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Custom Build = Tone Gamble?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by MikeyB, Aug 30, 2007.

  1. MikeyB


    Aug 16, 2006
    Sykesville, MD
    Hello All...

    I'd like to get some input from folks who had a fairly specific tone in mind and had a bass built targeting that tone. How close did it get to your expectations?

    I'm thinking of having a custom bass built to get close to a Streamer Stage II sound. How? Best I can figure, I'd mimic the woods on the 90s models: Wenge/Afzelia 7pc neck, Afzelia body, Wenge fingerboard, careful placement/choice of pickups, and a nice onboard pre with decent mid control.

    Not looking for a clone, but something very close to the Warwick growl and vibe. Can I expect to get close?

    Please no "if you want SSII tone, buy an SSII" responses! ;)
    I very well may pick up a SSII, but I'd love the aesthetics/craftsmanship of, say, a Bordwell with a tone close to what I have in mind.

    Thoughts? Thanks!

  2. steve21

    steve21 Banned

    I'd ask the builder. Tell 'em what idea you have in mind and go from there.
  3. alexgeddy

    alexgeddy Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2007
    problem is the builders are running out of tonewoods... hence the trend to bubinga etc.... what you need to do is if you don't like the tone of the body is make sure you can return it.... some alder bodies are dead,,, some are great depends on what the builder picks!!

    hope this helps

  4. Zooberwerx

    Zooberwerx Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2002
    Virginia Beach, VA
    Ditto...and Cliff Bordwell is the way to go. My low-end CB 5 has an ash body, walnut top, and maple / wenge neck. Add a pair of passive Delanos and its a tone monster.

  5. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    Some builders don't actually know what they're doing though, in terms of getting a specific tone from their creation. It's hard to say who does or doesn't, to what degree, but the rule of thumb that occurs to me is if somebody builds only a few types of basses day in and day out, using a limited range of materials, they will be more likely to understand what variables need to be influenced in order to get specific results. OTOH if a builder does only creative work, rarely the same thing twice, they are less likely to be able to identify all the variables, or be inclined to control them.

    So I'm saying custom bass does = tone gamble, unless you are dealing with somebody who has a lot of experience working with the specific design and materials you have in mind.
  6. fullrangebass


    May 7, 2005
    I completely agree with Bongomania.

    It looks like MikeyB has done more or less his homework, so it's a matter of finding a luthier who will work the project with him. Look around and see readily made examples of work in that specific tone and wood area you are looking for. I can say go a, b, c or d but please look around too. I have had the pleasure of dealing with few luthiers and all of them delivered what I had asked for (even the Carvin ones that I have were made to order!!! let alone the Ritter, the Dingwalls or the MTD). Please look around and ask people to show you their basses resembling the recipe you are after. I have had the pleasure of owning a Shuker bass with the features you are stating (only difference was EMG loaded) and the bass was THAT sound.
  7. I'd agree that Cliff would be the best for the job, but have you found out if EVERYTHING you want is available on the market? Personally, I haven't seen afzelia for sale, but I have never really looked.

    If you get the woods, Cliff has such unique construction that identical woods may still sound a bit different. Sometimes different is good.

    Personally, if you want that exact of a sound, I'd probably just get the Warwick. Cliff can probably build you a more comfortable bass that plays better, but it would be really hard to nail your particular tone.
  8. TFunkadelic


    Apr 9, 2006
    You could get a custom shop Warwick and get the aesthetics you're after (maybe) and get the sound you want for sure.
  9. pickles

    pickles Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 23, 2000
    Ventura, CA
    Don't forget the brass frets, thats a big factor in the warwick sound.
  10. MikeyB


    Aug 16, 2006
    Sykesville, MD
    Thanks all so far.

    Yea, I don't need a Warwick "clone" as far as tone... but it is an easy way to talk about tone without having semantic problems ("focused", "tight"... what do they mean again? ;) )

    I noticed that Cliff doesn't list Afzelia, but I guess I'm hoping he could get some. I did some searches and found Afzelia listed by some suppliers. AND... I even found some Afzelia burl!! That would be awesome for a top, since I was a little bummed about the look of "plain" Afzelia. Afzelia core with Afzelia burl top.... mmmmmm!! (As a side note, I was also thinking about Afzelia core with Bubinga burl on top. There's some bodacious Bubinga burl out there!)

    I agree about construction: I thought about Cliff's set neck versus neck-thru, but for me that amount of tonal difference would be acceptable.

