My Les Paul Bass Build - I need a Gibby too...

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by BassHappy, Dec 9, 2014.

  1. GBassNorth


    Dec 23, 2006
    Hap - if it were my build and I had already decided to go with flame maple body binding then I would also include neck binding. One without the other always looks hodgepodge to me.

    Reminds me of the bedroom discussion between James Bond and Tiffany Chase in Diamonds are Forever, where she steps out of the powder room sporting a red hairdo...
    Bond: "Weren't you a blonde when I came in?"
    Tiffany: "Could be..."
    Bond: "I tend to notice little things like that, whether she's a blonde or a brunette."
    Tiffany: "And which do you prefer?"
    Bond: "Well, provided that the cuffs and collar match... (shrugs)"

    As for the frets - ask yourself, do I want this bass to be focused on a specific task and do things most of my other basses can't, or do I want this bass to be flexible and a potential sit in for many of my other basses? The tapewound path with mandolin frets will be a killer set up but geared towards specific tasks. Whereas the 6150 frets and half rounds will be a bit more flexible and sound/feel/play more like some of your other basses. There isn't a right or wrong answer, it comes down to personal preference and your end goal.

    For me personally, if I were going to the lengths you are to make this bass I'd probably lean towards making it a very specialized application instrument, something that I know I would instantly reach for every time I had a very specific task in mind. Therefore I'd favor the tape/mandolin fret option and optimize the bass for those types of jobs where tapewounds reall shine. Think of it as the "killer app" for specific jobs. But that's just me, and in fact that's what I'm currently doing on a hopeful Alembic build next year. I don't want to spend a fortune to get a bass that's just as good and similar to my existing Alembics, I want one that will do something the others can't. Swiss Army knifes are fine and there's always a place for them but if I want the very best tool for the job I'll reach for one that was designed to specifically perform the task at hand.
    Christine, BassHappy and Indiedog like this.
  2. Indiedog


    Aug 23, 2012
    Tucson, AZ
    Great post!
    BassHappy and GBassNorth like this.
  3. Hey G

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful post. I think you hit the nail right on the head. Do I want a versatile bass that will cover a lot of ground, or a specialized bass for certain tasks? I think it will be much easier to answer that question when I get the two Fender Hollows which are in the home stretch. They both are semi-hollow with tapes and mando frets. Once I get a feel for those, I think this question might answer itself.

    Since Keith is only slotting the board and then spending time gluing it to the neck blank I still have some time to decide on what type of frets I want. Like I mentioned, it's really close and I could go either way and be happy. I think the smart move might be to wait on the Fender Hollows and see what they reveal.

    Thanks again!
    GBassNorth likes this.
  4. Indiedog


    Aug 23, 2012
    Tucson, AZ
    I agree on that approach, Rick.
    GBassNorth likes this.
  5. wraub


    Apr 9, 2004
    ennui, az
    Been a while since I last dropped in here, looks like things are progressing here nicely.

    BHappy- congrats on your writeup in SweetNotes.
    Very cool.
    BassHappy likes this.
  6. Hey thanks Wraub

    Yeah, Keith kind of reached a stopping point on the other three builds which are almost finished - but out of his hands - so he decided to plunge into this one - which is kind of his pet project. He is nothing if not a Les Paul freak - and we have been contemplating and planning this build for nearly a year! Should be more to come soon!
  7. BINDING....

    So I spoke to Keith and he said - "Rick, I am a binding guy - I love natural binding - so, of course we are going to bind the neck in matching flamed maple strips - taken right from the top or back." So that is that. I really like the amber tint rather than the pale natural maple, but we will see how the wood speaks to us as we get further down the road. We have some "Luminlay" glow in the dark fretboard dots leftover from the twins, so we are going to use those on the bass side of the fingerboard.
    GBassNorth likes this.
  8. dedpool1052


    Jan 10, 2011
    Seattle, WA
    I think the natural binding with an amber tint would compliment the honeyburst finish very well. I feel the pale natural maple would clash too much with the overall look.
    BassHappy, GBassNorth and JIO like this.
  9. JIO

    JIO Connery... Sean Connery Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 30, 2010
    The Mission SF/CA
    musician/artist/owner - Gildaxe
    Kudo's Rick! :thumbsup: I was just scanning Sweetwaters mailer I got in the mail today before cashing in for the night and saw your name and the shout-out printed below it! So cool! I love our low-end 'small' world! I'm saving this junk-mail! ;)
    BassHappy likes this.
  10. Thanks JIO

    Yeah, nice to get a little love from the home boys....Funny that they used the old or "before" picture rather than the new "after" picture of the studio. After they realized it - they asked and I re-sent them a bunch of the new ones - and supposedly they are straightening it out on the website. But both the email blast and the print version have it wrong.

