Drake Custom 5 string semi-hollow build

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Drake Custom, May 11, 2018.

  1. Drake Custom

    Drake Custom Commercial User

    Aug 24, 2010
    Builder/Owner:Drake Custom Bass Guitars
    This post will be about the construction of one of my signature 5 string basses. I will try to cover all of the steps I took and will take until she is finished. She is about 3/4 of the way complete. So I hope you find this build interesting as you see her take shape.

    Looking at my last login I realize how long it has been since I posted a build. I have been quite busy trying to keep up with orders and many non-Drake repairs that come into the shop, so having time has been difficult. I have been told that many believe I have quit building or am no longer doing custom orders. I chuckle as neither is the case. Just busy trying to keep the machine turning.

    This is a custom order bass so the specs are as the customer has requested.
    The specs of this bass are as follows:

    Tempered Swamp Ash body back
    Claro Walnut top
    Tempered Maple 5 piece neck (Tempered Ash and Wenge stringers)
    Aguilar DCB pickups
    Hipshot hardware
    34 inch scale
    22 frets
    Ebony fret board
    Bloodwood binding with abalone shell accent line
    Low weight
    Nice balance


    Here are the main materials. I joined a nice rift sawn plank of tempered (roasted) Swamp Ash to show a chevron style of grain. The top is of the Claro Walnut. I have access to a very nice re-saw machine now so I don't have to spend hours with the handsaws anymore. I will try to find a picture of the machine. I can slice down to .050" veneers if I want. Such a nice piece of kit. The neck blank pictured was made up a week before I started documenting the build so no pics of it going together. It was just a matter of joining the strips together and you can see this in my other builds.


    I always use quartered woods for my necks. Aside from the saw marks, you can see the vertical lines of the grain. With the tempered woods I can use them right out of the delivery box. No need to let them season in my shop, however I do wait a week or two usually. Habits....
    Ok, I have mislaid the photos of how I cut my scarf joints so I will use some pics from another neck I made in the past.
    For wider necks, my table saw blade does not cut deep enough to make the cut in one pass, so I penciled out the angle and used the bandsaw. You can see my scarf joint jig in past builds but lately I have been using the bandsaw.
    I clean up the face and back of the area to be glued. I use a hand plane then move to a hard block with 80 PSA paper on it. This leaves a nice level surface for gluing and there is a bit of a scratch pattern that helps as a mechanical bond with the glue.
    If you have seen my other builds, then you have seen my toothpick cleat method for gluing the scarf joints. Keeps the bit from moving around during the glue up.
    The actual neck being glued. On this one I used woods screw down the center to help pull the inside of the scarf joint even tighter. The glue squeezed out to the sides, then I clamp the whole mess up tight. I cover both front and back of my pegheads so the hole does not show. I do remove the screws before that.
    One major change to my methods as of the last two years, has been to use glued on ears on the peghead. I simply draw the lines and use the bandsaw to cut off the peghead into a pointed shape. I add some Rocklite stringers to accent the joint, and glue ears on to that part. If I want matching wood from the neck blank, I can make the cuts before the scarf joint is cut. The glue those pieces back on as ears. This whole method allows me to use narrow neck blanks to make a full width peghead. Saves money from ordering wide neck stock. I can use a 3 inch wide neck blank to make a 5 String bass with matching full sized peghead. When I do order normal neck blanks, I can make one 1 piece neck and have half of a 3 piece neck left over, so essentially I get three for the price of two, Plus I charge more for 3 Piece necks.
    I do not cut the pointed end of the peghead off yet.
    The neck for this build is the one closer to the camera. As you can see I rough cut the peghead shape but leave the point. The point is what I hold onto while I use the safety planner (drill press milling tool) to bring the back of the neck into the proper thickness. Sorry no pics of that process that I could find. Not supposed to advertise any particular vendor but most of you know what a safety planner is. If not google Safety Planner.

