Music Man PJ 5 Hybrid - My First Build

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by The Ryantist, May 7, 2018.

  1. Hello Luthier's Corner, I'm finally going to start my build thread after having so many questions in preparation. I'd like to thank everyone in advance for already giving me great advice and sharing your methods for someone like me to try out.

    I've spent about 90% of my bass life on a 5 string, and my ideal string spacing is 17.5 mm. Because of this I've gravitated toward EBMM for their neck size, but after my first brief stint with a MIM Fender PJ, I finally get it and want that passive P (and PJ) tone in a 5 string. After lots of searching, and a rare find of an old used StingRay 5 neck on ebay, I decided to go the route of building a body to fit the neck.

    Unfortunatley I only have a few hours per week that I can spend on this so please be patient with me :)

    I already have most of the parts, the main ones being an alder blank from Warmoth, Nordstrand PJ5 noiseless pickups, and Hipshot bridge. I've never used Nordstrand pickups, but demo videos have sounded good that I've seen. Also, they did custom polepiece spacing for me for only $20 extra (I calculated 16.2 mm at the P and 17 mm at the J), and were great to work with. I bought the Hipshot bridge from BestBassGear, primarily because again I could get the 17.5 mm spacing.

    Here is my body design. I used Inkscape and started by tracing a P shape that fit the scale of the MM neck. Since the MM neck is 22 frets I had to rework the lower horn and cutaway, and try to make them still look consistent with the upper horn. I think I finally landed on a shape that I'm good with. These are NOT my colors though, the final will be sunburst, parchment PG, and a maple fretboard.


    Edit - it's finished! Completed pics here!
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2018
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  2. The first real step I took was routing out templates for the pickups. I tested out this method a couple weeks ago in another thread on the J pickup. Here it is again for the P pickup. I cut a bunch of rectangles in 1/2" MDF and stuck them down on a larger piece of MDF with double stick tape. The rectangles surrounded my pickup with .020" cardboard surrounding the pickup so I'll be left with a gap. (What isn't shown is that the straight edges weren't quite parallel, so I took off another .010" off the top and bottom. I actually think the slightly larger gap will fit better once the finish is on the body).

    Double stick tape down around pickup
    Blocks in place with cardboard shims. The squiggley lines I drew were the factory edge on the original MDF sheet. Those weren't as straight as my fresh cuts so I made sure not to use them for my routing template.
    Pickup removed

    Used a step drill bit to get a starter hole for my router bit.

    All I have is a little trim router, but it works great. I built this sub base out of hardboard per the suggestion of @Bruce Johnson and I love it. It's about 6"x12" with the router offset a little so I have more surface to my left side. This is so much more stable than the little 3" base the router had.

    I did 2 passes each 1/4" deep, with a 1/2" diameter bearing pattern tracing bit. The 1/2" diameter is perfect for making the pickup mounting tabs on the two sides.

    Then I used a 1/4" bit to get into the corners and tighten the radius of the main rectangle section, making sure not to touch the pickup mounting tabs areas. Note that since the bearings aren't perfect, I ended up going over the whole length of the long straight sides (after this picture was taken). Otherwise if you look closely, you can see where the 1/4" bit was used just in the corner.
    Here's how the routes turned out for a single P and for the J. When I make the rest of the body template I'll use this single P template twice. And after this pic was taken, I rubbed a very thin layer of wood glue on the inside of my routes, and then sanded it with 220 grit, just to get a smooth hard edge that is a little more durable than cut MDF.
  3. For my control layout I started in Inkscape by drawing an arc that is centered between the inner and outer curves on the pickguard in that area. I then spaced the centers of the knobs (silver) approximately equally. The jack is 1/8" smaller in diameter than the knobs so it is spaced 1/16" closer than the other three knobs, so the edge-to-edge distances are all almost the same. I say "almost" because their distances are straight line measurements and not arc length along the curve. But I think it looks good.

    The red circles and rectangles represent the internal pot/jack geometry where I wanted to have some clearance between the parts and the cavity walls. The blue curve is the actual cavity I want to cut. I also pre-planned where my pickguard screws are going and spaced them using the small red circles, which are 1/2" diameter. This will ensure that the screws are evenly spaced from the pickguard edge, and that I leave enough meat for the screws around the control cavity.


    Here's my printed template and checking that the hardware fits. The square is 1" x 1" and was just printed to double check that my printing scale was accurate. My pots are 250k linear volume, 250k M/N taper for the blend to have both pickups at 100% in the center, and a 250k audio pot for the tone control. I wanted solid shaft pots, just my preference. I like using the set screw as a reference for each knob's position. Maybe I'm a bad shopper, but I'm annoyed that I had to buy 3 different branded pots from 3 different vendors to meet my design requirement. Oh well.


