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Double neck 5 string fretted/fretless as first bass build?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by john keates, Oct 15, 2004.

  1. john keates

    john keates

    May 20, 2004
    I have been searching these forums for info on double neck basses and I can't find much at all.

    I usually play fretted but have started to really enjoy fretless. I play chords and things that are tricky to pull off with a fretless and I would really like the ability to swap between fretted/fretless mid song.

    What are the pros and cons of a double neck five string fretted/fretless? I should imagine that it is the sort of thing that I would have to ask a luthier to make but they would probably charge a LOT for a decent one.

    The irony is that, whilst I am tempted to make one because the cost of bying one might be prohibitive, I expect that it would be considered foolish if I tried to make one having never made a guitar before.

    I guess my question is basically this:

    Is it completely foolish for a begginer to try to make a double neck five string fretted/frettless base?

    Bare in mind that I am an artist and have sculpted and done some DIY including woodwork and soldering so I may have some abillity for the job.

    Thanks for any input
  2. do you have access to the necessary tools for building?

    i certainly would never discourage anyone from attempting to build an instrument. but, that would be quite the undertaking. have you done an estimate on the cost of materials that you will need?

    if you do not have the tools, and have to purchase them, and then factor in the cost of materials, plus your time spent doing it..having an experienced luthier make one might not be as prohibitive as you may imagine.

    all depends on who you'd want to make it, i suppose.
  3. M_A_T_T


    Mar 4, 2004
  4. john keates

    john keates

    May 20, 2004
    I have some tools but, to be honest, I haven’t done all that much research into what would be needed.

    I am thinking of going for carbon-fibre necks. This would help solve three problems: Difficulty/time to make and, as Lex said, weight.

    I know that most people dis like carbon-fibre but I don't know how much this might be to do with tradition. I have played a carbon-fibre neck before and liked it. I didn't get time to form a full opinion on sound though. I did see a classical musician on TV playing a double bass that was carbon-fibre and he couldn't tell the difference.

    I am thinking that I might not worry about looking like a relic from the eighties. I am bound to attract derision just for having two necks. I might even go for headless to further elevate balance/weight issues.

    However, if there is a luthier out there (preferably in England I guess) who would like to talk about the possibility of making me such a thing (not necesseraly with carbon necks) then I would love to hear from you.
  5. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
  6. john keates

    john keates

    May 20, 2004
    Hey, John,

    I have seen pictures of that thing around... It's AMAZING! I guess that a five stringer would be pretty easy next to that both to build and play.

    I am still concerned about weight. Actually, I was thinking that it would be a good idea to make the fretless side semi-hollow. That way it might be possible to get a more double-bass like sound on it and lighten the thing up at the same time. I don't know how the resonance thing would work if it is attached to a non semi-hollow body though. Also, It would be harder to build.

    I had the same quandry as you where I wanted a neck through fretless for sustain but also semi-hollow bodied. I don't know if the two can really work together.

    Another concern - and this is more important - is that the necks would inevitably be odd heights. I am quite fussy about my neck hieght. If the fretted is down low then I would worry about wrist strain when doing chords. However, I would like the fretless to be close to me so I can feel it.

    Question: Do you find that the gap between the necks is big enough? I would hate to have the distraction of the lower neck when playing the upper but that gap has to be as small as possible.
  7. LajoieT

    LajoieT I won't let your shadow be my shade...

    Oct 7, 2003
    Western Massachusetts
    As far as a doubleneck for your first build there is no reason it would be any *harder* to build thant a single neck, But of course it will be more expensive (you are doubling the # of pickups, bridges, tuners, nuts, fretwork, etc...) which makes it the potential for a more expensive mistake.

    There are just a few extra things that need to be thought of and planned for. First off, nearly all DN's I've seen the necks aren't parallel. You can see that in JT's, so that needs to be planned for. If you are doing bolt on necks it will determine where and at what angle you route out the neck pockets on the body. If you're doing Neck-Thru you need to plan the taper of the piece of wood between the two neck blanks, and also plan on the curve between the two necks. It's a tough spot to get any tools in there and do much work without the necks getting in the way.

