Short-Scale Arched-String Lined Fretless Build

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by R. Laevinus, Feb 19, 2010.

  1. ...okay, so here goes: I'm in the late planning stages of my first build. Before I get into the nitty-gritty, I'll say that while I have a considerable amount of general woodworking experience (boats, framing houses, making cabinets, laying floors/hanging ceilings, etc) and a significant amount of experience modifying instruments, I have never built an instrument before.

    So with that out of the way, my plan is for a short-scale (27.5 inch) lined fretless, with a fingerboard and bridge arched sufficiently to allow arco playing when desired (using a cello board and bridge).

    In order to make the build quick and simple, I plan to:
    - Carve the body/neck/headstock out of a single block of African mahogany with a jigsaw
    - Route, rasp and sand the thing to shape (including cavities)
    - Reinforce the neck with a carbon fibre rod or two (in lieu of an adjustable trussrod)
    - Glue the FB, nut, etc. on
    - Install hardware and string it up (4 string, either standard cello strings/tuning or bass standard)
    - Use a rented strobe tuner to ascertain precisely where each fretline should fall
    - Inlay the maple fretlines
    - ???
    - PROFIT!

    I figure I'll actually get down to business in a week or so, when I have some spare time, but I wanted to post here before I begin final planning so that I can get opinions and advice. Mainly, I want to know what you guys would do differently, were you me.

    Just some details on the instrument itself - going to go for a flat headstock (not tilt-back), with string retainers, going to use a standard cello tailpiece, going to use an ebony nut, going to use a standard guitar strap paired with an extra-long endpin (so that I can play it bass-style or brace said endpin against my right foot's arch when playing standing, to make arco easier), and going to use one magnetic pickup coil per string - Fender Mustang pickups - to ensure each string has its own height adjustment and whatnot. Controls will likely be simple - VT.

    So - have you guys got any advice, warnings, concerns, etc. for me to take into account?

    Thanks in advance!
  2. mikeyswood

    mikeyswood Inactive

    Jul 22, 2007
    Cincinnati OH
    Luthier of Michael Wayne Instruments

    A single piece will be unwieldy to work.

    Routing and shaping before gluing the body and neck saves HUGE time. There is no such thing as an intonated fretted instrument. That is the reason there are no fret lines in an orchestra.


    Do not get your hopes up for any profit from the first ~10.
  3. EDIT - sorry, missed the actual advice in there. As per the instrument being unwieldy to work - I suppose I could, thereoretically, do a neck-through design, and shape the parts separately - however, I was planning for the instrument to be only a few inches wider than the neck heel at the widest point (so that there's no body to get in the way of bowing), and also for the whole thing to be of basically the same depth throughout - the cello neck gets awfully skinny at the nut, and so I figured having a meaty neck would help with stability - and I've got the hands to manage it. The whole slab is only an inch and a half thick.

    As per the intonation - I know that'll be rough, but seeing as I haven't played an unlined fretless in years, I'd give myself the lines. They'll only be general guides, I know, but I figure they'll help with learning. Would you suggest just side markers rather than lines?

    I was only joking about the profit part. Personal use only, you know? I figure if there was any kind of market for such creatures, niche or otherwise, somebody would already be making 'em.

    A colleague of mine just swung by to ask me why I don't use a double bass FB, cut to length to suit a 34-inch scale, or alternately slicing off the cello board for a 25.5 incher - he figures adding yet another scale length to my stable is only asking for trouble, and I'm wondering how much merit there is to his concern.

    What do you think?
  4. ehque


    Jan 8, 2006
    The lines are easier to place mathematically than by using a strobe tuner. Doing it your way, they may be more accurate for THAT string and THAT setup, but what if you want to change your string or action?

    Just use the normal formula for fret placement and you'll be close enough for government work.
  5. abarson


    Nov 6, 2003
    Santa Cruz
    Sounds kind of like a Ned Steinberger.

    If anything, look at what others have already produced, and change what doesn't work for your application.
    You might also want to look in the double bass section for anyone who's done something similar as a "short" EUB.
  6. All right folks, I'm back. Had a busy weekend clearing out my workshop in preparation for the project. There's some good advice here, though - I'll do the position marker placement by math, ehque. I've also decided to go with only side markers, rather than lines across the board - simpler to install, firstly, but also a little bit stealthy. And I've decided to go with a 25.5 inch scale, so as to match my guitar - the idea here being to flatten the learning curve as much as possible.

    Abarson, I haven't had a chance to hit up the Dark Side, but I'll do that today. As per the NS - it's definitely got similarities. I'll admit to being inspired by their headstock, too - the big difference between them and me though, is that I plan to use a tailpiece and a proper (classical-style carved maple) bridge.

    Preliminary design sketch attached - check it out.

    Attached Files:

  7. Quick design change update: maple set neck wi/ adjustable trussrod, to be epoxied into the mahogany body (because I have lots of experience with epoxy and love the stuff).

    Also a question - does anybody here use hide glue, and how's the Stewmac stuff in bottles? I'd like to use hide glue to attach the fingerboard, just in case I need to pork it off in future.
  8. mikeyswood

    mikeyswood Inactive

    Jul 22, 2007
    Cincinnati OH
    Luthier of Michael Wayne Instruments
    Yellow glue comes off with heat or acetic acid.

    White glue comes off with heat or acetic acid.

    Epoxides come off with heat.

    Hide glue comes off with heat.

