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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)
Wow, it’s finally here: Day 7 – the final part of the build! Those of you that have stuck doggedly with me for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5, really deserve a prize for sticking with me for so long. But there isn’t one, so tough luck.
I’d like to thank all those who offered encouragement during the building of this bass, and the publication of these blogs. Your emails, suggestions, comments and support are much very much appreciated.
Before I start, I’d like to answer one set of queries that cropped up a few times: Some of you understandably wanted further clarification on what the tools were exactly, that I’ve been referring to in these blogs. With that in mind, here’s a description of the tools I used most during the build:
PICTURE 1 – Industrial Wood Router:
This was an invaluable tool throughout the build. It’s a heavy, hand-held, cylindrical device, which features a drill-bit at its base: This is a long steel shaft, to which various cutting tools can be attached. I used it to make deep channels in the bass guitar, such as the neck and pick-up pockets, and the control-cavity at the rear (which houses the electronics). The drill-bit can be raised or lowered, past the circular guide-ring at its base. This enables the tool to only drill down to precise, and pre-determined depths – to within a millimeter of tolerance. Once set and locked, it won’t drill any further than you pre-set it to, so you can hack into the precious body of the wood with impunity! It’s incredibly accurate and reliable – as long as you operate the thing methodically, slowly, and with a very steady hand. The other use it had, was to accurately trim around the shape of the body and the neck. In this instance, the shaft of the drill-bit has a roller bearing, which will follow the shape of the MDF template that you clamp above or below the wood that you’re cutting. As long as your hand is steady, it won’t deviate from that shape.
PICTURE 2 – Belt-Sander:
This is the smaller, table-top version of the ‘big brother’ version, that I referred to in previous blogs as ‘The Belt-Sander Of Doom’ (which was a much bigger, nosier and scarier alternative, and nearly lost me a finger). The Belt-Sander in this picture has a solid rectangular housing at the top, which contains a spinning circular drum, that is coated with sand-paper. The rectangular housing can be raised or lowered, to vary the pressure that you apply to the wood you’re sanding beneath it. A moving conveyer belt below the housing, moves your wood through the machine at a regulated speed, to ensure uniform sanding. This machine was invaluable for the Rosewood Fingerboard, and for the preparation of thinner wood, such as the Cocobolo fascia. Make no mistake, even after wood has been put through these devices for a few hours, there’s still no substitute for sanding by hand afterwards, to get the right feel, and that really professional ‘glassy’ finish. But they’ll still save you hours, if not days, of preparatory work
PICTURE 3 – ‘The Band-Saw Of Death’:
This is a floor-to-ceiling contraption, with a savage, serrated-edge blade running up and down, vertically, at extremely high speed. This was used to cut roughly, through thick slabs of timber, and actually, will create good, fluid shapes and curves, once you become accustomed to it. It was used to cut the MDF templates for the neck and body, as well as cutting the actual Alder body and Maple neck. I also used it to trim the Mother-Of-Pearl fret-markers, to be inset into the fingerboard, but I was really pushing my luck there: Your fingers get exceptionally close to the blade when cutting such small pieces!
PICTURE 4 – Bobbin-Sander:
This is a table-top device, with a circular flat table-top (that your wood sits on), with a spinning vertical cylinder at its centre. The spinning cylinder can be interchanged for various sized Bobbins, each coated with sand-paper. It’s great for smoothing wood out that has been cut roughly on the Band-Saw. The body, for example, with its fluid and organic silhouette, could be sanded to quite a good finish with this, by using fours sizes of Bobbin (depending on whether it was a tight curve by the neck pocket, or a broader contour on top of the bass). As already stated, it would not replace hand-finishing, but is still a great labour-saving device.
OK, back to the final stage of the build…
Yesterday, I’d placed most of the Ultra-Fine Nickel Fret Wire into the grooves on the Rosewood fingerboard (I’d used Ultra-Fine as I love their feel on Pre-CBS Fender basses). Now I had to place the rest of the frets; tap them gently home with a jewelers’ hammer; and ensure they were as flush and as tight-fitting as possible. I used a square board, with numbered holes to place the frets into: These frets had been trimmed to slightly oversize, and reduced in length as they got nearer to the nut (to echo the gradually narrowing neck as it nears the headstock). You don’t want too much of an overhang here, because when you use pliers or pincers to trim the frets at the edge of the fingerboard, any pressure up or down, will make the frets unstable. Similarly, you need a quick and careful down-stroke when crimping the ends, so as not to lift them back out inadvertently.
After crimping, a small but heavy metal-blade file was used to put a 45-degree edge on both sides of the frets – to trim off the abrasive edges. This is a heavy rectangular block, and is done by hand. A much thinner and lighter file was then used, all around each end of the 45-degree angles to soften them further. Finally, fine sand-paper wrapped around a small metal block, was run evenly up and down each edge of the fingerboard, to put a tiny chamfer on the fingerboard too. This is a great benefit of a self-built bass or guitar: You can really be selfish, and as demanding as you want; sanding to your hearts content, until the ‘feel’ is just perfect.
