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Need design input for custom bass

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by JP_1337, Apr 4, 2018.

  1. Stain/dye with oil finish

  2. Paint - no pickguard

  3. Paint - with pickguard

  1. Hey guys, I know this is a very subjective topic but I would value some input on the methods of finishing the body of an electric bass.

    I've been wanting to build my own bass for a long time, and having recently gotten into woodworking for a hobby, I now have access to tools and rudimentary skills to do so. But I need a bit of advice before I go and spend a ton of money on different finishes.

    The short version:

    Modifying the body shape of a bass, made from basswood (not sure how many pieces) and need opinions on choosing stain/oil finish versus painting. Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences, I've never painted anything before and am barely experienced with staining. I use Danish oil on my other woodworking projects.

    The long version:

    Before throwing myself headfirst into building guitars from scratch, I figured I would get my feet wet by buying a cheap bass and modifying it first.
    I am getting my hands on a pretty cheap imitation of a Yamaha RBX 270 and will be significantly changing the shape of the body and somewhat reshaping the headstock, among other small modifications.

    As such, the entire body and headstock will be sanded and need a new finish. As I don't yet know the details of the wood this guitar body will be made of, besides that it is basswood, it could be 3, 4 or even 5 pieces glued together for all I know.

    My preference generally leans to an oil finish as that is what I know. I could do a super dark blue or purple stain with a Danish Oil finish on top. But does basswood look decent under a stain? How would the seam lines react/look when stained?

    Stain and oil would be cheaper and easier for me. But will it look good?
    Should I just bite the bullet and hide the wood under a ton of paint?

    Also, to make a pickguard or not? I lean to not, but the top is not exactly an exotic wood worth showing off, so maybe it is worth while?

    I have plenty of time up my sleeve, by the time the guitar gets here from overseas, and I have the shape refined and sanded ready for finish, it could be June or even July! So I'm not in a rush, but I like to plan things ahead and I can't get this question out of my mind!

    I appreciate any and all opinions on the subject. What would YOU do?

    Attached is my basic design idea for the shape of the body. Just if you were wondering. Not sure where the design is inspired by, there is a familiarity that I can't place. But I drew that myself so I'm claiming it as my original design!

    Attached Files:

  2. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Nice shape - somewhat like the BC Rich Seagull. I prefer to see the wood. :)
    Scoops and JP_1337 like this.
  3. Tru-oil or Danish oil will probably be easier with no spray equipment. I have a friend who can do an almost factory looking finish with spray cans but I never could. I have used TruOil over stain and it works very well.

    If you want to get a compressor and guns check out the water based finish thread on here. I'm using the ProFinisher and it works great.

    @bound'n'blocked has a thread on here where he's finishing a body purple (since you mentioned purple ). I don't remember what the wood was but it is looking good so far.
  4. mapleglo

    mapleglo Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 7, 2013
    phoenix, az
    Another issue to keep in mind with that body shape. You have the upper horn coming to a pretty sharp point. That may not work well with a strap button. I've run into the same problem with my Devil bass builds.
    reverendrally likes this.
  5. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol

    I wouldn't use oil on basswood, unless it's something that gets really hard like tung oil. It's a very delicate wood that will collect dings without proper protection.
    Freekmagnet and TyBo like this.
  6. Or "distress" the timber on purpose. Pepper it with dings.

    One other thing BTW, that point on the top of the body near the belly cut might be quite uncomfortable. I'd make up a template and try it against your body before cutting the timber into that shape.
  7. Scoops

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

    Oct 22, 2013
    Sugar Creek, Wisc

    Basswood is good for paint, not oil.
    Freekmagnet, TyBo and TundraMan like this.
  8. Yeah I've considered that and I'm relocating the strap button further back on the horn on the back (belly side) and will work out exact placement when I have the body.

    Cheers for that info.

