Sirena Instrumentos Musicales - Expositions and Aspirations Regarding Luthiery in Fillmore, CA

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Freekmagnet, Jun 5, 2021.

  1. Freekmagnet

    Freekmagnet Commercial User

    After completing my last build, the Sirena Pistolera, the universe had aligned itself in such a way that it had become clear to me that I should perhaps take this build up another rung on the ladder of luthiery. It was the middle of COVID and the advertising place where I worked had basically closed it's doors for good. For a long time prior, Bruce had been encouraging me to take some of my designs past the prototyping stage and into the realm of production. A space opened up across the hall from Bruce's shop in the Packing House. He suggested I move some of my stuff over there and share the space with a couple of other transient luthiers he knew. I certainly didn't, and still don't really want to go back to working in advertising. I have tiny amount of capital set aside, and I know a few local contractors that will give me plenty of day work if I'm ever short for cash. So yeah, I moved some of my stuff down to the new shop.


    I've been taking my Pistolera prototype to some gigs and spending time refining the pickup design. The last month or so has been a busy time for the cover band I play in. COVID is on the wane, and everyone in Ventura County seems to want to drink in public and hear live music. For me, the schedule has been as follows: install a new pickup on Saturday; play the gig on Sunday; take notes and wind a new pickup on Monday. This last pickup iteration seems to be pretty good. I've been getting a lot of compliments on my bass sound from random guys and other bass players in the audience. The thing about pickup making is that you kind of work in a bubble. There's no set criteria as to what a good pickup should sound like - that's something you have to decide completely on your own. It's not easy - in fact, deciding when a design is complete is the most difficult part of the process for me. It really helps to have objective feedback, and in a case like this, the feedback is coming from the people hearing this instrument for the first time. It helps because the decision process has been take out of the subjective realm and taken into a more objective state of reality.


    Other than the triple pickup configuration, the Pistolera is a pretty straightforward bolt-on semi-solid body design. I've built one, along with a handful of prototypes, with some success. As far as taking it to a production scale, the next step is to bring the design to a point where I can build them fairly quickly with better consistency. This involves pretty much starting from scratch and building templates and fixtures that will take a majority of the guesswork out of the manufacturing process. No more fiddling around trying to make sure my centers are lined up - all the parts need to be the same so that I can drop them into the appropriate fixtures and cut the shapes.

    The last few days, I've been going back and forth between my place and Bruce's office. After a brief consultation and an unfortunate incident involving carpet tape, it became clear that all roads are to begin from this point:


    I carved the neck taper by hand and shaped the headstock on the spindle sander. It's 34” scale, 2.5" at the heel and 1.656" at the nut. It's a pretty much a Fender spec, although I tapered the heel in such a way that it's the same taper as a 1.75" neck. The reason for this is that I want all my necks to use the same neck pocket without there being a significant gap on the narrower taper necks. The heel itself I've left square - it's too easy to screw up that radius with a router, and I think it's safer to just hand sand those corners down with coarse sandpaper. There's some CA glue stains on the heel where I had to repair the heel by bringing it up to exactly 2.500" wide. I added a little shim using a strip of printer paper soaked with CA glue.

    I should have another post by the end of the day.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2021
  2. That’s fantastic. I’m a little jealous (;)) but mostly happy for you. Are you planning on selling pickups separately or only complete instruments?
  3. Freekmagnet

    Freekmagnet Commercial User


    You're jealous of a scrub who doesn't have a job? That's a new one on me!

    All kidding aside, I do consider myself pretty lucky to be able to turn to Bruce for guidance. He's helped me out a million times. It's his nature to try and help people solve problems, and he loves a good sob story. That being said, most of the stuff he tells me he's written down somewhere here on Talkbass. But I guess if you're a total numbskull like me, it helps to consult with him in person. This way, I can learn apply these basic engineering concepts in a more rational and disciplined way.

