Purple Rain Cloud Burst Bass

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Deep Cat, Jun 7, 2019.

  1. “Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here together to get through this thing called life.”

    My intention is to build a:

    Five sting set neck bass.

    "Cloud" shaped flame maple body

    Sapelle neck, Birdseye maple fretboard

    I can’t really say I’ve been a Prince fan my whole life. I can say many of my personal formative experiences as a human, as a musician, as a builder, and as an artist have had him if not central to the occasion, then at the very least proximate.

    When he passed, like a great many, I was and still am heartsick. I took it as occasion to revisit his music. Over the years I’ve had many of his albums. Not all of them, as dude was Prolific, and some I’ve sold off. I decided to, at not insignificant expense, replace the albums I’ve misplaced along the way and pick up the ones I’ve missed.

    I’ve joked, without much in the way of sarcasm, that it’s taken me longer to buy and listen to his albums than it took him to record them. Which for me is incredibly inspiring. But this is a build thread, not a discussion of his Royal Badness’s music (though I wouldn’t mind if a conversation spontaneously erupted).

    Somewhere in the sad months that followed his passing, I decided that I would finally build the instrument I’ve always wanted to own. Sort of.

    I’ve always kinda wanted a Cloud guitar. Except I don’t play much in the way of guitar. When I started building as a hobby, the Cloud guitar was always on the back burner. Like, when I got good enough. I collected, over the years, a great many anecdotes and specs and photos of various Cloud guitars, always looking for the proper inspiration. One of the things that blew my mind when I heard about it was that the Cloud guitar had originally been based upon, well... a bass. It apparently used to hang on the wall of the Glam Slam or something. The Original Cloud Bass was for a long time one of the unicorns of lutherie. Occasionally glimpsed on some old photo or dimly reflected upon in some obscure article. Nowadays, however, the OC has come to light.

    I decided I would build a Cloud bass in honor not just of Prince, the man who made the design famous, but also to Jeffrey Levin, the man who originally created the design.

    What I built (and to be fair at this point it’s pretty much done), was my own take on the design so I can claim very little of it, except for its mistakes, which are my own.

    I’ve made some alterations to the design which are either aesthetic choices or errors in understanding. I hope you will be indulgent of my errors.

    For attributions sake, please check out this blog article which has, as far as I can tell a pretty authoritative rundown of the early design of the original Cloud Bass.

    Also, if you are into this sort of thing, the Cloud Bass is being played by Andre Simone in this


    If by any chance you have a want to buy a Cloud Guitar please contact Dave Rusan, a luthier out of Minneapolis, who translated the OC to guitar and put it in the hands of the man who would use it to build his legend.

    I arrived at the body shape by drawing it out in full size on graph paper and using some of the dimensions I found on the internet as a guide. I used a lot of photo reference to get at the shape. One of the things that has always tripped me up about the Cloud is kind of how weird it looks by itself. Like, some of the lines aren’t quite right, like they’re a little drawn out and strange. Of course, in Prince’s hands the guitar looks perfect. My goal, though it took me a while to arrive at it as such was to capture the duality of shape. If I got it, I’d know I was on the right track.

    When I got the drawing at least close enough for my own tastes, I glued it to a bit a ¼” ply with a bit of spray adhesive.


    I’d decided, for the body to go with what I’m calling a Purple Cloud Burst on 8/4” flame maple. Which is to say, three or four shades of purple wiped on in a method and execution I liken to the PRS Dragon Burst. But first you gotta start with the flame maple.

    I jointed the boards with a clean finish table saw blade and glued it up.


    I didn’t take a picture of the clean up step, or if I did I can’t seem to find it. After I glued up the board to make the blank I used a router planing fixture (similar to, if not stolen directly from the thread by @Bruce Johnson here at the LC.) to get me a flat and parallel top and bottom for the blank.


    I cut out the Cloud shaped design template with the bandsaw and then cleaned up the edges with my Oscillating Spindle sander (which is seriously one of my favorite kinda super cheap tools.)


    I traced the design onto my body blank and had at it with my bandsaw.



    To unfortunate effect.


    I’m glad I’ve been in this building game for a minute because I didn’t immediately freak out when I accidentally broke the bandsaw blade and split my body blank along the grain at a sensitive part of the top horn at the same time. Well, maybe I didn’t freak out, but I did nearly cry into my safety goggles and immediately questioned my self worth as a human being.

