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April 2012SOLD: Rare 1972 Rickenbacker 4001 Bass 15% Discount Off All Products (20th-22nd April Only). Finally Revealed: The Best Bass Guitar In The World! Build a Bass Guitar in 7 days (Pt. 6: Day 7) Build a Bass Guitar in 7 days (Pt. 5: Day 6) Build a Bass Guitar in 7 days (Pt. 4: Day 5) Build a Bass Guitar in 7 days (Pt. 3: Day 4) Build a Bass Guitar in 7 days (Pt. 2: Day 3) Build a Bass Guitar in 7 days (Pt. 1: Days 1-2)
Having played bass guitar for most of my life, I had done what anyone with an obscenely obsessive and addictive nature would do: Over the years, I bought – and sold – countless bass guitars in the practically futile pursuit of finding ‘The Perfect Bass Guitar’.
Of course, finding the perfect bass from a battalion of standard and mass-produced stock, represents the ultimate fools errand, doesn’t it? That’s possibly why you’ll hear some bassists say that to have an arsenal of guitars that can tackle all genres, then you’ll need a Fender Precision, a Fender Jazz, and a Musicman Stingray at the very least.
I was no different, and spent years drifting from music shops; to Ebay; to newspaper advertisements… and eventually found myself spending an increasingly unhealthy amount of time on the internet... rudderless and lost in a kind of ‘bass-as-pornography continuum’, where the normal rules of time were skewed and rendered meaningless by an overwhelming desire to find that delectable bass.
As you can no doubt already tell, it all got quite serious. I’m sure friends were worried.
I ‘phoned and met countless owners during a period spanning a couple of decades. I’ve owned most peoples’ idea of a dream bass collection; encompassing everything from Rickenbacker 4001’s, to Gibsons, to Musicmans, to Fenders. I still own more guitars than I can justifiably use in this lifetime – let alone the next – and although all of those basses are fantastic (and I always derive a huge amount of pleasure from picking them up and playing), there always seems to be some Machiavellian spirit, nagging in a dank corner of my soul, continually whispering into my ear: “You still haven’t found ‘The One’ yet… you still haven’t found ‘The One’”…
Outwardly, I’d contentedly become a ‘Fender Precision Man’. I have a particular penchant for Precisions from the 1950’s, all the way through to the rather unwieldy late 1970’s examples, that are admittedly similar to wearing a sofa strapped around your shoulders. In theory, if I have a Fender Precision in my hands; I’m a happy bunny. So why do I constantly seek new basses?
Fender Precisions are great, they’re a phenomenal bass. They’re like me: Simple. You plug ‘em in, you tune ‘em up, you roll the volume and tone knobs up to ‘full whack’, then you just roll off a little tone (so you’ve got some ‘attack’ left in reserve, should your guitarist entertain any silly notions about outdoing you in the volume stakes). After that, you just hit the strings. Hard. With a heavy-gauge plectrum.
Some people don’t like the fact that Precisions are so single-minded, some even having the temerity to suggest that they’re somewhat limited in sound. I disagree. They have a vast amount of bottom end thump; the kind of tone that drop kicks you in the solar plexus from a 200 yard run-up; but with a hugely satisfying ‘growl’… and a gritty after-bite that doesn’t just attack your ears… it assaults your senses.
Played correctly, a Precision can produce what I like to refer to as ‘groin music’: You don’t usually hear a great bass line from a Precision – you feel it. And you should feel it in all the right places. That’s why I love Fenders, and that’s pretty much why I’d usually been happy to label myself as a Precision player. But even then, I was continually buying even more Precisions – from pre-CBS examples, through to early eighties versions. I was stunned that even though they’re something of a one-trick-pony in terms of sound, that sound did vary surprisingly when you got your ear adjusted to it. But I still never found that elusive ultimate bass; the perfect Precision… ‘The One’.
Finally, I had an epiphany. If the World’s greatest pioneers and producers of mass-produced bass guitars couldn’t supply me with ‘The Bass’, then I’d have to grab life by the throat, and build it myself.
