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First build bass for my daughter

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by jmorbita, Nov 13, 2010.

  1. After some years lurking in this forum, a couple of months ago I finally started my first build. It'll be a 4 string short scale set neck for my daughter, though she'll lend it to me untill she starts playing (she's 2 years old :bag:)

    A very good friend of mine has a very nice woodshop at his parents' house, and I'd been nagging him trying to get him to build a bass for me. A couple of months ago, he said his father would start taking luthiery lessons, and asked me if I wanted to join. I was thrilled. So for a few months now I'm being guided in the process by a really great local luthier, Diego Huerga. Every saturday I go to my friend's house and work a bit on my bass. Along for the ride is my friend, his father and a friend of Diego's. Each of us building his own instrument.

    As I said before, I have no previous expierence, so Diego decided we should all start from scrap. The idea is we learn to do as much of the process as we can with handtools.
    The first couple of saturdays I spent them learning how to sharpen a chisel.
    Next, we moved to block planes. I found a really old block plane at my dad's house, with an old peugeot freres iron. The iron was very rusty but in working condition. The wood "ship" was almost destroyed, so we decided to build a new one. I'm ashamed to confess that after lots of work, It's not finished yet... but I'm almost there.
    I also had a bigger block plane, that we decided to make a bit smaller. This way it's supposed to be more fit for the work involved in planing blanks for a bass or guitar. This one is not done either... but it's already functional. Yesterday I went to Diego's shop and worked a bit on this.
    So far, building the block planes has been really fun. I've become a bit obsessed with them, and plan on buying a couple more old ones to restore.

    Two weeks ago we went wood shopping and got the body blanks. the wood is called "mara", comes from Bolivia and looks really nice. After some planing, I was surprised at how light coloured this wood is, since the blanks looked a lot darker. I guess they were really dirty.
    2010 056.

    Diego cut some gorgeous walnut tops for us from some wood he had got some years ago from a fallen tree.
    2010 062.
    So now apart from making the planes, I've already got my wood blanks, chose what part of the blank I'm using for the body, cut the blank, and started planing the body blanks.

    Here's a link to the pictures: You'll notice apart from my bass, there's a telecaster guitar being built and also an acoustic guitar (my friend's father is building this one. hopefully after a couple of basses I get to build an acoustic guitar myself)
    Enjoy the pictures!
  2. You're building a bass for your daughter that's two years old? That's genius!

    I'm planning on having kids in maybe five years, I think I should start now.. just so they're ready, yeah? Now, to sell the wife on it..
  3. BIGmackie


    Jul 13, 2010
    My wife and I are trying to have kids now, so I'd better get a few basses planning for the future...
  4. And there's always the chance that you'll end up like those people on TV that had eight kids at once. It would be a shame if she had eight kids and you'd only made one bass. Why take that chance? I'd say Guiness Book it, find out the most kids born at once ever, then make one over that just in case. All different basses to account for different personality types. Your wife will thank you later, as will your twenty-seven offspring.
  5. Yeah, would you believe at first my wife didn't like the idea?!?!
    Actually when my daughter was born I said we should buy a fender P made in that year (2008) and give it to her. I would of course take care of it for her and play it once in a while... In all seriousness, if I had the money I would have done it. If she ends up a bass player, she'd have a bass to play. If not, i think it might have been a good investment, given how fenders seem to appreciate in time if well kept.
  6. LedBelli Bass

    LedBelli Bass Fine, Handmade Custom Bass Guitars

    Dec 25, 2008
    Pasco, WA
    To sell the wife . . . now you have me thinking!

    This will be a great build to watch, my friend! You are a man after my own heart to use the handtools, etc. I can't wait to see the result!
  7. Thanks so much Cleve!

    Yeah, to be honest I'm a lot more comfortable using handtools. I have a lot of respect for powertools, I might even say they scare me a little. Too much noise and power. Working with handtools is a lot more soothing to me. So I guess it's great I crossed paths with Diego. He's got all this philosophy about building instruments, and it seems to work for him because the guitars he makes are top notch.

