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[FINISHED!!!] My first bass build: Crossing a Tahitian Ukulele with a Westone Thunder II...


SlapbassSteve
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Hi all, starting off my first bass build at last! 

Back when I was touring with my ukulele band, Ukebox, we ended up in the South Pacific for a couple of weeks at one point in 2015, island hopping as guest entertainers on the MS Amsterdam. I spotted most islands we visited out there had a variation of what turned out to be the tahitian ukulele- basically a solid-bodied ukulele with 8 strings made of fishing line, and a carved internal bowl with thin soundboard- and vowed to make one one day as they looked amazing despite having basically just been made in someone's shed to sell to tourists.

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Fast-forward a few years; I'd left the band and got a job at Jack's Instrument Services here in Manchester, where after a couple of years of setting up and repairing guitars I felt ready to try and put one of these together during the lockdown! I altered the design a bit, doing radical stuff like putting on a separate fretboard and designing a slightly different shape with a lower horn for playing while sat down, and ended up making three.

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Each one was a bit of a learning curve but the third is definitely the best so far- Spanish Cedar compared to the other two which are obeche, plus it's concert scale so seems to be the sweet spot for string tension in this tuning(GGcceeAA).

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Moving on to bass things, keeping in with the ukulele theme I had been planning to make a U-Bass scaled model with a Piezo pickup/preamp, but hit a brickwall trying to get hold of anyone at Shadow about a UBass-specific piezo, so decided to go with metal strings rather than the usual rubber ubass fare. Then I figured since I was going to need to buy regular bass pickups and hardware and since the short scale of a ubass makes intonation... 'interesting' I thought for sake of a few hours more woodwork I may as well make a full-size bass that I could use at gigs without being laughed at(if gigs ever end up being a thing again).

So I ordered a five-piece neck blank and a massive chunk of wenge off eBay(bought wenge because it looks amazing, but the more I've read about it since, the more I've realised this was a terrible idea- but I have it now so I'm going to use it). 

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Looking at this I realised I was basically going the direction of my favourite era of bass design- the 80s; where, from what I gather, your quality as a bassist was decided by the weight of your bass, the number of knobs and outputs on it, and how convincingly you can sound like Mark King. So I decided to lean into that somewhat. I decided to design a bass with the shape of my tahitian ukes so I could use it as a giggable advert for them and their shape, but the weight, bells and whistles and general vibes of those early 80's custom jobbies- think BC Rich, JayDee, Alembic et all. I'm particularly inspired by the Westone Thunder Mk2, even if the bridge pickup is wayyyy to far from the bridge to give me that JayDee sound my Vox Standard bass used to have-

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So then came ordering some hardware; Badass MKII, Grover GB707 machineheads, 2x DiMarzio Model Ps (big thanks to Howdenspur for selling me his, as literally all of my suppliers at work had run out after Northwest Guitars sold me their only cream one), Bartolini NTMB+F preamp. I've also an Indian rosewood fretboard on order... need to get a trussrod on the go too once I work out how long of one I need. Knobs will be the old Boss style ones and switches will be those flat paddle throw ones, naturally. 

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So I'm currently sketching out the shape onto a bit of 6mm MDF which I'll use as a template for table-routing the bass(I'll be doing it as a neck-thru). Resizing my tahitian uke design from 15inch to 34inch scale is proving something of a challenge... but I'll suss it out eventually.

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With the tahitian ukes, most of the time went into designing the template, so I imagine this will move fairly quickly once I get properly started. Buying the Model P was my first time on BC in years and I'm a bit out of the habit of forum-ing but will hopefully remember to keep this thread updated! I'm lucky also to work with some extremely clued-up people, including of course Jack of Jack's Instrument Services, and also Adam of Dolan Custom Guitars who's made some ridiculously good basses since I've known him so I should be able to work things out as I go... Control wise it'll have volume, blend, 3band EQ; 3x series/parallel and one active/passive switch(possibly phase too, but they're basically a 'make it sound naff' switch so probably not), and of course, the totally useless terrible idea that is an XLR output in addition to the jack socket, which probably won't even be wired in and will literally just be there because they look AWESOME.   

