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Designing custom bass, Suggestions from builders?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by KodyAudette, Nov 1, 2012.

  1. KodyAudette


    Apr 30, 2012
    Hello all!

    So I've just started discussions with a local luthier about building me a custom bass. :hyper:

    At this point I'm extremely open to options and was wondering if any builders (or other TBers who've had customs built) have suggestions as far as things that their customers generally don't consider/should have thought of. Anything that you think would make the process easier, cheaper, more satisfying to both the luthier and myself. Here's what I've got in mind so far with the bass:

    35" scale 5 string
    Probably Hipshot Bridge and tuners
    I'm thinking dual soapbar style pickups, either Bartolinis or EMGs.
    Probably a Bartolini Preamp
    (though if the initial cost is prohibitive, I may just have him rout the battery cavity and a nice, large control cavity and just go passive till I can afford to upgrade).
    There will be custom artwork on the body by a phenomenal artist.

    Haven't decided on a body or neck wood yet. Not sure whether we'll do neck-through or bolt on or whether we'll be using a figured veneer or not.

    Money is definitely a controlling factor, so cheaper options are better, but I want your advice on where it pays to spend the extra money and what can slide for a while or be upgraded later.

    Thanks so much for any suggestions/words of wisdom!
  2. MPU


    Sep 21, 2004
    Valkeala Finland
    Bridge, tuners and pickups/electronics are easy to upgrade. Woods, scale length, frets and truss rod are not easily upgradable, as well as finish and design.

  3. phillybass101

    phillybass101 Supporting Member

    Jan 12, 2011
    Artist, Trickfish Amplification Bartolini Emerging Artist, MTD Kingston Emerging Artist. Artist, Tsunami Cables
    Somehow custom and cheap do not sit in the same boat with me. I have just finished specing mine with my Luthier and it will be custom and not cheap. And you SHOULD really know what you want going iin. Do as much homework as possible before he starts. You can't take it back. What types of basses do you like? what sounds, tones, feel. What styles do you play. Artwork on a bass that itself should be a work of art? You must be young?
  4. KodyAudette


    Apr 30, 2012
    Yes, fairly young. 25. I recently began tossing around the idea of having a bass custom built but didn't expect the opportunity to come up for quite a while. I recently met a local luthier who (though they have plenty of experience setting up and building guitars) are just getting a business started. It is a husband and wife team, one is the luthier, the other is an artist. I think at this point it's more a labor of love style of thing while they get it off the ground and get a few more instruments under their belt together so the labor prices will be extremely reasonable. I say cheap in comparison to other custom basses, I do plan to spend something around $1500 or so. Also, work would not begin on this bass for at least 3 or 4 months so I've got a good bit of time to really figure out what the best options are.

    The reason I haven't decided on any particulars yet is that I haven't had the time to really sit down and think about it yet. That's what I'm in the process of doing now and was hoping I could save some time by getting some advice from those who've been there before.

    Style wise I play in a blues/funk band, an Alternative Rock and, and a Technical Metal band. This bass I would probably use more for the blues/funk and Alternative rock bands. I want this bass to not only look pretty but sound pretty as well. Warm, full, and nuanced. Of course I want a solid B string (Hence the longer scale, I've never really been happy with the B on any 34").

    I love the sound of the EMG soapbar pickups on Schecter's Studio 5, the bottom is full and the higher strings come through clearly. I find that all the soapbar style pickups I've played have the same character I like, even those on my Ibanez GSR206. I mention the Bartolini soapbars and preamp because I really liked the combination of some Bartolini Jazzes with a Bart preamp so I want to find something with the soaps and preamp to see if that combo is what I'm looking for.

    Thanks, MPU. You make a good point about the ability to upgrade much of the hardware, etc. later on, though I really would like to spend the time and figure out what I'm looking for now rather than rely on that ability later on. Perhaps I really should determine what kinds of wood I want before anything else.
  5. garmenteros

    garmenteros Bass Enthusiast Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2008
    Dominican Republic
    I got a bass kind of like you described. 35 scale 5 string jazz with bartolinis and hipshot hardware. I used mahogany for the body and had a moses j neck done to my specs.

    First thing I'd consider is spacing at the bridge and the neck width and what you most feel comfortable with. This type of stuff is hard to get around after the bass is built. I started out with a .750 spacing Hipshot typeA bridge where the g string would end up out of the fretboard as it made its way up the neck and would pop off if I wasn't careful and anything above fret 12 was pretty much trouble. I ended up keeping it that way and playing around that for a couple of years and beat the bass up refinished it and added a new nut. Other thing I'd consider next is either going active or passive depending on what you like. If you go passive you won't have to have extra routing on the bass where if you decide to throw in a preamp most likely you will unless you throw in something like an audere on a jazz control plate.
  6. JIO

    JIO Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 30, 2010
    Pacifica CA
    musician/artist/owner - Gildaxe
    Create a mental picture of the bass you want visually, feel/playability and tonally in your mind as an ideal and take the steps necessary to realizing it. Don't limit your imagination! No matter if you fully achieve that ideal or not, you will learn much on the way and maybe play this one bass the rest of your life - or maybe not. If not, you will a least have a better understanding of what goes into an instrument. And, a self-created custom instrument will inspire use of it, which is why you're doing it yes? (playing music is a nice result of your efforts!)

    But as you have a lifetime of musical growth ahead of you, it takes time to develop a feel for the sometimes subtle difference between a nice bass and "that bass" - clue; it's the one you can best express yourself through regardless of price or style of even tone. It's some undefinable thing (that you can create!) which promotes a kind of creative extension. With that in mind enjoy the journey!
  7. DethByDoom


    Sep 23, 2012
    I vote you throw in a bottle opener.
  8. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    Get the particulars SET IN STONE for the builders sake. I am waiting to finish a customer build that the customer has waited 7 months to figure out which preamp and buffer setup he wanted to use for pickups and piezo. The fact that it is a small body has made it impossible to do the control cavity due to the fact that he wants minimal wood removal, only enough to fit the pre and buffer.

    So whatever you do, get the particulars down so your builder isn't left hanging.
  9. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Victoria, BC
    Like garmenteros said, string spacing is a big one right off the bat. Things that will simplify the process in my view:

    fretboard wood, binding, dots, inlays?
    nut material
    type and colour of tuning machines
    volute on the neck or not
    tilt back or flat headstock with string trees
    type of frets (thickness of wire used)
    fretboard radius
    preferred neck thickness
    zero fret or regular nut
    number of frets (24?)
    truss rod access at nut or body?
    neck material (stringers, multi lam, one piece?)
    neck through, bolt on, set neck or some combination?
    body material
    traditional, modern, original design?
    solid colour, or visible wood grain or some combination?
    number of pickup routs & location
    single cutaway, or double cutaway design
    depth of cutaway for fret access
    location of bridge from edge of body
    strap button locations
    overall width
    chambering (is weight a consideration?)
    pickup guard or not
    type of jack & location on body
    bridge type and colour (best if this is known firmly right away)
    roundover on edge or not
    tummy cut, arm contour?
    electronics (passive, active, type, preamps, etc)

    If you have this somewhat nailed down, it's a good start for the conversation about details that's to follow...

    EDIT: :D JC beat me to it. Can you hear his experiential frustration in his typing? LOL!