NBD: Coffee table 6'er trigger (and very long post) warning

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by nostatic, May 3, 2019.

  1. nostatic


    Jun 18, 2004
    central coast
    Endorsing Artist: FEA Labs
    I usually don't do a general NBD thread, but this bass is the result of a lot of experimentation and came out pretty much exactly as planned so I figured it deserved it's own coming-out party. I've also had it for a month or so and it has been out on a couple of different gigs so the honeymoon has mostly passed and I'm down to grinding it out day-to-day.

    Trigger Warning - this is a boutique (Fodera) coffee table 6-string bass. If that causes any psychological trauma to surface please click away now :D

    So tl;dr - this bass turned out exactly as planned, and is a beast. Kudos to Fodera (as always), and @steubig for the many times we hung out and discussed playing and instruments, as well as him bringing over some of his various 6'ers.


    I am a big believer in "what, how, why?" - meaning, I should be able to articulate what the bass is, how is it used (and/or was designed), and why certain choices were made. So the what:

    Fodera Monarch 6-string
    bolt-on construction
    chambered walnut body, alder tone block
    koa top
    3-piece maple neck
    ebony fingerboard
    34" scale
    19mm spacing
    Nordstrand BigRig pickups
    Fodera/Pope 3-band preamp
    Hipshot ultralight tuners

    The how:

    These days I play in a number of different situations, a lot of jazz, Steely Dan tribute band, Brazilian pop music, rock/funk/soul, and theater gigs. Particularly for the theater gigs, I really like having extended range. I also have done solo bass gigs, duos with guitar or drums/percussion, and other non-traditional band configurations so I need a bass that I can play a traditional bass line on (most anything will do for that), to chords and soloing, to creating soundscapes and SFX.

    I've bought and sold a bunch of different instruments over the years as my playing has evolved and the gigs have changed (and GAS has waxed/waned). For 10 years I had a pair of Zon 5-strings (fretless and fretted), then went through a number of 4, 5, and some 6'ers. The 6-string thing had a tough time sticking. I had gravitated towards a narrower neck thinking that would work better for me, but after a number of tries I found that bridge spacing mattered to me. The previous 6'er was a Smith and that was when 6-string finally clicked for me, but having owned and played a number of Fodera 4, 5, and 6-strings, I knew that was my preferred neck feel. So I finally ponied up and ordered what I thought would be a perfect bass for my needs.

    The why:

    Each of the specs has a very specific set of intentions behind it, coming out of experiences with other basses. While I want a flexible instrument, there also are a couple of tones that I want to have on-tap. And if I can't get them, the bass goes away.

    note: if you think woods don't make a difference, then feel free to skip this section.

    Chambered walnut body - my main 4-string is a Yin Yang Deluxe, and that bass, purchased about 7 years ago, frankly spoiled me for many other basses that followed. It just kills for what I want. It was being built as a NAMM bass, and when I found it was available (before it was done), I asked if they could chamber the walnut body. Turns out it was the first YYD they chambered. I think it subtly changes the tone, and also helps shave some weight (that one is 8.7 lbs). Walnut tends towards a more compressed/focused tone that I like.

    Alder tone block - basically this was to try and get a bit of weight savings. Also I find alder to be the other body wood that has worked for me in the past, so it was a save bet. I really don't like ash, and mahogany can be hit or miss to my ears.

    koa top - nothing to do with sound. Basically I wanted something that was close to "orange", and I think koa is pretty. I don't think the top has much impact on tone. Went with a fairly subtle piece, but it has a bunch of flame which is nice.

    Maple neck - this is the standard, but I've also had some Fodera with red oak necks. I loved it on a fretless I had, so much that I ordered up a 5-string fretted. But I never got along with that instrument, and I think part of it was the neck wood. For me, red oak gets a bit too "crunchy" when frets are involved.

    Bolt-on construction - my favorite neck joint is dovetail (that my YYD has), but Fodera doesn't do that for a 6'er. It's either neck-through or bolt-on. I've owned a number of neck-throughs and they are sexy as all get-out (had both Fodera and Smith neck-throughs), but they cost more and tend to be heavier since the maple runs all the way through. Also neck-through tends to compress the sound (as do laminations - at least IME), and given the walnut body and the fact that bolt-on can be a bit more open, seemed to be the right choice.

    Ebony fingerboard - no-brainer for me. Far and away my favorite fingerboard wood, and I think fingerboard has a bigger influence on sound than body wood. I like the fast attack and articulation.

    Hipshot ultralight tuners - trying to save weight, help avoid any neck dive, and I have them on my Rob Allen and they work very well.

    34" scale - I've played 35" in the past, but had some issues with reach at the nut (some of that depends on the geometry of the overall instrument). Also I've found I don't like the C-string as much at 35" relative to 34". I know Fodera can make a 34" scale instrument with a good low B, so I find 34" to be the best compromise length. I'm not into multi-scale, mostly because I had a rough time dealing with chord comping above the 12th fret on one (a Dingwall).