    You also need to plan the electronics and figure ways to get the wiring from the upper neck to the lower control cavity which is MUCH easier done before all of the pieces of wood are put together. You also need to decide if both necks are going to run through the same set of electronics and how that will work. Todays active electronics can offer a dizzying array of options in combinations of just 2 pickups, but now you have 2 sets of 2 (assuming you're going for a 2 pickup setup...)

    DN's are never cheap instruments and I'm sure there are other things to consider in their construction that I haven't mentioned (never built one, but I've thought of trying it myself once or twice :D )

    Good luck and let us know if you decide to try it.
  8. john keates

    john keates

    May 20, 2004
    Hey, LajoieT, thanks for the tips.

    I have been worrying about the electronics and how they would work.

    I recently fitted some Villexes to my Yamaha TRB5 and, even though they are hum-bucking I am getting some noise when I don't touch them. I am guessing that I havn't earthed them properly and so I gave the bass to an expert to sort out. This doesn't give me much confidence as it will be a real problem if I have two necks as I can't be touching them both at the same time. I guess that the earthing system could be all connected though.

    One thing that might complicate the whole electronics thing is that I wouldn't mind a peizo-electric bridge on the fretless end. Actually, maybe I could try just peizo on the fretless and a single MM on the fretted.... Hmmm.... lots to think about.

    I think I will have to get a good book on building basses before I consider building the thing.

    I have even been thinking of how to make a neck with retractable frets but I concluded that this would be madness itself to attempt.

    Keep the advice coming.
  9. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    Technically, it shouldn't be any harder, but it will be. Doublenecks are generally big and unwieldy. It takes some smart design to get them to work right, and not having lots of them hanging around for you to base your design off of won't help.

    For your first instrument, I recommend going as simply as possible. You're going to be grappling with a lot of processes that are new to you. The fewer complications you have going on, the better you'll be able to concentrate on the most important parts of getting it done right, and the more likely you'll be happy with the results and inspired to press on.
  10. My Stambaugh 6 is semi-hollow & neck-through. It seems to add a subtle reverb & basses up the high notes. It is also lighter than my Fender Jazz 5. Press on!
  11. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    thanks :). it's pretty easy to play, about like my other 7's.

    well, you can make a fairly small, light body, and then go from there. i think the most weight is coming from the 2x amount of hardware, as opposed to the slightly more body wood.

    yeah, mine was chambered purely for weight issues, and in the end it sustains a great deal - any lack of sustain that might be present due to the bolt on is more than compensated for by the much greater than normal amount of body mass with the instrument. bill's necks are also very very stable - i have 11 necks of his with all my basses, and none of them have ever required any major adjustment - only one required a one time truss rod adjustment.

    yeah, there has to be a compromise. the fretted is higher than i normally play so that the fretless is just a small bit lower. i didn't have the fretless up top because observing the fretless neck from that high causes an extreme angle on the lower frets and makes visual reinforcement of proper intonation a bit dicey.

    yeah. i made sure i had enough room from the beginning. to be honest, the only change i'd make to the instrument, and it's not that big a deal, is that i'd get the necks a bit closer together - maybe by as much as an inch, but probably less.
  12. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    actually a lot of the double neck basses, believe it or not, are completely parallel, which i though was totally silly. they should line up with one another when you have the instrument strapped on, not when they are in a stand.

    yeah, good point. changing things with the top neck is going to be pretty tough, and you don't want any controls between the necks because that's where your arm is going to go when you play the bottom neck.

    keep in mind the mechanics of playing the instrument, and if possible draw yourself a full sized mockup of the body on a piece of posterboard, cut it out, and strap it on, to see how the mechanics of your layout will work. that's what bill did, early on, when he got the body designed, he sent me a tracing of the body template he used, which i was able to use to get a feel for the body layout.
  13. Groove Theory

    Groove Theory Grizzly Adams DID have a beard.

    Oct 3, 2004
    The Psychiatric Ward
    Neck through and semi-hollow 'eh? I'm starting on a design and would like to do a neck through and semi-hollow type thing. would you happen to have any pictures of yours?
  14. john keates

    john keates

    May 20, 2004
    Thanks for all the help guys :)

    I would also be interested to hear about the semi-hollow neck-through.