    A split along the grain though, means if the pieces aren’t too jagged you can glue them up again and the damage gets hidden by the grain. I was very lucky.


    On this day, Prince Rogers Nelson came into the world, and the world is a better place for his arrival. His music will always be our light.

    Attached Files:

  2. rwkeating


    Oct 1, 2014
    Never heard of sapelle being used for a neck (although I really like that wood.) How did you pick that wood for the neck? Can't wait to see it.
  3. Thank you!

    I got turned onto sapele as a neck wood from Carl Thompson's you tube videos. As a side note, he seems to be posting similar content to the youtube videos on his instagram, which is a treasure trove of in process bass awesomeness.

    I picked sapele for this build because I wanted to contrast the neck with the bird's eye maple fretboard. That's pretty much it.
    rwkeating likes this.
  4. BishopJP


    Apr 5, 2019
    North Carolina
    I am also using sapele for the neck on one of my builds. I chose sapele because I thought it would be very stable, like a mahogany neck, but also I had a bunch of it in my scrap pile.
    I look forward to seeing more progress pics!
    Deep Cat and rwkeating like this.
  5. Thanks!
  6. “I was dreaming when I wrote this. Forgive me if it goes astray.”

    Check out this video with one of his Cloud on display.

    I struggled a lot with the design process in terms of the broader decision making. I have a tendency to overthink things. I mean, what was I building this for? On the one hand to have a guitar I’ve kind of always wanted, on the other hand it’s a sort of tribute.

    How do you do a tribute properly as an instrument? Do you make it something that Prince would have wanted to play, or do you make it for yourself as something you could play if you got the gig to play in his band? Or do you make it as something one of his bass players would have wanted to play?

    Prince tended to play a combination of mostly stock instruments and things commissioned for him. Or he’d have his techs convert an existing instrument to his specs. Frankly, dude was all over the place with his instruments the same way he was all over the place with his creative process. He wrote and played music in all the ways a person can, and acquired and used his instruments in all the ways as well.

    For his mainstay basses, he seemed to always come back to his custom painted 4 string Warwick Thumb. He treated his instruments like the tools they are. I nearly sh@t myself watching his Joy Unto the Rave Fantastic Concert Video where he takes an awesome bass solo, demonstrating once again that yeah, he was that good, and after the solo kind of chucks the bass to the back of the stage. Like, he takes it off and just throws it without regard because he’s already moved on with his life and might never play that thing again. He also sometimes favored jazz bases. Mostly though, he was always pushing the boundaries of expectation with a feel for the aesthetically interesting and unique.

    On a separate but related note, the video below features probably the last bass he custom ordered.

    Prince’s bass players also seemed for the most part to play Jazz basses, or something really cool with the Jazz pickup configuration. He used so many bass players with so many awesome designs that it could be its own thread. Just looking at those instruments themselves in an intense sort of builder’s reverie. I recommend running down a search of his bass players and what they played when they played in his bands.

    So far, you should be able to tell that the Cloud Bass I built really doesn’t satisfy any of the questions I asked about the build. I mean, Prince never really got into the 5 string bass. When his players would show up with one he’d say something like “What do need that extra string for?” I can probably count on one hand the number of times a five string appears on one of his albums, and that’s out of like thirty albums.

    If you were to ask Prince, he’d probably say something like “I’ll do me, and you do you.”

    I chose to build a Cloud because it inspires me. I chose a 5 string because I wanted to be able to (if I ever work up the gametes to play it out of the house) bring that Prince inspiration to other people and drop any note on them they need.

    The Purple Rain Cloud Burst Bass is also 35” inch scale because the 21” body length kind offers up that possibility to me. I’m tuning it down a half step as well, in part so I can hit that A# in Purple Rain down low.

    When building the neck I used pretty much my standard method. I’ve shown it in other build threads and I haven’t really included the method here. Mostly. I used a variation of the router planing jig to bring my fretboard to proper level.



    I flipped it over to level out the heel.


    I used a fret slotting jig with a properly kerfed blade to cut the fret slots.