    As far as pickups, everything is for sale. I've managed to clear my biggest hurdle which was to design a pickup that is relatively easy to make and that can be bolted into a bass in the P position and sound good. I kind of started out trying to make pickups in the most challenging ways possible, and it took some time to refine that process into something reasonable. Right now, I'm primarily focused on getting these templates and fixtures made. However, I've been selling pickups here and there whenever someone asks for one. I just sent one out to a guy in Maryland last week.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2021
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  4. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    Once again, Bruce confirms my faith in Tinkerer Humanity. I’d love to spend a day in his shop just for the Tool Porn alone. Good luck with your venture, if you can spend even part of your day NOT sitting at a desk (like me) you Won.
  5. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Just don't ask about The Carpet Tape Incident. We're keeping that off of the social media.
  6. Carpet Tape Incident is a good jam band name though.
  7. Gilmourisgod


    Jun 23, 2014
    Cape Cod MA
    It’s almost more fun inventing possible Carpet Tape Incidents in my head than actually knowing the ugly truth.
  8. Freekmagnet

    Freekmagnet Commercial User

    I made some progress on my neck routing fixture today. It's not finished yet, but the bones of it are there.


    The idea is this: the routing tray holds the template; the neck blank is placed face down and is held in place with dowel pins; the shape gets cut out. The neck is going to have a 7º angle with a .187" - .250" offset. I'm picturing doing two operations on this template. Basically, I'll cut the taper, remove the pins, tilt the headstock forward and cut the headstock. The little wedge is also a 7º angle and will support the neck while I do the second operation. Everything will be held in place with dowel pins.

    I don't see any reason why it won't work.

    The next job is going to be making a drilling template for placing the dowel pins. It's a little late, so I might wait until tomorrow to do that job. Placing the pins will require some actual thinking and decision-making. Once I get that squared away, I'll seat the template in the tray and figure out where the stops on the rails will go.
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  9. Flying B

    Flying B

    Apr 29, 2018
    Good luck dude, I'm also a bit jealous! It's nice to know you have easily available day work if you need it, and to have a resource like Bruce is a big bonus.
    I hope you do well, I really like your designs.
    tbrannon and Freekmagnet like this.
  10. This looks really intriguing
    Freekmagnet likes this.
  11. wraub


    Apr 9, 2004
    ennui, az
    A big step, to be sure, but I'm hopeful I can get one (or more) of your pickups to check out.

    Freekmagnet likes this.
  12. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Yes, I'm helping Jeremy (Mr. Freekmagnet) get going, turning a side hobby into hopefully an enjoyable business. Jeremy has lots of great ideas and enthusiasm, and a good design sense. I'm teaching him the manufacturing side; making parts; fixtures; processes. We'll see where he goes with it. Building and selling pickups, or complete instruments. And I'll also probably be using him to do subcontract work for me.

    If you haven't seen the story over on The Secret Underground Lab thread, this year I've expanded my shop. Keith Horne moved out of the Unit 2 shop space right across the hall from me, so I stepped up and took over the lease on it. It's a small shop, about 500 sf, but it's all wired and set for woodworking. I've moved a bunch of my machines and workbenches in there, and I'm setting it up as an auxiliary shop for doing specialty routing and planing. Most of my neck making machines and fixtures are going in there, as are my planers and the new Super Router Planer, and the upcoming 3D neck shaper.

    I'm building up this shop for my use, but also to share it with a few other Luthiers around the area. I'll be renting time and space in Unit 2 to folks like Jeremy, on a flexible by-the-day basis. It'll allow them to do most of their work in a small home shop, and just come up here occasionally to do the heavy woodworking. I have a short list of Luthiers who will be using Unit 2, including Keith Horne. Keith and his wife bought a nice little house in Sherman Oaks, with a small garage shop attached. He's setting it up to do most of his work in there. Then once or twice a month, he'll come up here and spend an afternoon in Unit 2 routing out necks and bodies using my big machines and fixtures. I think that's going to work out well for both of us. And I have several others; all Luthiers that I've known for years. Jeremy happens to live a couple of blocks away, which is really convenient. So he may be working here more often than the others.

