putting all the hard work in the real thing.

    b. For the body shape I determine the outside dimensions that I like (upper horn should end at that fret, lower horn on this fret, I want the lower horn recess to be this deep, total widthness, how deep should the waist be). Then I draw in the bridge and neck. That way, I have some kind of frame to stay into. This guides me while drawing up a shape.

    Basically, with both shapes, I do not start blank and fit the hardware on, but I make up specs with the hardware and draw the shapes around it. I feel I get much more balanced and good looking results that way.

    c. For construction I go to a music store and play different basses. Each time I like or dislike a certain feature I note that and so I come up with my ideal specs. E.g., I didn't like the small fretwire on a Dingwall, I do like the wide spacing of the Fender fivers, instead of the tight spacing of Warwick.. but I do like the wood look and feel of Warwick. You see, I just scrape my specs together this way.

    d. That's just taste and preference. Although I keep an eye on both costs and weight.

    Good luck with your own design! Takes some time, but very rewarding :smug:
  3. miziomix

    miziomix Über on my mind Commercial User

    Sep 28, 2009
    Milan, Kuala Lumpur, Paris.
    Bass builder @ MüB.
    Hi there! Interesting topic. I'm not sure whether you refer to the actual technique behind designing a correct bass or to the creative process. I'll pick the latter and go on one of my usual digressions....

    To me the key to a successful design is the idea behind it. It could/should/might reflect you personal take on basses. Both as a bass player and as a builder. It will be the byproduct of your likes/dislikes, strengths/weaknesses, wood preferences and knack for combos - or the lack thereof. If you keep all that into account you'll get much faster to a design you are happy with and feels your own.

    Then you start testing how that idea deals with the basics of bass design. You've got ergonomic, anchor points, weight distribution, playability, weight and length to consider. These are all factors that, when you line them up with your idea, will show you the way to a unique design. Even just wanting to focus on 35" scale and small bodies for instance, will pose enough questions along the way to lead to an original design.

    Once you've got that clear in you mind you can bet that the shapes will come naturally. The rest is really about dealing with facts - a headstock has got x number of tuners; the strings must be at a certain angle.... and so on and so forth. It is when you apply your own vision to those facts that you actually are on track to produce something original.

    I find it extremely effective to do actual size sketches. The other thing that is important to me in developing a design is to give an idea room to grow and trust it. So many times potentially good ideas end up in the trash bin because the person failed to give it a chance. When in doubt, but your heart tells you that there might be something there, just make a simple prototype in wood. It's amazing how an idea can surprise you when you allow it in the real world. Computers software and even sketches only go so far. There's no substitute to the real thing.

    Lastly, it's quite unlikely that a design - no matter how inspired - will survive the test of time without improvement and changes. So, what you are looking at is a creative process dotted with yet another template. that's unavoidable and I'd say, desirable.

    End of the digression :) hope this helps.



    ps: Headstock design is overrated. Look at the whole then focus on the detail.
  4. metallutca


    Dec 18, 2004
    Hey miziomix. Please design a singlecut. I'd love to see your take on that :)
  5. miziomix

    miziomix Über on my mind Commercial User

    Sep 28, 2009
    Milan, Kuala Lumpur, Paris.
    Bass builder @ MüB.
    Thank you. I will gladly oblige one of these days :)

    ps: ....that's a tough one.
  6. Hi.

    I don't know whether this qualifies since I "didn't make it" as a pro, but I did still have some illusions of becoming an instrument builder at the time of design process of this one :).


    Headless design had intrigued me for a while, but the only "available" option was Steinberger, on both instrument(s) and parts.
    Neither was within my budget as a teen.
    I did like the playability and balance of a 'Bergers I tried, so I decided to take a shot at it.

    The "headstock" shape on mine was more or less copied from Lita Ford's BC Rich 12 string Bich, a detail that I forgot along the way and even created a thread about it back in the day.

    There was no ERB's over here at that time, and an access to the 30th fret was the goal. The neck profile extends all the way to the start of the control cavity curve.
    The FB extension I made, but doesn't show in the pic, never made it into the instrument it seems. I sold the bass a while later and the few pics I've seen about it over the years do not show the extension either.

    The rear upper portion is inspired by BC Rich, it was mid-late 80's anyway, and all my original designs were pretty pointy to say the least :).

    Front upper horn extending to the 12th was for ergonomical reasons, the shape was the result of making the lines flow naturally.

    The lower rear bulge for the controls was defined by the intersecting curves of other portions of the bass.

    The body contours were refined by playing the unfinished prototype.

    Finnish birch was my choice of material, and will be when I eventually start building again, and the 3 piece (IIRC) neck was made because the availability of properly cut stock was small.
    The wings are both one piece.

