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Hardwoods for practice

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Ozzel, Apr 1, 2004.

  1. I just received some beautiful straight-grained cocobolo for a neck I'm going to construct. Mind you, this is my first ever neck, and on top of that I have almost zero woodworking experience. (yes, I am completely crazy!)

    So my question is, is there a cheap hardwood which compares to the density and grain of cocobolo to practice with? I'd like to do at least one "practice" neck before I cut into this beautiful, expensive piece of wood.

    Thanks, all.
  2. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    It's a good idea, practicing on something other than cocobolo. You won't find anything quite like cocobolo that cheaply, primarily because nothing cheap is quite so oily. However, you can find dense, tough exotics for much less $$. I'd recommend jatoba or purpleheart. Both of these will exhibit interlocked grain, whcih can be a problem in cocobolo, and both are quite dense and tough on tools.

    You might even do two necks to work your way up to the cocobolo. Start with something domestic (don't know where you're from -- maple maybe?) that is not quite so difficult to work, then move up to the cheaper exotics, then when you have got a handle on things, go to the cocobolo.

    I'm sure you've heard this before, but a cocobolo neck is going to produce a neck-heavy instrument.

  3. pilotjones


    Nov 8, 2001
    What exactly is meant by interlocked grain, and why is it difficult to work?
  4. If I were to make a call for a truly "cheap" hardwood, I would go for poplar. Very similar to alder in how it works with tools, it's slightly heavier than alder but lighter than hard maple. No grain lines to veer tools and you can get it nearly anywhere.

    And it's actually a decent tonewood for solidbodies.
  5. Skorzen


    Mar 15, 2002
    Springfield MA
    Poplar is a great cheap wood for bodies, but I would not recomend it for a functional neck. Also it will work MUCH easier than the cocobolo. If you just want a model it would work well.
  6. Yep Skorzen, you're right. I should have made the distinction. And, come to think of it, neck building usually uses a different set of cutting tools than a body anyway. For that cocobolo, Ozzel, you'd better get out the really sharp tools! ;)

    In this case poplar would only be used if you were simply patterning or prototyping a shape - like working on how a volute would be carved in the coco later.
  7. Well, I was thinking about rock maple to start. Should be cheaper than the coco so mistakes won't hurt the wallet so much. And hey, if I get lucky on my first try, I'll slap the maple neck and finish the bass so I can play it. Then I can really take my time on the coco neck and put it on later, or save it for a 2nd bass. A 2nd bass? Oh my!

    By the way, FBB Custom, you're right, the coco is super dense and heavy (but oh so pretty). I was going to attempt a one-piece neck with angled headstock, but now I'm thinking of doing the headstock in a lighter wood (birdseye maple?) and scarf joining it to the neck. Oh and Hipshot ultra-lights. Definitely the ultra-lights.
  8. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    Interlocking grain is produced when the fibres of a tree grow in a spiral pattern, then suddenly for no apparent reason new growth starts to spiral in the other direction. This is what causes ribbon figure in quartersawn wood - and it also means that you can't avoid cutting against the grain with tools like the jointer and the planer. As a result, tearout is often unavoidable.

    This page is absolutely a must for people interested in figured wood:


    Ozzel - cocobolo is oily and can be difficult to glue. If you decide to do a scarf joint, you may save a little bit of weight, but you will need good mating surfaces to get a strong glue joint, and you will want to use an epoxy formulated for joining oily woods. You still may end up with a neck-heavy instrument. Balance tends to be a design element that you get a handle on only after you have built a few basses, generally some which balance poorly, and some which balance well.
  9. pilotjones


    Nov 8, 2001
    Excellent article. Thanks, Matt.

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