Very much looking forward to actually making some sawdust on this one!

 

(hoping my image embed links work... last time I was on here everyone was still using photobucket..![edit- sussed it!])

Edited by SlapbassSteve
Attempting to embed pictures...
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What are you going to end up with, a solid body bass in the shape of your ukuleles, or a larger version of them with bowl, sound board and standard bass hardware fitted?

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12 hours ago, Richard R said:

Those ukes look great👍 

Thank you! :) 

3 hours ago, Si600 said:

What are you going to end up with, a solid body bass in the shape of your ukuleles, or a larger version of them with bowl, sound board and standard bass hardware fitted?

Ah I should have made that a bit clearer! Basically solid body bass in the shape of the ukuleles. 

I'm quite seriously looking into chambering the wings however to save some of the weight that'll come with using wenge- not sure whether to do this sideways like a big biscuit joint rout before gluing the wing blanks to the body, or just to make a dummy(or at least massively oversized) control cavity.

I'm tempted also to make a circular pickguard for it to link it in more to the ukes' aesthetic, but this may well be a step too far... the front will be quite busy already!

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42 minutes ago, Si600 said:

Massive round hole in the middle covered by a round scratchplate?

Would certainly make mounting the pickups and bridge interesting..! 😅

I'd originally planned to do pretty much exactly that when this was going to be a U-Bass with just a piezo bridge(anodised gold pickguard for the soundboard), but after that got kiboshed I decided to go a more traditional route and make a 'proper' bass. 

Ultimately now I'm keen for this to be a half-decent first bass first and for visual similarities to my ukulele line to come second- I've already set myself a bit of a steep learning curve getting the neck-through angle right, carving the wings out of wenge, and getting the trussrod/neck relief working properly(joys of fishing line strings on the ukes- no need for any trussrod or neck reinforcement, and I've only helped install a couple of trussrods from scratch in work!)- so changing the original plan too much at this stage might just overegg it all a little for someone at my skill level(or lack of!)

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Took a bit of wrangling but the body shape is now sorted- proportions were looking really wrong with the 34 inch scale, as without making the body absolutely massive it would have had a crazy long neck more akin to a Thunderbird, and some really wonky looking proportions elsewhere. Turns out the body/neck ratio on my ukes was stronger than I realised.

Solution turned out to be to shorten the scale length to 30 inches, suddenly the 12th fret and end of fretboard are back where they are in relation to the body on my ukes(upper horn meets body at 12th fret, end of fretboard at lower one) and the neck didn't look like a spear all of a sudden.

Having spent years playing UBass(20" scale) for a living, 30" is still plenty big to me; and since this is going to be a bit of a slap machine, having a similar scale to Stanley Clarke's Alembic signature can't hurt. Have had to move the neck pickup back a couple of cm to make room for my finger when playing slap- jury's out on whether to put in a JayDee style 'funk groove' though.

I'm still not 100% happy with the headstock shape in relation to the body compared to my uke template, it's a bit fat/square, but as I had to cut and shut it to remove the 4 inches of scale length, and I'll be shaping the headstock fairly late in the process I'm in a position to experiment until the last minute. I think balance may play a part- the amount of weight behind the bridge will hopefully offset the singlecut shape and inevitable top horn position of the strap pin(although doing it back of the body, SG style is an option too in a pinch).

Still need to decide what I'm doing about putting my logo on the headstock; whether to engrave into the veneer, or get an engraved bit of brass, or have one of those logo heat brand things made so I can use it on all my future builds too.

Have decided the trussrod will be wheel-type, body end.

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Next up I need to finalise the body template with some sanding blocks until I can treat it as gospel, then start cutting the wings out of my wenge block. It's going to be a swine and I've bought some sudocrem and tweezers specially for it as wenge is known for: a) splintering if you look at it and b) being basically toxic, so any splinters left under the skin will fester pretty quick(lovely...). Here's hoping the cutting equipment I have to hand is up to it.

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Looking at this picture now I'm wondering if I should move the outline north a bit towards that nicer looking area of the wenge(avoiding the knot). I originally just drew it there with an arbitary gap from the edge.

Lots to think about, but things are moving along nicely.