    19mm spacing - this was the last piece of the puzzle to fall into place. I played Ibanez 6'ers with 16.5mm spacing and didn't get on with it, despite it being narrower and theoretically easier to navigate. The Smiths I had were 18mm spacing and I was OK with that, gigging a pair of Smith 5'ers for a time. The last 6'er I had was a Smith, also 18mm spacing, and while it worked, I found it wasn't seamless going between that any my 4-strings. Some guys have zero issue with different string spacing (or will play one instrument all night). Turns out I do have an issue, and also swap basses routinely during sets. I had a Fodera 6'er with 17.5mm which again was OK, but had too many strikes against it (bridge spacing, pickups, body shape).

    Fodera/Pope preamp - I have this in my YYD, have had it in other Foderas, and it works for me. Having passive tone along with 3-band eq is a big plus to me, though I tend to run the eq flat unless I'm trying to grab a particular sound or dealing with a cranky room.

    Nordstrand BigRigs - this was a bit of a gamble, as I'd never played through these pickups. I will freely admit that I never got along with the Seymour Duncan dual coils that are often spec'd in Foderas. Just isn't my thing, and it makes sense as I'm much more of a P guy than a J guy, and the dual coils were designed to be in the J camp. One reason I played Smiths was the sound - in my hands the neck pickup sounded like a pissed-off P-bass, which is one of my main tones I use. I also rarely used the onboard eq, instead using the series/parallel switches and pickup pan to get my tones.

    So when looking for pickups, in a perfect world I'd get something that would cop the pissed-off P-bass sound as well as some other tones - particularly a fat bridge vibe. Plus I needed 19mm spacing for the pickups. I started talking with Adrian at Nordstrand, and we went throughs some options. I originally was thinking Big Split (which is fairly P-ish), but it wasn't dual coil and they didn't do a 19mm spaced 6-string version. The BigRig however did fit all the criteria - dual coil so I could switch it, and they could build a 19mm spaced version in a common shell size.

    Then it came down to pickup position. One reason I think I liked Smiths was due to the neck pickup being biased towards the bridge. I also measured my YYD and found the P pickup is a bit bridge biased as well (compared to a Fodera with dual coils). So I measured pickup position in my YYD and set that as the positions for the Big Rigs.

    The result - to quote John "Hannibal" Smith from the A-Team, "I love it when a plan comes together." During the build the Fodera guys and I went back and forth nailing down the little details. Bridge pickup is actually in-between 60's and 70's position (the centerline of the pickup), and there are 4 switches - active/passive, mid-frequency, then a pair of 3-positions, one for each pickup, that goes between series-single coil-parallel.

    And thus endeth the novel on the build, but the musical story is just beginning...

    Note on the video - single coil position has some buzz as I have a noisy house and was at exactly the right angle to get maximum hum. If I had turned 45* it would be silent. Too lazy to redo the video.




    Last edited: May 3, 2019
  2. Jared Lash

    Jared Lash Born under punches

    Aug 21, 2006
    Denver, CO
    I can appreciate the journey.

    Every instrument that passes through our hands is one more data point on the way to our individual ideal.

    In some ways, I wish I could go back to my mindset when I was a kid and had one bass. I had no choice but to make the ergonomics, tone, playability, and even aesthetics work for me. But once you start down the rabbit hole it's hard not to make every aspect of the instrument as perfect (for you individually) as it can be.

    And for me at least that's become a moving target as my playing style has continued to evolve over the years as have my tone preferences. Like you, I do have one bass that has become my personal touchstone in terms of sound and playability, which both helps and hurts when I check out any other bass.

    It sounds like you now have the six string that best matches what you love about your YYD while opening up additional possibilities. You did try out the YY5 right? I only tried it briefly but it didn't sound (or feel) quite like the 4 string version to me. And of course, it isn't a sixer.

    I do love the Big Rigs. They have a full range, modern sound but with lots of character. The bass I tried them on had a series-parallel switch (for both, rather than individual switches for each pickup) but it didn't allow them to be put in single coil mode which I would have liked to check out. They sound good split to single in your demo. What I found is that playing alone I tended to like both the neck and bridge in parallel but in a mix I actually liked both of them better in series.

