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Custom build buyers remorse - what did you get wrong?

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11 minutes ago, uk_lefty said:

Just wonder if you could build a bass using Agile... 

Yes.  But it would progress like this - numbers represent what each sprint delivers

  1.  a rubber band.
  2. 4 rubber bands and a packing crate
  3. 4 rubber bands and a matchbox
  4. a cardboard box of about the right size
  5. five guitar strings and some plywood
  6. a fully operational 3 band EQ with custom pickups
  7. as above with working pickups
  8. plywood guitar body to match 6
  9. bass guitar body in pine with 27" neck fretted for 35"
  10. a skateboard
  11. ...



  • Haha 5

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3 hours ago, Richard R said:

Interesting reading this thread and comparing it to software development. "WFT?" you all say, but bear with me.

Quite often business users come in with an idea of what they want and need, and a solution in mind. It is really hard to get them, especially the technically competent ones, to stop proposing solutions but to let us talk until we have understood all the requirements.. Frequently there is a relatively minor piece of functionality (ie used in about 1% of cases), which dictates a very different underlying data structure or software model than the other 99% alone would. Yes you can change this down the line, but the more you understand up front the easier the process is.

Likewise the thread emerging here seems to be that if you go in with clear requirements (sound, intended use, preferences and desires) but discuss and be flexible with the final specifications (exact wood, preamp choice, neck construction), then you are more likely to get an instrument you love than if you spec everything in detail. Some people have more detailed requirements that others would be more flexible over, but it seems that in all cases discussion is the key.

And like in many cases... there might be an off the shelf solution that actually does what you want without having to develop something at all...

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The first thing is to consider any existing model. If there is one, I cannot see any reason to build another from scratch.

The second is the requirements. What should the instrument have and why. Beware if it is something some other (like some star bassist) has. A custom is the custom for you! If something is unclear, we get to the third point...

3) The dialogue with the luthier has to work. If not, try the next one.

Fourth point is to do the discussion and be honest with both: yourself and the maker. Any detail that feels strange or wrong has to be discussed now! not afterwards.

5) Play a lot and learn your new friend!

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I've had several; most were purchased 2nd hand though. In these cases it was like choosing an "off the shelf" bass with known characteristics. A bit more unusual and exotic, but the same GAS driven impulsiveness. No buyers remorse.

Two basses I've commissioned myself have been a Limelight P bass (a keeper) and an Atelier Z from Japan. In the latter case I worked with Danny Stewart and Pierre Gansman who took a lot of the mystique and inertia out of the remote build process. It ended up being slightly heavier than I'd spec'd but I went with it anyway. On reflection, being able to visit and talk with the luthier direct would be a huge plus in any build.

As others have said, if you pile a load of cash into a commissioned build the sense of anticipation can depart from reality especially during long build times. I would imagine this could lead to a sense of anti-climax when said bass is delivered. Not my personal experience though.

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I have had 2 made. They did not do it for me. The resale was crippling. Lesson learnt.  

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The only thing I'd change after having one built would be the pickups and a case.

Other than that, I'm very happy with the one I had built (see avatar).

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I've had two custom basses built, and am still the proud owner of both...although that's not so say there haven't been bumps along the way

The first one I ordered is a Warwick Stage 1 five string.  I'd had Warwicks before, and what I really wanted a $$ Streamer with a thru neck (which they have not made as a standard model) so the Custom Shop was the only way I was going to get it.  And if you're going to order from the Custom Shop, you may as well get exactly what you want - in my case an inlay and a slight change to the standard woods

Warwick's approach was very much "you tell us what to do and we'll do it" and when I asked for advice on the pickups they stuck to "we can do whatever you want, just tell us" when actually I wanted a bit more guidance on what would work best.  I'm pretty sure that the person answering the e-mails was from the sales dept, not an actual luthier

Nice video from Warwick of my actual bass here:

The first (very minor) disappointment was that the 3 band eq wasn't the layout I had assumed it would be.  Instead of separate bass/mid/treble controls with a stacked volume/pan, like I had on my old Warwick Jazzman, it instead had a stacked Bass/Treble control, which it turns out is their standard 3 band eq for $$s.  I finally got that sorted earlier this year, which was actually quite easy as they have modular eq systems (and put together a free wiring diagram as the eq I wanted isn't a standard option for $$ p/u). 