    Here you can see the end result of the safety planner, followed by 30 minutes of sanding and shaping the rear of the peghead in preparation of gluing on the rear veneer. I cut the point off at this time. The rear veneer is bent into shape with a graceful curve to it. Looks nice and organic.
    Here I have the neck stuck down to the table saw (my only true flat surface) with carpet tape. I use the wood bit next to it as a guide for the edge guide on my router. Using various bits, I cut channels for the truss rod and the carbon fiber.
    I tape over the carbon fiber and mix up some 30 minute epoxy. Using a Xacto knife, I slice away the tape to expose just the carbon fiber only. I then brush in the epoxy to fill any voids around the carbon fiber. This prevents rattling or any air pockets. I have taken to using pre-slotted fret boards when there is no special custom feature to the FB. This saves me the time of slotting by hand. For lined fretless basses and Fender style necks where there is an 1/8" slot for the nut, I then get out the miter box and pull saw.
    One the epoxy has cured, I scrape any over fill and align my fret board for gluing. I layout the lines of the FB so I can see where I can drill for toothpick guide/cleats outside the final perimeter of the board. This keeps things from moving about when applying clamps and glue. Lately I use this nice aluminum bar as a mounting surface for my FB glue ups. It is precise and perfectly flat. I use a multi-layered block of Mahogany for the pressure block as it is milled flat and will not warp. Then the clamps squeeze everything together evenly. I will leave this in the clamps for 24 hours. My necks have been perfectly true since I incorporated this method. The tempered woods I favour now, along with this method have proven 100% reliable neck glue ups with no warp or tension in the neck. This makes for a nice radius and fret process later.
    I used to use my router to cut the taper of the neck, but as of the last year or two, I have just used the bandsaw to cut the taper....
    ...followed by a block plane to take the warbles out. Then an aluminum beam with PSA 80 grit paper to bring the sides true. The edges get so knife edge precise that I have cut myself on them, so I use gloves while doing this. This makes the neck pockets nice and snug as you will see later.
    Next time I will show the veneer lamination on the neck and start the body work. Thanks for taking time to read my post.
    StuStu, IconBasser, JIO and 11 others like this.
  2. chinjazz

    chinjazz Supporting Member

    Sep 11, 2002
    Atlantic Beach, FL
    Wow, beautiful neck! Pretty cool new process :).

    Once you get around to finishing I’d love to hear what you’ve been doing lately.
  3. mark5009


    Feb 17, 2018
    Sydney, Oz
    Lovely work. Thanks for sharing how you're doing what you're doing. I'm always looking to get my own work flow betterer and this post has helped (particularly the edging of the FB). Great stuff!
  4. Drake Custom

    Drake Custom Commercial User

    Aug 24, 2010
    Builder/Owner:Drake Custom Bass Guitars
    Thanks guys. ChinJazz, I will cover the finishing process I use, when I get to that part. That process has come a long way and got nice reviews from Bass Gear magazine. It is still a very simple set up that I use.

    The last post showed my neck making process. This post will mostly be about body building.
    I start with trimming the body to rough shape leaving material around where the neck pocket will be. I then route the control cavity for my magnetic mounting cover.
    I have custom made templates that I made to make sure my control cavities are always in the same spot. I used a typical bearing bit to do the cavity first, then the cover recess.

    I apologize that I am forced to use other photos as I did not plan to do a post on this particular bass when I got going on it. I am finding that there is not as much documentary photography as I originally thought I had. So to continue this post, I will use various photos from one of my Hornet design builds to show my templates and whatnot.
    Also, I often laminate the top of the body back when creating w/b/w purfling lines but this 5 string bass will have binding, so I do not have to do that. This pic is of a Hornet bass template mounted on some Tempered Swamp Ash and it is similar in design to the BG5 design that this post is depicting. So you can sort of see what I did with the 5 string bass. Anyway, I screw the template onto the body and set about routing the larger cavities. I do often use forstner bits to hog out the bulk of the material. Tempered Swamp Ash works so well and easy. I just went with the router for the whole job.
    Notice that I have several tiers leading down to the area under the forearm. I will carve a belly cut later on and this is to allow plenty of material to carve into. The overall thickness around the belly cut to interior is around 1/4 inch once completed.
    This back to the actual bass and you can see better the area around the belly cut. The walls of the body look thick here but once the actual shape is trimmed, the walls are around 3/8 inch. More material around the upper horn strap button.
    Using chisels and small sanding blocks, I smooth and shape the tiered area to make a smooth transition from the belly cut reverse to the rest of the cavity area. It is just roughed in here.
    I brush on two coats of WB polyurethane to show the scratches and such. I then sand everything smooth again to remove any nasty areas that will be seen through the sound hole, and reapply poly. I do about 3 coats after sanding. This seals the wood and makes it look better when seen through the sound holes. Dust and lint will be easy to blow out of the cavity even after the top is glued on.
    Now I prep the top. I first trace and trim the top out of the material. I then drill a hole and insert my coping saw to trim out the sound hole shape. Both sides. My BG5's have symmetrical sound holes.
    I then drill for controls and double check that the same pots I will use, leave enough threads on the outside of the top. This is essential as altering this later on is problematic. If not enough threads on the pots show to the outside, I use a forstner bit to thin the top right over the control pot hole. This makes the top thin enough without weakening the area over the cavity.

    Then once I check, re-check, check again to make sure all lines up between top and body.....I clamp the two parts together and drill a hole into the area that will be the neck pocket.