Finally, tiny drops of Superglue were applied to a scalpel blade, and dripped into the edges of the frets on either side, before the neck was clamped on its side. Gravity would now make that Superglue seep gradually down the grooves in the Rosewood, right behind the nickel frets, and would ensure better stability – even though the grooves in the Rosewood were super-fine, and the frets had to be gently hammered into position. (Regular readers to this blog series, will already have correctly concluded that I’m a ‘belt-and-braces’ kind of guy... if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing better than you think it can be done).
Now to work on the neck: The back of the headstock frankly looked a mess. There were thick splodges of hardened glue where the ‘Scarf-Joint’ was, which in itself, had a raised edge of around 2mm, where the neck joined the headstock. The headstock piece had then been angled back at 12 degrees. At times, I had regretted my decision to even attempt this: For a first project, arguably I should have produced a far simpler one-piece neck. The reason I didn’t choose the easier option, was not only out of aesthetic; but more out of practicality. With an angled back headstock, the string tension is maintained evenly across the nut, and the bass stays in tune much better. It also negates the need for ugly ‘String-Trees’ (those clumsy circular discs that you see on Fender headstocks, to hold the D and G strings down, near the tuning pegs).
Sadly, there was no machine to help me here; and no short cuts. The neck had to be sanded by hand – to perfection. You simply start with a rough grade of sand-paper, and sand for hours, gradually replacing that paper with new batches as it wears down, whilst continually altering to finer and finer grades of paper. The neck took eight hours of solid sanding, after which, I couldn’t pick anything up, due to my hands being stuck in a rigor-mortis claw shape. As an aside, my right hand was about the right circumference for a rigorous bout of onanism, but other than that, all activities were beyond me (let me know if I’m going into too much detail, won’t you?)
When all the sanding was done, the neck felt utterly stunning. The feel of the natural wood, was like glass; silky smooth. Once again, I could be as exacting and indulgent as I liked. Every ten minutes or so, I’d stop sanding and put the neck into a playing position, until the feel was spot on, and the neck was simply ‘at home’ in my hands. This neck had already been trimmed at the nut to 1mm thinner than a Fender Jazz neck. Even then, I took a ‘smidge’ more off, and sanded the gentle ‘C’ profile to perfection (Note: Even though I much prefer Fender Precisions, I’ve always preferred the neck on a Jazz, but had never dared butcher vintage instruments to build a hybrid bass).
The next jobs I practically rushed through, as I was now salivating, waiting to see the final, assembled bass. My eyes and nose were just full of sawdust, and the concentration involved in the task was unlike anything I’d done before, so I was emotionally drained after the weeks work. So, the headstock was marked in pencil, with the positions of where the strings would run, and how they would be spaced (this is done by ‘dry-assembling’ the bass, positioning the bridge, and running copper wire through the saddles to the nut). Holes were drilled in the headstock, for the machine heads, and also on the reverse of the body, to accommodate the four-bolt neck.
Next, the four bolt holes were drilled through the body to secure the neck, using the Router, with two widths of drill-bit (a wider one at the top, for the chrome washers). The control-cavity was then lined with copper sheeting (that had double-sided tape on the reverse). This was to insulate the electronics, and cut down on interference and unwanted noise from the electronics. In truth, this was totally over-engineered: I had long ago decided to just have a Volume Control – no tone controls at all. After all, most people have access to so many ways of modifying their sound (if only via the EQ on an amp). I think that tone controls just over-complicate things. I play through a great sounding Ampeg valve rig; the SVT Classic. That amp just has Volume, Gain, Bass, Treble, and Middle controls – plus two ‘button boosters’ for the Treble and Bass (which also compress) – and that’s more than enough. Personally, I like to get to a gig, tune the bass; plug it in; get my sound and hit the bar, where I can get a good view of the drummer, still struggling in and out of the door with a battalion of flight cases, whilst the guitarist chases which of his twelve foot pedals has the electrical fault or the dead battery.
The body and neck was then applied with Clear Satin Lacquer. I’ve already addressed this decision in the previous blog, but to recap: I really wanted to ‘feel’ the bass, and have my fingers in contact with as much of the natural wood as possible. A lurid paint job wasn’t even an option (for me, at least), and I decided against the thick Gloss, Nitro-Cellulose Lacquer. The Nitro would have really looked stunning, and would have protected the bass far better, but would have made the body feels false and ‘plastic’ – again, in my opinion. I could have simply oiled the wood, and not treated it all, but that would necessitate frequent maintenance, stripping the bass down and re-applying oil at frequent intervals to preserve the untreated wood. Life is far too short for that kind of over zealous carry on, so Satin Lacquer was a great compromise.
The natural grain of the already beautiful Cocobolo hardwood really ‘sang’ out now. The colours got deeper and richer, and the ‘book-matched’ grain was emphasized wonderfully.
Then, it was just a case of waiting for the lacquer to dry, to assemble the final bass guitar… which I’ll reveal in the final blog HERE: The Best Bass Guitar In The World!
(I know, I’m an incredible tease, aren’t I?).
by Junk Male on April 19, 2012