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Help planning a build.

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by BadKarmaBassist, Feb 18, 2013.

  1. BadKarmaBassist


    Feb 17, 2013
    Hi folks. I’ve been reading this corner of TalkBass over for the past week or so and, while I found a lot of very helpful information, I’ve got some questions. I’m planning out my first bass build and I wanted to run it past some of you more seasoned luthiers before I pull the trigger.

    Before I get into my questions I'll explain the project. I’m planning on both a 4 and 5 string fretless bass (4 string first and if all seems good onto the 5 string). Neck-through, multi-laminated, steel reinforced, neck with a 34-36 inch Ebony fretboard. I’ve got small hands so the neck is going to have to be very thin (as in a 5string Ibanez pushes my hand to it’s limits and maybe slightly beyond). Body will be Walnut with laminated strips of something else (probably purpleheart but it’s mostly cosmetic so I’ll decide that later). Probably gonna custom design the pickups and/or pre-amp. If I end up buying some pickups I was thinking 2 EMGs would probably work best. Either active or duel. Pre-amps...well I don’t have much experience with them so I’m not sure what I’d choose if I end up buying them.

    So, question number one: Ebony fretboard. I chose that because I want fretless basses that will survive without the wood getting gouged out too quickly. Frankly I could have way more fun with artistic design if I used more a more colorful wood or even a combination of woods. Everything I’ve read suggests that Ebony is far and beyond the strongest for a fretless fretboard. So the question is, are there any other woods that are just as tough or better than Ebony (and please, woods only. I’m a woodworker and I’ve little interest in branching out into other materials unless absolutely necessary).

    Question B: Walnut body. Will laminating the body cause a loss/distortion in the sound of the bass? As in, do I need to find the biggest pieces of Walnut I can or will shorter pieces laminated together work just as well?

    Question the third: Truss rods. I was thinking that with steel supports running through the neck and the fact that it is fretless I probably wouldn’t need a truss rod. Is this a valid though or am I showing just how much of an armature bassist I truly am?

    Last question: Pickups/pre-amp. If my friend bails on me about the custom pickups and pre-amp how does the EMGs sound? Maybe suggestions on a good quality pre-amp? I’m hoping to end up with a bass that will be able to produce something like the sound on this video (although in a perfect world it’ll be able to handle an entire range of sounds for me) .

    So, if anybody has thoughts or suggestions le me know. Once I’ve got the specifics on the requirements for this build I’ll start on the cosmetic designs. I’ll keep you all up-to-date on the progress.

    P.S. Sorry for the long winded post.
  2. MPU


    Sep 21, 2004
    Valkeala Finland
    A) Laminated body works just as fine as one piece.
    B) Use an adjustable truss rod. You'll thank yourself about using it when you need to adjust the neck.
    C) EMG will work fine.
  3. You're fine, except the truss rod. You'll need one. I thought it was a difficult step before I started as well, but it seemed rather easy in the end and there are actually a lot of tasks more difficult than that, so don't skip it.

    Imagine you spending all that money and time on your beautiful self built instrument, only to find out it's got horrible action... Wood moves and the comfort of adjustability is a necessity.
  4. Essen

    Essen Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    I had no previous experience using any of the tools I used for my first build. Still routing the truss rod channel was pretty straight forward. Also, remember to think about the size of the truss rod and the reinforcements. If they are too deep you can't remove enough wood to get the thickness you're after.
  5. lbridenstine


    Jun 25, 2012
    I think I've read that Kingwood is close to ebony in hardness (I could be wrong, but it might be worth looking into). Keep in mind that not all ebony is solid black. There's a lot with white/grey stripes in it, that could look very cool.

    EMG pickups come with electronics and a solderless wiring kit, I don't think you would need to buy a pre-amp, I didn't buy one with mine anyway.

    Also, if you go on EMG's website, they have demo videos of a lot of the bass pickups.
  6. HaMMerHeD


    May 20, 2005
    Norman, OK, USA
    one) Ebony is good. Unless you are building a radius routing jig, do yourself a favor and order it pre-radiused. LMII (http://www.lmii.com) offers radiusing service for $9 if you buy the board from them. Having radiused more than one ebony board with a radius sanding block, I can tell you that it's well worth $9. There are harder woods, but the difficulty in using them does not make them worthwhile options. You may also consider Katalox (sometimes known as Mexican Royal Ebony), or Granadillo. They are also very hard, but more colorful. Katalox often has a steely purple color and a curly figure. It's gorgeous stuff. If you want a blackety-black fingerboard, go with Gabon ebony, and you'll probably have to dye it to eliminate gray streaks.

    B) Laminated body will be fine. I built a bass for a local player with a 17-piece body and 9 piece neck (also dual Bartolini MMK pickups and Nordstrand EQ). Sounds great, very full.

    3rd) Use a truss rod. I recommend either LMI's or the Grizzly/Best Bass Gear rods. I prefer the Grizzly rods because I route for them with roundnose bits, which I think makes for a stronger neck, and looks better at the access port.

    last) In my opinion, EMG's sound great, whether active or passive.
  7. ctmullins

    ctmullins fueled by beer and coconut Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    You might also look into Macassar Ebony or Pau Ferro for a good fretless fingerboard. Both can have fantastic figuring, and while they might not be quite as durable as traditional ebony when going by the numbers, they are still plenty hard. I put together a fretless with a Pau Ferro fingerboard a while back. Once I started playing it, it got string marks on it, but they haven't gotten any worse since then. And the tone is plenty bright! :)

    Truss rods - they're not there to add strength. They're there to provide adjustability. As others have said, the wood will move. You want to be able to adjust it when it does.

    Have fun, and post pics!