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Teej's "When you've gotta have a bass at school or work..." Travel Bass

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by teej, Mar 14, 2008.

  1. teej


    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    The desire for a small, portable bass that I could sling across my back (like a backpack) and take with me to school, or, dare I say, work actually started here: http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showthread.php?t=288595

    Originally, this was basically going to be a 4-string guitar. It was to have a 25.5" scale and use standard guitar strings (just the first 4, though - EADG). I had maximum playability and portability in mind there. I wanted something that a guitarist or bassist could play, that could produce a guitar sound, or through an active EQ, produce a bassier sound, and that used readily available and less expensive guitar strings. I already had the parts and materials for a bass, though, so a bass it was!

    For this build, I used my Serenade model as template, making minor changes (flattening the upper horn for better access to the higher frets), and scaled it down to 30". I borrowed techniques from other companies/builders, and I hope they don't mind. :oops: I located the tuners in the body (Traveler Guitars) and the strings are held in ferrules at the head of the neck (Scott French).

    I planned on THIS project to be a quick one. Rather than ordering the proper body wood, I just went across the street to Lowe's and got some poplar. I really wish they had thick poplar boards, but they don't, so I got a 48" x 3/4" x 12" board, cut off two 14" lengths, and glued one atop the other, sandwich-style. The end result was a 1 1/2" blank 14" long and 12" wide.

    The neck wood came from Woodcraft. On my last trip, I got a 36" x 6" board of 3/4" maple ($12.99 + tax) which is big enough for 1-2 necks, depending on the design.

    The pickup is an Artec under-saddle piezo and preamp jack, since they're cheap and they really don't sound that bad. It'll be seated under a maple saddle recessed into the body. Think of an acoustic bridge, only in this case, this whole body is the bridge.

    Chrome Gotoh guitar tuners. I've asked in several threads whether or not guitar tuners can hold under the added tension of bass strings. The general consensus is no, they wont, and that bass tuners are big for a reason. However, it seems that no one has actually tried this, so at $6 a piece, it won't hurt much to find out.

    Dyed blue with transparent semi-gloss poly. I'll probably make my own dye by heavily diluting some acrylic paint (art classes).
  2. teej


    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    This project actually started this past Monday, when I glued the body blank together. I'm really surprised at how quickly this is progressing. Since Monday, I've designed and cut out the body and neck. The truss rod channel has been routed. And today, I started routing the neck pocket and tuner cavity on the back.

    Routing the truss rod channel

    Neck pocket, saddle recess, and string-thru holes

    Rough-cutting the tuner cavity
  3. envika


    Nov 27, 2007
    Bronx, NY
    That's...quite a large tuner cavity?

    Did you consider a steinberger-style headless?
  4. RedemptionBass


    Dec 12, 2007
    Crystal Lake, IL
    Head (and only) Honcho at Redemption Bass
    Interesting concept you have there.

    But I bring my T-40 to work every day.:D
  5. teej


    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    It's not that big...


    I considered Steinberg-style, which would have been a lot more simple and require less body work, but it would have required a special bridge and string retainer. I already had the hardware to do it Traveler-style, so that's the direction I went.
  6. teej


    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    GYAH! My router died!!!
    :bawl: :bawl: :bawl: :bawl: :bawl:
    It's no longer under warranty, either. I'm not sure what went wrong. I was routing the tuner cavity on the back when it just stopped working. I flipped the switch a few times and after a couple flicks, it fired up again, but later died. The switch does nothing and I checked the outlet's GFI... nothing, so I'm declaring it dead. The only thing I can think of is maybe I was pushing it a little too hard right before the motor gave out.

    Anyway, this REALLY puts a damper on progress. As an at-home builder, no router = no building. At the very least, I can start shaping the neck or use the drill press sanding drum to get the sides of the cavities as flush as I can until I either get a new router or get the current one serviced.
  7. ()smoke()


    Feb 25, 2006
    that's a very nicely-proportioned instrument you have going...i'm following this thread because i'd like to have a small instrument to pack in a bag when i'm out of town on business
  8. teej


    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    Bought a new router today (same as the old one), so I was able to rough cut the back cavity roughly cut. I also finished shaping the neck, drilled the string retaining holes, installed the threaded inserts, and was able to bolt the neck to the body. Truthfully, I think the headstock could have been made "better." Right now, it's got this sort of Hofner-esque shape, but after getting it on the body, I look and think "Oh, I could have done this and changed that." The headstock should have copied the contour of the body's upper horn, so I may redo it. On the upside, the balance is really nice -- zero neck dive. I could have had a lot done, but at around noon, I decided to work on one of my other builds (single-cut Serenade).