    I used the router planing jig yet again to plane the neck angle by shimming one of the ends with a bit of ¼ mdf. I mean really, the angle was for the heel and the upper horn, but when I go to rout the neck pocket I’ll use that part as my frame of reference.


    I wanted to wind my own pickup, and decided on a bird’s eye maple shell to match the fretboard.


    I used my trusty friend the spindle sander to fine shape the profile curves.


  7. Rôckhewer

    Rôckhewer Commercial User

    Feb 28, 2015
    Phoenix, Arizona
    Owner/Builder- RockHewer Custom Guitars LLC
    I cracked up at this, cuz I can totally relate.
    It's that moment you ask yourself...
    ... "really dude"?

    Love the Tribute.
    "Purple Cloud Burst".... genius. :thumbsup:
    Way subbed.☝️
    Deep Cat and Gilmourisgod like this.
  8. Thanks!
    Beej likes this.
  9. “How can I put this in a way so as not to offend or unnerve.”

    We had a bunch of uncharacteristically hot days this week, so this is what life looks like. No clouds, but in my garage.


    The Cloud Bass (lutherie unicorn) makes a brief upside down appearance played by Sonny T in this video.

    I heard an interview with one of Prince’s long time sound guys who said, basically that he never heard Prince hit a wrong note. While on the one hand, that kind of defies logic, on the other hand, I have known guitarists who knew their scales and whatnot so well that it would be harder for them to miss a note than to hit it right every time and Prince was a notorious perfectionist. On the other, other hand, Prince has given advice to other musicians that amounts to “If you don’t stop and make it look like a mistake the audience will never know.”

    One of my favorite reported ways Prince would cover his band not quite getting it right would be to just kind of stop the whole song ("On the One") do some patter ("It's just too funky. Lemme hear from the bass player solo.") and launch back into it.

    If Prince would forget a lyric he'd just get the audience to sing it for him. ("Sing it!" *points the mic at the audience.*)

    Miles Davis would take a note somebody flubbed and use it to find new music. His philosophy was also, there are no mistakes in music so long as you take the unintentional and make it intentional.

    I’m not as good (at anything) as either of those dudes. I do try to adopt their philosophies when making mistakes. Since wood working is not a performance art, the trick, I think, is to cover or distract from your mistakes as much as possible. Barring that, ignore it and keep going. And if that doesn’t work, highlight them.

    I make a lot of mistakes.

    I epoxied the sides and top of the pickup shell.


    I sanded the shell to 320 and finished the it carefully over the course of a few days with Tru Oil (according to the directions on the bottle I don’t usually cotton to exotic methods). I’m really pleased at how it came out. The Bird’s Eye is so lovely it didn’t need any grain enhancement techniques other than the varnish itself. The downside is that when I was done with the shell I realized I’d created a pickup cover for a 4 string instead of 5 string. Soooo. Yeah.


    One of my overriding philosophies is to acquire all the hardware before making sawdust. I mean, things claim to be certain dimensions online, and they usually are, but the issue I’ve (rarely, but importantly when it happens) encountered is that specs are not actually statements of fact, but rather guidelines and parameters that the equipment is built to within prescribed tolerances. I like to get my hardware first so that the things that can be changed (the wood) can accommodate the things that kind of can’t (the metal). In this build I neglected this policy due to impatience. I special ordered a Hipshot 5 string D style bridge in gold with narrow spacing. It took months to arrive, because that’s just the way it is. I could have gone with black, I guess, but the bass called for gold. It turns out I missed the specs on the bridge by about a quarter inch which basically meant the neck I’d built was ¼” too narrow at the heel to accommodate the bridge. I could have made it up with side stripes, I guess, but I really didn’t want to. New neck it is.

    I built a whole new neck, cut the proper taper on the table saw, and glued up the ears. But hey, now I’ve got a pretty cool spare neck pretty far in development with a matching pickup shell.


    The headstock needed a little extra material to accommodate my design. So I cut a little more ear action and glued it up.



    I used a whole other planing jig to clean up the face.


