First time routing pickup cavities

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by truebenjaman, Dec 21, 2015.

  1. Hey guys,

    I'm not quite building my own basses (yet?), but I am quite proud that I managed to rout a new pickup cavity today. I don't think there is a pickup cavity routing tutorial in the sticky, feel free to add mine if it is done well enough. I roughly followed this tutorial: routing a finished body for a pickup

    Router template:
    I started off with a trace of the pickup route I wanted to duplicate. I copied that trace onto a 4mm board of poplar ply. I then added 2mm around the outline since I used collar routing and glued blocks of 12mm MDF around that new, larger outline. Using double-sided sticky tape, I put that template to some scrap wood for a test route. The test route accomplished three things:

    1. Prove that my template was working properly.

    2. Teach me not to use too much sticky tape. Seriously, I had to use a scraper to get the two pieces apart. If the test piece would have been my bass, I would have to look into a refinish now!

    3. Route an opening into the 4mm poplar base of the template. When collar routing, it's nice to have a template that shows you the shape of the actual cavity.

    Here's where the new pickup goes:
    I used some guidelines following the edges of the existing route and then used my new template to copy the outline to the body. I marked where to center my forstner bit for routing the "ears" (note that my template does not include ears).

    Done some forstnering:
    Ears first, then some larger holes to make routing easier. I used a hand drill - works well enough with the solid body wood.

    Here's my router.
    I used a plunge-type router, a 16mm collar and a very long 12mm bit. The bit has to pass the template (16mm) and then route 19mm deep, so I went with a 50mm bit for good measure.

    Finished routing. I did 4 passes, going from 2, 6, 11, 15 to finally 19mm depth.
    Not that the bottom right ear doesn't quite extend far enough. I was sloppy, but it's good enough for my first try.

    I bought one of those ridiculously long drill bits to drill the connection to the electronics cavity:

    Second layer of shielding paint is currently drying:

    Tomorrow I'll wire everthing back up!
  2. Elias Graves

    Elias Graves

    May 25, 2015
    Very clean! Nicely done.
  3. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    Damn good job of it, first time or not. You have the knack and the inclination, try some full blown parts builds, then maybe from scratch, its addictive.
  4. Jonny5bass


    May 3, 2011
    Seattle, WA
    Nice job! I read somewhere a long time ago to put painters tape on your template and the piece you are cutting, then put the double sided tape between them. Still very sturdy but allows for very quick and easy removal of the tape. It has worked for me on everything I've had to route with no slips ever.
  5. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Vancouver Island
    Nicely done - I had a tip, but Johny5bass beat me to it - saves a ton of grief... :)
    truebenjaman likes this.
  6. stevensivak


    Dec 24, 2014
    what about the short ear?
  7. It's serviceable, the pickup fits well enough. I prefer not to risk messing things up in an attempt of fixing it.
  8. MarkoYYZ

    MarkoYYZ Commercial User

    Jan 31, 2012
    Hammersmith Music
    If you're going to be routing a lot, then even painters tape is a pain. In the sign business, you can buy what is called transfer tape - or premask - that comes in rolls of varying widths, and it's designed to stay on and then later release without issue. It can release even more easily if it's made a little wet.

    It's great for covering large areas without running multiple strips of tape, and rather than a paper style, you can even get a transparent version that allows you to fully see what's underneath.

    300ft RTape AT65 Clear Application Tape High Tack Premask Vinyl Transfer

    6" wide x 300' long is $27, and worth every penny.
    StreetScenes and truebenjaman like this.
  9. yoshi


    Jul 12, 2002
    England, London
    Looks great. How did you attach the template to the body during routing?

    I am ashamaed to say that I have routed 7 pickup holes, 3 neck pockets, and 3 cavity controls all without templates. I tried to make one several times but just couldn't figure it out and ended up using a striaght edge and fence...and a lot of very careful free hand routing :( I vow to use templates on the next build.

    My main issue is getting the depth... the template adds an extra 5mm and it's hard to get it routed deep enough.

    Routing and drilling are absolutely the number one thing I need to improve on my builds. No excuses!
  10. I did use double-sided carpet tape again, but this time around in much smaller quantities: two pieces, each the size of a large stamp, positioned in the upper left and the lower right corner of the reverse P shape.

    If you are used to routing with a fence, it's basically the same as making a template like mine. You just glue down the fence on some scrap board ;-) Much easier than cutting a template freehand with a jigsaw.

    And yes, routing depth is an issue. But since I was just starting out, I simply bought the longest bit I could find: 82 mm overall with a 50 mm cutting edge. In my pic you can see that it passes the collar even with the plunge mechanism fully extended!
  11. MattS


    Jan 17, 2011
    Cheshire, CT
    I say gaht damn! awesome job! Party on!
  12. Thanks guys! Two days ago I completed the rebuild (excuse the picture quality).


    Now my cheapo fretless has two magnetic pickups, switchable neck/both/bridge and a piezo bridge. Magnetics and piezo are mixed together through a buffered blend. Still needs a proper setup and new strings, but I really like the sound of that newly routed bridge pickup with a touch of piezo-attack added.

    Happy holidays everyone!
    HalfManHalfBass likes this.
  13. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Vancouver Island
    Nice job, looks great... :)
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