    This allows me to screw an index screw (through a piece of perspex with a hole in it) that helps pull that area down as clamps do not reach that far. The perspex spreads the pressure around the area more. The screw also helps keep the top aligned until the the clamps are all in place. Here is the perspex that I usually use and you can see the hole in this neck pocket floor where it was located during glue up.

    Here is a mock up of my body gluing process. Bottom is a spacer block to allow the clamps some room to get under the body. The next block is a longer and larger piece that presses the center block area. Next up is the body Upside down so any glue squeeze out does not run down inside the body visible through the sound holes. The top piece is another longer and larger piece to cushion the press clamp and to spread the pressure over the area needed. Clutch clamps take care of the perimeter of the body.

    So now I apply glue. Note: Tempered woods do not drink up the glue as quick as non-tempered woods, so I apply glue to only the body back. I align everything and place the top onto the body back. I add the screw into the future neck pocket area to keep the top from moving once I apply pressure. The screw allows me to pivot the top side to side at the rear end, allowing me to line up the center of the body with the center of the top.
    Then I place a clamp at the rear end to hold things down. Sometimes I have to release and reclamp until the top and back center lines align. Then I apply pressure from the big press clamp. This often tries to move the top out of alignment with the body back. I back off the pressure and realign the pieces before adding pressure. This usually only takes two tries. Once the center is good and clamped, I add clamps around the perimeter. Again, the top is face down to keep glue from running down into the chambers. I am careful to apply the glue only to the outside portion of the walls and control cavity. The glue always works its way through but there is less squeeze out where you can't reach it.
    Here is the bass with glue and in the press clamp.

    So here we are out of the clamps and all glued up. You can see where the index screw was in the neck pocket portion and why the clamps would not reach that area. Here, I have also used the bandsaw and the spindle sander to take off the extra wood and bring the body to her final shape.
    Back to the neck for some work. Here I am gluing the peghead veneer on. There is some w/b/w purfling lamination under the Walnut peghead veneer. We are doing wood binding on this bass that will have that same pattern under the Bloodwood binding, so I added this detail to tie it all together more.
    Like this. The veneer will get sanded back to a thinner dimension later.
    About this time, I carpet tape the neck down to my table saw so that I can keep the neck perfectly true and radius the fret board. Radius block and various grits of PSA sandpaper.

    After that is complete, I glue the rear peghead veneer just like the front was done.
    After some drilling, shaping, and routing the truss access, I have the peghead looking all flash.

    All I have time for today. Next time I will go through the process of planting the neck and the bass will really start to take shape. Thanks for reading.
    JIO, BritFunk, wraub and 10 others like this.
  5. Drake Custom

    Drake Custom Commercial User

    Aug 24, 2010
    Builder/Owner:Drake Custom Bass Guitars
    I have been rather busy but thought I would take a moment to update this build.

    One of the next steps is to create the neck pocket. I like my pockets to be tight and to make it so that the neck cannot be knocked out of alignment. Loose pockets also do not help the instruments tone.
    One of the pictures I can not find is the neck pocket set up I used for the featured bass so here is another custom bass I did on the same day. As you can see, I have a zero and out rule back where the bridge will be. It is held down by carpet tape. In the center, the rule reads 0 and then counts out inches going out from there. This helps me to quickly adjust things into alignment. I place the neck onto the body so that the distance from the nut to my intonation line checks out. Then I make a mark so I know where the heel will stop. The center of the heel has been marked and a line has been penciled down the body. I then place two yard sticks down each side of the neck heel. The neck is not carved at this point but the taper is created. This allows a long flat surface to push the yard stick up against. The yard sticks cross over the zero rule so that I can see the readings. So making sure the center line on the heel and body align, I then adjust the neck back and forth until there is equal readings on both sides of the center line and zero reading on the ruler. As long as the heel is in the center, this will show me that the neck is perfectly in line with the center line on the body. I carefully remove the yardsticks and replace them with my angled template blocks. I have no idea the exact angle they are, but they make it so the neck pocket has some angle on it. I dislike using shims. I double check that the inside edge of my taper blocks reads the same on each side, where they butt up to the zero ruler. I should mention that the taper blocks are held down by carpet tape and I have sunk toothpicks into the area outside the neck's final outline and where the neck pickup cavity will be. This adds strength to the template set up so it does not work loose during the operation. I then use a bearing bit on my router to do the deed. I stop every few passes to chisel the corners out and test fit the neck in. Since this template set up is open at the end, I can press the neck into the pocket to check depth related to my bridge. I adjust the saddles down as far as they go and found that a straight edge standing on its side along the neck and fitting into the bottom of the saddle slot is perfect. I then go another 16th deeper and call it good. The frets add some more height to the fret board. (I would not do this last bit for a fretless).
    Here is a picture I found immediately after the neck was planted. I took the taper blocks off. You can see where the toothpicks were.
    I then cut the excess off around the neck pocket.
    Now I am free to carve the back of the neck. I do a little at a time and spend several days carving. Although I use tempered woods for necks, I allow the neck to adjust to being carved. I have not notice any movement but it is an old habit of mine from before the tempered woods.
    As you may have noticed, I like to use veneer pieces to accent my joints and veneers.
    During the days of neck carving, I also complete the pickup cavities by using a template and bearing bit in my router. Nothing new here.