    Used spray glue to stick my drawing onto 1/2" MDF and cut out the middle part with a jigsaw.


    Then I used drum sanding bits in a drill press to sand to the line (almost).


    Here's my drill press table that I made by combining several ideas from pinterest. It's two pieces of 3/4" plywood with a 1/8" hardboard top. The top is only on with brad nails so it's replaceable. Before gluing the plywood together, I cut a square hole in the top piece and a round hole in the bottom piece, and routed about a 1/4" deep channel in each piece connecting the two holes. When the top and bottom pieces were glued together it left me with a 1/2" thick channel through the table, so I can plug the shop vac into the bottom and vacuum the dust as I'm sanding. It works great!


    Since my sanding drum diameter was small relative to these curves, I wasn't left with smooth curves. So I smoothed them out by hand a little. But then the walls weren't perpendicular to the top. So I put it back on the drill press, wrapped 220 grit around the drum sander, and left the drill turned off for just a couple more passes around the perimeter, to re-square up the edges without taking off too much material. The result reminds me of a long skinny baby in the womb :)

    Panada and mnats like this.
  4. Next I wanted to try this method on the neck pocket. I'm still not 100% decided on if I'm going to route the cavities first or cut out the main body shape first. Along those lines I wasn't sure if I would use this as a routing template but I at least wanted to test the method.

    My drawing was made by measuring the neck width at 2 points from the heel, I think I used the 12th and 17th frets or something like that. Just made sure to be past the rounded corners. There's also a centerline on the neck, and some other lines that I'll later use for screw hole placement on another jig. There's a truss rod cutout that I just measured from one of my other basses. As before I stuck the paper onto 1/2" MDF using spray glue.


    I decided to do this route in 2 parts. First I wanted to do the truss rod wheel cutout. This doesn't have to be exact so I just stuck my straight edges on the lines of the sketch and routed with a 1/4" pattern bearing bit.


    It seems that the double stick tape I'm using is stronger than the spray glue. I don't know if that will cause problems down the road, but this is kind of a practice run so I'll keep going for now. I also might not have let the spray glue dry long was a few hours but maybe 24 hours would have gotten a better hold of the paper. That glue has been pretty strong in the past.


    I had planned on using an installed A-string to algn the neck with the centerline, but that proved very difficult and I couldn't get it straight. I had much better results just aligning the edges of the neck with my printed lines. I'll have to figure out if that's what I want to do on the real build.


    I took out a small notch in the center of the base board to clear the end of the truss rod. For the rounded corners, they were a very good match to a U.S. penny, which is very close to 3/4" in diameter. So I routed the 3 straight edges with a 3/4" bearing pattern bit.


    The bit I bought is only 1/4" deep so I went a little more than half of the MDF thickness in 2 passes (oh yeah I previously took out the center with a jigsaw)


    and then I removed the 3 boards and used the top half of my previous cut to trace the rest of the way through the thickness. I pulled off the rest of the paper because it was pretty much ruined after removing the straight boards. My cut at the "top" of the neck heel doesn't matter so I didn't care if the bearing traced the edge up there.


    A prety good fit IMO. Not perfect but it's something I could live with if I can do at least this good on the real body.


    Last edited: Aug 3, 2018
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  5. Ok first actual operation on my alder body blank. I'm going to thin the blank down from 1.75" to 1.6" to save a little weight. Here is a router sled I built last weekend after copying some ideas from the interwebs.
    My body blank...I'm a little nervous. Removing material off the back side so as not to mess with the bookmatch.
    Lots of tool marks from the router

    But the tool marks can be sanded out pretty easily. Here's a 9" x 9" sanding block I made to help keep things flat.

    And here's the body after some sanding with 60 grit to remove the tool marks.

    Rats, I have a couple tiny chipouts from the router. Strange that these are in the middle of the body and I didn't have chipout issues on the edges. Update from much later - this ended up being on the back of the neck heel and I was able to locally sand that spot down a little and blend it in with the body.
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2018
    31HZ likes this.
  6. I've been working a lot the last several weeks, I managed to take pics but no posts until now, so here goes:
    I printed my body template full size at Fedex/Kinkos. Nothing super fancy here, spray glued it onto 1/2" MDF, cut 1/8" outside the line with the band saw, then sand down to the line.

    Then trace the template outline on the body blank. I've also seen this cool trick to run your pencil in a washer so you can offset a tracing. This gave me one exact tracing and one about 1/8" oversize to give me a target on the bandsaw.