    I must say i'm fascinated by woodworking, as most of you guys here are. I'm surprised at how I'm being absorbed by this process. When I started I just wanted to make a bass, but now I'm thrilled everytime I see a block plane... the process of making one myself has turned from being a mean to being an end on its own. And I am always "woodhunting", trying to see if I can find some usable wood anybody is throwing away... I hope this feelings don't go away too soon, cause it feels real good.
  8. Well, not much progress done to the build yet, there's a couple more pics added to the link in the OP. You can see a very bad first attempt on my part at planing the body joints.
    I want to point out what happened last saturday, at the risk of just stating the obvious to most builders, and hoping that you can relate to my expierence.
    I only get one day a week at the shop, and last saturday I was in a hurry, had a few things in my mind and could not concentrate at all. I spent a while trying to sharpen a planer's iron, but just couldn't do it. I normally don't have a problem at all doing this (with the stones, by hand) but I find it impossible to do when I'm in a hurry. I seem to be doing the exact same thing as always, but the iron just won't sharpen.

    Diego, the luthier guiding me, told us the first day we met a bit about his philosophy behind building instruments, and this incident brought all that to my memory. He explained (he might have been exagerating ;)) how japanese carpenters spend hours sharpening their tools, and then just spend a few minutes cutting. His approach is a bit "zen" if you will, in the sense that while you're working in an instrument you are really working on yourself, and you can only build an instrument as good as yourself, or something like that.
    Though this was not put in this way by him, sharpening the tools comes to me as a process of concentrating, focusing, preparing oneself for the job. I got to see this exactly like what an actor or a dancer does before performing: warms up his body, concentrates on what he's about to do, etc. So does an athlete before competing.
    Hope this doesn't sound too boring to most of you. I sure am enjoying working with wood, and hope it gets the best out of me!
  9. Hawkbone


    Mar 23, 2009
    man, sounds like you lucked into a great scene there! You're going beyond building a bass, you're becoming a caretaker for an ancient art. Wish I had the patience for handtools, it is a lot more relaxing, and nothing beats a pile of shavings around your feet. The key is sharpening - that's what I don't have the patience for, really.

    Sweet piece of walnut too!

    Good luck! I'll stay tuned.
  10. Thanks a lot for your words!
  11. Well, this build is going slowly, but steady! I'm learning as I go, and I'm loving this process.
    I already glued the top bookmatch, but still need to plane it to thickness, and I have already started planing the neck laminates.
    The neck was going to be maple, but there has been some change. I had this board, taken from an old fence at my parents' house. My dad wanted me to repair a garden bench with it... but when I started cleaning this board we realized it was perfect for making a laminated neck. At first we thought this might be Cerejeira, but we're not really sure what it is. Looks familiar?

    20101218 madera 011.

    So now this has turned from a maple neck to a five piece laminated neck. It will have 3 pieces of this wood and 2 strips of wenge. My friend's dad was kind enough to donate some wenge leftovers he had in the shop. i forgot to take pictures of the wenge though...
    20101218 madera 017.
  12. You can see in the pics above that the board I'll be using for the neck didn't look very good, it was covered with mold on one side and had very old cracking paint on the other... it was a surprise to find such nice wood underneath.
    Now it's planed and almost ready for laminating, it still needs a bit more planing.
    20101218 madera 029.

    My friend's dad has a lot of beautiful woods lying around in the shop... I got some Guayacan i planned on using as a fretboard, but i might use this instead:
    20101218 madera 055.

    not sure yet... still have to make my mind up.

    I got lucky with the guayacan... i bought some of it online, some scraps this girl was selling, left overs she had from her business, making wood decks. So I go to see the boards, and she must have liked me, cause she gave them for free, along with a couple of boards of a local wood called "lapacho"! These are really hard woods and I think i might be able to use them for fretboards in the future.
    If you check the pictures here you'll see a few added lately, both of my proyect and those of my other classmates.
    thanks for reading! any suggestions/ comments are very welcome!
  13. Had very little improvement done on this proyect, i was out of town for over a month, but finally got back to work on it.

