NBD: An Ural bass rebuild

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Geraltino, Mar 15, 2019.

  1. Geraltino


    Apr 2, 2013
    Hello peeps! I currently have a somewhat odd bass in the works. Might divide opinions, this one.

    This one began in late August of last year. I happened to - somewhat spontaneously - buy a cheap Russian bass that was for sale on eBay... the Ural 510L. Having researched the Ural basses for a while, I decided to take a risk and pull the trigger on one of these instruments, fully aware I'd probably end up with a dud of a bass. Just wanted something cheap to work on & improve.

    Ural model 510L bass


    The bass didn't seem that bad at a glance, but on closer inspection the flaws became apparent. Sighting down the neck, a slight sideways bow was noticeable, but I couldn't yet decipher whether the neck was warped beyond repair. A pretty big obstacle in the way of determining whether the electronics & pickups actually worked was this - shall we say - thought-provoking input jack:


    That's a five-pin DIN input jack. Obviously insuitable to use with modern amplification and whatnot, so wasn't going to find out anytime soon whether the bass actually made a sound.


    So, I got onto cleaning the gunky fretboard. Upon cleaning just the first three frets, a noticeable difference was already there. The frets themselves also had massive amounts of crud, and my wiping cloth wasn't too happy after this. But anyhoo, the fretboard was finally clean.

    Then, I decided to pull off the electronics & pickups, seeing I wasn't testing them anytime soon without some replacement parts:


    And, examined the pickups a bit closer:



    Good lord. I'm certainly no pickup expert when it comes to guitars & basses (I do have experience with P Bass & Jazz Bass pickups though), but the construction of these pickups is again somewhat exotic. I'll probably run out of vocabulary describing the intricacies of this bass!

    I took a DC resistance reading from the pickups, and got a whopping 0.3k! In other words, from my knowledge, a seemingly dead or just plain weak pickup? I promptly did the utmost sane thing a man could ever do:


    Tore the bloody pickups apart! After doing this however, I was faced with a certain dilemma: what now? I then stumbled upon an ambitious idea: rewinding my own pickups into the original cases. No routing necessary! Although... some butchery on the original plastic frame, probably. Haven't yet decided how I'll pursue this whole pickup renovation though. Might just get some guitar pickups instead?

    Then, it was finally time to get some cheap strings and string up the bass to see what kind of a piece of firewood--- I mean instrument I had ended up with.


    Not too shabby! At least looks wise, the playability was rather horrible at this point.

    So, having strung up the bass, upon inspection I happened to come across a pretty major inconvinience:


    The fretboard was beginning to separate from the neck itself! That would be a "minor" annoyance in the long run, if not corrected.

    I had already noticed the cracking under the fretboard upon first inspection, but didn't think too much of it at the time. It wasn't really until I got the bass strung up (and adjusted the truss rod) that I happened to discover it to be a major issue.

    And speaking of adjusting the truss rod: I discovered it did absolutely nothing. Clearly the huge amount of relief wasn't going anywhere, as I tightened the rod as far as I could. And the reason for the cracking in the neck: the rod had actually been bent sideways from being cranked so tight, and thus had caused the fretboard to break off from the base of the neck!

    So, to say the least it was a pretty big disappointment and bit of a blow on the whole "cheap refurbish" I had initially planned for this instrument, to discover that it had such a basic fault. But I did purchase a bass known to be somewhat lacklustre in fit & finish.

    I thought for a while that I would scrap the whole project, and bin everything I had received in the mail. It all felt pretty much like waste of money... and I felt a bit scammed, as the eBay ad said the bass was in playable & good condition. Seems Ukrainian definitions differ from mine.

    However, after some pondering and as I researched Youtube (among other places), inspected what I actually had and in what condition the rest of the bass was, one could say I had a light bulb moment.

    Seeing these makeover videos (especially the latter somewhat Van Halen inspired one) made me believe I could turn my Ural into something half decent. All of it would just depend on the budget, and the level of modification I'd be willing to go to.

    After I had glanced the previous videos and whatnot, I decided to take on the project of rebuilding/improving/modifying this bass. And doing it properly!

    Thinking at first that maybe the truss rod was just stuck or maybe the neck itself needed some heat treatment, I opted to do the classic clothing iron trick.

    That didn't really do much in straightening the neck, or helping out the truss rod. So, after this, I finally deducted that the truss rod was kaputt.

    Before I had tried to properly crank the truss rod with strings on however, I had happened to put... epoxy into the fretboard crack, in a somewhat impatient move. Believing the clothes iron trick would work. But alas, it didn't.