    Oh yeah those 4 holes in the body are where I screwed down the template so I can get it back in the exact same place later. They will all be gone after I rout the neck/pickups/control cavity.
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  7. 1/8" oversize cut out from the band saw:
    Screwed the template back on and used a robosander to get close. I think this is a 2" diameter 60 grit. I bought finer grits for it but I ended up just going to a flush trim router bit after this sanding.

    Everything robosanded except I couldn't get the lower cutaway into the bandsaw so I did that with a jigsaw, making multiple little straight cuts.
    Then I made a homemade mini robosander by taping the template and the bottom of the sanding drum. It worked great.
    Here's the body after routing. I did the front half of the body with a top bearing bit on the template (1/2" diameter bit x 1" cutting length). Then I flipped the body and used a bit with the bearing at the end to trim the back half to match the front. I did have some tearout on the endgrain, at the butt end of the guitar and behind the neck heel. Fortunately it will have black burst edges so I'm just using superglue and sawdust to fix it.
    bound'n'blocked likes this.
  8. Next I rounded the edges with a 3/8" roundover bit. Nothing super special here.

    Then I carved the tummy cut. I started with the shape I wanted (largest) and then made a couple smaller lines so that I would approach the final line evenly. I went from coarse to fine via: chisel, spokeshave, half round file, card scraper. I really didn't like the spokeshave and ended up returning it. I don't know if it was the wrong tool for this job, but if I ever make another body I'll be doing it without a spokeshave. The card scraper on the other hand was a pleasant surprise. I had never used one and it helped me make a contour that I'm really happy with.

    You may notice that black spot on the wood in the middle. That's a burn mark from the router when I did the roundover cut. I actually started the cut there purposely, just in case there was a burn mark, it would be where my cutaway is :D :D On the front side I started the router where the forearm cut will go, but I didn't get a burn there.
    Here I'm getting to my second line.
    And here's the final shape. Nice and comfy.
  9. Scoops

    Scoops Why do we use base 10 when we only have 8 fingers Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2013
    Sugar Creek, Wisc
    Very nice!
  10. Dang, that washer trick rocks. So brilliant, yet to simple.
    rwkeating likes this.
  11. J. Wes

    J. Wes

    Sep 2, 2014
    Palestine, TX
    Sweet...can’t wait to watch this progress...
  12. I'm proud of this step because it's one of the few original ideas I had on this project that I didn't steal from somewhere. My problem was that the neck holes are already in the neck, so how do I get the holes in the pocket to be aligned with the existing neck holes?

    I started by measuring the holes on the neck, they were all the same distance from the edges of the neck, so they are on lines with the same taper as the neck edges. A little bit of math and I calculated where those lines should be, and then another round of print/glue. This time on 1/4" hardboard because I wanted this template toe be thinner than the others. I can't remember why at the moment (I did this about a month ago). Next I drilled holes that the screws just barely fit through so there's minimal wiggling.
    Then I put double stick tape on the board and used the screws to align it on the neck.
    Applied clamping pressure to stick the double stick tape.
    Removed the screws and clamps and used a pattern routing bit to copy the neck onto the hardboard. I only need the first few inches so that other block you see is for me to stop routing.
    After routing I trimmed the upper corners off because they're unnecessary. Here's a fit check with the screws again.
    And here's a fit check in my pocket template. Very snug.
    Update: I didn't take pictures, but after making this neck heel template I realized the reason the corners aren't a perfect match is that the neck itself looks like the butt end was sanded and ended up with a very large radius. I corrected my pocket template by rubbing some yellow wood glue into the corners, pressing this heel template through, wipe off excess, let dry, fine sand, repeat about 5x so the pockets got to an even better match by the time I used them.
  13. Time to route the neck pocket. I used double stick tape to put the full template on my body blank, aligned with my 4 screws. I had the presence of mind to remove the screw from the neck pocket before routing :)


    I used my neck heel template to help align the pocket template by looking through my screw and seeing the intersections of the lines on the other template. I hadn't originally planned this but it was a nice help.
    Removed the heel template.

    Oh yeah I removed a lot of material with a Forstner bit but didn't take pics of that.

    I stuck an extra piece of MDF on the body for support for my router. Did most of the work with a 1/2" bit and then switched to 1/4" at the end, primarily to get into the corners of the truss rod wheel.

    Here's the finished route. Does it fit? You'll have to wait and see.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2018
  14. Music Man 6 bolt neck plates are hard to come by, so I'm using bushings (or are these ferrules? oh well). I found a great video () for aligning string ferrules through the body, so I modified that technique for my neck holes.

    Step 1) Set the drill depth so it stops short of the body thickness (this is a scrap piece of alder the same thickness as my body). Oh yes, and use the smallest drill size that the screws will fit through. This is needed for alignment. You can enlarge the holes later. This is 11/64"

    I inserted my neck heel template so I know where the screw holes should go. Note I had written on it "this side faces neck" in case my holes were a little off in the template.

