I have to admit I was more than ready to accept my losses on the walnut bass that inspired this blog. My last post was a public recording of my first failure as a bass luthier. There has been a change in events that orchestrated by a luthier from Arizona named Brian Forbes. Brian has a website for his own work which can be found at sixgunguitars.com. He explained that my bass wasn’t meant to be a clock, and provided me with several different methods to correct my mistakes.
So now the bass has been prepped for a neck through design. I’m venturing out of the traditional maple neck and using, an African hardwood known as Padauk. This plank was purchased from my local guild for $23! It’s a very straight and perfectly quartersawn. I’ve taken the extra precaution and laminated two strips of quartersawn hard maple. The padauk neck has been in clamps for a little more than 24 hrs. I’m going to allow a full 72 hours to make sure all the glue has fully cured. The plan for the back of the neck is an inlay of Macassar Ebony and Mahogany. Looks like the Nicholson files will be back out very soon.
Here in the South we have a saying about Prior Planning, and what will happen if you don’t do it. The Bass that initiated the creation of this blog is shelved. Forever. This entire project so far has been filled with lessons on patience and how to elevate and adhere to highest standard as a craftsman I’ve ever been. The flaw in the walnut bass began with the book match. The neck pocket should center on the seam of the book match. While this wouldn’t hinder the function, it’s aesthetically offensive to me. The profile had its highs and lows (literally) and I was never content with its final design. Eager to begin, I rushed through the planning stage and once that realization took hold I knew I couldn’t go forward.
Moving forward my enthusiasm for another go at making a bass guitar is unmatched by no other project I’ve ever completed over the last 18 years. So far this week I’ve spent my off time sketching body profiles, planning some shop made jigs to aid me, and preparing templates. One thing I quickly learned is drawing a guitar to scale isn’t as easy as one might think. Since most guitar bodies are continuous curves, the angles and radius must be carefully planned to create the shape I’m after. I’m not out trying to reinvent the wheel, but I’m somewhere in-between. I’m taking cues from modern bass guitar, but not to the extreme. I may venture down the road of a traditional style bass later on, but for now the Jazz, and Precision styles will have to wait. I’ve somewhat developed a drafting plan that works for me. It maybe the long way around but until I find some software, or come up with something else, I will use this method.
I started out with regular 1/4 , 8 1/2″ x 11″ graph paper, and made a “master template.” This template displays a rectangle box that measures 14″ x 21″. I scale the 1/4″ graph blocks to represent one inch. I chose the dimensions of the rectangle after seeing a consistent number of body blanks sold using these measurements. My next step was to scour the internet for body styles I liked, and mix and match until I had something I liked. I’m taking my time on this, and as I mentioned before, I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, but I do want to make whatever I come up my own. I’m planning about 4 different styles and will pick one from this group. I may mix these styles up and create something else who knows? The idea here is build an instrument that I love to play and look upon for many years. The orignal walnut bass will not be thrown out, or burned, but will be fashioned into a clock I believe. I need one in my shop anyway.
Head Sandwich Featuring (from center out) Ribbon Mahogany, Mahogany, Black Veneer, Walnut, Black Veneer, Ribbon Mahogany
Since my last post, I thickness planed the peghead down to just under 5/8″. I’ll build it back up some with the headstock veneer, but this component has to be thinned to allow for the tuning machines to be installed. After much debate I settled on making a few pieces of walnut veneer to match up with the body. Splash but no clash. I had previously intended on using zebrawood, until a friend brought me to my senses. The zebrawood will have to wait for another bass down the road. What you see here is the “ears” being glued to the sides of the peghead. I miss no opportunity to add inlays and interesting details not found in factory made guitars. Once the ear work has cured, Ill plane it flush, then apply the veneer. The veneer will cover the entire top face of the peghead, but once the profile has been cut out, and after a little work with the files, the inlay will shine just enough.
…A delicate taper, multiple layers and precise dimensions=a standard guitar neck. With this being my first, the true test can’t be conducted until I’ve strung this puppy up, which will be once I’ve invested in pick-ups, wood for the finger board, and cut fret slots. I remind myself that I’m making considerably awesome time on making a string instrument that were just planks in a lumber yard barely a week ago. So now I must admit the first two attempts at a neck failed. Third time right? It’ll have to be. I learned a few things on the first attempts, and feel better about the third neck. The scarf joint is a true 15 degrees, and isn’t quick, and certainly isn’t simple. Luckily there are some great books on this, and of course plenty of advice online.
Straight & Flat
The scarf joint being a true 15 degrees is tricky to cut, tricky to glue. Tricky if you havent read “Guitar Making-Tradidtion & Technology” by William R. Cumpiano & Jonathan D. Natelson. In this treasure of a read, there is great detail on how to cut and successfully glue this joint together. The joint is made true with a block plane and checked frequently with a straightedge.
The next best test is a dry fit to see if your straightedge is really straight and if the joint closes properly. Now here is where the book really comes in handy, how to glue this awkward joint flat and square. I placed the neck blank on its side on top of a piece of scrap granite. I clamped the neck to the granite then checked for square, making sure the neck was 90 degrees on edge from the surface of the granite.
Then using a few small clamps I glue and clamp the peg head onto the neck. Here great care in spreading the glue is observed, because of this is like an elongated end grain to end grain joint. I applied a liberal amount of glue and kind of pushed it into the pores of the wood. It will end there anyway so why not help it along. Then add a little more glue, align the peghead to the neck. I used the mahogany inlay to help in alignment. Now it’s time to wait for the glue to cure….
I’m not in my shop today, as it’s my turn to play Mr. Mom, so instead I’m going to the park with Rachel, Drew, & Seth. Before I go, I wanted to post about this very cool facebook page I discovered (Thanks Brandon Cox!) http://www.basstheworld.com/
This is probably the best page I’ve found on facebook, with tons of shots of some of the finest bass guitars made. The website itself is very cool and its all bass guitar related. Well worth a look if you or someone you know plays bass. Off to the park!
I’m not into production work, and to me the phrase, “one-at-a-time” means exactly that. Taking the time with hand tools means closer examination of the material, and the discovery of perfections, and imperfections. Machines certainly have a place, they are great for dimensioning wood from rough to usable, but nothing is quite like the human element of hand tools. However, dimensioning rough lumber with strictly the use of hand tools is draining, and time consuming. In my shop, hand tools are saved for the final touches, and used for more delicate matters. While physically I do only work on one piece at a time, cabinet, box, or a bass guitar, I’m still planning the next one.
I’m entering even more into unknown with construction of the neck. The margin for error here is smaller than a cabinet or piece of furniture. I’m using ribbon striped mahogany, with a couple of strips of cherry for looks and added strength. Each glue surface was carefully planed, and made flat, a little insurance for the unknown factors. I’m basing a lot of dimensions on Carl Thompson basses, he knows a thing or two about making bass guitars. Check out his site and see who plays his basses- http://www.ctbasses.com/