Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Summer Guitar Project 2012 Part I

This Summer I thought that I'd try my hand at building my own bass guitar. I have tinkered around with guitar stuff in the past, building a Telecaster style guitar a few years back. This time I wanted to make a bass because I consider myself a bassist first and foremost. My main bass that I've played for over 10 years is an Ibanez 5-string that I picked up in High school. A great instrument, but I've always wanted a fretless bass. I love the sound of a fretless, the woody mwah tone that I've heard on many albums. I also wanted to go back to a four string bass, just for simplicity sake.  With some talk of jamming with some work friends in a bluegrass type of thing... a new bass would really be interesting.

My original idea was to find wood, glue it all together and actually make a through neck style bass guitar. But then I remembered that I didn't want to turn my kitchen or office into a woodshop. I'm too impatient anyway.  Woodworking takes time if you want to do it right, and the thought of sanding and carving without the proper tools just wouldn't work right now. I hate sanding. Someday, when I have the room and the time, I will clamp together a bunch of exotic hardwoods and build a bass... but that won't be for a while.

So I'll assemble the perfect bass guitar. I didn't want to break the bank, but I did want quality parts. I went with a Fender Jazz design, because, let's be honest, aftermarket parts are plentiful throughout the internet.

I broke it down to eight core elements:
  • tuning machines
  • fretless neck
  • body
  • bridge
  • pickups
  • wiring 
  • miscellaneous hardware: strap buttons, screws, wiring plate, pickguard
  • strings

Bass tuners range in size and their ability to hold the string securely on the headstock. On any string instrument, tuners that turn easily and stay in place are the best because they keep your strings in tune. Imagine that.

For the tuners, I wanted the traditional "elephant ear" or "clover leaf" style Fender tuners, and I found that there are a wide variety of vintage and modern-style tuners. I'm not sure about the tuning ability of most makes, but in general I wanted that classic Fender look. I always liked the big beefy chrome or nickel machines on the back of the headstock, so I looked around for 70's style tuners.

1970's Trapezoidal Fender Tuning machines 
Then I found that the early 1960's reverse style tuners looked even more massive, and in general pleased my eye more when lined up. They probably aren't the best tuners, but to me getting the look right was more important. I found a set. 

Fender Reverse Tuners (reissue)
Then I stumbled upon an even rarer version of these tuners: the 1966 Jazz Oval reverse tuners seen here:

Totally rare, totally awesome, and totally peculiar to the 1966 Fender Jazz model, as you can see in this photo of Paul McCartney using that bass in Abbey Road studios during the making of the Beatles' White Album. I've seen these tuners go for about $600 on eBay. 

Maybe I'll make a fretted Jazz someday... depends how this build turns out though. I may retire from guitar making all together if I can't figure this out. 


The next thing I needed was to source out a fretless neck. There are many places that have licensed fender necks on the internet: Warmoth, Allparts, etc. But I know where they probably source all their products from: China. So why not go to the source? There are lots of quality builders in China these days.. and after some deep searching of the internet marketplace, found a parts place that produced fretless versions of their bass necks: 

They've since increased the pricing which makes me happy that I got my neck when I did. I can tell these necks are just the unfinished fretless versions on of their regular necks because the side dots markers are in the wrong place: in between fret positions instead on being exactly on the position. The fingerboard is unlined, and I like that. I'm going to make subtle fret line markers in between the dot markers to help with fingering intonation. The neck is nice, and there were no flaws in the design that I can find. The nut looks suspect, but that is easily fixed. The tuning holes line up nice, and the overall feel of the neck contour is nice. 

Since there are no frets on this neck, where my finger makes contact with the fingerboard is essentially where the "fret" is. If my finger is off slightly, the result will be a note that is out of tune. Practice is important to develop the right muscle memory to hit the right place on the fingerboard to stay in tune. 

That's it for now. I'll talk about the body and bridge next time. 


Natalie Kay said...

Cool babe! :)

Garit D Heaton said...

fun project. more photos!

Davy J said...

I'll probably take some photos when everything comes together and I start putting it all together.

daniel touitou said...

Hi, I like your project :) can you send me the link where to buy the fretless neck to my E_mail touitou01@gmail.com