    Thanks for looking. Next time, binding, pre-finish assembly, and pore filler. So those interested in my finish process, tune in.
    5tring, IconBasser, JIO and 17 others like this.
  6. Drake Custom

    Drake Custom Commercial User

    Aug 24, 2010
    Builder/Owner:Drake Custom Bass Guitars
    Today I am going to go through my wood binding process. I would love to say that I have years of experience with this but alas, I do not. In fact, this is only the fourth instrument I have ever used wood binding on. I did the other three a long time ago when I worked in a shop building acoustic guitars with Dave Plummer. He did all the bending.
    First I had to do my layout so I can choose the correct set of bearings for my cutter bit, that will fit the Bloodwood binding and the abalone/ purfling strips I have bought. Bits, bearings, and binding materials all came from Stewmac. The binding I have has the B/W/B purfling already glued on the bottom edge.
    As you can see in the picture, I am going for this look as requested by the customer.
    A piccy of the binding stock.
    I first penciled the depths on the side of the body. Once I make the first cut, I will not have a clean edge to do the lower depth, so I do it first.
    Using my hand held router and bearing bits I cut these channels. I did the top level for the abalone shell and purfling first. I used a climb cut (router going counter clockwise) to minimize tear out. Then I did the lower bit. I stop right at the neck pocket and finish with a sharp chisel so nothing gets blown out.
    Now the fun (nerve racking and tricky bit) part. I used this bending iron to do the deed. As you can see it only has this first wear and tear on it. It will eventually be all covered with burns.
    I did two sets of bent binding. The first one tool forever and was pretty good. The second set I tried soaking in warm water for 45 minutes. That went much easier and the purfling did not come undone at all. So soak the binding first. I read a lot about it before I tried it and found that different woods need different attention, so check around the web for advice. Note that I read many times that soaking would loosen the purfling, so not everything on the web is 100%, but you can figure out who knows what they are doing.
    You can sort of see that I had the iron clamped onto my work pedestal which is where most work gets done in my shop. Here is the first set. I had some minor cracking in the tighter portions of the lower horn. I fixed with CA glue and accelerator as I went. It was not really detectable but it was there. On the second set.....
    ....the soaked strips, I was able to bend rather easy. It took half the time and no cracking. I got some longer splinters on the outside, which I stabilized with CA glue.

    Here basically what I did. There are tons of Youtube videos on this. None were extra useful. Some had good advice and described the feel of the wood when it is ready to bend. I just had a lot of material and went for it. I got to feel when the wood started to give and found that by moving it around the iron to tighten or open the curve by using the various edges of the iron.

    Bending iron (I used an electric)
    Spray bottle with water
    The instrument the binding will be placed on
    A temp gauge for reading the iron temps. This I did not have but it would have been useful.

    The process:
    I start with soaked strips (30-45 minutes warm water for my Bloodwood. Other woods may vary).
    Set my iron to just under the hottest setting. Allow 45 minutes to get to temp.
    Measure and mark the waist of the guitar on the wood binding strips.
    I started with the most complicated bends and worked out from there.
    A little spring back is not bad, but you can not get a bulge out of an area by pressing it and taping it, so you do have to get the best fit you can.
    Once I had a side bent to fit, I taped it into place with heavy masking tape. I used clamps to put some pressure on some areas.
    This holds the binding into shape as it dries for 24 hours. When I take the clamps off the next day, the wood held the shape of the body (form).
    The next day, I trimmed the binding where the two piece meet at the butt end of the instrument. I did this the second day as the wood dries and may shrink over the 24 hours. I want to make sure the fit is good.
    On glue day, I had to decided on what glue to use. I normally do acetate binding so Duco, but this is wood. CA glue is too fast, hot hide glue is also a bit fast. So I used some of this. It worked like a charm and did not run and drip as much as other glues. It also did not soak into the Ash body or the Walnut, thus staining it, so it turned out to be the perfect choice. It held the wood binding nicely. While it was still gel like, I took the opportunity to scrape any out of the abalone channel.
    Clamps were helpful in closing some gaps too. This picture is of the fitting but I used the same type of set up for the gluing. I had a long clamp from waist side to waist side during the glue up. This pulled the waist in tight.
    The glue on the side was easy to sand away and no stains were left behind.
    So now that the wood binding was in place. I moved on to the abalone/ purfling detail.
    I have done a lot of broken shell into purfling before, where we utilized the Teflon strip. That is a pain, so I too it easy on my self and paid a small fortune for this Zipflex product (real shell glued onto a rubber strip). Wow! That was rather easy.
    I used two Popsicle sticks to install it. One stick opened up the channel (the purfling was just in there loose) and one to press in the Zipflex. I just went round the body doing that.
    A bit of CA glue (thin).
    sand, stir, and serve.
    It was an enjoyable experience that took all of 15 minutes from pressing in to sanding out. 15 inches of Zipflex cost about $30 so that is the rub.