    I cut a veneer from some flame maple offcut and glued it up





    Oh, and then I repeated the pickup shell making process, only with a properly sized shell.


    wraub, Beej, Matt Liebenau and 7 others like this.
  10. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    You are motoring right along there, Sir Cat. Continue.
    Deep Cat likes this.
  11. RodRy


    Jul 1, 2018
    Kalamazoo, MI
    Yep, just found this thread, and I really want to see where it goes!
    Deep Cat likes this.
  12. CaseyVancouver


    Nov 4, 2012
    37E727D1-C0C1-4CE0-AE31-4419D0846A7A.jpeg Prestige out of Vancouver used to make (via Korea) a Wylde bass. This pic does not show it, but often you can see a nice flame through the Wylde top coat.

    By the way, I have an awesome Mesa 410 Powerhouse in purple suede that seems appropriate to these basses.
    Deep Cat likes this.
  13. “And I saw an angel come down unto to me. In her hands she holds the very key. Words of compassion, words of peace…”

    I tend to think of Prince’s music as inhabiting a whole other musical plane of existence. Like, even when other people play on his albums, they sound like they’ve beamed into the Purpleverse and are breathing his air. I feel like it’s so kind of out there artistically that you can’t really compare his tracks to anyone else’s.

    I recently heard When Dove’s Cry come on the radio on some random station that played current hits as well as the “classics” and I swear that track still sounded so fresh and original that if it came out new today it would be a monster track. Prince’s musical vision was so strong that even in what I call his “later career” (Emancipation and everything after) when he started to release cover tunes on his albums as soon as he played them they sounded like they got beamed in from the Prince dimension. I don’t always love the covers, but they always sounded like him.

    I think covers are pretty important, in a sense because they provide necessary context for a band to present themselves and their vision. How can you tell how someone really sounds? Listen to them play a cover of a tune you know inside and out. It will tell you more than all their originals combined. Of course, those originals are what make you original.

    In order to get a sense of how Prince stacked up to mere mortals, you have to listen to him play when it’s not his stage and not his song. The video below is considered to be one of his best guitar solos ever. You have to watch it to get an idea of how good it was.

    And that guitar never did come back down.

    The background on that performance is pretty interesting. I recommend googling it. It’s just wow.

    As far as building is concerned, I tend to think about copying other designs as being like cover songs. I‘ve only ever copied a Jazz and the Cloud, and I think at some point I’m going to make a run at Stingray. It’s not a judgement about folks that make clones, because that stuff pays the bills and I can’t fault someone for how they earn. Unless you are making a deliberate copy in an attempt to mislead a buyer, which just makes you a fraud.

    Copying headstock shapes tends to get into a murky ethical area for me. So far I’ve only made my own headstock shapes and I will do the same in this build. Now as far as trademarked headstocks go, the Cloud isn’t. The original designer, Jeffrey Levin, does not appear to have trademarked the shape, nor does he appear to have made any kind of attempt to assert any rights over the design. Still, I’m going to go my own way on it.

    I had a whole series of ideas about how I was going to do the carve as opposed to how I actually carved it. Which for me is pretty unusual.


    I shaped the headstock pretty close to done (not pictured). I shaped the fretboard radius with a radius block. Actually I use three or four radius blocks to the same radius. I keep a block loaded with each grit at 80, 120, 220, and 320 so I don’t have to peel off my adhesive sand paper four times when I want to radius a neck.



    I hogged out the holes for the pickup and the control cavity at the drill press.



    Not pictured, I also hogged out the hole for the heel. I used my neck pocket routing jig to rout out the, uh, neck pocket.



    I hit the body with its round over at the router table.


    Here was where my planning began to fall through. I was going to do this whole violin carve thing to compliment the curves, general shape and details of the Cloud, but at this point I couldn’t really “see” it.


    I thought maybe if I took my time with the carve contours I’d find it. So I took my time with the contours. I did the forearm carve and let it rest a bit. Sometimes (usually) I’ll do a carve and it will look pretty damn done, but when I come back to it a day or week later I’ll realize that my eye was playing a tricks. Or my mind. Whichever. It wasn’t as done as I’d thought.



    I did the same with the belly carve.


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  14. I totally relate to that, when I do carving I always convince myself it's perfect, only to come back the next day and re-do the whole thing. I haven't ever looked at a carve and said "oh man I went too aggressive there". I guess I'm chicken to go too far, so I err on the side of caution.

    On the scroll carve - I've done a few and it always plays with my mind big time. Once I get started on it things flow pretty easily. I just have a hard time seeing the end when I take that first chunk out.
    Deep Cat likes this.