    The FB was pre-made to speed up the build, plus the fact that fret material did cost as much as a pre-made FB.

    I re-used the tuners and the bridge from a previous build, the PU was an Ibanez aftermarket HB, the TR was a home-made aluminium channel Martin style inspired single action TR, the headpiece was home-made.
    The pot, jack and the switches general RS stuff.
    That was the time when a HB had to be wired with series/parallel and in/out of phase as well as single coil switches :D.

    The design was mainly influenced by the desire of creating something outside of the mainstream of available instruments.
    It was 80's though, and MTV's "Headbangers Ball" and Music Box's/Sky Channel's "Power Hour" was required viewing for anyone into metal, so in retrospect, the bass wasn't all that different from the material seen there at that time.

    That was the prototype, but I'm pretty sure that I'd continued along those lines, had I pursued the career any further.

    As for making that particular design to sport a conventional headstock...
    Can't quite picture that in my mind ;).

    Apologies for what ended up to be a long winded rambling.

  7. Thanks.

    Here are a few crazy ideas so far...


  8. Meatrus


    Apr 5, 2009
    A: For me the headstock must echo the body shape in some way. Obviously things like tuner placement must be thought of first, to make sure the headstock is large enough for your tuners.

    B: I take inspiration from many places instruments and things that i see day to day, then do my best to sketch it in miniature. I have many sheets of paper with these designs in miniature on. Deciding which one to make is sometimes the hard bit! If I didn't have these moments of inspiration I'm sure I couldn't just think of a design on the spot in front of a blank piece of paper.

    C: I work with what i have available and what I feel the design lends itself best to.

    D: whichever colour seems to contrast nicely with the woods I'm using as far as finish goes (nickel, black, gold etc)
  9. I use the same headstock shape on all my instruments. Kind of my "signature" and also because I found designing a headstock I liked much more difficult than designing a body I liked.

    For my guitars, I'm on my 4th generation of headstock. I would tweak my design after each build, changing things to slowly morph it into what worked for my taste. Since my 4th version I've used the same template.

    My 5 string template took 2 instruments before I was happy with it. Sometimes a 2d shape on paper doesn't look quite right in real life.

    My 4 string bass template I lucked out and got it right on my 1st try.
  10. HaMMerHeD


    May 20, 2005
    Lately, I've been obsessing over a 5-string, 24-fret, 19mm Les Paul bass.

    So I started by tracing an existing LP in my design app, and then tweak the lines to make it actually look good (as opposed to the normal LP), and make it work with my standard 5-string headstock (shown below).


    Then I modify that design a bit to make some routing templates and send them off to a machine shop to be manufactured in 3/8" polycarbonate.


    While I wait for those to be made and shipped back, I start working on making billets (neck beam, body slab, etc.) . When the poly templates get back, I make MDF copies.

    The construction part....well you take some wood, glue it together, and then shape. No one part of the process is difficult or complicated at all, but there are a million parts.

    Hardware-wise...I think it is a crime to use crap hardware on nice wood. I stick with Gotoh, Hipshot, and Schaller. For truss rods, I like the Grizzly/Bestbassgear rods. I usually buy them from Grizzly, because they are more reliably in stock. For pots and switches, I am thinking of switching exclusively to Bourns, but otherwise it's CTS. For jacks, I like Switchcraft and Neutrik. I use Graphtech TUSQ XL nuts wherever possible. Pickups are generally whatever the customer selects. Left to my own devices...EMG.

    Here are my standard headstocks:

    The original design came to be in a brainstorming operation for the LXL group lutherie project for Alex Eddy. They didn't end up using the design, so I kept it and tweaked it. The shape had to be tweaked a bit to accommodate different string counts, but the overall look is the same.

    I almost always begin my design process on the computer. I rarely sketch them on paper first.
  11. metallutca


    Dec 18, 2004
    Thanks, man! :)
  12. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Inactive Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    When I designed my main bass model, I had a basic idea what I wanted. At the time it was going to be a semi hollow body kind of like a Gretsch. This was about 1991, and there wasn't many of those on the market.

    So I got a large piece of paper, and drew out the basic shape, actual size. Then I stuck it on my kitchen wall. Every morning I would look at it with fresh eyes, and then take an eraser and change a line or two.

    After about 9 months (!!), it evolved into this:


    I figured it was time to stop editing and make a bass! So sometimes the designs have a life of their own, and you have to listen to them.

    My headstock shape was drawn right on the wood for the first neck that used it, which was an 8-string bass. I always start off with a full scale drawing so that I can get the tuners to line up, and have straight string pull across the nut. But I didn't have a distinctive shape. So I just drew out something i liked and ended up with this:

    The strings are not pulling straight here because I made nut wider than the drawing. I've recently recarved that neck a lot narrower. I decided I don't like them that wide anymore.