    All for today.
    5tring, Haroldo, RobertUI and 20 others like this.
  7. chinjazz

    chinjazz Supporting Member

    Sep 11, 2002
    Atlantic Beach, FL
    Thanks for sharing! Looks great!!
  8. Wow, that looks really nice. I keep thinking about doing binding on an instrument.
  9. Sweet. I’ve done some binding before. The checkerboard was probably the most tricky but that purfling is a whole ‘nuther level.
  10. mark5009


    Feb 17, 2018
    Sydney, Oz
    Thanks so much for this thread. I'm learning lots and avoiding some basic errors in my current build. Brilliant!
  11. Drake Custom

    Drake Custom Commercial User

    Aug 24, 2010
    Builder/Owner:Drake Custom Bass Guitars
    I have a couple of minutes today so I will add to the post.
    So now that the body basically is ready to finish out, I finalized the carve on the neck. I got it to the point that I only need to fine sand. Now it is time to install some frets.
    Many of you have seen my process for this. I used to use an arbor press but have since switched to a dead blow hammer. This gives me some control and I like the feel of the frets going in. I can tell as I hit the frets whether or not they are seating well. I have many pictures of this process on past builds, but the highlights are:
    I strip the barbs off of the tang (Stewmac device)
    Radius the fret slightly tighter than the fret board radius
    Open the mouth of the slots with a triangle shaped micro file, ( this allows the fret seat better and helps with minimizing chip out if a fret has to be pulled)
    Add a bead of CA glue down into the slot (fills any voids under or around the tang and holds the fret in place as there are no barbs on the tang.)
    Then hammer the fret in before the glue sets. I use a leather caul filled with lead shot as a surface under the neck to minimize recoil.
    I do skip every other fret so I can spread out the tension. Since my new FB glue up method and the use of tempered Maple for necks, I have not had any compression fretting issues. The barbs being stripped off of the fret prior to install, allow for a light tap to get the fret into the FB and an easy fret removal if ever need be. A tech simply has to apply water around the fret, and touch a soldering iron to the fret. The water and iron creates steam that melts the glue without burning. With end nippers, the fret can be walked out without chipping. I like to build instruments that techs can work on easily, as all instruments will need some maintenance over time. No need to frustrate your tech.
    One other point to note is that I have largely switched over to fine gauge stainless steel fret wire as standard. I do not even upcharge for it any more. I like the feel of small frets and the material is tough enough to last. A win win in my opinion. I buy new cutting tools every year but most can handle the small wire without damage. Large/Jumbo wire does take it's toll.
    So that now all of the frets are in, I set about performing a pre-finish assembly. I locate and plant the bridge relative to the neck. I also make a rough cut nut. Using waxed thread, I can see the string lay that shows me that the bridge and neck are in alignment and that the pickups are placed correctly. I am using dual blade style pickups so everything is easy, but if I was using pole style pickups, string spacing is important to align with said poles.
    Yuck, I guess I could have taken a better picture but you can sort of make out the junk strings I put on so I can test the neck. I do a quick set up and have her tuned to pitch. I let the neck set for a couple of days. I check tuning several times during that time (as well as play her acoustically). I adjust the truss if needed and let her sit for a few more days. If after several days, the neck holds straight and the bass holds the tuning, I know that everything is OK. I get to play on the bass during the testing time and I keep tweaking the set up.

