My first commission (on the cheap four string bolt on)

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Jisch, Oct 31, 2015.

  1. The guy who plays guitar in my band has three daughters who are all musically inclined. He's a pretty amazing musician himself, both in his playing and writing ability. I often joke/complain that his recordings are missing bass (he doesn't own one). With three kids heading to college soon he's on a budget for sure. While he's oogled my basses for years, he just couldn't afford paying me even for what the parts cost. I offered to sell him one at cost or let him borrow one many times, but he's declined out of respect. He doesn't see anyone in his family becoming a serious bassist, but wants to have one when he needs it for recording and so they can all play together on different instruments.

    After seeing what was done here on the $100 challenge I thought I might be able to make this work for both of us.

    So the challenge here is to make a decent bass as cheaply as possible, I'm aiming for under $200 and it seems that I'll be able to stay under that easily. I won't charge for labor, just passing along the cost of parts. I'm taking a few risks on parts, if they don't work out, I'll buy the "right" ones out of my pocket.

    I'm going to mark out the critical body parts on a piece of poster board and let them design the body shape (I have final edit control in case they do something illogical). I don't foresee myself ever becoming a real luthier, but I was thinking that if I was going to do it as a hobby and sell basses, it might be easier to start on the low end rather than on the crowded high end market. Again I have no ambitions, but this will be interesting to see how much time I put in and how the finished product looks and sounds.

    I bought a Precision neck from Guitar Fetish. I have NO idea how they can sell a neck for $27, but they did and I bought it. It looks pretty good - it's flat, no twist and using a straightedge I see no bad frets, they seem to be perfectly level. There is one fret tang that's cut too short and a strange circular dent in the back of the neck (which will be in the pocket and not visible). I checked it against the routing template I bought from Stew Mac and it fits perfectly.



    I ordered up all the hardware from Amazon yesterday the grand total was $57 for bridge, preamp, pickups, strap buttons and jack. I may end up buying a pickguard, not sure on that yet. I have a nice piece of mahogany for the body. It could work as a single piece body but I'll probably put a stripe of walnut down the middle, we'll see. I bought the mahogany from a friend in a group of other stuff, let's call it $25 for that piece of wood.

    I'll likely have to spend a bit more, but right now I'm at $109.
  2. GKon

    GKon Supporting Member, Boom-Chicka-Boom

    Feb 17, 2013
    Albuquerque, NM
    Looking forward to seeing this progress
  3. Here's the mahogany slab I'll use for the body. I hand off the template to the "design team" tonight, I am really curious what they come up with. I really hope I don't have to crush dreams with reality with their design. The chalk line has no bearing on this bass, I'll wait and see what their design looks like before I commit to position.


    I know that wood doesn't look like anything special, but I used it on my four string a/e and wow, it pops when you hit it with the oil:

    I started receiving parts, I'll take a shot of all of them in a group once they get here.
    scourgeofgod and GKon like this.
  4. I got a picture of the "customer's" design and will get the actual poster board back tonight.

    It's an interesting design - definitely Jazz-ish. I'll have to see it in person, but the body looks off center. I'll have to talk to my friend about their ideas before editing - I guess I have to decide between things that are "cool" to them (those weird bumps up by the neck?) and things that were just oversights (the body being off center?). My friend is super mellow, so I can't imagine any edits will be a problem.

    It should be interesting! I'm pretty excited to get moving on this.
  5. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    Very cool. Good luck.
  6. Cool. Looking forward to seeing how it turns out..
  7. I should have provided more guidance on the parameters around the shape - This thing was huge, way beyond normal and would have been completely unwieldy as well as really heavy. My friend was more than happy to have edits, so I trimmed it down a lot. I kept a few hints of what his daughter designed, but lesson learned, I should have sent a drawing with limits and had her alter bits of it instead of allowing her to draw the whole thing. My friend is cool, but I can imagine this is how you get into trouble with these things, someone gives you a bad design and doesn't want to alter it, you make it, they hate it. Any suggestions on shape appreciated!

    Here's my slimmed down version of their design:

    I'll try and get the body cut out this weekend, unfortunately I have a boatload of work travel coming up, I hope to have it complete before Xmas, we'll see. I am pondering how to get wires run, I really don't want to do a pick guard, I'm leaning toward the skunk stripe on the back of the body right now, but I may try drilling too. I guess I'll figure that out once I have the cavities done.
  8. Manton Customs

    Manton Customs UK Luthier

    Jan 31, 2014
    Shropshire, UK
    Luthier, Manton Customs
    Congratulations on the commission :). You will create a lot of work for yourself if you go with a skunk stripe and it would really be 100% unnecessary for anything other than looks. While not particularly complicated it would also be an opportunity to cock up, which is never nice on a commission! As I mentioned in the other thread where you asked about running the wires it is a very simple 2 minute job to drill from the neck pocket through to the bridge pickup, then drilling a hole from bridge pickup rout to cavity. This is a pretty common way of doing it as done on many, many guitars. Here's a link where someone explains the process Drilling wiring channels & positioning the telecaster bridge | Project Telecastle

    For the design (as you're asking :)) I'd refine the bottom horn and cutaway to make it flow a bit better and alter the bass side of the neck pocket so it flows into the neck rather than running along side it for a while. The symmetry of the rear may need some attention also, but I realise it's just a rough sketch :). It looks great compared to the original!
  9. Thanks, I'll try out the drill method, that surely is a lot better than a skunk stripe.