    My plan is to sort that out with contouring, and the actual point would be more rounded than it looks in the drawing, but yeah a template is a good idea
    mapleglo likes this.
  9. ctmullins

    ctmullins fueled by beer and coconut Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    I have one body that is mostly basswood. I hit it with some black TransTint dye, then some Tru-Oil, and it came out kinda nice. That’s what I’d recommend here. You won’t know until you try it; it might work out, or it might be disgusting... :roflmao:
  10. Mister Boh

    Mister Boh

    Oct 23, 2016
    Annapolis, MD
    There are some pretty fugly pieces of basswood out there, very streaky. There are great instruments made from it but I think there's a reason nobody uses trans finishes on them that I can think of. Would a solid be possible?
    TyBo and TundraMan like this.
  11. JeffC23


    Aug 1, 2017
    Cool looking design. Make sure you post a pic when you make the bass, I'd love to see it.
    JP_1337 likes this.
  12. I agree. In general basswood is not very attractive. I feel the same way about poplar.

    I think both basswood and poplar make great sounding instruments (my #1 guitar is poplar) so I'm certainly not against using them. However I feel these woods are great candidates for an opaque finish.

    There are the occasional exceptional boards that may be attractive, but a person would probably wind up sorting through hundreds and hundreds of board feet of lumber in order to find the diamond in the rough.
  13. BigBear77


    Aug 30, 2017
    A3DF9996-3916-4023-9D03-3A2EEA1D29CE.jpeg 900D0E51-86B8-48CE-99A7-0CC455A334A3.jpeg I recently bought a DIY kit on eBay, it was Basswood. I used a black stain then sanded it down and used a wood dye I found at a crafts store. Then I used wipe on Poly. Basswood may be too soft just to use oil.
  14. beans-on-toast

    beans-on-toast Supporting Member

    Aug 7, 2008
    Yamaha instruments may be relatively inexpensive but they usually sound very good and people like them in the studio.

    When modifying a body, you have to pay attention to the center of gravity. You don’t want the head to nose diving. Comfort is important, you don’t want it digging into your gut.

    When sanding the top surface, care should be taken to ensure that you don’t lower the height of the bridge plate relative to the neck fretboard plane. Otherwise you might have to cut the neck pocket deeper. That will affect the neck mounting screw length. Minimize what you take off the top down the center of the body.

    Rather than modify the Yamaha body, why not consider building one from scratch. It would be a lettle more difficult than modifying a body but much easier than having to build a neck as well.

    The pickguard is personal. With an oiled finish I prefer not to have one. Let the wood shine through.
    Freekmagnet likes this.
  15. T_Bone_TL


    Jan 10, 2013
    SW VT
    Well, a faithful imitation of a real RBX270 would be alder, not basswood.

    With a little shopping an actual, non-imitation, made by Yamaha, RBX270 is not stunningly expensive (see signature, I have reason to know.)
  16. Love that colour!

    Thanks for that info, a lot of stuff I hadn't though of, particularly in regards to sanding the top surface and bridge height.

    It's not a real Yamaha, just an imitation which is why I'm happy to hack it up, the RBX 270 is a pretty cheap bass to begin with, but as this is my first time doing so, the even cheaper imitation seemed like a good place to start.

    I do want to build one from scratch, but for my first bass (besides my metallic blue squire jazz with a (once white) cream pickguard that I have never modified beyond flatwounds) I wanted to modify a bass to get a feel for it. I don't have a router or anything so I'm not confident in doing neck joints or pickup routes, but I have access to a bandsaw and some sanding gear. Next time I would work from a blank of some nice wood and do a proper custom job with a dye finish and top of the line components. But not yet.

    Cheers for the help.
    beans-on-toast likes this.
  17. Yeah, I figured that out too late unfortunately. I hadn't planned on specifically getting a Yamaha clone, so I hadn't priced real Yamaha guitars. I knew I wanted a PJ style passive bass, but that was about it. I have a mate travelling overseas at the moment (he is a drummer) and he knew I was looking for a cheap as possible PJ bass, and he found this one. The price was right so I said let's get it. Still cheaper than the real thing even second hand from what I could find, so I'm happy.