    On the subject of electrics though, I am thinking that I might have seperate jacks for each neck. I gues I would have to find somewhere crafty for the top neck controls but this would have the following advantages:

    I would have less of a problem integrating all of the electronics inside the bass.

    Each neck could be recorded seperately. This means that any accidental string noise on the neck that isn't being used can be erased and it would be easy to engineer the sound of each neck differently.

    Each neck could have different effects. I would probably want to use different compression and eq for each neck. I could have quite different sounds on each neck. The down side here would be that I would need to buy more effects.

    Since the mixer would be out side of the bass, I could easily play about with different mixers. This may make the bass lighter also (unless I end up using two preamps). I could always go passive so that I didn't have to buy a whole load of pre-amps.

    What do you think? Might this be the way to go?
  15. john keates

    john keates

    May 20, 2004
    I was thinking about the problem of getting the necks as close as possible, when I had the idea of making the lower neck further away from me than the higher one. This would mean that there would be more space for the hand.

    This might happen automatially if I were to have a bolt-on for the lower neck and neck-through for the upper.

    This being the case, I would want to have the fretless for the upper, neck-through neck which intern, might cause problems with visibility for internation.


    On the other hand, If I make the fretless neck through end simi-hollow bodied then I might want the body to be thicker and this would lift it away from me a little.

    Having the lower neck higher would also make sense in terms of stopping the upper neck and knobs from geting in the way of the lowe one. It might not be good for ergnomics though. From the point of view of comfort I would prefer the lower neck to be closer to my body so that my wrist is on a good angle. But then if the necks are closer then this is less of a problem....

    I would be interested to know what you people think about the above ramblings. Am I going mad?
  16. LajoieT

    LajoieT I won't let your shadow be my shade...

    Oct 7, 2003
    Western Massachusetts
    I wouldn't say you were mad, but you just added a few degrees of difficulty to the building process!!!
  17. john keates

    john keates

    May 20, 2004
    There is a thread where a guy is talking about making his bass out of MDF. The idea bieng that he can allways re-make it out of something else at a later date.

    There is another thread with a guy talking about using wood hardner on MDF.

    I am thinking that this could be the way to go. I am more after clarity in my tone than any kind of special sound. Is MDF really all THAT bad for making basses? After all, my Fender Squire is made of ply and sounds pretty OK to my ears.

    MDF would also be a relatively cheap way to find out if the basic design is workable - especially considering that it is so experemental.
  18. LajoieT

    LajoieT I won't let your shadow be my shade...

    Oct 7, 2003
    Western Massachusetts
    All the wood hardener in the world isn't going to make MDF good for instruments. You will end up with a "material" that has the properties of the hardener alone, since the wood material used has all been separated into little pieces. You can't put a board through a wood chipper and then glue the pieces back together and expect it to be the same can you? Plywood is a different animal since it is thin layers of solid wood glued together kinda like a thin version of the 5/7/11 piece laminated necks, but if your squire is made of plywood I'm sure it's considered a MUCH higher grade of plywood than most people think of when they think plywood. Many of the less expensive Double Basses are Plywood. MDF or Home Depo plywood would be fine for checking out shapes and sizes (and of course making templates...), but then so would cardboard. MDF also seems like it is VERY heavy so you'd end up with a piece which has all the weight of a great heavy wood without the strength and stability. It's also horrible to work with as far as smoothness goes so your ability to cut/sand route/drill/etc. is going to make it tough to work with.

    In the end you'd probably get a better instrument if you used Pine or some other cheap (but real) wood.
  19. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Building a bass takes a lot of planning.
    Double neck needs double planning.
    Otherwise it's not too much problem to build doublenecks.

    However, weight and weight distribution is a major problem - needs major planning!
    Graphite necks are heavy, usually heavier than wooden.
    MDF is heavier than e.g. alder and swamp ash.
    And you need light weight necks and not too light body to have a decent balance.
  20. john keates

    john keates

    May 20, 2004
    OK, so it looks like I have some re-thinking to do...

    I am surprised that graphite is heavy. I thought it was the other way around.

    Thanks for the input guys. I guess it is time to get a book on how to do this stuff before I consider it further.