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Build a Bass Fiddle

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Introduction and motivation:

OK, this project might appear to push the envelope for some folks, especially those without a workshop and some machine tools, but I am putting up this Instructable mainly because it represents the belief that you should never NOT build something just because there's a big risk of failure.

After all, there are centuries of research and best practice, including highly sophisticated designs, world famous builders, critical selections of materials, glues, and finishes that go into building a fine musical instrument, and there are very exclusive guilds that carefully protect these secrets and techniques. So what in the world would any commoner in their right mind be thinking to even imagine that a good sounding, perfectly playable instrument could be designed and built by a rank -- well, lets just leave it at that.

 
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Step 1: Design

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I am attaching the actual original drawing for this bass. It is a little worse for wear. A classically trained friend with a very lovely traditional bass allowed me to carefully measure all of the critical details of his instrument. Distance from the nut to the bridge, bridge height, string spacing everywhere, fingerboard length and height, distance to and length of the tail piece, and on and on, were all carefully recorded. I figured that whatever I would end up building, it would have to feel normal to an experienced upright bass player.

The most important part of an acoustic instrument is the sound board, such as the top of a guitar. A traditional bass has a top, or sound board, constructed from a large, thick slab of spruce from one of just a few forests on the planet (which of course are running out of trees). The design of the top (and back) of the instrument are carved in such a way that the arch shape, important for strength, is shaped from the thick block of wood and given a somewhat uniform thickness -- a huge challenge but one that carves away most of the original slab. Arch-top guitars, cellos, violins, and some mandolins also are made this way. Nowadays large CNC milling machines are used by some folks to do this critical carving.

This design was based on the idea that a sound board and back could be created from a uniform thickness piece of wood that would simply be bent or curved to provide the necessary strength to support the massive downward pressure of the strings on the bridge, but at the same time have good acoustic qualities. The big job of carving would be eliminated, and much less wood would be needed.

It also seemed like a good idea to make the sound board bigger. After all, this is a bass, and a bigger sound board should help emphasize lower frequencies, right? This is the reason for the "teardrop" shape of this instrument. The music most frequently played at our house is bluegrass, so I wasn't worried about being able to bow the instrument, however it is possible even with the wide body. I do expect comments that in the construction photos it looks like a small boat.

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This is the first time I have felt compelled to comment on a 'structable...simply OUTSTANDING! The "boat shape" vs the traditional violin shape is an awesome example of thinking outside of the box.

My Dad repaired and restored violins for years - and I have many of his luthier's tools. Thus far, I've only made solid bidy guitars, but as a bassist, this is on my "someday" list. Thank you for sharing!

Solid *body* - phat phinger disorder.

courtervideo (author)  Scott McCray5 days ago
Thanks for your kind words, Scott. I really wasn't that hard to build either...
bajojohn1 month ago

Does the neck angle give the bass more projection?

courtervideo (author)  bajojohn1 month ago

I am not sure how the neck angle relates to sound projection or volume, etc. The size, thickness, bracing and quality of wood are all important aspects of making good sound volume and "projection."

Dark Solar12 months ago
Oh, about the f(s?) holes, those small diagonal braces trailing out into the bellies; supporting/carrying the vibration load relative to the short grain to guard against splitting?
courtervideo (author)  Dark Solar12 months ago
Yes. I was worried about the strength of the top in those areas where the F-holes leave the short grain exactly as you figured-out.
Dark Solar1 year ago
sweet. liking the go-kart tire outfeed rollers too.
LucDaRocka12 years ago
how did you make the neck?
courtervideo (author)  LucDaRocka12 years ago
The neck itself was made from several pieces of walnut, glued up to provide enough wood for the rather enormous head stock and the extension which becomes the gluing point for the top of the sides, back, and front. If you are referring to the fingerboard, I made a few templates of the surface shape of my friend's standard 3/4 size bass, and then shaped the fingerboard as best I could to match. I had not previously realized that the fingerboard of a bass is not a uniform curve, but has a somewhat flat edge under the lowest strings. I think I would recommend that if you are building a bass and want it to feel "natural" to bass players, that you spend an hour or so very carefully studying and measuring a standard bass and trying to make sure all of the essential elements are in the right positions, regardless of overall shape.
thanks, thinking about building an upright bass banjo.....
courtervideo (author)  LucDaRocka12 years ago
That is a great idea. I have been giving that some thought too. There are a few rather crude attempts that can be found on the web. Typically folks start with a bass drum...
yes, there is one i found on youtube called the thunderbucket, u have a youtube account right? ill send you the link......
mattzink2 years ago
apologies if someone has already asked this, but what kind of strings are you using with this bass? Gut? Steel? Synthetics of some sort?

Cool bass btw!
courtervideo (author)  mattzink2 years ago
As I recall, I bought a rather inexpensive set of synthetic gut strings. I can't seem to find the receipt to be more specific...
That's fine - I was curious. Steel strings create a lot more tension but have nice tone and sustain. However, using synthetic strings are great for rockabilly and the like, so this would be a cool bass/setup for such a gig.

