Headless 5-string build (warning - pictures)

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by MX21, Aug 7, 2008.

  1. MX21


    Sep 28, 2007
    Springdale, AR
    Thought I'd go ahead and do a build log of my first build. I know I've learned a lot looking at other people's builds, so maybe this will help others also (or show what not to do :rolleyes:).

    I've been looking for a very portable 5-string bass. I often ride my motorcycle to bass lessons, rehearsals, or jams (trying to save on gas), so I needed something smaller and lightweight. I had a hohner B2 4-string, but prefer 5. Also, I really dislike the rectangular bodies of the steinbergers and steinberger copies and they just don't hang right, so I looked around at what else existed. I really liked the look of the Ibanez Axstars. They look like they will balance pretty well and have just enough body to hang right. Unfortunately, they were only made in 1985 and 1986 and are a little hard to find. Even harder to find is the 5-string version. I've always wanted to build a bass, so I figured I'd build my own. How hard can it be? :eyebrow:

    Here's what the original Axstar looks like:


    Not much to go on, but should get me close. I traced the photo and made up some templates. Then fiddled around with the image to see what it might look like:


    I decided to go with 34" scale. The tuners, bridge, and headpiece will be the 5-string black ABM set. EMG-40HZ for pickups. Stewmac two-way spoke truss-rod. I'm also going with a wider string spacing. I think the original 5-string Axstars had a very narrow spacing (maybe they crammed 5 strings onto the 4-string neck).

    I've got some Maple and Walnut that I got from my Grandfather when he died, so I thought it would be nice to use that. Here's the body blank made of two glued together halves of black walnut. I've already thickness sanded to the desired depth:


    I ordered the fretboard precut and radiused to 16". It's Indian Rosewood.


    The neck is glued up from the maple and strips of Bolivian rosewood that I had left over from another project.


    Using the paper template I made by tracing the Axstar photo, I made a router template by tracing onto MDF and then scroll-sawing and drum sanding smooth. Here I've got the template laid out with another scrap of MDF for the neck so I can make all the neck measurements.


    Closer up with the real neck in position:


    After I made my template, I found another picture of an Axstar online and noticed that they continued the body up the neck a few inches, apparently as some added support for the neck. So I remade the template with the extra neck mounting area. The template to the left is for routing out the recess at the upper end of the body.


    Neck cut to length and tapered:


    I'm not sure how I like having the rosewood taper into the maple. I didn't really get a clean transition like I wanted.


    Starting to look like something:


    Clamped the template to the body blank and did a shallow pattern route:


    Here's after several more passes to deepen the cut:


    Unfortunately, my router couldn't quite make the entire depth :meh:

    So I used the scroll saw to quickly cut off the remaining scrap:


    and flipped it over and cleaned it up with a laminate trimmer:


    after some drum sanding to clean it up, it's starting to look like what I envisioned:


    I put some of the parts on to see how things would look:


    I have two pickups and the Axstar has two. I'm still vacillating about whether to go with one or two. Opinions?

    Also, I'm thinking of putting a slot in between the last two frets for adjusting the truss-rod spoke. Is that a bad idea?

    Should I mount the tuners on the surface or recess them? It looks like the original Axstars had the tuners angled down into the body.

    (to be continued when I have more done)
  2. Arx


    Jan 22, 2008

    I think the transition between the rosewood and the maple will look much better once you get the neck carved.

    Personally I think I'd go with one pickup. All 3 of my basses, including the one that I built myself have 2 pickups, and 90% of the time, I'm just playing with one.

    I'd also mount the tuners flat. Angled so that they point at the saddles would probably make some sense, but seems like a lot of extra work

    IMO simpler is better.

    Incidentally I'm working on a similar project right now. (I'd put up some pics, but I'm without a camera until this weekend)

    It's funny, because one of my thoughts was to make something easier to carry on the motorcycle too.

    That's a nice chunk of wood, BTW. It's nice to see something subtle on a body once in a while. And that body should be small enough to keep the weight reasonable.

    I've seen the hole in the fretboard for the truss-rod nut thing a bunch of times. It looks a bit ugly to me. :(

    On mine I'm using an allen head nut which will adjust from the pointy end of the neck. It's got no head, so there's no strings in the way at that end. Seems like the logical place to me.

  3. what you're spending on a bass could buy a lot of gas...

    but then again, what you're building is GIVING me gas...:D

    very nice.
  4. pilotjones


    Nov 8, 2001
    Very nice. Myself,I would have been tempted to take the Axstar shape and widen it up just a hair, for a fuller look.

    I love seeing a body that's formed by routing like that. Looks cool to see it "extrude."

    That's some rather light colored walnut you have there. Sapwood?
  5. ehque


    Jan 8, 2006
    Reminds me of vb5.jpg
  6. MX21


    Sep 28, 2007
    Springdale, AR
  7. MX21


    Sep 28, 2007
    Springdale, AR
    I think the camera flash and fluorescent lights are making it look a little lighter, but it does look pretty light right now. Once I put a finish on it, I think it will darken quite a bit. The walnut looks lighter after sanding.
  8. MX21


    Sep 28, 2007
    Springdale, AR
    My concern with leaving out the bridge pickup is that I won't be able to get that strong attack, punchy sound when I want it with just a tone knob. If I just have the neck pickup (as pictured), I'll only have the mellow, muddy tone. I could move the pickup towards the bridge some, but not sure what the optimum position will be.
  9. MX21


    Sep 28, 2007
    Springdale, AR
    My thinking too. I can always go back and recess it a bit if I find a good reason to.
  10. MX21


    Sep 28, 2007
    Springdale, AR

    I thought about making the truss adjustment come in through the back. That would require a longer slot to make the adjustment since it would be deeper, but at least you wouldn't have to work around the strings.
  11. MX21


    Sep 28, 2007
    Springdale, AR
    I like that one too, but a bit pricey for me right now.
  12. steve21

    steve21 Inactive

    I had an 80's Axstar for a while. Liked it a lot, but didn't need two 4-strings and didn't love the electronics or string spacing.

    Therefore, I love this build.

    Any idea if you'd make more headless basses in similar styles?
  13. Arx


    Jan 22, 2008
    then you're talking about a pretty big cut to be in line with the neck. I think that's a bad idea.

    Through the face, like you mentioned, is probably the best way to go if you want your adjustment at that end of the neck.
  14. MX21


    Sep 28, 2007
    Springdale, AR
    I don't know if I'll make more than this one or not. If I do, it should be easier second time around, since now I'll have all the templates and calculations done.

  15. MX21


    Sep 28, 2007
    Springdale, AR
    Good point. Doing it from the back might weaken the neck/body joint too much.

  16. Darkstrike

    Darkstrike Return Of The King!

    Sep 14, 2007
    Lookin' real nice!
  17. Combs4MyDomes


    Apr 23, 2008

    Thats what she said?:bag:
  18. wazzel


    Dec 27, 2007
    Cypress, TX
    Cool build.
  19. Tiny Tim

    Tiny Tim

    Jul 8, 2002
    Salem, Oregon
    subscribed, nice work so far! I would put two pickups in it. Where did you get the headless hardware from?
  20. MX21


    Sep 28, 2007
    Springdale, AR