New here, looking to build my first bass

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Digory, Oct 13, 2016.

  1. Hi guys,

    So, I'm a complete beginner when it comes to bass, but I really love the artistry of lutherie and have decided that I would love to build a bass and learn to play on that (and maybe get become a full time luthier if it turns out well and I enjoy it).

    I had a question about tone. I don't know how to describe it completely, so I will risk sounding like a fool for the sake of learning. I've heard some clips of people playing bass, and it sounds... "clunky"...? I mean, you can hear the player contacting the strings constantly "chnk-chnk-chnk". What contributes to that, because I want the opposite of that sound, haha. I'm guessing picks and roundwound strings would contribute, but is that all?

    Does the choice of wood amplify that or make it hard to avoid? I was thinking about using white limba and black walnut. Would those woods help in smoothing the sound (Is that the "attack"?), or should I pick something else other than the walnut? I like when a bass guitar sounds "rich" and "warm". Sorry, I know sound is rather subjective... especially when it comes to adjectives, but hopefully you know where I'm coming from.

    Any advice you guys have would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
    michaelwayneharwood likes this.
  2. PDX Rich

    PDX Rich

    Dec 19, 2014
    Portland, OR
    Subjective is indeed the correct nomenclature. First off--get rid of any notion of what to expect. This is art. Treat it as something relaxing, and it will happen.Treat each step (26-226) as a new journey, with a win.

    *(Step 5: It is a rush to create an instrument.)

    * It is odd; most of the time.
    Digory and michaelwayneharwood like this.
  3. tubedude


    Jan 19, 2015
    Frets and low action make noise.
    You need a harder wood for the fingerboard.
    I like black Limba for body wood.
    Digory likes this.
  4. michaelwayneharwood

    michaelwayneharwood Builder of the Wastelands Commercial User

    May 1, 2014
    Owner Melodious Resonance Constructs
    @Digory - Welcome to Luthier's Corner! You will not find a better resource, or better people, to help you get started in your journey.

    It would be helpful for us if you provided a bit more detail about what you are looking to do. What *exactly* do you want to build? A 4 string? A 6 string? Fretted or fretless? What scale length are you considering? Are you wanting to build it from scratch, or procure certain parts such as necks, etc.? Are you aiming at a solid body instrument, a chambered instrument, or a hollow body design? How much woodworking knowledge and/or experience do you have? The more context we have the better we can address your specific questions.

    One thing to consider - questions surrounding the potential tonal affect various wood choices have in regards to solid body instruments has a tendency to become a fairly "religious" issue, and is hotly debated by many. It can become VERY contentious very quickly....just be ready for it. ;)
    Digory and Will_White like this.
  5. Hmm... good perspective @PDX Rich . I tend to get overly perfectionistic. Thanks!

    @tubedude - Yeah, I was afraid I might have to use something else for the fingerboard. What's a good light-colored wood that could work? I know maple is hard and light... are there other good alternatives? Thanks!

    Thanks for the welcome, @michaelwayneharwood ! Here is the fretfind2d rough idea of what I was looking to do: - FretFind2D

    Wow! Sorry about the huge link. I would like to do as much of it myself as possible... for the experience (and to say I did it =P ). The only part I am unsure of is if I want to source the fingerboard. I was thinking about a solid body (chambered if my design turns out to be too heavy, I guess, but probably not). I have some very only basic woodworking skills/experience (mostly dremel and carving knives, but I have used a bandsaw and a drill press before) and no training (It seems few people want to take a risk on a newbie). My experience is mostly with pinewood derby cars. Here are a couple of them:

    The top one is the newest. I made the inside and mirrors out of clay (impossible angles for the dremel tool and knives!). Flying Fox Project Collage Finished.png
    My sanding job wasn't the most spectacular, but I was more concerned with the "concept". Here is the one I made for my little brother a couple years earlier:
    Supercar Collage.png
    Chris_Toot likes this.
  6. tubedude