    After the diagnosis, it was time to get cracking. Cracking off the fretboard, that is!


    Heating up the neck/fretboard with a heat gun for about 10-15 minutes, and then shoving a chisel into the crack through the softened epoxy.

    With a bit of help from my dad, we managed to get the fretboard pryed off the base. And rather cleanly, thank goodness!


    The base of the neck seemed to be rather straight, the fretboard itself however was a bit warped. And overall, the quality of the wood left a bit to be desired. But, a decent quality fretboard will look nice on there.

    Afterwards I got too personal with the headstock veneer and happened to tear some of it off.


    I'll just fill that one out, or alternatively put a new veneer over it. Also put a matchstick into the string guide hole in the headstock... matchsticks and toothpicks make for nice hole fillers.


    I had at first thought of re-using the original fretboard, but then I happened to crack it in half when I was trying to sand it more level. It probably had already cracked during the removal phase, and now just received the final send-off. On the other hand, good riddance! I had begun to see how awful it was, anyway.

    I made some temporary shims out of printer paper, into the sides of the neck pocket (that are visible in one of the upper pics). Seeing how the neck pocket was routed too big in comparison to the neck itself... well, guess these kinds of factory cock-ups are to be expected. I'll make some proper wooden shims during the rebuild.

    Then, it was out with the old and in with the new.

    Yeah, that wimsy bar was the truss rod on the Ural. Time to upgrade!


    Now THAT's a truss rod. Double-action, two welded rods and the works! And only 10 euros.

    Shame it didn't fit into the original truss rod pocket.


    But fret not, I'll make it fit!


    After a few hours of Dremeling: it fits rather snuggly and right around the level of the fretboard as it should be. Next step: a new fretboard! Maybe this whole project will actually go somewhere...

    Woah, a pretty long first post! More to come!

    Last edited: Mar 15, 2019
  2. Axstar

    Axstar Inactive

    Jul 8, 2016
    Reminds me of my work on my instruments. It's fine... I'll just have to sand this bit and then fill this section over here and replace this bit...
    Geraltino likes this.
  3. kmon

    kmon Supporting Member

    May 11, 2009
    Chocolate Disneyland
    That's not a bad looking one. There are some crazy weird old Russian basses on ebay:)
    Geraltino likes this.
  4. Geraltino


    Apr 2, 2013
    So, it was time to scrape up some supplies & parts to keep the project moving forward. The glue:


    Other things needed were a few plastic clamps, to supplement the metal clamps my father has in his garage. Also pearloid inlays, medium fret wire and a radius sanding block (14 inch radius), for leveling the fretboard when necessary.

    But, the main thing itself:


    A rather decent looking slab of orange padouk, already radius'd and fret slots made in 32,5 inch scale, all for under 35 bucks. The original Ural scale is approximately 31,693 inches (or 805mm). I decided upon extending the scale of the bass, just for fun and making it a bit closer to a full scale bass. Still medium obviously, but you know..? Might have an effect on tone too.




    Then, it was time to put my lacklustre luthier skills to the test, and glue the fretboard on! First some preparations though:



    Being glued into place. I was a bit hesitant about the plastic clamps though, they seemed a tad flimsy. But, it was what I had to work with.

    After letting the fretboard glue into place for a few hours, I took the clamps off and let the glue dry for another 24hrs as recommended by Titebond.


    I was rather pleased with how the glueing turned out. There were some small gaps here and there, between the fretboard and the base of the neck, so I assume the neck wasn't perfectly level in places. Oh well, the fretboard itself received a slight leveling and of course when the frets will be put on, I'll level them as well. Will also fill the gaps with epoxy and whatnot.

    And, 24 hours later it was time to test if the truss rod worked & I hadn't cocked it all up somehow:


    The truss rod turned, and definetely felt like it was tightening and applying force into the neck & fretboard. Seeing the fretboard go into a visible back-bow was also an encouraging sign. Of course its functionality will be proved once I get some strings on the bass and tighten it all up, but hopefully it'll work enough to be a proper neck, with margin for truss rod adjustments. Fingers crossed!


    I began to sand out the overhanging wood, and made some progress:




    After some proper sanding (and a loooooot of orange wood dust), I managed to sand the fretboard to size:


    It didn't take quite as long as I had feared, probably due to the rough sandpaper I used and also doing some of the preliminary sanding with a Dremel.