    Though upgrading the pickups and pots will quickly close the price gap haha

    Life's an adventure, and so I'm not too worried. I won't feel bad if I ruin this instrument, as it is experience for the next!
  18. T_Bone_TL


    Jan 10, 2013
    SW VT
    I voted for show the wood, since I am almost always in favor of that (if I wanted a big hunk of plastic, I could start with plastic...) both for look, and more importantly in a tool (which is what a bass is to me) for the tactile feel. I much prefer wood (usually with an oil/wax finish) to plastic-coating in a tool that I touch.

    That said, I have yet to do anything to de-plasticize the mist purple, very plasticy finish on my RBX270 (but it's not getting the play time anyway, the upright is.) I'm more likely to build it a new body and leave the original alone, even though it's imperfect (came with a couple of dents in the finish, helped hold the price down, as did the rusty strings, I think - I looked past those, and perhaps some other folks did not. Or it was a slow week.)

    But I suppose if you haven't even seen it yet, wait until you do and make the call then. Or veneer it, but that can be a tricky job with contours.
  19. arctur


    Nov 13, 2015
    Cologne, Germany
    Hey, as someone who is maybe a half-step ahead of you in gearing up to building basses, let me share my thoughts.
    I too would like to build basses from scratch and I too have no experience in spraying finishes and limited tools. For my first "build" I picked one of the P-Bass kits that you can find frequently. Mine was the one from Thomann and it was 180€ if I remember correctly. I kinda suggest that you do something similar for a number of reasons.
    First, the wood. As has been pointed out by you and others, there is a good chance that your instrument is made out of a lot of unattractive pieces of wood. If so, you might end up not having much of a choice but to go for a solid finish because the wood may turn out to be just too ugly to show off (for you to be happy with, at least. It's all subjective of course.). With a kit bass, you can at least be relatively sure that the wood is not too ugly. I don't know exactly what mine was made of but I like to refer to it as "Asian mystery pine", i.e. a very even and very soft wood, so quite similar to a non-horribly looking piece of basswood. That gave me the option to finish it with Tru-Oil and it looks really decent. You might not be so lucky with what you are getting...
    Secondly, stripping the paint in itself is not really a fun process and not necessarily something that takes you forward in terms of building instruments. For your first build, I would suggest doing something that is fun and easy and keep the non-fun stuff (like stripping paint) to a minimum. The dangers of sanding too much have also been pointed out already...
    Third, how confident are you that the quality of the instrument is good enough to work with in general? With a very cheap overseas copy you might have to do things to make it playable that are relatively challenging and require new and expensive tools, like fretwork and making a decent nut. With my kit bass, the neck including the frets and nut was really good and required no extra work. That really helped in making my first instrument a success.
    So yeah... I think you may have made it a little unnecessarily difficult for yourself in getting that bass. If you are not totally married to modifying that specific instrument, I would seriously consider selling it once you have it with not much loss and getting yourself a kit P-Bass. Those have plenty of meat on their bones to modify the shape and you can totally stain it and finish with something like Danish Oil or Tru-Oil and get good results.
    That's just my two cents (well, three actually). If you wanna go ahead with the copy, I vote oil finish regardless of how the wood looks. I feel that that is a very useful finishing technique to have up your sleeve and makes sense as a first learning experience.
    Kind regards and much success
    JP_1337 likes this.
  20. The kit idea does sound more enjoyable than tearing apart an existing bass. You make a really good point about stripping paint and how it is neither enjoyable or relevant to building a bass in terms of learning. I do want this to be a fun experiment, so maybe a kit is the way to go. Same outcome, still modifying an existing body. Just skipping the paint removal step! Only downside is kits seem to be a bit more expensive than the bass I have on the way, but not drastic.

    Having rushed into buying the bass which is still with my mate overseas, I may stick with the plan but I am now looking around for kits that might suit my needs. If I find a suitable kit, rather than trying to sell the other bass, because it was really cheap, maybe I will keep it and beat it up real bad in the future and make a distressed frankenbass type thing at some stage. That is Future-JP's problem.
    But for $85, it's not a big loss, I am sure I could still have some fun with it even if I do find a kit I like.

    Hmmm, research to do and thoughts to think.
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