    Next time I will start the finish stage. I will try to gather all of the pictures I can of this bass undergoing the process so that those who want to see what I do, can. I have worked for a few years perfecting my process for finish for my instruments. I started another post thread on using water based finish on instruments, which has grown some legs since I last looked at it. I had no idea what I was doing and started that post as a way for all of us builders to share the experience we have gained from our success' and failures with the stuff. Oil and solvent based products are becoming more and more difficult to buy at local stores, so many of us are going to the WB products which have many benefits and a few drawbacks.
    My finish method is one that any small shop can do with minimal apparatus. Many finish differently than I do and use various products, but I have found some success in my method and product of choice, so I have stuck with it. I am always fine tuning it and finding better tricks with WB finish, but the process is mostly the same. Until then, thanks for looking at my post.
    Funky Ghost, JIO, tombowlus and 10 others like this.
  12. chinjazz

    chinjazz Supporting Member

    Sep 11, 2002
    Atlantic Beach, FL
    Thanks once again! I’m one who’s been following/learning from that WB thread you started years ago. It lives on and we all are appreciative of your great contributions :)
  13. Drake Custom

    Drake Custom Commercial User

    Aug 24, 2010
    Builder/Owner:Drake Custom Bass Guitars
    Well at this point in the build, the bass was ready for the finishing process. I disassembled the bass and spent several days fine sanding and addressing any little ding or dent. Water and hot iron for dents and little pieces of Ash to take care of any chips. For chips that are too deep to sand out, I use a curved carving chisel to scoop out the chipped area and the same chisel to scoop a fresh piece of wood out of another piece with similar grain lines. I then glue the chip into the void I made on the workpiece, making sure to align the grain lines. Works very well but your chisel has to be super sharp. On this bass I did not have to do much chip fixing.

    Once the bass has been sanded, I add a bracket mounted inside the neck pocket to support the body and allow me to rotate it.
    Here is a good picture of the bracket and apparatus.

    I use a epoxy pore filler/ finish resin to seal up the deep grain lines and to pop the grain. Since I use water based finish, this is a necessary step. Most water based finishes do not add any warmth to woods and will result in lifeless looking wood if applied directly to the bare woods. I use a brand and style that does add some warmth to the woods, but not as much as I want. Also, any finish used will most likely shrink back over time if the pores are not filled with an inert material. The result is shiny divots under the finish that show badly, as the finish ages over a few months. Bad day out that.
    Lacquer, Polyurethane, urethane, even the catalyzed versions I have tried, do this. So I use a product that basically turns into plastic that does not shrink once it has reached full cure.

    The Zpoxy I use, sands out easily (powders up without clogging paper too quick) and is hard enough to create an excellent surface for finish. It is flexible enough not to crack, which would be a concern with some epoxies. I apply a very thin layer so the thickness does not affect tone much if at all. Not like the industrial poly (industrial sealer) used by mass production factories. They apply that stuff so thick so that the unskilled labor has less chance of burning through the finish at the buffing wheel. The result is a poor sounding instrument and a finish that sometimes starts chipping off if damaged or the wood moves. I have seen finishes that looked almost .1 inches thick.

    So the first step after the fine sanding is to apply a thick coat of the Zpoxy. I brush it on with a foam brush that is disposable. I do not worry about dust landing on it after it is applied as 90% will be removed later. I keep mixing up batches and brushing it in until the end grains and surface grains quit drinking it up. Once it starts to get sticky you have to stop. I let it rest for two days as I do not want to push it. The stuff does reach a workable hardness in about 6 hours, but I find the longer you wait before working it, the easier it is to work.

    Another interesting fact, the Zpoxy I use has a reaction with tempered woods like the tempered Swamp Ash I used. It creates this beautiful honey amber color. I hardly ever dye or tint my finishes so what you are seeing is the actual raw wood with the Zpoxy on it. All marine epoxies and finishing resins, I have used, have this same effect on tempered (roasted, torrified, etc...). The same resins on plain woods do not do this.

    I also applied coats to the front and back pegheads of the bass. I use mostly tempered Maple necks now, and I like the look of my finish over the neck woods that have not been treated with Zpoxy. So I never use it on the necks, just pegheads. I use the Zpoxy along the edge of the fret boards, when I am using exotic woods, as my finish does not like to stick to woods with lots of oily resin. The Zpoxy seems to adhere well and allows my finish to stick.
    After I feel the Zpoxy has cured hard enough, I use a sharp edged scraper to remove most of the high spots of Zpoxy. The Zpoxy curls off like scraping binding. This can make the surface super flat. I go until I see no more of the dark spots you see, which are low spots. I use 600 dry paper and a hard rubber block, like a pink eraser, to sand after the scraping is done. On basses where there are contours, I use less scraper and more sanding block (eraser).