    Then, it was time to figure out the whole process of inlaying, and as usual I got to work before I had properly thought it out:


    I am using 6mm diameter pearloid inlays, and drilling the holes for them was perhaps the wrong choice. But, as I can't exactly afford any real pro tools (nor have the patience etc), I took a more... direct approach. The wood chipping around the inlay was something I hadn't thought of, and got somewhat upset at the whole thing. But hey, it's an Ural, as long as it functions & plays at the end of this project, I'll be happy.


    Indeed, I also got a replacement bridge (or bridges?). The original probably would've sufficed, but with an increase in scale lenght and the saddle screws I manufactured ending up being too loose in their holes, it could've ended up a real mess. So, I took inspiration from the blue Ural I linked to in my earlier blog, and stole--- I mean borrowed the idea of the individual saddle bridge on it. Seeing as the string spacing on the original bridge is approximately 45 (!) millimeters, any normal bass bridge wouldn't have worked. The narrowest bridge I could find was around 57mm, so no other choices really! There was no 4 string individual saddle bridges available, so got a 5 string one. An extra saddle, if one ever breaks?

    I had an idea regarding a replacement pickguard:


    Using one from a previous bass (a Peavey Zodiac DE Scorpio with a screwy neck), I had the idea of making a replacement. This pickguard is made of polished aluminum, so it'd probably also add a tad of weight to balance any potential neck dive, seeing as the bass feels rather neck-heavy in its current status. Of course it's still missing most of the stuff.


    Also remaking the pickup covers from yet another unused pickguard (this one being plastic but also mirrored), to get parity between the parts & look, was an idea that popped up. I do have some black pickguard material left over, so will decide which way I'll go. Painting the wooden rings was my initial plan, but will indeed have to contemplate here... and what color to paint the bass itself.

    Eli_Kyiv, eee, Goatrope and 1 other person like this.
  5. Geraltino


    Apr 2, 2013
    I kept measuring & inlaying the pearloids:



    A bit of epoxy to the inlays made 'em fit nice and tight. Even if some of them ended up a bit crooked vertically, but that was to be rectified with additional sanding. All was going rather smoothly, until...


    One inlay ended up being off from the center of the fret slot, thanks to me slipping and... well, I brushed it off rather quickly. Again, it's an Ural. Can excuse myself that way. :roflmao:


    And it wasn't to be the only inlay that ended up going off... the 21st fret, for example is another.


    But, seeing the whole thing together (well, you know) kind of made it all worth it. At least this'll hopefully end up a nice wall decoration, if not even a decent playing bass. And preferrably a decent looker, IF you don't look too close. :unsure::D


    The pickup rings are a bit crooked, as well as the bridge(s).

    Time will tell how this ends up, but maybe now there's some light at the end of the tunnel...

    So, this is the point that I'm up to currently! I've filled the bridge holes with wood putty, and have also gotten a GraphTech XL nut for the neck, and will proceed to installing it soon. Will also have to align the bridge(s) better with the neck, and after that it's time for fretting the neck? Eventually will try to string her up again, to see if the truss rod works and how level the frets are. :)

    Last edited: Mar 15, 2019


    Feb 10, 2016
    Michigan USA
    Love the attitude and the tenacity, keep up the good work.
    Geraltino likes this.
  7. Geraltino


    Apr 2, 2013
    A slight advancement:


    Started to sand a slot for a new nut. Still needs more work, but it's getting there.

    I'll probably start to fret the neck soon as well... a bit nervous about that though. :(
    Goatrope likes this.
  8. Geraltino


    Apr 2, 2013
    Some updates to this one... glued the tusQ nut onto the neck finally, was a bit fiddly though.


    Also tried some matte black on the body:


    And to the headstock as well.


    Not sure if I'll stay with the color, but I suppose it wouldn't look too bad. :D
  9. Geraltino


    Apr 2, 2013
    Also tried another color on the backside of the body:


    Might actually go with that one instead... :D
    andruca likes this.
  10. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    Whew! Lot of work!
    Geraltino likes this.
  11. Geraltino


    Apr 2, 2013
    Tried another color:


    Not sure if it'd be too flashy, but on the other hand I have a soft spot for purple. :drool:
  12. Haans

    Haans Altruistic nihilist Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2005
    Bergen, Norway
    Looks like the perfect colour for that bass.
    Jazz Ad likes this.
  13. Geraltino


    Apr 2, 2013
    So, a couple of setbacks... the metallic paint didn't quite spray on properly (probably a bit too cold of a weather still/bad nozzle on the spray can etc.) and it ended up looking rather terrible. My brother also helped to paint it and said the paint was horrible as well as the can/nozzle. So, will have to source something else for it. Gonna' have to sand it down again. :(



    A real shame, as the color had grown on me after I initially thought the sparkle was too strong. But what can you do. Already have found a replacement color, not sure if it'll look good on the body though. :smug:


    Was trying to look for something purple-ish, but couldn't find any at the local hardware store, so got something a bit similar, at least under certain type of lighting.

