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First build (Trying to decide on woods and scale)

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by photoshopgeek, Aug 5, 2007.


  1. Ok I've got alot of questions and I need alot of opinions. Anything offered will be appreciated.

    First off, I am planning on building a 5-string neck-thru. I am using a modified alembic design.

    First question... I currently play a 34" scale 5-string and heard you can get a more distinct sound out of your b-string with a
    35". I know this also depends on your string gauge. The thing is, I also want a really bright and punchy g-string. Most of the 5-strings I've played (warwick, fender, a couple others I can't remember...) have a either a good sounding b or g string. Usually never both. What can I do to get the best of both? What scale and string gauges do you recommend?

    Second question... For the neck I want to use curly maple wings, but I'm not sure what other lams to put inside. I want a really bright, punchy sound. My ideal, (imho) would be...

    curly maple,ebony,maple pinstripe,purpleheart,maple pinstripe,ebony,curly maple

    I have decided to make my first build cheaper, so the ebony is definitely out. What would look good, be relatively cheap, and still sound good? I can get my maple and purpleheart pretty cheap, so all I need is a good ebony substitute. I know, good luck, but...

    Third question... I was also wanting to use ebony for my fretboard. Any good subs for that? Still want that really bright sound...

    Fourth question... For the center of my body, I am trying to decide between mahogany and alder. Any other ideas are welcome.

    Fifth question... For my top wood, I was wanting to use curly koa, but again, trying to make it cheaper. I want to use a relatively darker, figured wood. I don't want to use any stain or any kind of coloring, just going to use clear lacquer. So I guess I need a cheap dark wood that looks really cool...

    Sorry for the long post...

    Thanks in advance for your replies,
    Ryan
     
  2. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    on a neck through, the B and G should both sound as good as the electronics you choose. No matter what scale you use, or the types of wood, if you use pick-ups, and electronics that are not adequate for the tonal spectrum, you will end up being disappointed.

    Wenge is a good substitute for ebony both as a FB and Neck lams, also Bubinga, both are much cheaper than ebony. Both will help you to get that snap in your sound.

    Alder/Mahogany.....either or.....body wings do not effect the tone of a neck through too greatly, they act more as a resonance damper for the central core of the neck, which is more responsible for the tone than anything.

    Good looking dark wood......well seeing as you have only mentioned Koa, we can't read your mind as to what you think looks good. I like Walnut, Padauk, mahogany, bubinga, Macacauba, Wenge, Lacewood. Lacewood will give you bang for the buck.....really cool grain, and cost effective. Also, a Ribbon striped Mahogany would look cool, and is readilly available at a good price.......goto Woodworkers source, or Woodcraft and look at some different species, to get an idea of what trips your trigger

    Good Luck
     
  3. Thank! Lots of good info.

    A couple questions...
    1. I've thought of wenge, both for the color and density, but isn't it really opened grained and hard to finish? I may be wrong, but that's what I've heard.

    2. I hadn't even considered bubinga because I didn't think it was dense enough. Also, how dark does it get when finished natural? I would like to have some contrast with the maple.

    3. What should I use for the fret board?

    thanks,
    ryan
     
  4. Bass Kahuna

    Bass Kahuna

    Dec 3, 2002
    West Lafayette, Indiana
    Luthier, Custom Builder
    Wenge finish very nicely, oil or spray, and I would also suggest you consider zebrawood as well. It is not anywhere near as dark as wenge, but it has nice contrasting stripes in it.

    I like macassar ebony for a dark fingerboard, but there are others out there. I find (in my own personal opinion) that macassar ebony is not quite as hard as "regular" ebony and therefore has good highs but not quite as bright sounding as regular ebony. You might consider looking at what Luthiers Mercantile has available in fingerboards, as they also offer radiusing and fret slotting services much cheaper (around $7 a each last time I looked..) which would be much cheaper and more accurate than buying the tools necessary to slot and radius just one fingerboard.

    Musiclogic has really given you some excellent advice already. The strings on a neck through instrument are anchored at both ends in the same wood, so I completely agree that the body wings in a neck through don't really offer much to the overall sound that the woods in an instrument contribute.

    Decide on what hardware you're going to use first. This includes the tuners, bridge, pickups, electronics layout and preamp (if any).

    Then I would also give a VERY strong recommendation that you:

    - Make full scale front, rear, and side drawings FIRST before cutting any wood, using the above hardware you decided on as well, including the actual dimensions of each piece of hardware, the pickups, etc.

    This will allow you to determine how high off of the top plane of the body you want the fingerboard to be, and if you want the top plane of the fingerboard to be parallel to the top plane of the body or perhaps coming into the body at a slight angle (like a les paul guitar as an example). You'll also need to figure out the control cavity size and will it accomodate one or two 9v batteries or do you need to place a seperate battery box somewhere on the body as well?

    I've seen some people end up with beautiful looking and well built basses that when they went to build them up with parts they discovered that the top of the fingerboard was 5/8" or more above the top surface of the body, and they had built the neck into the body at a 4 degree angle, so now they needed a bridge that was something like 1.5" tall, and pickups about the same..... none available anywhere that I know of, so they were going to have to build something on the front of the bass to raise the bridge up and pickups up that high.

    Or they build a really wild looking headstock design wider at the top than at the nut, and then found out that the strings in the middle of the neck actually ended up bending around the tuners for the strings on the outside of the neck, etc., or the breakover angle on the strings from the nut to the tuners wasn't deep enough and the strings were just floating in the nut grooves.