    No big deal, but I purposely did them a favor and used the Sweetwater logo desktop images on both of the big screens on the "after" one and I guess they didn't notice it. Seems like it would have been a pretty major clue as to which was which.

    Such is life, but it is really a minor point. I enjoy and truly appreciate the home boys showing me a little love - I am very grateful. I remember when it was just a couple of guys with Kenny and Chuck working out of a little garage on Bass Road! They have come a long way, that is for sure!
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2015
    JIO likes this.
  11. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    I know that you like seeing any and all pictures of your basses under construction....

    I just cut the fret slots in the fingerboard, using my special slotting saw. The fingerboard is stuck down to a slab of wood and lined up in the sliding fixture. The aluminum scale rule on the front edge of the fixture is lined up with the pointer on the bed of the saw to set the slot spacing. It's a 32" scale rule in this case, of course.

    Normally, I prefer to cut the slots after the fingerboard is glued onto the neck and radiused. In this case, Keith had me cut the slots on the blank fingerboard first, because of the sequence that he uses to do the binding.

    IMG_4146B.jpg IMG_4147B.jpg
  12. Basshappi


    Feb 12, 2007
    Nice grain on that board!
  13. Hey Bruce

    Thanks so much for posting and thanks to you BassHappi for the kind comment. I love the grain on that board too.

    And yes Bruce, you bet I do - I always enjoy seeing photos of the work in progress - and especially from you. You always do a great job of giving us a sense of exactly what is involved with each step by step process, and if nothing else - I am soaking it all in and learning lots - that is for sure!

    That IS a pretty Brazilian Rosewood board courtesy of Keith. Keith told me that one of the ways you can tell it is Brazilian Rosewood is that when you cut into it, it kind of smells like bubble gum. Looks to me like Bruce's shop was swimming in that bubble gum smell, at least for a while. There were quite a number of those cuts he made into that board!

    Keith also told me that when he binds it up - you can't see the tang or the "T" on the frets. I haven't seen any close up photos yet, but Keith told me he did the Fender Performer neck the same way. I realize this isn't something you get on a standard Fender or even on many production basses. When Paul built this bass below for me in 1977-8, he actually shaved tiny strips of Brazilian Rosewood off of each side of the fingerboard, installed the frets and then glued those strips back in. It was his version of a natural binding just using the actual fretboard wood. I realize this is probably pretty standard on high end basses - even high end basses back in the day. The only remarkable thing, at least to me - is how well it has held up for almost 40 years. You can't see the binding strips at all.


    By the way, the ding on the edge of the bass has a decent story. The first drummer for my rock band "Vision" was a guy named Shannon Ford. Shannon has recorded and/or toured with folks like Kenny Rogers, Roger Miller, The Gatlin Brothers, Paul Simon, Robert Gordon, and was the late Danny Gatton's drummer for a number of years. As part of the show Shannon would leave the kit and do a solo with me, with him hitting the bass strings over the pickups with his drum sticks and me furnishing the left hand action. Never even considered it might be hazardous or a bad idea - I mean - we worked on it a lot and Shannon was very precise for the most part with staying on the strings. We must have done it a few dozen times.

    Well, one night the stick went astray and he dented the body. Needless to say - that was that. I didn't own any other basses so we called it quits on that little caper. Other than a small ding on the headstock about the same size - the bass is still as pristine as it was brand new in 1978. I also have a surprise on my 1974 Rick. I ended up giving it to Paul as a consolation prize when I upgraded PRS #7 for PRS #11 which was nicer in several ways. The guy who bought it from Paul is a big Happy the Man fan name Paul Tallent and he bought it from Paul in 1978. Surprisingly, I just got an email Paul Tallent completely out of the blue - and he claims he still has it. I have asked him to send some photos of it. What fun. Did all but one song on the first Happy the Man record with that Rick. Paul was still working on #7 for me at that time. Photos to come.
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2015
  14. Basshappi


    Feb 12, 2007
    Cool story, look forward to seeing the Ric!
  15. Hey Basshappi

    This is the only decent pic I can find of it.

    Rick Rick.jpg

    If you know me at all - you know I have had a healthy aversion to plastic - even back then. I immediately made a mahogany pick guard for it, replacing that white plastic one. I am wondering if Paul Tallent has that guard and if it is still on the bass? I knew it was made in 1974, I bought it in the summer of '75 - he said in the email it was made in August of '74. Must be stamped somewhere on the body.

    Interesting story about that too. The guys at Chuck Levin's Washington Music Center were buds and fans of the band and we had been hanging with Peter Gabriel and were in the process of signing a major deal with Arista. Paul was also working there part time doing repair work for them while he was getting PRS Guitars underway. One of the Levin guys was at a show and I told him afterward that I was looking to buy a Rick. He told me he thought they had a couple dozen 4001's brand new in boxes in the warehouse. He would have to clear it with the powers that be - but he asked if I was willing to give them a couple of days and they would go through them, pick out what they thought were the best ones and let me come in and check them out. I said sure, let's go for it!

