Custom bass build (headless multiscale) : thought process

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by XLunacy, Apr 13, 2021.

  1. XLunacy


    Nov 28, 2013

    I wanted to share with you the progress on a build that I've been working on for the past few weeks.
    As the build is now mostly decided (on paper), I'm hoping that it might be of use and a time-saver to someone going down the same path; it could also be a way for me to get new ideas from you guys.
    Warning : lots of lists !

    So I wanted a multi-scale headless. I think combining these two features provides lots of benefits, at a moderate cost.

    The benefits I see VS a traditional design :
    - better-sounding / clearer low strings without sacrificing the thickness of the high strings
    - shorter instrument
    - lighter instrument / no neck-dive
    - presumably less dead-spots ? Not sure about that one, but I'll take it as an added bonus
    - subjective : looks awesome :)

    Drawbacks :
    - finding strings
    - good bye D-tuner
    - subjective : aesthetically, not everyone's cup of tea

    So I started with the multi-scale aspect, and first looked at the most-renowned multi-scale basses for inspiration, Dingwall.

    What I liked about those :
    - 37" B string on most models
    - up to 3 pickups (split-coils)
    - versatile pickup switching system / lots of tonal options

    However, there are a few elements that I wanted to be different :
    - proprietary pickup shells and internal configuration, making replacements harder to source
    - 37" B string, which seems to make most B strings readily available on the market unusable
    - 3" difference between low and high strings generates steep angles at both the nut and near the 24th fret
    - I want a zero fret !
    - there's more than 4 ways to combine 3 pickups :)

    So I went on and worked on each area of improvement :
    - creating an even richer switching system
    - trying different scales and vertical fret position to find a happy medium between ergonomics, tone, and string availability
    - finding pickups (with "standard" shells) which would work with both the switching that I wanted and the scales that I'll be using

    To be continued
    (spoiler alert : no tort pickguard will ever be involved in this project. There, I just lost 90% of TB :D)
  2. Bartrinsic

    Bartrinsic Supporting Member

    Jan 6, 2018
    San Diego
    I have a 33.5-35.5" with straight fret 9. 35.5" is a very good sounding B-string length, without the long reach. Ibanez uses 34-35.5 for SRFF and SRMS multiscales (EHB is 33-35"). I'm also waiting on a 33.75-35.75. I can play 33-37" just fine, but the 2 inch span with max reach of 36 is noticeably faster to play, especially with a slightly narrower string spacing, like 17.25. I push the straight fret higher (9 or 10) because straighter upper frets make chords a bit easier and the angle doesn't matter as much for single note picking on the lower numbered frets--the reach matters more down there. Don't rule out the pickguard yet--we need time to help you see the light, as it sparkles off a tort pickguard.
    XLunacy likes this.
  3. XLunacy


    Nov 28, 2013
    Thank you for contributing and resurrecting this thread :laugh: Since it did not generate any interest I was not going to expand on this, but you're giving me a good reason to do so.

    So I looked around to see what the big names were doing with their fanned frets offerings, and noticed they'd mostly fall into one of two categories : either anecdotal or medium (1 to 2" difference) but overall shorter scales (33-35 or similar, Ibanez / Strandberg), or larger with the longest B string playable but steep angles in the upper register (34-37, Dingwall).

    In the end, I took a route similar to yours : I chose a 2" span to reduce the angles for the frets, but I really wanted to get the longest low string that would allow me to easily find replacement strings, so I picked 34.5 - 36.5 !
    It does not look like much, but that 1" difference radically changes the angles (2" to 3" is a 50% increase)

    This looks like a happy medium to me, slight compromise on the low string, but improved overall playability and strings availability, and with the 12th fret vertical, playing chords in the upper register should be fine.
    It also allows me to use ordinary pickups, since the angle there will be reduced to about 16°, meaning any pickup fit for 19mm string spacing should work just fine with the 18mm that I chose (any angle below 18° means that the pickup will "see" a bridge string spacing < 19mm)

    I do not doubt the 35.5 B string is great, however since the instrument is custom-made I really wanted to go all-in on this one, and to know what it feels like to play that extra-long B string :)

    As for the pickguard... I don't think any light will be bright enough to bring me back into the fold :roflmao:
  4. Bartrinsic

    Bartrinsic Supporting Member

    Jan 6, 2018
    San Diego
    Great plan. I'd love to see pictures when you get it in. My build in progress now is 33.75-35.75, so just shy of 36 for the B. Your scale choice is interesting. I was shy about going longer than 34 for the G string. The flexibility with pickup choices is a great reason to push the straight fret up high, as you have. I'm going with bladed pickups (Zen blades), so it should work out. Once 'strange' option I'm trying out is a 16" radius, but shifted so the high point on the board is between the B and E string, closer to the B, instead of centered under the A. The fretboard is already cut and it looks promising.
  5. XLunacy


    Nov 28, 2013
    It should be ready in 2 to 3 months, will definitely share :hyper:

    I was also concerned about the G being too long, for tonal reasons, but I just told myself that 1/2" should not make that much of a difference, and I'm not hearing that many people playing 35" basses complaining :)

    Seems that we're going for the same pickups ! I'll expand on the electronics and pickups stuff when I get the time, but these Zen B seem to provide everything I'm looking for, and seem very well suited to multiscale instruments and various switching situations and combinations. In your case if you have a 17.25 bridge string spacing you can go up to ~24° of pickup angle :D

    Radius will also be mostly flat, 16" to 18", whatever, I don't think it matters that much, but that fingerboard shape of yours is interesting, I don't think I've seen that before.
    What are the benefits ? Feels flat on the low side, but more curvature on the high strings for easier chords ?
  6. Bartrinsic

    Bartrinsic Supporting Member

    Jan 6, 2018
    San Diego
    The fretboard radius thing is a theory I'm testing on this build. I play from 12" (Ibanez SRFF4505 & SRMS5) to flat (Warwick Corvette $$). I like flat, but I've noticed when switching to flat from radiused, the edges bother me. When I play 12", the hump in the middle bothers me--I have to reach over the hump to fret the E and B strings, but I like the way the lower G-string edge rolls back. The idea is to push the 'bump' higher so I don't have to reach over, but keep the roll off toward the edges.
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