    (before I used the SGD name)

    For me the key points were finding things I liked looking at. I also didn't want it to look like another brand, but I also didn't want it to loo too weird, like some of the exotic basses i have seen. My main concerns were having all the lines flowing nicely and nothing awkward looking.

    One thing I had to change was the lower horn, which is too short. So when you sit you need a strap or it will slide off your leg. So I changed it to this:


    Some of the ergonomics you wont know for sure until you can hold the shape in your hands. I never hurts to make a mockup from pine or something as a test.

    I've also had to recently modify the headstock shape, because the very tip is fragile.


    But it took 18 years to find that out! :D
  13. I get what you're saying here. Trussrods are something I don't skimp on. I always use stewmac Hotrods. For the moment, lack of funds mean I'm sticking with good chinese knockoffs of commonly available US parts. So even if the basses I'm building now have cheap hardware, it's all upgradeble latter on.

    Just btw, thankyou to everyone so far for telling me your processes. It helps me enormously to begin to think through things.

    Headstocks are still up for grabs for me as I'm really torn between headless designs and regular headstocks for balance and ergonomic reasons. :meh: Thing is, I know there is a whole market who will turn away the moment they see a headless instrument. Maurizio has found a cheat way around this, but some of the specialist parts might make it too expensive to do for me.
  14. miziomix

    miziomix Über on my mind Commercial User

    Sep 28, 2009
    Milan, Kuala Lumpur, Paris.
    Bass builder @ MüB.
    I'm with Hammerhead on this. Cheap hardware will lend a cheap feel to your bass. (until they break down). In fact, anything cheap will.

    The way I see it, you should set a final price that makes sense to your ideal end customer. Right pricing is key to a sale. Then allocate your budget to get a consistent quality across. It doesn't have to be the highest quality. But it should be good and consistent. A great combo with poor pick-ups and electronics doesn't look better than good combo with decent p-ups and it might end up selling for about the same price. Which is a waste of great wood.

    Re. specialist parts. The tough part is to keep cost to a manageable level. With custom hardware that's a hard call unless you have the leverage of say, Hipshot and Gotoh. You might order a few dozen, maybe a hundred pieces - if at all. That's nothing. If you ordered 500 pieces then maybe you average down your expenses to a decent level. Raw material is costly and making custom parts out of low grade aluminum or brass doesn't make sense. Machine set up is priced at a fixed rate, whether you made one or one million parts. Good plating costs money and no one will do that for 4 or 5 pieces at a competitive rate.

    Custom design also gets you into a seemingly never ending R&D process which is both costly and time consuming - albeit immensely rewarding ;). Then you have to follow though with your customers. If a Gotoh bridge is faulty you get a replacement from Gotoh. If it's your very own custom bridge you bear the cost.

    I have just shipped two sets of new string anchors to previous clients to keep the basses up to date with the improvements. Mind you, they are exactly the same design improved in terms of machining and plating quality. I did that free of charge because it is, I feel, my duty. At the least until I feel I cannot improve on my design any further. It cost me a small bomb though :D

    This to say, if you want an easy way around this, just leave anything custom aside for now. The market is full of decent to great stuff and you'll have no problem finding what suits your taste and your prospective customers.

    Hope this helps

    ciao, Maurizio
  15. Good point. When I say, "for the moment", I mean whilst building prototypes.
  16. miziomix

    miziomix Über on my mind Commercial User

    Sep 28, 2009
    Milan, Kuala Lumpur, Paris.
    Bass builder @ MüB.
    Prototypes are expensive by default. I meant beyond the prototype stage. For the actual production you need to commit to higher quantities than, say, enough hardware for a bass or two. When you decide to get your hardware made by a third party you have to start thinking in hundreds. A hundred pieces of the same part. Not hundred different pieces. Else, the single part will become too expensive. Unless of course your bass sells for 5,000 buck and above. In which case your company might already have the cash to order those hundred pieces ;)
  17. miziomix

    miziomix Über on my mind Commercial User

    Sep 28, 2009
    Milan, Kuala Lumpur, Paris.
    Bass builder @ MüB.
    Prototypes are expensive by default. I meant beyond the prototype stage. For the actual production you need to commit to higher quantities than, say, enough hardware for a bass or two. When you decide to get your hardware made by a third party you have to start thinking in hundreds. A hundred pieces of the same part. Not hundred different pieces. Else, the single part will become too expensive. Unless of course your bass sells for 5,000 bucks and above. In which case your company might already have the cash to order those hundred pieces ;)

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