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SlapbassSteve

My first bass build: Crossing a Tahitian Ukulele with a Westone Thunder II...

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

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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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