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Luthiers: How thick is a back/top blank?

Discussion in 'Setup & Repair [DB]' started by Chasarms, Jun 14, 2005.


  1. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I have been very interested in attempting to build a carved bass from the "So you want to build a double bass" school of teaching for a while, but I don't really want to spend a ton of money on wood and waste what otherwise might be a good bass in the hands of someone else with my experiments.

    So, I am trying to keep my eyes out for a misc. piece or pieces that I might be able to re-purpose for a back and/or sides.

    I am just curious how thick the blank needs to be for a round back?

    Also, is there any real advantage, other than aesthetics, to a 2-piece back over a three?

    Is the top blank roughly the same size?

    I know I will get all this from the book, but I would rather wait to see if I can find the wood first before I buy the book.

    Thanks
     
  2. Top wood will need to be about 1.5 to 1.75 inches thick. The back is usually a little thicker, maybe 1.75 inch. This is 8/4 wood in the lumber store. 45 inches long and 14 wide will do for both top and back. It doesn't matter if the back is 1 piece or more.

    I usually say, "bass makers take what they can get". Go to a good lumber store and look at the stacks of 8/4 lumber. A lot different species will work. Maple, Cherry, Walnut, Willow, Poplar. oor the top; pine, spruce, cedar, without knots.
     
  3. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR
    Ken, I have to ask:

    Have you actually made instruments of these woods? I find it very encouraging if you have, since I paid dearly for wood that was not really anything to write home about, and would like to consider other options for the next one.

    I am specifically asking about the woods for the top-- I know the back, neck and sides offer a great deal of latitude. I think I could find lumber such as you describe, locally.
     
  4. M_A_T_T

    M_A_T_T

    Mar 4, 2004
    Canada
    Here's a thread on Redwood:
    http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showthread.php?t=139920&highlight=cedar

    Here's a thread on Cedar:
    http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showthread.php?t=124305&highlight=cedar

    They may help.
     
  5. Mudfuzz

    Mudfuzz

    Apr 3, 2004
    WA...
  6. I noticed another thread about a good sounding redwood bass:
    http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showthread.php?t=178991

    Update on the redwood I obtained last fall: It was "air-dried" by northern California standards but pretty wet compared to Atlanta. To get it to a more stable moisture content, it has been seasoning indoors now under climate control, has warped just a little pretty evenly down the length where the grain tends toward slab. Fortunately, I obtained the wood well in advance of the carving schedule, which should begin this fall. It will be pretty easy to plane the bottom surfaces flat again. The planks I obtained were 2"x18"x48". If you obtain wood that needs additional drying, make sure you seal the end grain with wax or Kilz or other sealant to help prevent checking (splits due to shrinkage at the end grain). The wood needs to dry evenly and the endgrain will tend to lose moisture faster, shrink and then split.

    It's good to have a little extra thickness for replaning and in case there is any minor shipping damage to the planks. Mine arrived with a few edge dents that will make the finished bass a little less arched that the wood is thick. It was not easy to find topwood large enough for a 4/4 sized instrument. Spruce wedges this size, if available, were very costly. The redwood was $10/ bdft.
     
  7. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR
    Charles;

    I'm in the "birthing" process on my first bass, so I make no pretense of expertise. Several things come to mind, though.

    The NON-wood items for this bass were nearly $500 USD, and the wood, gotten as inexpensively as I could (without going to Home Depot, or the like) was another $760. Additional miscellany, strings, carrying bag, etc.) brought the out-of-pocket expense to right at $1,400.

    You will probably spend a minimum of 500 hours on this thing, if you are pretty good at this sort of thing (assuming this is your first bass as well). Your time will not be less costly if you use cheap wood, but the results may be a good deal less satisfying. Had I spent another $500, I could have gotten some really good wood, I think. As it is, I will always feel a little bummed about the wood I chose to use. I hope that is largely overcome by the sound, but I am not there yet.

    There are certainly ways to cut cost, but there IS a "what's-the-point?" line which you will eventually cross in so doing, and, except for the (costly) experience, the value of the whole project will begin to decline precipitously.

    I don't think I crossed that line...but it was close.

    I think I perhaps COULD benefit from the counsel given here; that the top does not have to be just two pieces. I can probably come up with reasonably good tone wood in narrower billets, and I may elect to do just that on the next one.

