Planning for my first DIY project...

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by commodorejohn, Aug 3, 2017.

  1. I've been bitten by the DIY bug here, and after discovering that my workplace is literally just blocks away from a hardwood supplier and I can go there and pick out materials in person, I'm starting to seriously look at building a bass for myself. I have people I can turn to for tools and general woodworking expertise, but there's a few specific questions I have re: luthiery:
    • First and foremost: beyond the choice of wood species, what should I look for in material for the neck and body? Does quarter-sawn vs. something else make a difference? Are there any kind of "tricks" to determine whether a piece of wood is musically meritous? Do I bring a tuning fork and listen to it resonate, or something? And with the neck specifically, does grain matter for anything other than aesthetics? Should I be looking for something relatively straight and oriented lengthwise, or does it make a difference?
    • Speaking of necks: I'm going for a neck-through design. Seems like the most straightforward approach would be to take a long (48" x 4-6") board and cut the neck out of that (though that would limit the depth of the bass - slightly - as the supplier only carries up to 1.75",) but I'm seeing a lot of neck-through designs these days that are formed out of narrower strips of wood glued together. Are there particular advantages to one approach or the other, besides being able to combine different types of wood in the laminate approach? Is there a significant difference in sound or playing characteristics, other than from mixing wood types?
    • Neck angle: I found this thread explaining the subject, which seems to imply that if I'm not using a high Gibson-style bridge (and I don't think I will be) there's no real need to angle the neck with respect to the body. Am I understanding this correctly? I've seen some basses with the neck angled the other way, so that the nut end sits higher than the body end - what would be the point of this?
    • Pickup placement: it's my simplistic understanding that pickups placed closer to the end of the string (i.e. the bridge) have more treble output and pickups placed closer to the center have less (roughly the same change in tone as you get plucking the string at those points.) However, my Hofner Ignition has practically no high-frequency output at all, even though the bridge pickup is right smack up against it. I know that there's a treble-cut switch that affects this (but it's still pretty much true with it off,) and probably being a hollow-body design has something to do with it as well, but I'm just curious if I generally have the story straight on this? Is there a good rule of thumb on it besides simply looking at designs whose sound I like and trying to work from their example?

    Those are the main questions I can think of for now, but everything is still in the very-rough-concept stage, so I imagine there'll be more to come. Thanks in advance for any advice :)
  2. Stumbo

    Stumbo Guest

    Feb 11, 2008
  3. Thanks, that's good information.
  4. Lonnybass


    Jul 19, 2000
    San Diego
    Endorsing Artist: Pedulla Basses
    1. There are all sorts of tricks and techniques, some science-based, some voodoo-based, to assess wood viability in a build. BUT - for sake of simplicity and the fact that this is your first bass - I think you should focus simply on finding yourself high quality, straight and evenly grained, dry and void-free lumber. Focus on the tried and true stuff...maple, alder, mahogany, etc. Grain orientation is VERY important to consider, most especially with the neck layout, not to mention you need to understand how to use a router on end grain. And a lot of builders will add strips of alternating boards for stiffness and integrity. I would do some specific research on quartersawn and flatsawn so you can understand what you are looking at once you're at the sawmill.

    2. You may find that a bolt on neck is actually easier because you can make the body and neck independently and if you don't like the way one turned out, you can remake it. Neck geometry is a tricky thing, and you may go through a handful of necks that end up in the reject pile (like me!) before you are able to carve one the way you like. In answer to your question about mixing wood types, it can add both a decorative touch to the instrument as well as add some strength to the design, potentially negating the need for neck inserts alongside the truss rod. Soundwise, it seems like most luthiers believe multiple neck laminates also add some element of compression.

    3. It all depends on your bridge geometry and the height of the fingerboard above the body. For example, when I lower my bridges to their lowest height, the string is approximately 10 millimeters above the height of the body. If my fingerboard is five millimeters above the height of the body, the lowest I could go with the string action would still be five millimeters above the board. The only way to lower the action would be to shim the neck so it sits at an angle. This is why your bridge selection is a hugely important thing to understand in designing your bass.

    4. So many variables on pickup placement and pickup type, and whether you plan to combine your pickup with an onboard EQ. I'd suggest starting with the tried and true of the Fender Precision and Jazz and Musicman, and go from there.

    Lastly, I'd suggest checking out some of the build threads on here, lots of great step by step process guides to be found.
  5. Yeah, bolt-on would doubtless be simpler...but one of the reasons for the project in the first place (other than just having the urge to do it) is I'd like to try a neck-through design and (hopefully) pay somewhat less than a decent Ric or the actual Gibson Thunderbird (as opposed to the bolt-on Epiphone version) go for.