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Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Eminor3rd, May 15, 2017.

  1. Eminor3rd

    Eminor3rd BLAAAAARRGGHH!!

    Feb 10, 2008

    My time has finally arrived! After years upon years of drooling over all of your custom builds, I finally get to make a thread of my own. A couple years ago, I finally got truly inspired to take the fretless seriously, and so I began casually shopping for a good, mid-level instrument to which to aspire. The more I looked around, the more that I realized that what I needed to spend to get what I wanted was more than halfway to a custom, and I decided that: (a) I'm not getting any younger, (b) it won't be too long before I'll have to focus my money on a family, and (c) the best time to dive in is when inspiration strikes. I spent a few hundred bucks on a Carvin to help me learn for the time being, and committed to the idea of commissioning a custom for the long run.

    After shopping around for a while, I decided that Cliff Bordwell was the guy. A phone call and a few emails later, I had put down my deposit and took my spot at the back of the line. Fast forward about 15 months, and I got an email from Cliff that it's my turn!

    For those of you that love progress threads (like me), I'll post every picture that Cliff sends me. For those of you that are interested in learning about the process of purchasing a custom, I'll note the decisions that I make and the significant conversations I have with Cliff. Please feel free to ask questions -- reading these types of threads made me feel a lot more comfortable about taking the plunge, and I'd love to pay it forward any way that I can.

    To start, here are my specs:

    Body Style: Dola
    Strings: 5; BEADG

    Scale length: 34”
    Neck shape: Oval
    Thickness at 1st: .810 (thin)
    String spacing at Bridge: 18mm
    Body thickness: 1.525


    Neck: Modern (Maple/Wenge)
    Fingerboard: Gaboon Ebony
    Fingerboard Radius: 12”
    Nut: Dymondwood
    Full faced top: Yes

    Body woods
    Top: Mac Ebony
    Body: Ash
    Headstock shape: “B”
    Headstock plate: Same wood as top
    Cavity cover: Ash

    Color: Black
    Bridge: Hipshot style “A”
    Tuners: Hipshot Ultralite
    Truss rod: two-way adjustable
    Unlined fretless; Blue Luminlay side dots (3,5,7,9,12,15,17,19,21,24)
    Strap locks: Schaller
    Output: 1/4" Face mount

    Pickups: Nordstrand Fat Stacks (x2); Bridge at 60’s Jazz location, Neck approx. 0.5” in front
    Preamp: Passive
    Controls: V/V/Tone
    Switches: None

    Cliff builds four basses at a time, and spends approximately three months on each set, so I expect this will be done sometime in August/September.

    First picture attached: the raw materials!

    FC Bass and mikezimmerman like this.
  2. Eminor3rd

    Eminor3rd BLAAAAARRGGHH!!

    Feb 10, 2008
    So here's a thing: pickups

    I'm weird about this and I think I know what I'm doing but I might be wrong and there's a small part of me that's terrified, so tell me what you think.

    For a few years now, I've had a "thing" for one-pickup basses. This doesn't have anything to do with whether or not I think they represent a better "sounding" configuration at all. No -- it's because the longer I play, the more strongly I believe in the adage that most of the tone is in the hands of the player. And because of that, I've chosen to focus my tonal quest INTERNALLY instead of externally. I've decided to practice and experiment with how to coax certain tones out of my instrument with my hands (position, pressure, technique, etc.) whilst keep everything in the signal chain flat and/or wide open. In this, I hope to "develop" a tone of my own.

    This has trickled down to my gear choices. Because of my hands-tone quest, I have sought to remove variables from my gear. It has become my goal to build my rig solely out of things that I like when set flat. I have no issue with tweaking for a room, but I believe that I can achieve greater tonal consistency with less twiddling. And so, I feel a strong desire for my bass, the most important piece, to have its own "sound," with which I will wrestle and manipulate to make my own personal tone. Jazz Basses can sound like all kinds of things! And you don't even need to use EQ! Just balancing the pickup makes them into entirely different instruments. This sort of versatility is extremely valuable in practical settings.

    But I'm not in a practical setting.

    I gave up on making any money whatsoever from music years ago. I'm just trying to make good art. I like to write and I like to arrange even more. And so I want a single tonal signature on what I do, and then I want to configure everything else to work around it. So a one pickup bass has a ton of appeal. The bass will have a consistent output that I have to transform with my hands.

    So how come my custom bass has two pickups?

    I got scared. I don't know where to put it. So I compromised with myself, and I selected two identical pickups and asked Cliff to place them close together. Now, I'll be able to experiment with a wider area of pickup placement, and when I have the blend I want, I'll just leave it there. Further, some of those "tweaks for the room" I make with my amp EQ might be able to be made with the pickup blend, which I think should feel more organic.