    OR... I know where huge boards of non-traditional woods are available, and I suppose I could try that, too. But I really don't want to invest that much time and work, on something that turns out to be a bad choice. That's why I was especially interested to hear about the variety of woods that could be used.

    If you can keep plugging, one step at a time, you'll acheive your goal.
     
  8. M_A_T_T

    M_A_T_T

    Mar 4, 2004
    Canada
    So have you actually started the bass yet? Like started the rib assembly? Pics?
    :hyper:
     
  9. No. I have the outline plans started in CAD. I have just settled on the shape and I need to re-dimension a few things to match up with the mods I made on a 4 string plan to make this one a five string. I've got some repairs to do on my old plywood bass first as well. As far as the ribs and back I have been considering American cherry. I will use maple for the neck and scroll. I'm not sure about the FB yet. I've looked at a couple of options that are as hard or harder than ebony, but less pricey. I'll probably get a Pecanic tailpiece for it.

    The biggest problem with the redwood is I can't get any more of it. So even if it comes out really nice, it will not be repeatable. Of course that doesn't mean I hope it comes out a mistake....

    I'm thinking maybe Bald Cypress for the next one.
     
  10. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    All very valid points. I guess I would counter as follows:

    I don't want to dive into this, but rather wade cautiously. I have plenty of tools, MDF for the form and such lying around. And, I don't mind taking a hit on the book and plan that much because they will have a certain novelty value for me even if I never build a whole bass.

    I don't have to decide on the extranious items until I get some sense of the how the thing is shaping up. What I really want to do is just find the wood to try to carve a top. If I can get that much down and it looks pretty decent, I can decide then how to proceed.

    Right now, my thoughts are that if I buy the wood, I am going to build it from Poplar with an Eastern white pine top.
     
  11. I'm going to assume that you have researched what you are doing pretty well, mainly since you are very active here. The white pine is an interesting choice. I did find an American Lutherie article that was on using white pine for tonewood, but I could not access the article without buying a voluminous collection of back issues. Here's the URL of a luthier's site who uses it on guitars: http://www.wingsguitars.com/tonewoods.html

    Anyway, white pine (along with poplar) is one of my favorite woods to work with because of the evenness of the grain. It should be easy to carve and so should the poplar. I haven't looked at the mechanical props of white pine recently and if you haven't done that, it might be interesting to compare it to spruce and others. I have also seen Douglas Fir used by Kolstein and others. Apparently western white pine is also being used for some instruments.

    If you haven't seen Bob Hitchings web site that documents him building a bass using the H. S. Wake book, that is interesting. Lots of explanatory photos. I have the Wake book. I will probably get the Chandler book also. The one book that I think is indespensible is Henry Strobel's Art and Method of the Violin Maker. I'm sure all of those have something good in them. I am buying them one at a time, but the way I see it, this interests me, and they are books I'd like to read anyway. I'm always reading something and these books are no more expensive than the other ones I buy.

    I would say that for every book that I have read, there was something that was, in retrospect, critical information that influenced the final design I chose.

    I offer you my strongest encouragement and look forward to hearing the results. :)
     
  12. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR
    Well--my first two instruments I built "backward"--plates first, then ribs...it was really hard to get the rib garland to match the plates, and to get even overhang all around. I did not succeed, as a matter of fact.

    If you make the templates first, then the corpus mold, then the rib garland, and THEN the plates, the plates come out right, no problem.

    I s'pose you could carve the plate, and leave plenty of excess around the edges, and NOT install the purfling...in that case, when/if you decide to build a mold and bend ribs, you could probably use the garland to establish the perimeter of the plate, and come out all right.

    From my experience it is a mistake to do the plate first--and I did it three times, just to make sure I learned the lesson (the third one I never went back and finished, but started anew, and did things right).

    You are correct, that it is a worse mistake to NOT build because you can't afford top quality wood, than to buy top quality wood and wreck it on a first attempt. But there are several "middle-ground" solutions, and you have found one. I chose another, mainly because this bass is for a customer and friend, who KNOWS it is my first bass, but who has seen my other instruments, and wants a bass.

    I know you will do well...Good luck with it.
     
  13. Jeff Bollbach

    Jeff Bollbach Jeff Bollbach Luthier, Inc.

    Dec 12, 2001
    freeport, ny
    What that "Famous shop" is calling fir is white pine. I hauled tons of it there. Slab cut pine is way cheap but pine has a common rep and "fir" sounds more Italian.
     