    They called a couple of days later and I went over there. They had at least 10, maybe a dozen waiting for me with nice set-ups and ready to play. I was amazed at the differences. I was partial to the mapleglo color - I have always been such a fan of WOOD - but I played them all and kept an open mind. I kept going back to this one mapleglo which had a wider and thinner neck than the all other ones. I still remember all the variation as far as the necks went, but being used to a 34" jazz bass the Ricks were so much easier for me to navigate. I had also been playing a Rick that belonged to our singer at the time, a jet glo - and the neck on that was really different from this mapleglo one as well. I didn't realize at the time that they were 33 1/4" scale, which would explain why I was getting around better on them as opposed to my Jazz bass.

    So I bought that one and only used it while Paul built me my custom PRS #7. Then I ended up giving it to him so he could swap out the treble pickup into #7 and eventually was transplanted into #11 where is still resides today. He hung on to it and when I decided to opt for #11 and gave back #7 - I told him just to keep it or sell it towards his rent, which he did.
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2015
  16. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Yes, good authentic Brazilian rosewood does have a distinct smell when you cut it or sand it. Keith describes it as like bubble gum. To me it smells like fresh honey, like when you open a new jar. So, yeah, there was a definite honey smell for a few minutes while I was sawing these slots.

    I've read that the odor comes from the orangish resin in the wood. Boards that have more orange stripes in them will usually have a stronger smell than the deep reddish boards.

    Most Indian rosewood, Macassar rosewood, and cocobolo that I work with doesn't have any real odor. But sometimes I'll find a piece of Indian rosewood that does have somewhat of a honey like odor, but not as sweet or powerful as real Brazilian.

    When I was prepping the board for the slots, I sawed a thin strip of it off of one side. It's sitting in my trash barrel. Would you like me to mail it to you, to keep in your studio? Then you can scratch 'n sniff it before every session with the bass!
    ctmullins likes this.
  17. Hey Bruce

    I would love to have that "good luck" scrap in the studio. Sure! If you want to make it easy - you can put it in the package with the Performer/Transformer, which I hope is headed this way soon! Just put it in an envelope and mark it "Brazilian Good Luck Charm".

    What a stellar idea! If the orange stripes initiate the smell then that board must smell pretty strong. Lots of nice orange in there.


    So, anyone got any opinion as far as the first fret inlay goes? If you look back at Gibson it looks to me like the early LP Recording models and the LP Triumph basses all had the inlay between the nut and first fret as below.



    I am no historian and it's a little hard to get all the info via Google, but it seems like the bulk of the rest of the LP Basses did not have that first fret inlay:



    Even the new short scale ES Memphis hollow bodies don't have the inlay:


    And the Tom Peterson prototype didn't have it either:


    So I started looking at guitars and the LP Florentine guitar that we are kind of going after DOES have the inlay:


    The Les Paul guitars seemed to be all over the place, but I even found the inlay on a 1958 custom - in fact several of the LP customs had it:


    But most of the vintage 50's and 60's Les Paul's I found didn't have it:



    So, was there any rhyme or reason to that first fret inlay?

    And should I or shouldn't I?
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2015
  18. Runnerman

    Runnerman Registered Bass Player Supporting Member

    Mar 14, 2011
    I vote yes, I just like the aesthetic. I think this is a real personal choice and I wouldn't want to cloud your decision as you will have to live with it, not I.

    I believe either one will be wonderful actually.
  19. Hey Thanks Runnerman

    Yeah, was hoping some great Gibson historian might come along and kind of explain the rhyme or reason on the Gibson side.

    I think most all of the Jazz basses with blocks have the inlay between the nut and first fret. Don't recall seeing one without one. I always thought it was a bit odd. When Fender uses dots they don't put one there - but as soon as they start in with the blocks they do put one there. All about looks I suppose, certainly no functional reason. Here are the necks for my Fender Hollows which are almost finished, I left the first inlay off:


    Not sure why Gibson sometimes did and sometimes didn't, but I would like to know if anyone has some information.
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2015
  20. dedpool1052


    Jan 10, 2011
    Seattle, WA
    One trend I noticed with the first fret inlay on the Gibsons is it seems they used them on the custom/deluxe type models with the fancier headstock inlay and headstock binding. The ones with the more basic headstock don't have the first fret inlay. Aesthetically, I like the first fret inlay as I feel it helps draw the eye towards the headstock and you're able to appreciate the instrument as a whole. Not having the first fret inlay, it feels like the headstock is sort of left in the background, leaving the focus on the fretboard and body.
    Runnerman and BassHappy like this.
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