    I left the bottom horn like that because that's how it came to me, I thought I'd leave SOMETHING original, but maybe I should fix that too. I'll work out the symmetry on the bottom as I go. I really appreciate the input.

    Here's how it will lay out on the mahogany - the grain follows the upper horn, there's not a lot of grain, but it should look pretty nice (especially for $25 - that's how much I'm charging him for the wood):
  10. Just a friendly suggestion... I'd try to make the lower horn a little bit less pointy to match the other one. Just saying... ☺
  11. I might have misunderstood Manton above, but that lower horn is the one leave over from the design from my friend's kid, but I agree, it doesn't look good, I'll probably edit further.
    joselorellano likes this.
  12. I cut the blank down to a manageable size and used the sanding planer to take the imperfections out of the front and back surfaces and get the thickness to about 1 7/8" - I like to end up about 1 3/4", so I've got plenty of wiggle room:

    Put the centerline and the basic outline on the blank - as I usually do, I'll edit the shape as I cut it with the band saw and with the orbital drum sander, but this looks like a good starting point - I changed that lower horn a bit:

    I'll layout the pickup and neck routes and do those next, then cut the body shape on the band saw. I will hopefully get at least that far this weekend.

    As I consider what I could do that would be "cool" with this build I keep reminding myself this is an "on the cheap" build. I'm trying to stick to that idea not only with regards to the hardware, but also to the effort to complete. There won't be any inlays on this one!
    Why Nautilus‽ likes this.
  13. JayGunn

    JayGunn Supporting Member

    Jan 24, 2010
    Chapel Hill NC
    The way you laid everything out leaves at lot of wood at the bottom of the bass below the bridge. At the upper end it doesn't look like there is enough neck-to-body overlap for even 4 bolts. Are you going to shift the neck, pickups and bridge down to get more overlap for the bolt-on contact?
  14. I shifted everything down a bit, you are right, it wasn't far enough down. I'm not sure where that first measurement came from, but I just kept transferring a bad point along from the first drawing. Here's how it lays out now - I'm going to put the pickups in the 70's Jazz positions:
  15. I was traveling all week for work, and lots of family stuff today, but I got the neck pocket routed, I started with a forstner bit then routed it out. It really seemed like the neck fit in the template perfectly, but the slot is a bit big, I should have put some tape on the template to make the hole slightly smaller, it should be ok. I'll try and get a bit more done tomorrow. I REALLY want to have this done before Christmas, we'll see.

  16. Sometimes things go very quickly, sometimes things take forever. Today was the latter. I've only routed rectangular pickups - making a template for one of those is pretty simple. This one just took forever to make - I guess about 2.5 hours front to back. Good thing I noticed the two pickups are different widths, again first time I've had different sized ones.

    Ultimately it came out good, hope the top one comes out this good.

    I'll need to do a little clean up and probably make things deeper.
  17. Great to see you building more and more. If I can offer you a piece of feedback...

    Before any of my builds I work hard on the design. I draw a 1:1 scale design drawing. I work hard on the curves and cut-aways to make the whole body look good. I think about an overall 'aesthetic' of the bass. You only need a cheap ruler, compass and some French curves.


    Then I photocopy the design and stick it to MDF with spray adhesve to make a template. I use that to make the body.


    The advantage with that is then you can use the same body shape over and over if people like it. When I wanted to make changes to my body style, I was able to trace the shape from an old template onto paper too. ;)
    Will_White likes this.
  18. I don't plan on making another like this (or even another commission). If I was, I would definitely develop templates for everything. Right now I enjoy the creativity of unique instruments, we'll see where this goes, but it is already feeling a bit like work.
    bassestkkm likes this.
  19. Unique is fine. Templates can be thrown away afterwards. I've done so many time. The point is, the template and full scale plan allow you to create the shape and look long before you put tools to timber. It means the chances of mistakes are much lower and that the over shape will end up more crafted and less haphazard. It lifts the standard of your builds dramatically. :)
    Jisch and Deep Cat like this.
  20. Very good points. I could also use a router to finalize the shape rather than the oscillating drum sander. I should try that for my next build.

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