  14. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Maui
    That's pretty fascinating to me....I'll never look at those gigantic white pines by my folks' house the same...
     
  15. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    When you say "Poplar" do you mean real Poplar? or the stuff labelled Poplar at Woodcraft, et al. that is actually Tulipwood (or overgrown giant grass).

    8/4 stock would give you plenty of room for an arch. Make sure you get billets wide enough so you can make multiple passes with your jointer/plane during the center seam-joining stage. Or, you can "wing" the top if you blow it...
     
  16. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    "Poplar" is real confusing. I'm still confused.

    What I think today is true poplar is liriodendron tulipifera, also known as yellow poplar, tulip poplar and tulipwood. I can see how the "tulip" business arises because of latin name of this species. More on this species at: http://tinyurl.com/8w4h7

    There is another wood called tulipwood or brazilian tulipwood that is actually a kind of rosewood, dalbergia frutescens. I'd like to check some of this stuff out, it's apparently got some nice colour variations in it: http://tinyurl.com/ajxof.

    The stuff I was calling poplar my entire life until about 2 years ago is actually aspen. I thought aspen was an American tree that looked an awful lot like our poplars! It's a regional thing; we are only starting these days to hear a few folks calling it aspen. Must be the gradual influence of education or something.

    Apparently lots of folks use the name poplar, too, to refer to cottonwood.

    That green grassy stuff is great for some things. I have no idea about basses.
     
  17. nicklloyd

    nicklloyd Supporting Member/Luthier

    Jan 27, 2002
    Cincinnati, Ohio
    yeah, it's a little foggy :( I'm just wondering what wood Chas is considering... the green, grassy poplar will work for backs and sides, but there are some better tonewoods.
     
  18. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I actually came about my wood selections for sentimental reasons. Poplar trees and white pines are easily the most common trees in the uncleared areas of the farm where I grew up in the East Tennessee mountains. If were a luthier of old there, it would be the obvious choice.

    I am uncertain if those trees are tulip poplars or what. My grandfather always refered to the trees as simply poplar trees; however, I do recall learning at some point in my early school years that the tulip poplar is the state tree of Tennessee, so that makes sense. A couple of sites I landed on say yellow and tulip is the same tree.

    If I were an idealist (I'd like to be, but it hurts too much), I'd go hang at mom's and find some dead stuff to drag out of the woods with the tractor and have it milled. I just don't see that happening. Maybe someday.

    I haven't gotten to the point of a specific supplier for the wood. I have a good friend who is a cabinet maker. I'm hoping he can aid me with local suppliers. If I have to order online, I have no clue how to go.

    I did order my book and plans yesterday. So, I'll be spending the next month or so building my mold.
     
  19. During a previous life I spent the better part of 10 years as a forestry consultant. Tulip and Yellow Poplar are the same tree. There is also a White Poplar that is native to much of the country.

    I have been curious about the type of poplar used in instrument construction and have thought about posing that question. Yellow poplar does grow fast, straight, and very large. I have seen many trees that could easily make a 1-piece back.
     
  20. Martin Sheridan

    Martin Sheridan

    Jan 4, 2001
    Fort Madison, Iowa
    Bass Maker
    A number of years ago I purchased some nicely flamed and locally grown soft maple. It had been pre-cut into boards 22mm thick. Recently I finished my first arch top guitar the first instrument using this wood, and the wood has a fabulous ring when tapped. Anyway, I was going to use it for a flat back copy of a Testore, but I just couldn't get myself to waste 17 mm or so of the wood, so I've made a round back out of it. You can see pictures of it on my new and unfinished web site: www.martinsheridanworkshop.com .
    It's the one without the neck in it. Yes, I left it thicker in the center and the soundpost area. If it doesn't work tonally, I'll take it off and make a flat back, but considering the number of
    basses that have been "oddly built", I think it will turn out fine. Ask me in a month or two.

    By the way another well known bass maker told me that he
    visited the Roth workshop in Germany. Behind the place they
    had whole trees stored and he said they were all stamped USA. I suppose if they ship it to our suppliers they can say it came from Europe! One US wood cutter said a guy called him who had purchased at a very high price some Maple from Europe called "Bosnian Rarity" and when it arrived here it still had the wood cutter's named stamped on it, and he said it wasn't even maple, but birch. I haven't bought any European wood since then.