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Possible to build a bass out of firewood?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by wdinc01, Apr 14, 2006.

  1. wdinc01


    Nov 19, 2005
    Jacksonville, FL
    (Yes, I realize that the title might be alittle off, but I couldn't think of any better way of describing it).

    Recently I was talking to a friend of mine, and we somehow got on the topic of Queen. I then asked what kind of guitar Brian May used, because I couldn't think of any brands for him. He told me about how he and his father built the guitar themselves out of firewood and oak and stuff. That then inspired me to actually try it (wanting to actually build a bass).

    I realize that at the time he did that, he could have actually gotten away with it. If I tried it now I'm sure loads of people will say something like "Oh no, the tone, it'll sound horrible!" But ignoring those kinds of comments, does anyone think this is possible? Also, what kind of wood should I consider using?

    I think really the only requirements are that it sounds good for a bass not made with traditional words and isn't horribly heavy. I'll probably use J pick ups because he also sent me a link as to how to make your own pick ups (really cheap, really easy, just alot of winding).

    Thanks in advance. And any supporting comments is greatly appreciated.
  2. Geoff St. Germaine

    Geoff St. Germaine Commercial User

    It really depends what you mean by firewood. The kind that I see around here would not be usable as it is generally horribly treated after cutting and has tons of massive cracks in it. It wouldn't be structurally stable, IMO.

    Do you have some way to automate the winding of the pickups? I assume you'll be doing it with a jig and a drill or something. I've had to wind magnetic coils by hand (for a totally different purpose) and it has got to be the most tedious and horribly boring task I've ever done.
  3. wdinc01


    Nov 19, 2005
    Jacksonville, FL
    I dunno if I have a way to wind them by a machine. I'll find out though. But that's just if I get a way to build the bass.

    And really I just grabbed 'firewood' off of Wikipedia since that's how they described the wood Brian May used. I'll see what I have then mention it here.
  4. Rodent

    Rodent A Killer Pickup Line™ Commercial User

    Dec 20, 2004
    Upper Left Corner (Seattle)
    Player-Builder-Founder: Honey Badger Pickups & Regenerate Guitar Works
    in all of my relocations, I've found that 'firewood' is subjective to the local scene. Here's a few examples:

    * I'm currently in the Seattle are where Alder, Maple, Cherry, and Spruce are commonly seen species in the cordwood places

    * when I lived in Boston it was hard Maple - lots and lots of birdseye and flame figures going up in smoke

    * in Nashville it was Walnut, Oak, and Poplar

    When I visited Brazil, I was amazed to see people burning some really 'exotic' woods ... woods that were considered to them as simply scrub and of little economic value

    So the answer is 'yes' you can build a guitar from firewood so long as you have a large enough piece that is properly seasoned

    all the best,

  5. wdinc01


    Nov 19, 2005
    Jacksonville, FL
    So your saying I should go to Brazil and buy a bunch of wood there?

    Okay, do you think oak would be decent? Or possibly pine?
  6. Rodent

    Rodent A Killer Pickup Line™ Commercial User

    Dec 20, 2004
    Upper Left Corner (Seattle)
    Player-Builder-Founder: Honey Badger Pickups & Regenerate Guitar Works
    you could use Oak for a body - but it'll be a little heavy compared to many other commonly used woods. I believe Peavey used Oak on some of their T-40 bass bodies.

    you should also have quite a bit of Poplar and/or Walnut locally as well. These would be better choices if you can find pieces large enough.

    when you start looking for neck woods, I'd recommend you look to a reputible wood supplier who is familiar with instrument making. you want to be sure to get properly seasoned woods with reasonable grain orientations. once you become familiar with making necks, you'll be better prepared to see which pieces of local wood are suitable for your neck needs.

    all the best,


    p.s. a trip to Brazil for wood shopping should definitely be in order! :hyper:
  7. Geoff St. Germaine

    Geoff St. Germaine Commercial User

    You'll probably want to look into some way of automating the process since some pickups take many thousands of wraps of wire.

    One interesting idea that I saw involved a record player. Since you know how fast it is turning, you can set a timer for the appropriate time to get the number of windings that you want.
  8. FBB Custom

    FBB Custom TalkBass Pro Commercial User

    Jan 26, 2002
    Owner: FBB Bass Works
    I found a very curly piece of red maple in a friend's firewood pile. I used it for headstock veneers.

    If you are actually wanting to use real firewood you should call some places and see what they cut. Real firewood is going to need further seasoning, generally, to get it to a stable moisture content. It's also generally cut rather short (not long enough for a bass neck) and is split into manageable pieces. You will have the benefit of absolutely none of the grading and selecting that goes on when logs are turned into lumber. The less you know about wood the more risk you run of using something that will come back to bite you.

    Probably it would be better to call local sawmills and just use cheap local lumber. If you can get stuff in the $2-4 price range, all the wood for a bass (minus the fingerboard) will run you under $20.

    And you will want something mechanical to help you get a consistent wind on your pickups.
  9. wdinc01


    Nov 19, 2005
    Jacksonville, FL
    Thanks for all the help guys. I'll definately start looking around.

    And by the way, what about wood from a palm tree? Could that be useful for anything? I just realized there's a bunch that grow around here (I go by them everyday and never even considered it...).

    But I'll have to check out the prices for oak, poplar, and walnut. I know a place nearby that sells firewood. I'll see what they have, and if they can get me bigger pieces.

    Edit: So I read that Wiki page again, and now I realize that really his guitar is just made of oak with a mohgany top
  10. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    I read that Brian May's guitar was made from "wood from an old fireplace". Which was not built from but "dressed in" oak, old fire dried oak, perfect for a neck.
  11. Moo

    Moo Banned

    Dec 14, 2002
    Oakland, CA

    I always heard it was a mahogany fireplace mantle.
  12. vinny


    Apr 3, 2006
    Las Vegas, NV.
    I believe palm trees are a reed, not wood. Therefore not appropriate (very open cell structure).
  13. KAOSBass


    Mar 10, 2005
    Amarillo Texas
  14. I guess you can use almost any kind of wood that is strong enough, then its up to you to like the tone;)

    I made a baryton guitar with scrap pieces and its quite usable, birch body, aspen neck and teak fingerboard. Rule number 1 is that if you like it, don't care what anyone else thinks.

    Life's learning by doing

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