    Brass Frets? Now that I didn't know about. I could see where that could possibly be a key ingredient in the recipe. Anyone else think the brass frets are part of the "magic"?


  11. nickbear


    Jun 12, 2007
    surrey, uk
    i hink the brass frets will make a bit of difference.. also pickup placement and type of pickups will be a factor.
  12. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.

    +1 - Pete Skjold is very good at determining wood combos to match the tones your after. Everyone I know who ordered a Skjold got exactly what they asked for as far as I know. Usually what they asked for plus a dozen other tones to choose from as well on the same instrument. Pete usually starts with an idea of what you want, and builds a bass that will get the tone your after completely passive. Then he puts in a kick ass pre-amp and pickups that allow for a bunch of diversity, but are clear enough not to get in the way of that original tonal goal.

    Personally, I would not walk in with woods in mind, other than maybe a top. The top wont add that much tonally in the grand scheme of things, depending how thick it is ect, and is more of an asthetic choice. As for neck, body, fingerboard woods, pick the tone you want, and let your luthier pick the woods. I often hear people talk about a bass with a particular sound, then name a bunch of woods that would not sound anything like they are after hehe.

    Having said all that, my Skjold is an Afzalia Burl top and back, and there is another Afzalia Burl top with a mahogany body being built right now in his current batch as well lol.
  13. Another good point.

    I have seen some luthiers use a tone block of some of the heavier woods and heard that you can often get a lot of the tonal properties of the center block and have lighter woods for the wings.

    Not to bash the MEC pickups and preamp, but I always thought they had a very thin sound. To me, I tend to think the ultra dense hardwoods often lack sustain. This could be why a lot of the newer 'wicks made of the ultra dense woods sound thin and lack sustain. Sure, if you want punchy/growly with quick decay, that's the way to do it.

    My gut kinda says that the limited response range of your desired pickups and pre might almost make the dynamic range of a CB Bass somewhat pointless, although I'd think it would be more comfortable and probably play better.

    Rather than talking to us, you might see what Cliff is willing to do and what kind of ideas he'd have.
  14. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    Too true. In fact, that's a mistake I made with my first custom- first I told the luthier what tones I wanted, but then I selected a bunch of woods and electronics and construction types... and as far as I can tell after that he just completely lost track of the tones I wanted and focused on my aesthetic requests. So the bass looked perfect, but didn't sound right at all. A better luthier would have stopped me in my tracks and said "wait a minute, let's figure out whether all this stuff you're specifying is going to do what you want... and here are my suggestions of what to do instead."
  15. pointbass

    pointbass Jersey to Georgia Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Nov 4, 2004
    Acworth, GA
    Endorsing Artist: FBB Bass Works
    I have always started with tone and so far all has been great. I might make some generic suggestions as to what I'd like. cosmetically, but really, I just let the builder decide what is going to give me the tone I'm looking for ....

    On my 7 I really wanted to get some burl wood, but Matt cautioned me that my tone would be compromised and I'd ultimately be unhappy .... I'm really glad I listened to him :bassist:

    If you're going with Cliff (an excellent choice, for sure) give him some leeway on the woods .... he'll know what'll work for you ....... :cool:
  16. It's a thin line that luthiers are forced to walk. If they make too many suggestions, some potential buyers will get miffed and upset that the luthier is telling them what to do. If they do what the buyer wants, sometimes it doesn't turn out exactly as planned and the buyer is upset.

    Either way, buyers can complain until the cows come home.
  17. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    After ordering many custom instruments, I've realized that:

    1) Expectations are usually wrong
    2) Identical basses can sound very different

    The second is a partial explanation of the first. Due to the natural tonal variation of wood even within the same species, you can never be sure what a finished product will sound like.
  18. KeithPas

    KeithPas Supporting Member

    May 16, 2000
    If you are looking for a particular tone in a custom bass you are taking a gamble, you might be better off saving your money for the exact bass that has the tone you crave. OTOH, If you are looking for a unique, well built bass that you will have a personal connection to then a higher end custom bass would probably ring your bell and give you great tones.

    MAJOR METAL The Beagle Father Supporting Member

    It is a total coin toss in my expirence when having a totaly custom designed bass crafted for you. It is easier to get a tonal scope from buiders that offer standard woods and electronics.I would listen to recordings with the builder if it is possible as well as bring instruments with a similar tonal character to him/her.
  20. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    I have 3 custom built instrument.
    For each of them I had a tone in my head and got it in the end.
    If you spend enough time discussing the project with the builder, you can't reach very far from the aim.

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