    EDIT: Oh, and there's been a change to the specs. The pickup is still an Artec under-saddle, but I'm going to make the preamp instead.
  9. teej


    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    I think I'm going to go the 4-string "guitar" route, but for the record, it's not actually a guitar. It may have a 25.5" guitar scale with guitar strings wrapped around Gotoh guitar tuners, but don't for a second think it's a guitar. If anyone asks, it's a treble bass. :smug:

    Ummmm... my reasoning for going this route is mostly by chance and accidental. I wanted this travel instrument to have an angled headstock, but at the time, I had already cut and shaped a straight-headstocked 30" scale bass neck for this. As I mentioned in an earlier post, though, I didn't really like the headstock, so I sacrificed the neck to use as a design prototype. After cutting the scarf, I had a neck with smaller usable fingerboard area, but the more I worked on it, the more I liked what I was getting (and vice versa), so I decided to keep it.

    In addition to the design change-of-direction, I'm also changing/finalizing the specs: The fingerboard and bridge/saddle are going to be maple, leftover from a 1/4" plank used in an art project. It should look really sweet on the dyed blue body. What I have now is 28" long, very lightweight, zero neck dive (in fact, with a strap, the weight of the body resets the position if I push the neck end down), and should be a great instrument for noodling and working on my bass lines while on the road or in the air, that I can sling across my back and take to school (and sneak in to work). :ninja:

    Yes, even at 22, I still get an Easter basket. Sunday, it was full of Peeps and Whoppers, but with my vicious sweet tooth, all that's left now are a few chocolate eggs and Dove truffles. There are some chocolate caramel bunnies in the fridge.
  10. grace & groove

    grace & groove

    Nov 30, 2005
    Self-Appointed Ambassador to the Dragonfly
    So it's a piccolo bass now? ;)

    Manring style...
  11. teej


    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    Yeah, I suppose it would be a short-scale piccolo bass, but I like the irony in "treble bass."
  12. teej


    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    This project might take an odd turn. Today, I was out in my workshop when a good friend of mine/bandmate (rhythm guitar) came up. He asked how it (this build) was going, and after I explained how I was thinking about making a "treble bass," he said I should just make it a 6-string guitar and sell it to him. True, a few months ago, he did ask if I could design and maybe build him a travel guitar, for the same reason that I'm making this one -- school and work. Right now, this instrument is still a blank canvas, so to speak. From here, I could make it a guitar, a "treble bass," or put the 30" scale neck on and make it a short scale.

    So many options.....

    IMG_0003. IMG_0005.
  13. this is actually a neat idea--i want one!
  14. teej


    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    Depending on the size of the circuit board, I may use this thing instead of a preamp: Guitar Fetish's On-Board 2.5w Guitar Amp. What I really liked about it was that use could use it with a set of headphones. I'm not sure how it would work/sound with the piezo pickup though. I may have to wire in a buffer circuit, too, which would need more room than I have.

    Also, what I might do it just make another body -- a guitar version. As you can see, this one already has 4 bass string holes drilled. Since I made templates for this one, it would be a cinch to crank out another body and just drill 6 holes instead of 4.
  15. teej


    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    Well, it's official -- this travel bass is now a travel guitar, and with that came a few spec changes. Per Chris' request, the fingerboard and bridge are now rosewood. I'm going to make a rosewood acoustic-style bridge to cover up the 4 bass string holes I drilled, and it's getting a single-coil pup (instead of the piezo) housed under a rosewood cover. If you haven't guessed yet, he has a thing for rosewood. The finish will probably be natural (clear coat).

    I'm not sure where to put the pickup now. The easiest and simplest place would be at the bridge, since all I would have to do is drill a hole from the pickup cavity straight into the control cavity. If I did it at the neck, I would have to rout a small wiring channel through the tuner/string cavity (and cover that with another access panel) to the controls. Personally, I like neck position sound, but there are a lot of obstacles to bypass if I went that route.

    There's only going to be one knob (volume) and I want to try something different with the tone. Instead of variable tone, using a pot, I'm thinking 3-way toggle for 3 levels of tone, like 10, 5, and 0 on a pot. And Chris is going to hate me for this, but he's getting flatwounds. I can't stand roundwounds -- nothing against the tone, it's the fingernoise I dislike.