    You can still see some shiny spots so I still have farther to go. I often sand through the layer showing dry wood. This is fine as it will get hit again with the Zpoxy on the next go. I am looking here to get flat surfaces flat and contour lines smooth without wavers. Any gaps in binding or joints will show up here as they fill with white dust.
    After the sanding is done and the surface is dull......I sand some more. I use 600 dry and then Super Fine grit on this abrasive pad. Then the surface is cleaned by wiping with a 50/50 mix of denatured alcohol and distilled water.
    I repeat the Zpoxy process with the only change of adding a few drops of denatured alcohol to the Zpoxy after mixing it up. It changes the viscosity and makes it so I can wipe it on like a varnish. I try to keep any lint or dust off as this may be the final surface prep before finish. If I opened up too much wood grain with the first sanding, sometimes a full strength non-thinned 2nd coat has to be applied. Then I sand that and do the thinned coat. Any wood that is exposed will look different under finish, so this last wipe coat is to make sure there is some over the entire surface making the look consistent.
    So once my last thin wipe coat was knocked back by the abrasive pad so that the surface is dull, I wipe with the 50/50 mix and let dry. I wear rubber gloves so I do not touch the instrument surface and apply tape in the neck pocket. I trim the tape with an Exacto knife. I also put blue shop towels into the sound holes.....
    ....and make a cardboard cover for the electronics cavity. This is to keep over spray out of these areas.
    Again with the 50/50 water/alcohol mix wipe down. Since the surface was sanded with the abrasive pad, no primer or shellac is needed. I have had no issues leaving that bit out.
    So here is my spray booth in all of it's glory. Just 1 inch thick insulation foam attached to a wooden frame and seal at the joints with aluminum tape. I mounted a shop vise in the center to hold my bracket. A regular box fan behind the furnace filter to pull air through. Since I use water based products there is no need for an explosion proof fan. I do wear the fan out every other year so I buy another $20 fan and I am good.
    My sprayer. It is an HVLP so I do not have to use an air compressor or regulator. Very simple and I used a cheaper HF version for years. I did spend a little more when I bought this one. Works very well.
    Ok, so the big reveal. Yep the secret finish is only known to me and the people at Minwax. Oil modified water based polyurethane. Nothing special and it works just so nice. The only water based finish I have tried that makes plain raw wood look a bit warmer. I had two basses reviewed by Bass Gear Magazine (If you have time, look it up) and they were very happy with the finish I used. I have had many tell me it is the best neck finish they have ever felt. Does not get sticky when your hands get sweaty.
    I use the gloss sheen version as it does not need to be stirred as much as the other varieties that have the silica sand to matte the sheen. I knock back the sheen with abrasive pads and wax if the non-gloss sheen is called for.

    Next post will be spraying some coats. The bass is actually finished and has been with the customer for many weeks now. I have been bust so I have not had time to post any of this until now. Thanks for checking out my post.
    5tring, JIO, BritFunk and 12 others like this.
  14. Killer stuff Andrew!

    Especially love your explanation of the wood bending and binding process, and that bending iron is way too cool. I hope you don't mind, but I linked it to another thread I started a while back about wood bending and binding.

    Thanks so much. Wilma says hello.
  15. chinjazz

    chinjazz Supporting Member

    Sep 11, 2002
    Atlantic Beach, FL

    Andrew, thanks so much for sharing your process with your busy schedule and all.
    The bass looks awesome!

    On my last build I used the same Minwax Oil Modified water poly also. It was my first time with water based and overall am pleased with it. I did have some slight peeling in a few spots but nothing serious. I probably need to mix it better or something of the sort. I was also looking for a non-tinted product for the back of a maple neck and Varathane worked nicely.

    BassHappy likes this.
  16. Drake Custom

    Drake Custom Commercial User

    Aug 24, 2010
    Builder/Owner:Drake Custom Bass Guitars
    Basshappy, good to hear from you and that Wilma is still in your lineup. Chinjazz, the peeling.....was it along some sort of Rosewood or other exotic wood? Polyurethane never really cures over resins found in tropical woods. I have to treat with Zpoxy over those woods before I can apply coats of the poly. The gloss version does not need to be mixed much as it does not carry the silica sand that the semi-gloss or flat versions do. I have not found much need to stir the gloss. Also, if you top coated over some poly that was on there for a few days, it may not adhere too well without a full de-glossing of the sheen with abrasives. That creates a mechanical bond so it adheres well. Also, surface must be clean. I hang my bodies and neck in the house during the cold Winters, and have found that the air from our cooking and etc... leaves enough of a film to sometimes cause bad adherence. So I use the 50/50 to clean before any new coats.
    I find that if I re-coat within 24 hours, it bonds well and actually burns in some. Not like lacquer, but it does react with the previous coats as they have not reached full cure in that time.


    So I had a prepped body and neck ready to be shot. Surface is dull and has been wiped with 50/50.