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the lovely grain pattern would make a good headstock plate if you don't incorporate it into the body and you'd likely get a good few of them out of that thickness

great work with the Uke's and this is an inspirational project, good luck with it all

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On 14/01/2021 at 08:19, Aidan63 said:

the lovely grain pattern would make a good headstock plate if you don't incorporate it into the body and you'd likely get a good few of them out of that thickness

great work with the Uke's and this is an inspirational project, good luck with it all

Thank you!

Interesting you mention the headstock plate as I was wondering what to do about that- whether to use my usual 'tiger sycamore' veneer as I have loads left over from the ukes; or use wenge to match the wings, or just leave it plain as the neck is quite pretty on its own. The Westone I'm robbing loads of ideas from using for inspiration looks like it has a plain bit of mahogany or similar, but tricky to tell. Wonder if sycamore will be the best bet after all to offset the dark wings and fretboard...

 

Progress: I spent my lunchbreak today plaining and thicknessing the fretboard(indian rosewood) which arrived last week in in a very unfinished/wonky state, and with some serious cracks in the side- luckily I can work around those areas and I won't need as much of it now I'm doing a shorter scale then originally planned. The grain figure on it is beautiful so I'm keen to work with it despite the imperfections/cracks.

Trussrod(with body end adjuster, black) and the Barto preamp are now here too, along with some new blades for the table saw and bandsaw, to give them a fighting chance at roughing out the body/neck shapes.

Next steps will be roughing out the shape, cutting the neck tiltback angle and trussrod trench, then routing it all out properly -possibly not in that order though- our pin router is a majestic old green thing the size of a small car and I'm not in any rush to awaken it, lest my fingers incur its displeasure. 

 

 

Edited by SlapbassSteve
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Put the new tablesaw and bandsaw blades to work today, along with a jointer/planer I picked up a few months ago but hadn't found a proper use for until now...

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Used the J/P to even up the sides of the neck and wings following table/bandsawing, and then thicknessed the wings from 2 to 1.5 inches. The weight savings were pretty massive for just half an inch of thickness removed, but I'm going to try and sneak some more by hollowing out the wings a little from the side.

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Fretboard I mentioned on Monday... can't imagine it's a particularly high grade but I love the figure on it. I'm aiming for a 37-38mm wide nut on this thing so should have a fair bit left over.

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Thru-neck and wings following bandsaw work. This is the reverse of the bass as the MDF templates are still attached to the front, but I've just flipped the image for a better idea of how it'll look. I chose some nicely-patterned grain for the front which should polish up nicely.

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Finally another mock-up, because they're great at helping me pretend I've got further with this then I actually have, and making me feel better about how much I spent on everything. Obviously this is on the back of the bass so it appears as a lefty, but you get the idea...

Next to do: fire up the pin router to finish up the edges of the wings, then I guess it'll be time to sort out the fretboard so I can calculate how much tiltback angle to remove from the front of the neck before routing the trussrod channel.

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  • 6 months later...

Realised I've neglected this thread for over six months so time for an update..!

 

I got massively sidetracked in February waiting for a fret slotting template to arrive from GuitarsAndWoods in Portugal, and around the same time it arrived in March I got an order for one of my tahitian ukuleles via Etsy from a chap in Australia- this proved an extremely steep learning curve as it was my first time making an instrument to order, and then I had to ship it halfway around the world and hope it arrived ok!

Luckily it arrived safe and sound and I got a lovely review off the buyer, so all was well in the end.

Here's the finished project:

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(Note the stealth strap pin and output jack- this was my first uke with a pickup and inlaid strap buttons)

 

Anyway, once that was sorted I cracked back on with the bass.

I borrowed a fret slotting jig and trussrod routing kit from my work colleague Adam (of Dolan Custom Guitars fame) and cracked on with the fretboard, getting it slotted for 30" scale.

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Then the trussrod slot...

 

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(I just chiselled out the adjuster notch by hand as I was feeling too lazy to make a router jig for it)

 

Then glued on the fretboard and radiussed it to 12 inches.

 

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And on Friday I finally started shaping the back of the neck. 