    So what does this all mean for my travel bass concept? The change of plans is actually a good thing! I started this build as a prototype -- that's why I used cheap and readily available poplar and red oak (for the record, the only red oak used was to mount the tuners to the body) but now I have templates, extra materials, and travel-sized know-how to make a bass even better than what I was initially building. I still want my travel bass build to be inexpensive, using locally available materials, though, so I'm probably going to make it out of Lowe's poplar with red oak tuner mounts, just as I did Chris' guitar, but with a few luxury items and details. I'm going to sandwich some walnut veneer in between the body layers and scarf joint on this next one. And the piezo I didn't use in the guitar will go to the bass.
  16. contakt321


    Jul 31, 2006
    New York, NY
    Very cool. Can you still post progress pictures on this guitar and your new bass?
  17. teej


    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    Of course! Late last night, I started putting together the parts and materials for the bass version. I'll be working on the two simultaneously, posting photos and updates of both as a go.

    To start off the official bass portion of this build, here's the poplar I got at Lowe's this morning. It's REALLY light -- lighter than most poplar I've used. They had another piece that looked identical to limba (korina) and I would have snagged it, but the board was slightly warped. I'm sure that by sandwiching the two boards, as I did with the guitar, the warp would be corrected, but I didn't want to take any chances.

    It's a 6' board. What you see is only the half I plan on using.
  18. teej


    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    Just finished rough cutting the body. I didn't have a sheet of walnut veneer big enough for the body, so I stained a piece of maple veneer. As soon as it's dry enough to glue, I'll do so.

    EDIT @ 1:26p: I decided against the veneer accent sandwiched between the two slices of poplar. With some thicker wood (at least 1/16"), it would be a nice, subtle detail, but when I tested this idea on some scrap, the veneer just looks like a dark/thick glue line. Oh well... I've got the body gluing, by the way.

    2:56p: I've got the bass' truss rod channel routed. On the guitar, I drilled the hole for the volume pot and recess for its knob. I don't think I'll be able to do a magnetic pickup, though. In the bridge position, the threaded inserts for the tuner mounts are in the way, and at the neck is the truss rod heel access rout thingy. If I put the pup at the neck, you would have to remove the neck to adjust the rod, and I know how much of a pain that is for bassists and guitarists alike, but it is an option at this point.

    IMG_0003-1. IMG_0004. IMG_0007.
  19. teej


    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    GUITAR: I drilled the string holes in the neck and cut out a rosewood saddle (needs final shaping). It's ready for string ferrules and a fretboard, which I'm expecting in the mail tomorrow. After that, it's frets, pickup and wiring, and finish. To let you guys know where I'm at, progress-wise, at this point, I could string it up... if I wanted to.

    BASS: The body has been glued and rough-cut. The templates I made while building the guitar version have really come in handy. I've traced the body shape and cavities to the blank, and with my new framing square (I never realized just how useful these could be!), I'll be able to knock out a lot of the routing, in particular the tuner cavity, since it's all right angles before work tomorrow, at 3:00p.

    I've made some adjustments from the guitar to bass version. Because there are only 4 tuners, the tuner cavity can be much smaller, which means the control cavity can be larger, which opens a wealth of electronics options. Also, I'm toying with a different tuner configuration. Instead of 2+2, I'm thinking in-line, angled so that the string posts intersect the strings (think traditional in-line headstock). This can only work if the tuners don't have to stick through the front, since the strings would be there. The guitar version has small enough tuners, but bass tuners would be too big. I'm confident that these Gotoh tuners will hold under bass string tension, though.

    The twins!!!

    Close-up of the guitar

    Close-up of the bass (very rough at this stage)
  20. teej


    Aug 19, 2004
    Sheffield, AL 35660
    I'm making good progress this morning.

    GUITAR: The fingerboard and string ferrules from Stew-Mac for the guitar arrived earlier. The fingerboard, which is gluing now, was only 2 3/8" wide, though. I was expecting it to be wider (at least 2 1/2"), but that's what I get for not checking the dimensions before ordering. Is this a set-back? Sort of. I'll have to narrow the neck heel and pocket. What I'll do is glue some rosewood in the neck pocket, so that it looks like an intentional detail.

    BASS: I've finished the rear cavity routing. Next is the finished body shape (it's still rough-cut). I'll add photos later, before I leave for work.

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