    I'm on the process of gluing the neck laminates right now. once again the specs on the neck changed a bit.. it's still a five piece, cerejeira in the middle, wenge and algarrobo. hopefully next saturday i'll be gluing the last piece of algarrobo the neck is missing. It seemed easier not to glue all at once, so first i glued the center piece with both the wenge pieces, then I glued the fourth laminate to the wenge, and there's still one laminate missing.

    madera 9 de abril 011.

    next time I hope to glue the missing laminate, and maybe make some progress on the body, though i don't really expect much more to be done.

    thanks for looking!
  14. Well, i'm all done gluing the neck laminates, and came to realize that with all the planing done I just might end up with a very thin neck... the boards I've used for the neck came from an old fence and an old shelve (except for the wenge stripes) and though their width seemed fine at first, they were quite twisted, so there was a lot of planing needed, and added that i'm no expert in doing this... on the good side, I don't think the neck will move much when it's finished.
    I'll have to be really carefull during the final shaping before gluing the neck on. Or else, go for a very small string spacing.
    My problem is not at the nut of course, it's right before the neck meets the body. plan b is to cut it down the middle and add another laminate. I don't think this will be necessary though.
    I'm taking the measurements for the neck out of my pedulla mvp that is really comfortable to me.
    Anyone know of basses with thinner string spacing? I'm sure there must be others and if I end up with less string spacing it won't be much of an issue.
    I also started planing the fretboard. At this point I think I'm going with the guayacan, but i'm not too sure yet. This wood is really hard and difficult to work, the planer keeps getting stuck and I need to sharpen the iron once every few passes.

    I've added a couple of pictures of my progress and also that of my friends' here.

    Please make any comments if you have them!
  15. Did a bit more work today. Routed a cavity in the upper side of the body, and screwed it up a bit... (first time i ever used a router) i sort of took care of it, and it won't be visible anyway.

    I also started to work on the fingerboard, roughly taking it down to thickness. It still needs a lot of work. I'm taking babysteps, but learning a lot in the process. I also cut a bit of the exceess wood of the body, so now it looks a bit more like a bass.
    here's a (very) rough shot of the fingerboard. It's not looking very nice right now... I hope it will when I'm done :bag:

    madera 23 de abril 013.

    I'm also trying to work on making a wooden bridge with the same wood as the fingerboard. i'll see if I can get around that...
  16. It's now kind of looking like a neck. No neck scarf, I cut the headstock at an angle from the same piece of the neck.



    still a lot of work to do. :hyper:
  17. tuliopapa


    Mar 9, 2010
    Uh, looks wonderful! (how strange is for me to write in english to another argentinian :) )
    I ´ll be wait for the updates....

  18. Gracias Tulio!!
  19. today i routed for the truss rod. I still need to sand the route a bit.

    the routing jig:
    this jig is actually for guitar, so it's a bit short. i had to route, and then move the jig back, and route again. In the future i'll need to make a longer jig.

    The truss rod adjustment will be in the body, not the headstock.
    truss rod channell:

    When i was routing the channell and I realized how thin the wood left under the deepest part of the channell is, I almost freak out. I had never thought of that before...
    My neck is still too thick, so I'll have a lot of shaping to do.
  20. Added this as an accent line between the body (mara) and top (walnut). I don't really know what it is. found it in my friend's shop and he let me use it. Apparently someone in my friend's family used to work at a shop making furniture, so he has lots of very nice veneers, some of them in not so good condition (with stains on them, etc) but very usable as accent lines:


    So I cut out the soundhole from the top.
    Then I glued the top to the body.

    Finally roughly shaped the body:

    and started slotting the fretboard. I'm about half way through this now, decided to stop because I needed a lot of concentration and was getting tired.

    Still have a long way to go, but seeing the body kind of shaped makes me feel I'm a lot closer!