 

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Next up... finish shaping the neck/headstock, roughly shape and then glue on the wings(setting neck tiltback angle in the process). Hoping it doesn't take me six months to get through that lot! 

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2 hours ago, AndyTravis said:

Has a look of the other westone - was it a raider?

 

edit - is was the dynasty I was thinking of, but it’s like a mix of the 2…

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I'll be honest I absolutely adore all those mad 80's designs so I've definitely borrowed ideas from both of those!

 

I particularly love how imaginative all those designs were, even the Westone Quantum, basically a Steinberger knock-off, was designed with some lovely interesting angles that set it apart a bit... and that's before we even get started on the Rail...👀

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Productive week so far!

 

I've shaped just over half the neck, thicknessed and shaped the headstock(I went for a 13 degree tiltback), drilled the machinehead holes, and carved the volute. I'll refine this a little when I finalise the neck profile, but for now I'm pleased with how it's looking.

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Next was time to glue on lots of wenge stuff- first the headstock face veneer, then the wings;

 

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I've glued the wings on at an angle to form the neck tiltback angle- rather than try and plane the front of the neck to a hyperspecific angle before attaching the fretboard, I just put my bridge on the top of the body, worked out how much lower it needed to be, and glued on the wings at the correct angle so that I can simply plane the top of the body flat, rather than have to do anything protractor-related.

 

Aiming to do some carving to the back of the bass before work tomorrow... looking at the last picture above it's fair to say upper-fret access leaves a little to be desired at the moment.

 

Then it's just a bit of shaping, a bit of sanding, some oil, and some hardware! Sounds so easy when I put it like that... 

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More progress today.

Planed the top flat-

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Discovered I could save days of work by using my angle-grinder as a sander and put a big dent in the neck heel and edge carving.

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I'll be carving everything quite a bit more, particularly to sculpt the top to one side of the fretboard like my ukes, but first I'll need to work out my control layout and rout the cavities, so I know which zones to steer clear of. 

It's currently VERY heavy, so removing a load of material this way will help me work out how much to remove from the edges to keep weight down.

('very heavy'... not sure I expected really, making a bass with so much solid wenge involved..!)

 

Here's the latest mock-up of how the front will look. Looking at how tight it's getting, I'm starting to understand why the original JayDee basses had such enormous bodies.

Knobs will be Vol, Blend, Treble, Mid, Bass. 

Switches will be Active/Passive, and then a separate series/parallel switch for each pickup. I'm toying with a mid frequency select but unless it sounds bad when I first plug it in I'll be happy to let the good folks at Bartolini decide what will sound better- they've been making preamps much longer than I've been choosing them!

The XLR will only be functional when something is plugged into the regular jack socket, but I'll probably never use it so that's ok.

 

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Leaning towards off-white dots for fretboard inlays, and an engraved brass logo inset into the headstock.

 

 

Taking a few days' break to make sure I don't rush it... more progress next week hopefully.

Very pleased with how this is shaping up though... the 80's vibes are strong with this one.

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Curious to see how it will turn out :) 

I'm a huge fan of double split-coils combined with dark wood wings/light wood center kind of basses (Early BC Rich, Westone, Vantage,...), nice and unique design you have there!

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On 09/08/2021 at 16:00, Archy said:

Curious to see how it will turn out :) 

I'm a huge fan of double split-coils combined with dark wood wings/light wood center kind of basses (Early BC Rich, Westone, Vantage,...), nice and unique design you have there!

Thank you! It sounds like we have similar tastes! :D 

 

Routed the control cavity yesterday and made a start on the wiring today to check I'd have enough space for everything.

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All seems good! Planning on routing the ledge for the anodised gold backplate to rest on next, then I can finish shaping the body once I know where my limits will be. The XLR might be a bit of a squeeze but I'll make it fit...

 

I had bought a Gotoh 18v battery box for this, but the more I think about it the more I'm leaning towards either a single 9v in the control cavity or a separately routed battery compartment with another anodised gold cover, too keep the 80's pedigree. I'm a little dubious over whether 18v is worth the extra fuss- I can't see 6dB of extra headroom making much odds, and apparently this isn't a preamp where 9v vs 18v makes any difference to the tone... in short, if I bother making this 18v it'll be because the extra 9v battery has less mass than the wenge it displaces.