Thanks for the follow up.
Wasagi2 years ago
I love this! I play bass, and I've wanted an upright bass for years, but I've been appalled at how expensive they are, and unable to find a cheap used one, but I think that this is the project that I've been subconsciously looking for.

Right now, just trying to think out my build, and I would probably use plywood for most of it to cut down on costs. How much did the lacquer run, because I'm thinking about just using a nice wood stain, but the lacquer looks gorgeous. Thank you so so so much for posting this.


Beautiful work, and a lovely sound. Just goes to prove that the "conventional" way is not the ONLY way, and sometimes being a bit different can be fun. Thanks for sharing your work.
courtervideo (author)  Dream Dragon3 years ago
Thanks for the encouragement! Will you build one?
Unfortunately I don't think I could complete a project like that, but I have a great deal of respect for you and people who are able to do these things.
courtervideo (author)  Dream Dragon3 years ago
I see you have not put up any projects of your own. Surely there is something that you could share with this great community!
i love the shape and the sound but what can i change to build a double bass or an electric double bass(ok i know i sound stupid but i want to keep the awesome sound)
courtervideo (author)  madscientist13993 years ago
Not sure I understand the question. I copied all the dimensions for what I believe is called a 3/4 size bass, so I guess there is such a thing as a full size bass -- is that also called a "double" bass? I will have to do a little research...
Clayton H.3 years ago
How long would you say it would take to build one of these?

I'm taking an independent study class in woods at my school and need to decide on a project. If I'm in that class for an hour for 3 days of the week and an hour and a half for 1 day and the semester is 18 weeks long which equals to 81 total hours. Would that be adequate time to build this?
courtervideo (author)  Clayton H.3 years ago
With my very complete workshop I roughly estimated that I had 100 hours in the project before applying the finish. Some time could be saved by using plywood for the front and back, but it would be pretty tough to do it in 81 hours, I think.
Aren't many 'exclusive' guilds left--as pointed out earlier internet makes info available--site you might like, and I know they would like your bass--www.mimf.com--they like off the wall instruments--and normal ones

Your bass is great and a wonderful jump from tradition---looks great.
courtervideo (author)  mike patterson3 years ago
Thanks for comments below. I don't blame folks for keeping trade and skill secrets from the crowd. Years ago when I was shooting motion picture film for a living we had to have a huge skill set to achieve desired results, and learning was a slow process for many. But today, with our fully automatic cameras and digital post systems and fairly intuitive software, anyone can go out and make something that might look very professional. But I suppose fine woodworking will never be replaced with digital tools, except perhaps C&C milling machines and lathes -- oh yes then there are those new 3D digital printers... I wonder what the acoustic properties of that printer media is?
"Aren't many 'exclusive' guilds left"

Trade secrets are trade secrets. Good luck getting any Masters to tell you without being family or colleague. The interwebs are nice yes, but I'm a Master Stone Mason... There no way in hell I'm going to tell my trade secrets, secrets that took me years to get from my Dad, and still others I developed on my own. I'm not diminishing Courtervideo's work. I'm just saying, the trade secrets are out there.
courtervideo (author)  mike patterson3 years ago
Thanks, Mike! I did join the MIMF when I finished the bass a couple of years ago and posted it on there at that time. These are a very good bunch of instrument makers and I did get quite a few nice comments.
To me it looks easy, I'm sure I'm gonna find out the hard way that it's not. I am definitely gonna have fun with this build. thanks for the post.
courtervideo (author)  capt. caveman3 years ago
You're right -- it is not that difficult. let me know if you run into any problems.
paleotool3 years ago
Thanks for the audio/video. This is a great project and beautifully done. I was sad to not see it in the Woodworking final.
courtervideo (author)  paleotool3 years ago
Thanks for your kind words! I guess a lot of folks have the time and energy to get all their friends to vote or something. I don't. BTW, Your Gypsy Wagon is extremely cool!
thinkpadt303 years ago
Beautiful instrument! It takes guts and determination to run headlong into a project like that, especially when it will take so much time and money to complete. I'm in awe! How much would you say it would have cost you if you had bought everything- the wood, sealer, glue,etc?
Beautiful singing, too! Who are the singers? I would love to hear more of their music!
courtervideo (author)  thinkpadt303 years ago
Thanks for your kind comments!! I suppose you could spend a hundred or two on the wood, and another hundred on finishing materials. Strings can also cost almost any amount over a huge range, and I believe I spent about a hundred on the tuners, which are very pretty and have rosewood elements. With respect to the two songs I was trying to play along with, please see the note on the YouTube post:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIR7dQIpxC4

blackcorvo3 years ago
Hehe, looks like a boat XD

I LIKE IT :D
courtervideo (author)  blackcorvo3 years ago
Well, we live in a hurricane / flood possible area, so an extra boat is always useful.

rimar20003 years ago
VOTED!
Very cool! Any chance you can upload an mp3 or video of how it sounds?
courtervideo (author)  discontinuuity3 years ago
I hope to do something like that this weekend. Thanks!
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