    Holes drilled in the pocket but not all the way through.

    Step 2) A little jig with one of my neck screws facing up in the drill press. Align the table so that the drill bit is aligned with this screw. I filed off the sharp tip of the screw so I wouldn't scratch the body.
    Step 3) I don't have pictures of the actual drilling. But I placed the body face down so that the alignment screw from the previous picture is in one of the neck holes on the pocket side. Drill, move the body to the next hole, repeat. Now my hole pattern on the back is evenly spaced, even if the drill bit wandered inside the wood. Plus no blowout :)

    Steps 4 & 5) Repeat the process using a Forstner bit. (I used 5/8" instead of the suggested 15 mm, but it's close enough for me). Now the large bushing (or ferrule) holes will all be aligned with the same hole pattern as the pocket side, and it looks nice and even.

    And here's the neck screwed into the pocket. I'm so happy this is turning out this well :D :D :D
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  15. No pictures of drilling the bridge. I measured for the right location, taped it down, and used a self centering drill bit for the 3 mounting screws. This is a Hipshot A style bridge with string-through-body option (with 17.5 mm spacing from bestbassgear). I've never had a bass with string through so I thought I'd try it. Also, if I'm being honest, I have a hard time trusting 3 #6 screws to hold all that string tension.

    Anyway, with the bridge screwed on the body, I drilled the string through holes the same way I did the neck bushings in the previous post (I love how cleanly this method works!). Start with the small hole on the front that doesn't go all the way through, then Forstner from the back. I also added a counterbore with a larger Forstner so that the ferrules will be slightly below flush with the body, mostly to match the look of the neck screws. The ferrules are from Carvin, and they extend 1 inch into the body so that the strings don't need to be longer than when top fed.



    At this point I couldn't resist stringing her up for a test drive. Feels great so far, in terms of the body shape. The neck is so smooth, except it's unfortunately got truss rod issues that I don't want to deal with. The truss rod has already been repaired and I've spent 4 days trying to diagnose it. I'm just going to have EBMM replace the neck, which doesn't cost much more than the truss rod surgery it needs. At least I'll get a new compensated nut.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2018
  16. Nothing too fancy about how I routed the pickup and control cavities. I started by taping my full template onto the body again with the remaining alignment screws (see above post about neck pocket routing), and then I removed the screws before routing. If I haven't mentioned, the woodcraft woodworking tape is great for sticking routing templates. Then I stuck my templates that I had made on top of the full body template and routed through it all. Also I have a Wixey WR25 Mini Digital Height Gauge which comes in very handy for setting router bit depth, and measuring the cavity depth. I was able to get these cavities within 0.01" of my intended depths.

    wraub, Haroldo and Matt Liebenau like this.
  17. I saved the forearm cutaway until after all the routing because I wanted a flat surface for my router base and templates. Here's the rough shape I did pretty much all with a block plane and sandpaper. Seeing this picture now I can see a couple parts that still need touch up, but I'll get to that with final sanding later.
  18. Man I really got scarce with the pictures at these later stages. Next step is to drill for wires to the control cavity. I stared by preparing a channel for the bridge ground wire. That's 5 holes with a 1/4" Forstner next to each other and then the edges straightened with a chisel.

    A little trigonometry to make sure I don't come out the back of the guitar:

    theta = arctan(y/x), where
    • y is the height difference from the start to the end of the hole
    • x is the lateral distance from the pickup cavity to the closest spot in the control cavity
    • theta is the angle above horizontal for the drill bit
    • [edited to add: arctan is the same as inverse tangent, and make sure you use degrees or 'deg' on your calculator]
    These gave me about 18 degrees for the P pickup and the bridge ground wire, and 11 degrees for the J pickup. I made two triangular blocks at 18 and 11 degrees on the miter saw to sit on the body just for an eyeball assistance that I was drilling at the correct angle. And then for extra safety I tried to stay at an even shallower angle than the reference blocks. I drilled with a 12" long 1/8" bit, and will enlarge later if necessary.

    Last edited: Apr 10, 2020
  19. Alright, the body is done being shaped! I rounded the lower corner of the neck heel a little bit for comfort, and cleaned up the whole body with 220 grit sandpaper. Now it's headed off to Cary at to do the finishing because I don't trust myself on that part. He's got good prices and has been in good communication so far while we talk about what I want.
    20180723_125754.jpg 20180723_125840.jpg
  20. Beautiful work.

    Have you chosen a finish/colour because I must say, i think it'd be a shame to cover such a nice body with solid colour.

    How about a 'burst?
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