    That's what's going on here. It's an experimental thing. I'm not opening a school or offering lessons in bass building. I'm renting shop and machine time to a few experienced Luthiers. I do my teaching here on TalkBass. :D
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  13. Jon Clegg

    Jon Clegg Fueled by caffeine and snark. Supporting Member

    Feb 9, 2015
    Northern Virginia
    And it's greatly appreciated, Bruce.
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  14. Freekmagnet

    Freekmagnet Commercial User

    It's been back to work for me this week - I've been making necks at The Secret Underground Lab here in Fillmore. I'll just dive right into it. First and foremost, here's an image if Unit 2, or The Secret Underground Annex, or The Neck Lab, or the House of Minions...


    I'm subletting this place from Bruce and sharing it with a few other guys. Bruce is trying to streamline his manufacturing process, so he's wants to move some of his neck-building operation here. The idea is to keep the heavy woodworking in a separate place.

    That slab of walnut on the table is my operating subject.

    My first order of business was to cut out some shapes. This part is harder than it looks. I'm trying a new method of making laminated necks, so I made a little template out of stiff paper to sketch out the neck shapes. Now that I've seen that this process works, I'll move up to a dedicated template out of MDF.


    Then I walked across the hall and used the giant bandsaw to cut the neck shapes.


    Next, there was the glue-up.


    Now, I need to point something out about these fixtures used in the next few operations: these are Bruce's fixtures. Bruce makes really nice fixtures, and I consider myself to be very lucky to be using them. The story behind these particular fixtures is interesting as well. Originally, Bruce made these for his friend, Mike Lipe, who passed away a few years ago. Bruce has had some of these laying around his shop for years. He doesn't use them for any of his operations. So, he's letting me use them.

    Anyway, after pulling the blanks from the glue-up, I flattened the tops.


    Once I flattened them, I set the break point using one of my templates. VERY important.


    Next was the headstock-flattening process. This is a really killer fixture - it's set up to cut a 9/16" at a 7º angle and it's pretty much foolproof.


    This is actually funny - I needed a shim to fit my 3" wide blanks. The fixture was made for 3.5" - 4" blanks. I was just going to use a little block of wood. Bruce made me cut a custom shape with slots for the screws and everything! He's probably right - in order for the fixture to work properly, the sides need to be perfectly square.


    Here's me toiling in Unit 2. Florescent lights make me look like a little green.


    Next, I cleaned up the back sides. This fixture is interesting because when compared to some of these other fixtures, it's fairly crude. However, it is 100% effective! It's made to mill the neck down to .80".


    Here I, just cut the tapers in that same fixture. Before I make more necks, I need to build a fixture for cutting this taper.


    I cleaned the rest up with the edge sander. Not bad for 2 days work!


    Later this week, I'll move on to making truss rods.
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2021
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  15. Flying B

    Flying B

    Apr 29, 2018
    Do you think you saved much time cutting each shape out separately as opposed to cutting it after the glue up? (Assuming that time saving was the goal)
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  16. Freekmagnet

    Freekmagnet Commercial User

    Doing it this way was definitely more time consuming. It took me a couple of hours to lay it all out before I cut the shapes.

    I did it that way so that I could select the choicest sections of wood for the neck centers. The grain pattern of the board was oriented in such a way that I couldn’t just rip out a few strips and glue them together.
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  17. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Yes, the reason why Jeremy laid out and cut all of those laminate sections individually is to get the grain and the rings carefully aligned on all of them. You want the grain lines to go straight down the main length of the neck. As you can see, the grain lines on walnut boards usually have some weave back and forth. You have to position the templates all around like puzzle pieces to get them straight on the grain.