    In any event, enjoy the beautiful new bass and hopefully it ends your long search for the perfect six string.
    Last edited: May 4, 2019
  3. That is utterly stunning. It sounds as though you put a lot of thought and effort into getting the specifications right. I hope you get many hours of enjoyment from it.
    Garret Graves likes this.
  4. Flaked Beans

    Flaked Beans

    Sep 9, 2005
    Gorgeous bass! Congrats! Now (IMO) you should get a new 5 string Fodera bass (freless?) to finally complete your beautiful bass collection. Cheers my friend and enjoy that bass!
  5. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Fusion Cats Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    Smokin' hot bass for a smokin' hot player.
    I totally get it - the why, how, and what. When Joe built my Zon it was a similar experience - I had a very clear idea of what I wanted, which wasn't a particular set of features he'd done before. He added the art and magic, and since 2011 I haven't looked for a bass to replace it.
    It still nails what I do and what I want in an instrument.
    Wishing you many years of great music with this one.
    Joshua and kittywithabanjo like this.
  6. nostatic


    Jun 18, 2004
    central coast
    Endorsing Artist: FEA Labs
    I did try the YYS5, and also had a Monarch 5 built with EMG PJ setup (that had the red oak neck). Go figure. I found I didn't like the EMG 5-string PJ nearly as much as the EMG 4-string. I actually swapped a pair of Smith pickups into the bass before I eventually sold it (I used it on the Lefty & The Hatman album).
  7. JW56789

    JW56789 Guest

    Feb 18, 2017
    Very intelligently conceived. You seem to have gotten it right for you, often these things get 'over-thought' and somehow seem to miss the mark just a bit. Love the koa top. Alder is a good all-rounder for the center block, and ash would have had too much honk, and with the other brown woods, the mahogany may have vanished, it needs to counterbalance maple or ash to be useful.

    Good on you NOT placing the aft pickup too close to the bridge, and forward pickup is not so far forward it turns into a woofer-ish tone. I've owned many neckthrus, and I'm not sure the sonic advantage is worth giving up the adjustability of a bolt-on. Nice round heel.

    Congrats to you and Fodera. Seems to fit you like a glove.
  8. kittywithabanjo

    kittywithabanjo Supporting Member

    Nov 26, 2014
    Coquitlam. BC
    Great read, I have a build in the works, currently I'm gigging pjs mostly but really dont use the J that much so I am going with basically early spector placement with it being a bit closer to the bridge, been in my head about not having the J but I think it's going to work fine....After playing a 77 Spector LE recently I think that's the basic tone I want but in 5 strings. It's a journey for sure.
  9. monsterthompson

    monsterthompson The Eighth Note Wonder Of The World Supporting Member

    Nov 25, 2008
  10. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member

    Aug 18, 2002
    Central Ohio
    Beautiful bass. Fits you well and sounds FANTASTICALLY! Congrats!

    Yes, I hear the different vibes; but, honestly the bass has a very strong, intrinsic personality that comes through most settings you recorded. So, they may end up being a bit more subtle than you intended; but, that’s probably a good thing.
  11. Flaked Beans

    Flaked Beans

    Sep 9, 2005
    of course i love the solid body aj signatures but what a lovely bass :)
  12. twinjet

    twinjet Powered by GE90s; fueled with coffee. Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 23, 2008
    Slightly reminiscent of the AJ contrabass. Was it inspired by that design? Congrats.
  13. Great write up and build. So glad it works for you.

    Interesting choice on a walnut body. Did you ever consider an alder body? I'm considering alder for an upcoming custom build for its tone and weight. How do you think the walnut would compare to alder?

    And you mention a 35" scale and going with 34". Did you ever consider a shorter scale (33" or 32")?
  14. Brad Maestas

    Brad Maestas Sono est omnia Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 26, 2003
    Petaluma, CA, USA
    That's a beauty. I was looking through all the recent Fodera builds and I do remember noticing this one, mainly because of the Big Rigs. Very cool combination of features in this instrument and obviously so well thought out. Congrats and enjoy!
  15. Wonderful instrument. Congratulations!
  16. B-Mac

    B-Mac Happiness is a warm puppy and a great bass Supporting Member


    gebass6 and Garret Graves like this.
  17. nostatic


    Jun 18, 2004
    central coast
    Endorsing Artist: FEA Labs
    Not directly - I was mostly inspired by my YYD. I measured the P pickup position on my YYD and put the BigRig in the exact same spot on this 6'er. It is a bit more bridge-biased than normal. I suspect it is close to the "sweet spot" that is used in the AJ positions, and it has some of that crunchy vibe to it.
    twinjet likes this.
  18. nostatic


    Jun 18, 2004
    central coast
    Endorsing Artist: FEA Labs
    I had a Garrison standard that was 33" scale and liked that bass a lot. But I decided that I was going to have all my instruments be the same scale length, and since the YYD and Rob Allen are both 34" scale and on my "never sell" list, there was never a question that it would be a 34" scale build. Some guys have no problems switching between different scale lengths, but I prefer consistency with that as well as bridge spacing. I tried a bunch of narrower-spaced bridges on different extended range basses, thinking I'd find them easier to play or more comfortable, but oddly enough the wider neck and 19mm spacing was better for me once I adapted my approach a bit.
  19. chris lykins

    chris lykins Supporting Member

    Dec 4, 2004
    phoenix az
    How are you getting along with the big rigs? I was thinking of replacing the emg soap bars in my Fodera with them. Do you find the single coil setting useful?
    Lonnybass likes this.