I also missed the announcement from a few months before I placed my order that all Custom Shop basses would have a rechargeable battery in the main control cavity, and thus a second battery compartment for a non-rechargeable battery, so it was a surprise when it arrived to find that there were two cavities.  Actually that may pay off because I'm about to try the 18v hack on the eq because there is room for two batteries in the extra cavity, in the hope that that may help solve the next gripe

It feels a bit under powered compared to the Corvette $$ that I previously had, so I'm seriously considering a change of pickups - and given that pickup choice was the point I'd wanted a bit more guidance on (and not got) this nags at me a little. 

The final disappointment was all down to me -  that having selected a transparent black finish over flamed maple, I really should have chosen an ebony fretboard rather than wenge, for an all black finish.  Which I should have known because I already had a black seven string Explorer with a black pickguard and a rosewood fretboard and it nags at me that they should have used ebony for a better all black guitar.  So, my own fault, and one I can live with (but would make a different choice if I had to do it again...and I am pondering another Custom Warwick...)

Still, live and learn, and it's not enough to stop me enjoying and playing the bass.  The neck is fantastic, it's a very high quality instrument all round, and it's been used to record an album (a mate's band, not mine) and I've played it live quite a lot

What it taught me was to be very specific and to ask lots of questions, and to persevere - keep "the customer is always right" in mind, certainly in terms of getting the info you want

My second was my latest Wal.  Lovely lovely lovely.  Birdseye maple and unmarked ebony fretboard928300285_Wal1.thumb.jpg.011c76e677b6c440c92262feba33c0e9.jpg

The Wal was a lot easier for a couple of reasons.

First, there aren't actually a lot of options to consider beyond the model and the choice of woods. The electrics are the same so that's one less thing to worry about, and after all you're buying a Wal because you want something that sounds like a Wal. So I got a Wal to my exact spec for wood and finish, and it feels much more "mine" than the previous ones I've owned - just being able to get a fretboard without dots was  a massive win for me (seriously, I hate dots on a fretboard).  It arrived during lockdown so I haven't had the chance to gig with it, but it's definitely a keeper

Next, the guys at Wal were very easy to deal with, and happy to discuss options and say what they would and wouldn't do.  in particular, I'd asked about an inlay similar to the Warwick, and they were up front about them not being able to do it.  We discussed how thin a neck they would make me, and while open to suggestions, they made the case that actually the standard neck is a lot slimmer than on the previous Wals I've had so I probably didn't need them to shave any more off of it, and they were right

The waiting period was daunting - two years when I placed the order (and Wal kept to that) and I understand that their estimate is now three years.  In fact it was a good thing for me, because it meant that I didn't need the cost of a Wal when I placed the order, I just needed the first couple of instalments and could save up the rest over the build time.  If the money had been burning a hole in my pocket than perhaps it would have bugged me more

In summary, it has worked for me for both instruments because I (more or less) knew what I would be getting - variations on a known model that I knew I would like.  The issues I've had with the Warwick build were pretty minor and largely down to me assuming something rather than checking what they would actually be doing, although I think they could have been more specific on those points, and could have offered more opinions, particularly when I was asking for them.  It hasn't put me off doing it again, but it has taught me to get more into the details and not to assume that the maker is thinking the same thing as me

Edited by Monkey Steve

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I ordered one custom bass once to my spec, was clear about what I wanted and compromised where I thought the luthier had better judgement. I hated the result - it looked wonderful but sounded terrible. A change of pickups and preamp made no difference whatsoever so that puts paid to the “wood has no effect” brigade. Although visually stunning I’m convinced something in either the woods themselves or the construction was badly wrong. That put me off and ever since I’d much rather accept/work around the limitations of a bass I can actually play before I buy it. The only custom bass I might consider is a Ken Smith because the one I owned was extraordinary and I’ve played 5 or 6 since which were uniformly excellent. Off the peg, modern (newer design) MusicMan Stingrays would get my vote as they have top-notch construction, light weight and sound fantastic.

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