    So, work out all of this on paper first, ensuring you have the hardware specs all worked out, proper breakover angle on the headstock (or amount of drop with string trees like on a fender bass, etc.), take all your measurements from these drawings to then help you cut all the wood and build your bass, so that you can get it built and playable in the end.

    Best of Luck with it!
     
  5. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    Bubinga varies in color from a darker red to a red oarnge with dark brown grain, I think it looks awsome with Maple. As for the FB, Wenge, Mac Ebony, Bubinga, Purpleheart, Bloodwood, Shedua. all are very hard, and would look good.
     
  6. Thanks for the replys guys!

    The only question I have left is about scale. Would a 34 or a 35 be better for a five string neck thru. And what string gauges should I use for both?

    thanks,
    Ryan
     
  7. Bass Kahuna

    Bass Kahuna

    Dec 3, 2002
    West Lafayette, Indiana
    Luthier, Custom Builder
    In my humble opinion, the difference between 34" and 35" scale won't make as big a difference in string tension (and the quality of the sound and such of the low B string) as the woods used, size and profile of the neck. A 34" scale 5 string bass with a decent neck profile (ie: not TOO thin from front to back) and made with good, solid, stiff and strong woods will give you great string tension and sound. One of the first basses I built (a 34" scale 6 string) has a very stiff neck and the owner tunes the dang thing down to a low A.... and it has great string tension.

    Even a 35" scale neck with too soft woods and too thin a neck profile will result in a floppy neck which will result (again, in my humble opinion) in poor or floppy string tension and resulting tone and playability.
     
  8. Also, bass kahuna mentioned something about setting the neck at a 4 degree angle to the body... Is that necessary? I thought the wings just set flush to the neck. I hope that's how it is anyway... It would make it easier...

    Thanks
     
  9. Musiclogic

    Musiclogic Commercial User

    Aug 6, 2005
    Southwest Michigan
    Owner/Builder: HJC Customs USA, The Cool Lute, C G O
    you can do straight through or angled neck, depends on your preference.

    Just remember with straight through that the fretboard must be at least 3/8" higher than the surface of the body, as most bridges are about 3/8" tall at their bottom most height.
     
  10. *huge sigh of relief*
    thanks for all the help guys! i'm going to buy my wood today. Hope I did enough research...

    thanks so much,
    ryan
     
  11. Got most of my woods this weekend! Very excited!

    Have a question about two of the woods I got. The guy I bought from didn't have any maple that was just curly. He did have a nice piece that was both curly and spalted. I went ahead and got it just cause it looks so good. I was just wondering if it was ok to use spalted maple for your neck.
    Also, he didn't have any mahogany or alder, although I can get either one fairly easy. He did, however, have a really good piece of cherry. I also bought this piece. Would it be ok to use it as the core for my body?

    Thanks,
    Ryan
     
  12. Here's a pic of my woods.

    Spalted maple
    Walnut (gonna bookmatch that really heavy figure towards the center)
    A long piece of curly maple I had laying around...
    About that... I would like to use the curly maple somehow, but it's a little bowed... If I laminate it to a strait board will it work?

    Ryan
     
  13. i'm not sure, but i believe that the spalting might make that wood less strong as spalt is just a controlled rot.

    but ask an experienced luthier first
     
  14. That's what I was thinking, but it seems really sound, and I also think that I've seen a spalted maple neck somewhere.
     
  15. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    (The top board in the pic looks spalted but not curly; the bottom looks curly but not spalted; I am assuming that you're talking about middle board in the photo. It's dark, but possible, for maple, and there may be spalting that I'm mistaking for a wane edge. If that assumption is wrong, ignore the comments below.)

    First, I don't think any luthier would use any spalted stock for necks. It is rotten, therefore weak and non-uniform. (Not unless it were fully acrylized, that is.)

    Second, I think most luthiers would avoid a board like that, that has irregular, oddly spaced waves in it. It would seem more likely to warp. Also, it could be indicating reaction wood, which is very likely to warp.

    Third, from what I gather from the experienced people around here, bowed boards can be worked with, but after "correcting" it, I would want to let it sit for half a year with no further movement before I used it for a neck.
     
  16. Actually pilot...
    If you'll refer to my post, from top to bottom, it's spalted maple, walnut, and curly maple. The spalted maple on top does have a small amount of curly that you can't see in the picture.
     
  17. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    OK, my misunderstanding, got it now.

    I don't think any luthier would consider using that spalted for a neck. No way. If you were to pull apart the board, you'd find that the spalt lines are layers of stuff that most closely resembles foam rubber. Add to that, the fact that the apparently OK looking wood between the lines is actually microperforated by the fungus.
     
  18. Thanks pilot. Good advice. Makes sense now that I think about it. Guess I'll just use regular maple.

    Anybody know where you can get cheap wenge, purpleheart and bubinga?

    Thanks,
    Ryan
     
  19. I made a rough mockup of what I want my bass to look like as far as the woods go.

    With the advice that I have gotten regarding the spalted maple, I have decided not to use it in my neck. I do however want to use it in a prominent place. What do you guys think of this?

    I would make the the whole top and bottom spalted maple, but I want to use the walnut. There are two versions below.

    If the spalted maple version looks retarded, please let me know...

    Thanks,
    Ryan
     

    Attached Files:

  20. i'm sorry to say that yes, i believe that the spalted version is retarded. it ruins an otherwise beautiful design.
     

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