    Anyhoo, I'm currently putting some frets on the neck and have gotten the first 10 installed. Had a blast before that playing the fretless neck with some spare D'Addario Chromes I had laying about, but decided fretless isn't quite my cup of tea. Also adjusted the truss rod, got it to optimal relief and proved I hadn't messed it up! Probably the first time in... decades that this bass has had such a straight neck relief-wise. :roflmao:

    More to come. :)
    eee, Haans, JRA and 4 others like this.
  14. Geraltino


    Apr 2, 2013
    Bit of an update... has been a long while since I've worked on the bass, lost a bit of interest / financial issues etc. but recently have worked on it a bit again. Changed some of my old D'Addario Chromes on it (45-100 gauge), and have it tuned C# standard currently. Also leveled the frets and tried to polish them etc. but probably needs a bit more work in that department. Also one of the P90 pickups ended being a dud... and couldn't get the pickups near enough to the strings because of the pickup covers. So that was one of the reasons why I lost interest for a while there. Oh well, it cost 12 dollars so not that huge of a loss in that department. And I think I'll invest on some Vox pickups in the near future, after I can get the playability to a good level that is. :)

    Also needs some finish touchups here and there, since I'm not not much of a paint sprayer. I guess this project is turning out to be more about playability than looks. :smug:

  15. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Yamaha, Ampeg, Line 6, EMG
    I see nothing wrong with the look.
    Geraltino likes this.
  16. Geraltino


    Apr 2, 2013
    Well, the headstock finish is pretty bad and the body ended up a bit swirly, but I suppose it looks good enough from a distance. :smug:

    These are the kind of pickups I'll probably put on:


    Will see how this thing turns out in the end. :thumbsup:
    JimmyM likes this.
  17. Geraltino


    Apr 2, 2013
    Whoops, it's been over a year since I've last updated this thread (or actually worked on the bass). Lost interest for a while, and was quite busy in life so didn't even think of working on it that much.

    But I've recently started to work on it again, and managed to (finally!) receive my StewMac package of tools so I can hopefully get it properly set up as well. The tools will benefit my other basses too. :thumbsup:


    This is what the bass looks like currently, I got a bit fed up with my crappy paint work - too many layers of different paint which actually began to bubble in the back of the bass when spraying - so decided to strip the whole thing back to bare or (or close), and do the thing properly. Hence why it looks preeetty rough right now. :bored:

    I also put on a new set of tuners, which is about a 100000x improvement over the original ones. Managed to try and crown the first few frets, and tried polishing them. Also managed to get the nut slots a bit lower, but still needs more work.

    Think I discovered why the original tuners are pretty crappy:

    ural668.jpg ural669.jpg ural670.jpg

    But I suppose it isn't nothing unusual with this bass and its overall build quality. :roflmao:

    Also found a pic of a completely stripped Ural in eBay:


    Furniture lamination ftw? :unsure:
    JimmyM and HaphAsSard like this.
  18. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    I see nothing wrong with the way it looks now. Kind of a nice rustic look.
    Geraltino likes this.
  19. Geraltino


    Apr 2, 2013
    Yeah, I guess it looks quite "roadworn" now. :smug:

    It did cross my mind that maybe I should leave the finish as it is... but not really sure. A nice refinish would look pretty as well.

    My brother actually works at a paint store currently (automotive paints), so I could probably have access to a wide selection of different kinds of colors. Something similar to that earlier metallic purple would be nice... :woot::drool:
  20. Geraltino


    Apr 2, 2013
    A little update, I've decided on the pickups that I'll put into the bass:


    The dimensions of the Thunderbird pickups were the best fit, although some additional routing will be necessary. The pickup rings should cover up the existing route, although I might've routed the neck pickup hole too far (for the previous P90 pickups I intended to put in) and that might need a piece of wood to make sure it doesn't stick out from underneath the pickup cover. Oh well... :banghead:

    Might end up with a pretty unique vibe and tone, TB pickups in nearly Rickenbacker-ish positions. Or maybe it'll sound like woolly crap. :laugh::unsure:
    HaphAsSard and Need Gigs like this.