    All glues are equalish. Hide glue is used by old schoolers that do not know the new school tricks. ;)
  9. Awesome, thank you! I'll just use normal yellow wood glue for the fingerboard, then.
  10. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    ...and/or water.
  11. mikeyswood

    mikeyswood Inactive

    Jul 22, 2007
    Cincinnati OH
    Luthier of Michael Wayne Instruments
    Do you really want to immerse an instrument? Even steaming adds too much moisture in my opinion.
  12. Stay away from bottled liquid hide glue. It's not natural for hide glue to stay in liquid form at room temperature. They have to add "stuff" to it to keep it liquid, which in turn keeps it from curing as well. I know firsthand ... :(
  13. mikeyswood

    mikeyswood Inactive

    Jul 22, 2007
    Cincinnati OH
    Luthier of Michael Wayne Instruments
    It is a urea solution that does greatly lower the transition temperature; i.e. it will come apart in a hot car :(
  14. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    Of course not. Just stating a fact.
  15. ...and this is why I hang around this place - it's chock full of awesome.

    Final design drawings coming shortly. I'm doing 'em the old-fashioned way - with pencil and paper - but I'll try to have them scanned at the office, so I can get your opinions before I touch tool to wood.
  16. Sorry about the lack of posting - here's what I've been up to:

    Scale drawings were completed a few days ago. Lacking a scanner of sufficient size, I decided not to bother. Sorry, guys. By the way, I'm back to a one-piece design.

    Tonight I planed and sanded the sawmarks off the board (on one side) and got to work transposing my drawings to the board. It's all done except for the headstock, which is a little wonky - probably because I'm tired. I'll redo it tomorrow.

    In doing the drawings though, I ran into an interesting problem - namely, that the instrument will be too small to have an endpin of sufficient length housed in the body. So here's the first question to my esteemed mentors and compatriots here at TB - do you think I should try to figure out some other way to mount an endpin long enough to reach the floor when standing, or should I not bother with it? The purpose of the pin is to hold the instrument in an upright position by being braced against my right foot, thus faciliting arco playing whils standing.

    However, seeing as I plan to play arco seldom, and mostly for effect, should I not let it bother me?

    Secondly, the issue of having a fixed bridge concerns me. Intonation I'm not worried about - my ear is pretty good, and while I have never played a cello or double bass, I was a pretty good violinist in my youth and currently have pretty darned good intonation on my soprano sax, so I'm sure I can compensate. What concerns me is height adjustment - do you guys feel I should try to figure out a way to adjust the height (and if so, suggestions as to how?) or do you figure it won't be much of an issue - a set-and-forget type thing?

    Lastly, pickups. While I planned (and still do plan) to use Mustang pickups, one coil per string, the 25.5 inch scale places the coils right up against the bridge. Never having been a fan of bridge pickup tone, this concerns me somewhat. I don't want to move them further up, as that would necessitate cutting away my fingerboard - and neither do I want to place them under the board, as getting any usable signal out of them thusly mounted would result in a need for so much preamping as to get an utterly useless signal-to-noise ratio.

    The only solution I've yet figured out is to use a buffered piezo as my main, and keep the Mustang pups as a passive backup - so does anybody have any suggestions as to what would be a good choice for piezo pickup? The Gage Realist and Fishman come to mind, and I have used them both on violin to satisfactory effect. But I've never tried them on a solidbody. Thoughts? Anybody here have a solidbody bass with piezo they'd like to mention?

    Thanks everybody! I will try to beg/borrow a camera this week so I can photodocument the actual construction process.
  17. ehque


    Jan 8, 2006
    Seems like you want a DB pickup. Have you considered a DB-style bridge? They are mildly adjustable for height (just carve away excess wood).
  18. Well, I'm currently planning to use a cello bridge, cut to size - carving down is of course a viable option to reduce height, but if height needs to be added later, I'd be SOL. Now, I know that some DB bridges have height adjustment wheels in their legs - I'm considering perhaps porking them out and installing them in my cello bridge - think that might work for me?

    Also as per DB pickup - any thoughts? I know Schaller makes a magnetic one, but I believe it's a single-coil, and I'd prefer a humbucker if possible - it would also be too large, as I'm using a cello board.

    EDIT: Okay, so, just read through a guide to setting up double basses - the fellow suggests gluing hardwood shims to the bridge feet when action needs to be raised. What do you folks think/do? Is this a reasonable solution? If so, I'd just shape some shims and keep them handy in my case. But if you've got other ideas, let me know!
  19. ehque


    Jan 8, 2006
    I have a EUB and if you're careful when lowering the action you'll probably never need to shim up the bridge. That's the route i would take, though, if i needed it.

    My EUB has a cheapo radioshack piezo under the saddle, so i'm not going to be much help on the electronics end.
  20. Thanks for the words on bridge adjustment - puts my mind to rest!

    Also, as per the electronics, that actually is a great help - the Ergo certainly looks to me like a solidbody (I didn't look too closely), and if an under-saddle piezo works fine for you, I'm sure it'll work fine for me.

    One last item I thought of: Since the nut and bridge are to be wooden, the instrument will have (compared to a bass guitar) essentially zero sustain.

    Meaning, I'll probably play it arco more than previously thought.

    Meaning, I will have to give further thought to having it held upright across my body when playing. My two current lines of thought are running along A: Removable, adjustable endpin of great length, or B: a second, short strap, running from the bottom edge of the instrument and terminating in a clip, which I could clip to my belt or to the other strap, to prevent the instrument from going horizontal.

    Thoughts? Or am I just over-thinking? Do you guys (and you in particular, ehque, since you seem to be paying attention) find a lack of sustain on your uprights to be a problem? Do you typically play pizz more than arco?

    Way too many questions, I know - I should have thought of all this beforehand, I know... but hey, I'm learning as I go.