    But there's a downside to this. I chose Nordstrand Fat Stacks, which everyone on Earth agrees are a good choice, but I learned that Cliff like to put his own touch on them: he like to wire them as single coils. He believe strongly that they sound best that way and has some high profile customers that agree. This is a problem for me, who feels the need to experiment finding a semi-permanent pickup blend, because what if that blend comes with a bunch of 60 cycle hum? What then? I don't want that.

    So I asked him to wire them as humbuckers. But part of me is saying that you hired the expert to make you a bass, why aren't you letting him apply his expertise here? What say you, Talkbass? Humbuckers or singles? Any other pickup advice? Is everything I said above stupid?
  3. Stonetown Lows

    Stonetown Lows Commercial User

    Jan 23, 2014
    Ringwood NJ
    Owner, M&V Guitars &Pickups
    Unless you are running no highs at all (and so not concerned with hum), that is probably a bad choice. Treating noise cancelling humbuckers as gigantic single coils is going to give you a J bass sound on steroids, along with the same amount of hum. Granted, many folks use single coil J basses very successfully, and some of your luthier's "name" clients might use them; but we've also learned over the years that "everybody likes everything", so that really doesn't tell you much of anything.

    Wiring them as giant singles seems like a big waste of what those Nordies were designed to do. And how close the pickups are together, and for that matter, where they are placed is one of the most critical aspects of a bass' overall sound.

    It seems that most bassists we've worked with prefer the fullness of tone of a traditional series-wired humbucking arrangement. Two single coils in parallel are going to likely yield some scooping due to acoustic phase cancellation. Parallel wiring of a humbucker will also give you different scooped results, and he can do that, which will eliminate the hum and give you a bit more highs at the expense of much of the "fatness" and output. Sounds like maybe you like having the scooped sound option? The best course is to use the research contained in the classic pickup placements, imho.

    Single pickup Music Man Stingrays have that gigantic humbucker placed in the first nodal point, which gives the least amount of overtones, and the purest fundamental note. That's a big part of why they sound so punchy and present.

    Placing your pickups in the traditional P bass or J bass locations will give you options that sound surprisingly like regular P and J basses, even with different pickups! A humbucker with series internal wiring arrangement should provide enough girth of signal that you might well be able to run it flat, or close to it.

    A series humbucker (P style or otherwise) pickup is simply a fatter sounding pickup than any single coil J pickup that I am aware of. Traditional placement P/J combos are super popular, and my preference as well, because you can dial girth in or out with the P position pickup, and dial focus and detail in or out with the J position pickup. So maybe you might consider P/J placement with the Nordstrands. I think that arrangement might yield many if not all of the options you are looking for, even though the Fat Stack is a pretty wide aperture pickup. P/J placement just seems to work really well for the many types of music I find myself playing. I hope this helps a bit.

    But I would definitely stay away from running the Fat Stacks as two big single coils. Just like a stock J bass, you'll get hum anytime you are running highs and aren't running the pickups nearly equal, imho. Are you sure he doesn't mean wiring the Nordstrands parallel internally?
  4. kittywithabanjo

    kittywithabanjo Supporting Member

    Nov 26, 2014
    Coquitlam. BC
    My fretless has a single nordstrand humbucker in the mm position roughly and I wouldn't change a thing. IMO his positioning shines on a fretless. All I have on that bass is volume and part of me think I should of just got a switch on off..

    Normally I am a 2 pick up preamp guy btw but latEly enjoy one well placed pick up. In the end get what your instinct tells you
  5. Eminor3rd

    Eminor3rd BLAAAAARRGGHH!!

    Feb 10, 2008
    Yeah, I fear the hum. I'm curious as to how it would sound, but I gotsta keep it squeaky clean. Thanks for that post -- really informative and interesting. I have also been working under the assumption that pickup location is critical. What I've asked Cliff to do is essentially a slightly wider aperture MM thing -- with the two pickups occupying the same general area. What you described makes me confident that I made the right choice there.
  6. Eminor3rd

    Eminor3rd BLAAAAARRGGHH!!

    Feb 10, 2008
    Thanks, kitty! You and I are on the same page :)
  7. Ronen


    Feb 9, 2003
    Milky Way Galaxy
    Just received my new CB 5 couple weeks ago from Cliff. A pair of Nordstrand dual coils, each has its own dedicated 3-way switch for series/single/parallel operation. Sounds like heaven in all settings. I highly recommend getting that option if it's possible with Fat Stacks.
    Congrats on your build! You chose wisely.
    Last edited: May 24, 2017
  8. Eminor3rd

    Eminor3rd BLAAAAARRGGHH!!