    Jan 19, 2015
    I can't think of another really light colored wood hard enough forr a fingerboard. You could look at a list of woods and check their hardness rating "Janka Scale". But not all woods will be available to you. Ask the folks at Luthier's Merchantile. They know wood and sell a lot of it. See what options guitar parts makers offer, Musikraft, Mighty Mite, etc.
    Digory likes this.
  7. michaelwayneharwood

    michaelwayneharwood Builder of the Wastelands Commercial User

    May 1, 2014
    Owner Melodious Resonance Constructs
    I have used both hickory and pecan and been very pleased with the results. I have also used oak, and like it a lot.
    Digory likes this.
  8. rudy4444


    Mar 13, 2012
    Central Illinois
    Do a search for persimmon, there are a few suppliers who occasionally supply it as fret board blanks. My personal preference is Morado (pau ferro). Check availability from Allen Guitar Supply. (no affiliation...)
    Digory likes this.
  9. Thanks for the replies, guys. I forgot one detail... I am planning on just using an oil finish. Do any of those woods take to an oil finish particularly well? If I want it to feel very smooth under the fingers, am I looking back at maple again or does another wood work well (say, hickory)? Thanks again for your help guys.
  10. rudy4444


    Mar 13, 2012
    Central Illinois
    If you want an oil finish you don't want maple. There's a reason all those Teles and Strats have a hard clear coat, and that only lasts until it gets worn through by the fingernails or even finger pads. All the most often used positions will be permanently stained with ground in sweat and dirt. I'm thinking that's not the look you're going for.
  11. TheJoshinator


    Sep 23, 2012
    Once again, welcome to playing bass and to the LC! Lots of fun to be had and knowledge to be gleaned from this fantastic resource.

    As you're beginning your quest to build a bass to learn with, keep in mind that your "tone" has to do with the harmonic content of the sound it produces. This is strongly affected by how you play and how you have the bass set up, as well as what it's made of and how it's built.

    So, as an example, the clanky attack-y sound you describe has a lot of high-frequency content in it, usually either because it was played with a pick or because they were slapping the strings against the fretboard. This is common in rock and such, to give the bass an easily-heard percussive character and get around the mid-heavy guitars and keys.

    Rich, warm and mellow (to me, anyway) says having those highs filtered out and a bit more emphasis on the mid-frequency content, more of a smooth-jazz kinda sound. Playing with fingers instead of a pick and with your right hand closer to the neck will reduce the highs, but also tends to cut the mids and brings out the fundamental for more of a bassy, Motown/reggae sound.

    There's also pickups - generally speaking, the pickup nearest the bridge will pick out the most mids and highs, with a corresponding drop in the low end. My personal preference is to shift the balance between the pickups toward the bridge a bit, roll off the high frequencies with the tone knob, and play with my right hand at whatever spot gives me a nice, balanced and warm sound.

    Obviously, much of all that is personal preference and just screwing around to see what kinds of sounds you can get out of your instrument. Lots of factors go into the "perfect" bass tone, from the strings you use to the material your pick is made of (or if you use one) to the physical construction of your instrument to any pedals that you use. The endless opportunities for exploration are easily half the fun!
  12. Yeah, that's definitely not the look I'm going for, @rudy4444 , haha. Thank you for the warning! Sounds like maple is definitely out, then.

    Thanks for the welcome and for all the information, @TheJoshinator ! I was thinking I would put some tapewound strings on it. I'm definitely excited to explore all the possibilities. I can see how someone could spend a small fortune on equipment... there is lots of cool stuff out there!
  13. tubedude


    Jan 19, 2015
    Roasted Maple. Darker, resists stain and wear My RM neck is harder and slicker than any maple I've played on before. I am using no sealant or finish and there is literally no wear.
  14. Gaebrial


    Mar 8, 2016
    I'll preface this by saying I ain't no luthier, which means my opinion comes from a different place. Not that theirs matters less, but everyone has a different vantage point.