 

It's still very heavy even with a massive amount of wood routed out for the cavity, so I'm likely to be a bit more aggressive when shaping it then previously planned, even if just to give it a bigger belly cutaway.

 

 

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More progress today.

 

Routed the lip for the backplate to sit on, and then made and drilled the backplate from gold-anodised aluminium sheet.

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Then I worked further on the carving of the body and made a start of sanding out some angle-grinder marks...

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Exciting to see it starting to look like one of my ukuleles at last.

 

It's mostly sanding to do from here on in, though I'm not happy with the upper-fret thumb access as it is currently and that area will need some creative carving doing still.

 

I've marked up the fretboard for the dot inlays, and will probably get those installed followed by the frets early next week- probably at a point where I'm sick of sandpaper and need a break..!

 

 

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  • 3 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

Right then, it's been a while, and the bass is now finished! 

 

Have quite enjoyed writing out the build diary, so, here we are, the final installment:

 

Routed out the pickups and hand-chiselled the corners to get them nice and square. Was working off the centreline rather than string lines, so in theory it would all line up in the end(luckily, it did)

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Next up was some oil! I ended up putting on six coats of Tru-Oil, flatsanding with wire wool between coats to bring up a modest gloss.

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(after the first coat above- note the massive change in colour)

 

After a couple of coats I put the frets in. I'd used the wrong gauge saw to cut them, so ended up having to improvise and use a fretpress(we never normally use this on refrets so learning how to use it was a bit of a learning curve) plus loads of superglue to hold them all in properly- this is easily my biggest wrong turn on this bass as having to glue the frets in made the fretwork lift a bit under the heat of polishing, so it took a couple of dresses to get them properly flat and uniform.

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Routing the battery box:

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Brass nut carved by hand from a block of brass I had knocking around:

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Wiring installed- this is two DiMarzio Model Ps, a Bartolini NTMB+GF, 3band EQ, blend, vol, act/passive, then a series/parallel for each pickup.

 

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(photo taken before connecting the pickups)

 

Then I had a logo made! 

It's not owned by anyone but known and used universally so I've been using it as a logo for my uke builds too.

This was cut from more solid brass by the good folks at Manchester Rubber Stamp Company.

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Then finally there was a lot of screwing stuff onto/into it, and some setup work- luckily this bit was familiar territory for me. I've set the action nice and low- 2mm/1.5mm at 12th fret with Roto Swingbass 40-95s. 

 

Thought I'd finish off with my original design concept, lovingly thrown together in Microsoft Paint at about 3am last December...

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Edited by SlapbassSteve
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Posted (edited)

So here's the finished bass! 

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Need to order some card to use as a background and do a proper photoshoot with it at some point, but you get the idea! 

 

Took it to my wedding gigs at the weekend and it sounded lovely, cut through the mix properly, settings were all useful too- the bridge pickup is as Jaydee-like as the one in my Vox Standard bass, the neck pickup has the growl of a Fender P, but put it in parallel for the sound of a Mustang, and put the bridge in parallel for a Jazz bass approximation, together in series they're a growly as heck, etc etc... but then I would say it sounded good wouldn't I..? 🤣

 

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(the XLR is actually wired in now, though I don't think I'll ever need it)

 

Overall though I'm pleased that it looks like it's from the era I based it on; even with my ukulele shape I think it carries the vibe of those mad old Matsumoku gems. The oil finish helps- as it's not even and has a bit of an open-pore thing going on it feels like an old bass already, which isn't bad considering I finished it last Thursday!

Neck is very skinny and combined with the short scale it's very easy to shred all over it.

Looking forward to getting some proper photos and demos sorted! 

 

Meantime here's a couple of clips I threw together for instagram:

 

https://www.instagram.com/p/CTFmS9jjmCo/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

 

https://www.instagram.com/p/CTDREcND4gb/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

 

Thanks for reading!

 

-Steve

 

Edited by SlapbassSteve
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  • SlapbassSteve changed the title to [FINISHED!!!] My first bass build: Crossing a Tahitian Ukulele with a Westone Thunder II...

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