    Feb 10, 2008
    Congrats on your bass, and thanks!

    More progress pics below -- headstock and neck blank:

    szz-31h.JPG szz31nb.JPG

    Absolutely love that Mac Ebony.
    mikezimmerman likes this.
  9. jumbodbassman

    jumbodbassman Supporting Member

    Dec 28, 2009
    Stuck in traffic -NY & CT
    Born Again Tubey
    cool. my build is the black and white ebony.
  10. Eminor3rd

    Eminor3rd BLAAAAARRGGHH!!

    Feb 10, 2008
    Nice! Below are our fingerboards, is yours all the way on the right?


    Mine is the dark Gaboon Ebony.
  11. Eminor3rd

    Eminor3rd BLAAAAARRGGHH!!

    Feb 10, 2008
    Ok this is where it starts getting exciting -- pic below of my top wood planed to thickness! Nice bookmatch, yeah?

  12. Eminor3rd

    Eminor3rd BLAAAAARRGGHH!!

    Feb 10, 2008
    Headstock with fingerboard!

    jumbodbassman and mikezimmerman like this.
  13. Eminor3rd

    Eminor3rd BLAAAAARRGGHH!!

    Feb 10, 2008
    Top beginning to take shape

    srfrf (1).JPG srfrf (2).JPG
  14. Cliff Bordwell

    Cliff Bordwell Commercial User

    Jan 6, 2004
    USA , Orlando , Florida
    Owner of CB BASSES
    I need to start following this so I know what the next step is in the build!
  15. Eminor3rd

    Eminor3rd BLAAAAARRGGHH!!

    Feb 10, 2008
    Body shot, and then with the top attached and the pickup routes made. Looking like a bass now!

    s-DSCF1928.JPG s-DSCF1952.JPG
    mikezimmerman likes this.
  16. Jared Lash

    Jared Lash Born under punches Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2006
    Northern California
    As for pickups, here's my $0.02

    I had a bass with Fat Stacks and really liked them. I ran them as single coils 95% of the time and only ran them as stacked coils (humbuckers) when in a really noisy environment or when goofing around at home.

    A/B'ing them with Big Singles I like the Big Singles a touch more (they are pretty similar) but kept the Fat Stacks because they offered the option of being humcancelling if need be.

    Years later I A/B'd the Big Singles and Big Splits. Again, really close in tone. The splits seemed have a bit less hi mids and more extended treble. Personally I like the character of the Big Singles more but that's a preference thing. They are really close in tone IMO.

    For your situation I'd suggest the Big Splits. Now if you knew for sure that you'd always leave the pickups blended 50/50 I'd say go for the Big Singles. But if that's not where you end up setting them equally blended then they will be susceptible to hum.

    The Big Splits are very close in tone and won't hum.

    Alternately if you DO decide to go ahead with the Fat Stacks, I'd ask Cliff to install a switch to change both pickups to stacked mode. It's a different sound than single coil (a bit thicker, warmer but less punch IMO) and there's a slight drop in output but then at least you have an option in noisy environments. That's what I did on my old bass.

    Hope that helps.
    Eminor3rd likes this.
  17. Eminor3rd

    Eminor3rd BLAAAAARRGGHH!!

    Feb 10, 2008
    You know I hadn't even really considered Big Splits, and I don't really know why. I think it's probably from my failure to get tones I liked out of my current fretless, a Carvin PB-5. I mean, good lord do I put on a clinic about how NOT to sound like Pino on that thing ;)

    But that's a terrible reason not to try a similar but different pickup in a different configuration on a different bass if it seems to fit what I'm looking for. Cliff has already purchased the Fat Stacks, and so I think I'm committed at this point to giving them a ride, but if I ever want to make a change, I'll likely consider the BS as my first choice, given they'll fall right into place and get closer to that "single coil" tone without the hum. I really do fear the hum.

    Thanks a lot for the suggestion.
  18. Eminor3rd

    Eminor3rd BLAAAAARRGGHH!!

    Feb 10, 2008
    Bass is about 3 weeks away!

    Here's a picture of the contouring along the sides:

  19. Eminor3rd

    Eminor3rd BLAAAAARRGGHH!!

    Feb 10, 2008
    My bass shipped this morning! Thus begins the longest work week of my life.
  20. jumbodbassman

    jumbodbassman Supporting Member

    Dec 28, 2009
    Stuck in traffic -NY & CT
    Born Again Tubey
    just got my shipping notice also. :bassist:
    mikezimmerman and Eminor3rd like this.

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