The thought struck me hard around the face, and then hung onto my lapels, maintaining eye-contact throughout the following weeks; imploring me; daring me to rise to the challenge… to build the ultimate bass. Once that idea had struck me wantonly around the chops, it wouldn’t go. It wouldn’t lie down, and certainly wouldn’t stop barking testily at me when I was trying to seek refuge in sleep.
So, over a couple of days, I sketched out the specification of what my perfect bass would look and sound like. Once the idea had been committed to paper, it started begging even more vociferously to be brought to life.
Anatomy of the perfect bass (for me)...
It turned out that I pretty much wanted to ape a Precision (tonally)… but just make it that bit ‘bigger’ – with more ‘drama’… like when Nigel Tufnel (played by Christopher Guest), briefed his amp-makers to get the volume knobs to ‘go up to eleven’ (in the seminal movie, Spinal Tap). From that perspective, many of the decisions before the build were wonderfully simple.
As Clarence Leo Fender had completed a great deal of Research & Development work for me already (lovely guy), then at least my basic choice of materials was made: Alder for the body; Canadian Maple for the neck, and Brazilian Rosewood for the fingerboard (to keep the tone cosy and warm (I play an Ampeg SVT rig and really wanted something to compliment that rich valve sound). I know a lot of Precision enthusiasts prefer maple fingerboards, but I usually find them a little too clanky. The only thing I had to do, as far as wood was concerned, was hunt around for something more exotic and individual for the fascia – or outer skin of the bass – but other than that, the decisions were simple.
Next up; the physical appearance: Much as my love of Precisions was firmly entrenched, I did occasionally tire of the much-copied shape. Leo Fender got the basic shape of the bass so right from the off, that it was pretty pointless for other manufacturers to tinker with perfection. The result is that bedrooms and recording studios are today awash with Precision clones. It’s a great shape, but you can have too much of it.
I therefore decided to do something different. The shape of a Precision; whilst beautifully balanced and comfortable, had become too safe; too mee-too-ish; too iconic and too much like bass wallpaper. I just wanted something with a little more ‘attitude’.
I admit that I took some inspiration from the more adventurous shapes of the Alembic Explorer (as played by the legendary John Entwistle), and the Gibson Thunderbird; that stalwart of Rock bassists. But I didn’t want any of the imbalance issues suffered by Gibsons: They have a tendency to suffer from ‘neck-dive’. So the sketching began, and after a day or so, the basic shape stuck. I had no idea whether it would work – or balance, but I knew that it looked right, and I’ve proved to myself time and time again, that if something ‘looks right’, then it invariably is.
The whole project of building a bass – from sketch to hitting the strings – took 7 days from start to finish. Now that it’s done, I can finally rest, and say that I’ve got ‘The One’. The search has finally stopped. Sure, I’ll doubtless still find a beautiful bass somewhere, and will add it to the collection in yet another misguided fit of youthful exuberance, but at least the active and addictive, frantic search has ceased. I’m at peace now.
Having been on this personal and spiritual voyage (don’t laugh; I’m quite serious about my bass you know), I thought I’d share that journey with you. Make no mistake, what will follow over the next few days in this blog, is not going to be a definitive, step-by-step guide into the artistic nuances of woodwork and artisan Luthierian practices. I’m nowhere near that talented, and the subject is bewilderingly vast. Besides, one thing that should have ham-strung me on this endeavour, is the fact that I am laughably bereft of any manual skills – ask my wife – I have to call a handyman to put a picture up. If I attempt manual labour, a wall will invariably fall down somewhere.
So, this is no detailed diatribe on bass guitar building. I’ve decided to write a series of blogs (probably six in all), to inspire other bassists and guitarists; people like me who’ve been perpetually scratching at the doors of big-name manufacturers, but who’d just had that nagging sense that their needs were not totally being fulfilled. If that’s you, then welcome, and I hope you get some scrap of information or inspiration from the ‘mini odyssey’ that follows over the next six installments.
With a boat-load of determination and patience, plus maybe some help here and there, you can build your perfect bass in around a week. If I can do it, so can you.
If you’d like a high quality bass guitar, but can’t be messed with building one (and let’s face it; why should you?), you can drop by and browse our collection of high quality, rare and vintage bass guitars, right here...
by Junk Male on April 10, 2012