    At the same time, you have to pay attention to angle of the growth rings through the depth of the board. You want the laminates in matched sets of three, with the rings in one curling left, another curling right about the same amount and angle, and the center one nearly flat (quartersawn). Then, they get glued up in the symmetrical 3-piece V-form.

    This alignment of the grain and rings is a very important part of making a neck strong and stable. The extra labor and wood cost are part of what you are paying for in a $3000 bass. A $300 mass-produced bass doesn't get this care. The neck blanks are cut from boards in the most efficient way they can, with little concern for grain and ring orientation. And, they allow that some percentage of their necks will warp and twist.

    A well-made neck isn't necessarily made from a "better" board of wood. It's mostly about extra care drying and preparing the board, and aligning the grain and rings.

    To my fans: What Jeremy is doing here on these necks is almost exactly the process I'll be using on my upcoming Walnut SSB models.
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  18. Freekmagnet

    Freekmagnet Commercial User

    This week, I worked on truss rods. Bruce showed me how to make his special double-action compression truss rods. All the pieces are fabricated in his shop out of brass, aluminum and stainless steel. I made a few extra head assemblies for him 'cuz he needed a few for some other jobs.


    Next, I routed out the channels in the blanks...


    I admittedly did a pretty bad job of documenting the installation process, but basically, you route the channel and spot for the head, and then carve a slot with Bruce's special mini-parallel dual hacksaw. Everything gets epoxied in with a strip of carbon fiber tow as reenforcement.

    After the glue up, I cleaned the blanks up in the edge sander.


    So there they are! I'll have some more photos of the necks in a few days. In the meantime, I've been spending my weekends trying to fumble my way around on QCAD in an effort to work up my new pickup design... It sure ain't the same as Adobe Illustrator, that's for sure!

    Last edited: Jun 21, 2021
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  19. Freekmagnet

    Freekmagnet Commercial User

    Much of the work in bringing an instrument to production is fairly unglamorous. In my particular case, that process involves taking arbitrary decisions that I'd made long ago, assessing them, and deciding whether to keep them as is and standardize them or change them. In some cases, it's just making fixtures. Today was a little of both.

    I started by making up some BruceBars™️. My basses have a 4-bolt pattern - three on the bass side and one on the treble side. I just had to make sure that the holes are going to be in the right place (more on that later). Bruce showed me a couple of tricks to drill the holes really centered.


    These are going to go inside the neck to hold the neck bolts. Next, I had to make a fixture to route the holes in the neck. I did it old school with a drill press, a chisel and a flat bastard file. After a couple small adjustments, it came out perfect. Here's a picture of a test cut I made in a piece of scrap.


    Now on to the neck bolt pattern. I don't have pictures, so try to bear with the story. I had this drilling template I'd made a long time ago, and I've used it on a number of basses. It works fine, but the single treble side hole was 1/32" off center. It doesn't affect anything and to be honest, it's completely imperceptible. The only way to see it would be to take the neck off of the body, draw a center line and measure the distance to the centers of the holes. My only concern was that if for whatever reason, I had to reproduce it and I had absolutely nothing to use for reference, it would be 1/32" more difficult to reproduce. I couldn't decide if I should keep the old one since it worked fine, of correct it because I would probably have to make a new template anyway. Bruce, sensing my indecisiveness, masterfully took the opportunity to play devil's advocate and presented arguments for both sides. In reality, there was nothing wrong with the bolt pattern, but if I was going to change it, right then and there would be the time. Anyway, it was funny - these are the kind of debates you have when you build a production instrument. We talked about it for about 15 minutes and I ended up changing it.
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2021
  20. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Yes, when you go from hand-making a one-off prototype to tooling up to make a production run, you have to make a lot of decisions. It may not matter much technically whether that bolt is here or here, but you need to decide which is the permanent location, and make the tooling to match that. So it's the same on all the basses you build years into the future. And remember to enter that decision into your CAD drawings, so you don't confuse yourself later.
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