Psst... Ready to join TalkBass and start posting, make new friends, sell your gear, and more?  Register your free account in 30 seconds.

Making basses

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Adam Bartram, Jun 2, 2001.


  1. Adam Bartram

    Adam Bartram

    May 31, 2001
    London, UK
    I'm looking for opinions, and would welcome any!

    I have a commission to build a twin neck 5 string bass. The criteria are:

    Both necks to be through necks, laminated maple/mahagony/maple/mahagony/maple, the bocdy is mahagony. The necks are standard 5 string (B,E,A,D,G) and tuned an octave above (piccoloa bass). Single truss rod on the piccolo neck, twin on the basss. Both are 34in scale length, ebony fingerboard inlaid with silver/abalone/MOP symbols. Top nut widths are 46mm (1 5/8ins)

    So far I've select Fender (almost) style headstocks (mirror images) as the heads on most twin necks do interfer with each other.

    The questions I'm still stuck with are:

    What pickups and how many?

    Which neck should be the top (bass or piccolo)?

    I know these seem like fundamental questions that should be sorted by the client, but he's left it up to me?

    Help??????
     
  2. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Adam - That's sort of a weird duck. But, bassists are known for innovation anyway, according to Ned Steinberger.

    Traditionally, the standard tuning neck is the upper neck. It will see the most use as a rule, and the thicker strings and techniques used on traditional bass require more forearm and wrist motion, particularly slapping.

    The smaller guage strings that will probably, (I would hope), be used on the piccolo neck really only require wrist motion, mainly.

    There are a couple of pickup configurations that are popular these days. One is a Jazz style pickup in the neck position, with an Ernie Ball Music Man style humbucker in the bridge postion. To compare various Jazz pickups, take a look at www.bassplayer.com , click on the "Gear" link at the top of the page, and scroll down that page to the J pickup "shootout." Being a luthier, I suppose you have references on the formulas used for placement.
    Another popular pickup is the soapbar. This is often used in either the neck and/or the bridge position. A look at the downloadable catalog at www.bartolini.net will show examples of all three I've mentioned and the site also give guidelines on choosing pickups.
    Another very popular pickup is Seymour Duncan Basslines, www.basslines.com . EMG, Aero, Lindy Fralin, Rio Grande, and Mighty Mite are also popular.

    If your customer wants to try something that is relatively new, look at Lightwave pickups. Instead of traditional, magnetic, pickups these are optical pickups.

    Another one you might consider is the Piezo pickup. These are pickups that are installed into the bridge and operate on crystals that transform the vibration energy into electrical signals.

    Any other questions, feel free to ask. I'm having a custom bass built, so I've done quite a bit of research.
     
  3. How much does it cost to build a bass?
     
  4. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Depends on what the customer has selected for the components.
     
  5. Oysterman

    Oysterman

    Mar 30, 2000
    Sweden
    And how much the luthier is charging for the work.
     
  6. Adam Bartram

    Adam Bartram

    May 31, 2001
    London, UK
    The main cost in this instrument is the neck inlaying. Silver is not particularly easy to inlay into ebony: most inlaying is a hard material into a softer one, whereas silver is softer than ebony! I don't really want to disclose the total cost, but the fingerboards alone are £5,000!

    This may seem a lot, but they're very intricate, a sort of Celtic tree of life with abalone, Paua shell, mother of pearl, lapiz lazuli, tigers eye and agates.

    Thanks for the pickup reccomendations. I have a sort of test neck on a plank which allows testing of pickup positions with different bridges, the pickups can slide about and get locked into position. This makes a pickup position easy to set.

    I once made a bass with this setup, but sliding pickups just don't seem to work. I know that Alembic and Gibson (Grabber) both tried without much success. Does anyone know one that does work? Even better, does anyone know why? Is it that they're not fixed to the body enough?

    Thanks for all the replies!
     
  7. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member



    The luthier can't charge anything until components are selected. Can you open the door? Only if it's closed. Chicken or egg? :rolleyes:
     
  8. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Man oh man, :eek: !!!! Who ordered those basses...Entwistle? McCartney? Wyman? The Sultan of Brunei?

    Norton uses the design, www.nortonguitars.com . I think their site discusses the theory behind the design, a little.

    Also, we had a guy stop by at TalkBass who makes SSS basses. The URL doesn't work here, so you'd have to plug the name or the words "moving pickups" into a search engine to find it. His are ultra complicated and use some kind of computer memory system so all you do is push buttons and you can call up a setting you had stored in the memory. Last I heard from him, he was trying to sell the license/patent/whatever to Ibanez.

    I played a borrowed Norton one time. Me no like. Maybe I'm just an old fuddy, but the sound left me cold, (but that was only one short use). The rails seem to make it incapable of warm, woody tones, which I like. Plus, on any bass, there are only certain points along the entire distance between the neck and the bridge that are optimal for tone. If you're into techno/industrial or full out metal, it might be your cup of tea.
     