    I used the poly, thinned 10% with distilled water (why distilled? Some areas of the world have water with too many impurities in it. We do not want iron deposits rusting under the finish, do we? I have no idea if that is all true or not, but why chance it?) so that it sprays and lays a bit more evenly.

    First day:
    I spray about 6 coats over 3 hours. 50-70% humidity and around 72 degrees F.
    Yes the finish goes on a little rough looking. That is normal and will all be addressed later. I start with the first coat set a little light just to give the surface some texture. Then subsequent coats are a little heavier.

    Second day:
    Full sand out with 600 grit dry. Remove any and all orange peel but I do not cut through into the Zpoxy or wood. I finish the sanding with a Super Fine grit abrasive pad.
    Then 4 coats in 3 hours.
    I spray in the morning and by mid afternoon, I can do a sand out with 600 to get all of the low spots fixed and the whole surface to a common level. Then at least 3 coats more.
    The surface still has a lot of orange peel, but I have faith. I never try to spray to have everything level all nice and shiny gloss. It will never happen and I would have to deal with runs and sags. Runs and sags are generally not good on anything in real life. This finish dries fast so it never has time to level out much. The added water is good to help with it, but it is too much to ask for. Leveling will be required. Always!

    Day three:
    Another sand out and leveling. 600 dry followed up by an abrasive pad and a wipe down with 50/50.


    I make sure everything is looking good as these next coats are going to be it. The better the sand out now, the smooth the ends results. I sometimes use 1000 grit wet to finish the leveling.

    Last coats going on. 4-6 fairly heavy coats timed 15 minutes apart if it is very warm out or 30 minutes during the Winter.

    Fourth day (after a waiting period):
    The final coat looks something like this. I take a day off before I even thing about the rub out process. Best to let the finish go for three days minimum. If I can take a week to work on other projects, even better, but a few days is all I need, especially during the Summer when my shop gets to 94 degrees F.
    I start with a general sand out.....
    ...with these items.
    I work over a couple days doing the dry sand out to the fine abrasive pad stage. Then I move onto wet sanding 1000 and 1500 one day. If I am going for a matte sheen. I can usually just wax it the next day and it's the bee's knees.
    I like to have a semi-glossy broken in look to my instruments as a full on gloss is a pain to keep looking great.
    The next day I use wet 1500 again, 2500, and 4000. Late in the day I use 6000 wet. If there is a problem area, I go back to 2500 and work back up in that area. You will notice I have not used a buffing wheel at all. I only do for high gloss finishes.

    Assembly day:

    I start with a couple coats of Zymol GBC flat wax on the entire finished surface of the bass. I use Zymol Bridge on the fretboards after to have completed the fret polishing and oiling the board. Two all natural products that really leave a nice protectant on the surface.
    Once waxed, I assemble the bass. I am careful to scrape the insides of the neck pocket and pup cavities before I try to assemble the instrument. That is how chips happen.....forcing a neck or pickup into a cavity that has an edge of finish rolled over it. Bad, that.
    I do not scrape the insides of the cavities until after the wet sanding has been completed. The water used for that, can get under the finish if it was opened up by a scraper. I do not spray the insides of the neck pocket, so once I peel tape, there is exposed wood. Capillary action can draw in water from the wet sanding, so the finish can raise with the grain. Same with reaming the tuner holes. I wait until all wet sanding is complete. To help, I smear some of the wax around the edges after the reaming in case I have to touch up and area with some water and abrasives.

    The big reveal


    Many more pics on my site in the gallery. I will leave you to find that so I am not advertising too much.

    I hope you enjoyed my post. Thanks for looking.
    5tring, wraub, Haroldo and 17 others like this.
  17. JIO

    JIO Connery... Sean Connery Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 30, 2010
    The Mission SF/CA
    musician/artist/owner - Gildaxe
    beautiful work! thanks for posting!
  18. chinjazz

    chinjazz Supporting Member

    Sep 11, 2002
    Atlantic Beach, FL
    That.. is an amazing instrument! Beautiful!

    Thanks for sharing and providing such detail along the way.

    I very much appreciate your feedback on the poly peeling I experienced. It occurred in parts around the tuning pegs of the maple cap, and in one spot around a ferrule hole on the ash side of the body. I'm sure if I was following a more structured plan like you've laid out, it won't happen again.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2018
  19. Beautiful Andrew, immaculate work. Far too many well-thought-out details to even remember or keep in my head though on the finish work! Thankfully, I have your finish guide above to use as a reference manual. I love the natural satin-ness of the finish - really, really strikes a chord. Nice work, beautiful design - love the binding - thanks for posting.
  20. Funky Ghost

    Funky Ghost Translucently Groovy

    Holy hell, I drooled on my keyboard...

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    Primary TB Assistant

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