    Different woods do give a slightly different tone- but if you are just starting out on bass, and especially if you are new to listening to instruments (not music) in general, you shouldn't focus on the type of wood just yet beyond what is easy to work with or what you want it to look like. The reason why I say this is that other things affect the tone way more- the pickups and strings especially, as well as playing with a pick/with fingers and where along the strings you play them. So worrying about the wood

    And for the sound that is "clunky"- sounds like it could be the set up (strings are low, hitting against the frets) or the pickups (perhaps they have a more open sound, accentuating more highs), or a combo of both. Could also be a fresh set of strings played with a pick, or the person could be playing very hard. Maybe it is a Ric, in which case your opinion is wrong and it sounds good. :p

    A different wood might help a little to reduce that kind of sound, but what will help way more is rolling off the tone knob a little and cutting the highs out. It might be a good idea to find a youtube example of what you don't want.
  15. Chris_Toot


    Jun 29, 2016
    @Digory welcome to TB! Im relatively new as well and am in the midst of making a replacement neck for my p bass currently. From what youve said/ shown us, i can tell youre going to have a blast building this bass!
    Regarding that "warm/ smooth" tone, id like to recommend flatwound strings. When i got my ibanez sr500 a couple years ago, i didnt quite care for the bright high-end that the stock roundwounds gave off. (Along with that clunky sound) I went out and grabbed some DR flatwounds and strung them up... Boom! I had found that smooth tone i was looking for. They also feel glass smooth and you dont hear your left hand sliding all over the fretboard while changing positions. Now that i have aquired a bit more technique, i am able to play roundwounds and keep the noise to a minimun. But thats sort of what my point is here. With experience, you can dial in your technique to let that clanky sound come through, or play with a light touch and not let the clank come through. Of course, like everyone else has said so far, there are tons of other variables ranging from plucking position, finger style or pick, to electronics, action/setup, strings and beyond!
    Good luck and keep us posted with your project!
  16. I never even heard of roasted maple. Thanks for introducing me to it, @tubedude !

    Thanks @Gaebrial for offering your advice! Yeah, I'm beginning to see that I my wood choice is probably not *that* important for what I'm trying to avoid. Don't worry, I won't bash the Rickenbackers, haha. If all the basses sounded the same, none of them would seem very special to anyone. =) I know it would be easier if I linked to a video, but I would feel pretty bad about putting up something and saying, "I don't like the sound this guy gets out of his bass". =/

    Thanks for the welcome and the compliment, @Chris_Toot ! It sounds like you were after the same sort of tone. I'm glad you found success with simply changing the strings! Have you ever tried tapewound strings? I was looking at those a while ago (when I was still only musing over the idea of building my own instrument, instead of actively planning). They seem like they would be fun to play on, too. I will certainly keep you guys posted when I start building. It might be a bit still, but hopefully sooner rather than later!
  17. Chris_Toot


    Jun 29, 2016
    Ive never used tapewounds. But, from what ive heard, they sound more like a double bass. Kala uses them on their U-basses to achieve a deep tone from such a short scale. I wouldnt mind checking out a set on my acoustic sometime.
  18. Really? Wow. I was always under the impression that the U-basses use the silicon core strings from the old Ashbury system. Is the tape-wound thing a newer development or have the always used them?
  19. Most of the Ubass I've seen are using Owen Holt's Pahoehoe black polyurethane strings. Ashbury's silicone strings were the primary reason I got rid of the Ashbury.

    If you are learning bass and beginning bass building I think it would be best to select the best wood, electronics and hardware. Build the bass and play it, at this point its hard to shape your direction without knowing were you want to go.

    You could build a solid platform then make and swap parts utilizing your jigs and templates to try different necks, materials, electronics, strings what ever your thinking. The best thing I think you can do is make sawdust then get blisters on your fingers, the rest will come.
  20. Chris_Toot


    Jun 29, 2016
    Ok, I was severely mistaken in my last post regarding u basses and tapewounds. Got a little confused actually. For some reason i saw those black rubbery kala strings in my head and thought they were tapewounds when in fact they are not. So Sorry for the confusion guys