  9. Oysterman

    Oysterman

    Mar 30, 2000
    Sweden
    :oops: Um... I'd rather have the tuna sandwich, thank you.
     
  10. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    Do ya think the neck components approach £5,000? The biggest cost factor as far as I've seen has been the luthier's time.
     
  11. I mean how much would it cost to build my self a bass. Do the tools cost a lot? And the wood?
     
  12. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    It depends on what level you want to build from. For a kit bass like Carvin you only need standard tools. If you plan on starting from scratch on the body and the neck you can get away with fairly run of the mill tools but luthier tools will make the job much easier.

    Which way do you want to go?
     
  13. Adam Bartram

    Adam Bartram

    May 31, 2001
    London, UK
    Brad has it right, time is virtually the only factor. Cutting the silver by hand using jewellers saws, micro snips and needle files, and the ebony with a 2mm chisel tip that needs sharpening even 20-30mm is extremely time consuming! I'm expecting to take something like 10 weeks to make just the fingerboards.

    As also stated, there is a real problem with tone. With such a hard fingerboard, then cut it away to replce with a metal glues in, ruins the tome of the whole instrument! For this reason the body is mahagony and fairly thick as an attempt to return some of what the neck will loose. I know this is a compromise, but what is the world of bass isn't?

    I'm the luthier on this, and that doesn't necessarily mean I approve of the whole thing, but it is my responsibility to make sure that it works. If when I finish the work, and I'm begining to think this is nearer art than an instrument, and the customer doesn't like it, then he won't pay. There's nothing I can do about that, I can't force him, simply that I wont make anything else for him. Bid deal, he can go somewhere else to get a bsss, I'm left with a bass so expensive no-one will want it.

    As to making your own, it not that expensive to start.

    I started with a decent table saw (10"), decent bandsaw (10"), decent set of planes, chisels, thickness plane (the most expensive tool) and a workbench. Other bits get added but only when required.

    What you do need more than anything else is a dream: a dream to build something that no-one else will do. Don't copy anything, take the bet bits from all you favourites, steal whatever ideas and experience you like, but don't copy anything (that's illegal).

    Thats how I started, I wanted something I couldn't affor, and later discovered I couldn't get. the only way is to make it yourself, then it's always what you want.

    Sounds a bit wet now I've written it, but it's the way it was!
     
  14. Turock

    Turock Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2000
    Melnibone
    Here's a link to Johnny A's SSS Bass with the moveable pickup.

    http://hometown.aol.com/midnitrodo
     
  15. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    The luthier's time is only driven by what you order, e.g., I ordered Ablam instead of shell inlay - easier to work with, can be cut to greater detail, has more figuring than straight shell.

    Ergo, the customer drives the cost, whether it's luthier's time or materials.
     
  16. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Adam - You wouldn't be doing any of that if the customer hadn't ordered it. The time factor is driven by the customer.

    As for the art vs. instrument - We all prostitute ourselves to some degree. The only differences are price and the clients.
     
  17. Adam Bartram

    Adam Bartram

    May 31, 2001
    London, UK
    I realise that the customer is my driver, it is the only reason I make them (not actully true, but close!), and in this instance the customer is quite prepared to pay the cost, even though it's high.

    I'm not sure, though, that the sutomers always understand what they're asking for, and what effect it has.

    I don't feel that I'm prostituing myself for arts sake. I accept that an bass is an instrument of art, as well as being an artistic instrument. However, private luthiers offer these extremely customised basses because the big boys don't. What would Fender quote for tooling up to make something like this? Warwick, Carl Thompson, etc probably could offer these options, but I'm not in their league. I make probably half a dozen per year (this is not my only method of income), each one completelt individual and handmake throughout.

    I'm not even going to claim I don't enjoy it, I love making them. There's absolutely no feeling in the world to compare with player taking my efforts and playing. It's ecstacy when I hear the first few bars! It makes all the pain, hard work and, to be honest, fear of failure worthwhile.
     
  18. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    I'll agree to disagree, rb;)

    I can't think of any custom bass I'm aware of that the cost of materials approached the cost to actually build it. A $3k bass will typically not have $1500 worth of materials. Assembling kit parts (Warmoth, Carvin) would be an exception. YMMV
     
  19. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    This sounds like a real crapshoot for you, Adam. Most guys I know, if asked to build something as adventurous as this, would want a big non-refundable deposit. I know I would. Who but the original owner will be willing to foot the bill for the fretboard work you mentioned?

    The mirrored Fender style headstocks sounds like it may look odd, would two symmetrical headstocks make more sense?

    Good luck.
     
  20. rickbass

    rickbass Supporting Member

    Yeah, that or a design like an old Gibson EB series, where the gears are on the side of the headstock and the pegs are perpendicular to the headstock.

    Or, get crazy, and make dummy headstocks with a Steinberger system.