Introduction: Electric Stick Bass

Picture of Electric Stick Bass

UPDATE:012808 -Added audio file profiling the stick bass minus overdubbed guitars for clarity of tone.-
UPDATE:013108 - Added Piezo transducer close-up of back side.

An electric bass is created using 1 broken bass string, 1 piezo transducer, part of a cheap wooden easel leg, and 2 metal rods from a bookshelf. A video is included to demonstrate the sound of the stick bass.

Step 1: The Materials Needed

Picture of The Materials Needed

Most DIYer's, I'm assuming, are pack rats like me. So having recently busted a string off my bass, I just couldn't let it go to waste. Also seeing as how I had some piezo's left over from wiring up a recent circuit bending project, the idea came to me to finally try it out.

In the corner of my workshop I spied the remnants of an old cheapy easel...the flimsy kind you can find in most department stores. It immediately looked interesting being that it had wing nuts and bolts and holes right where I needed them. Not to mention the trough on one side that I though might lend to some interesting playability aspects.

Step 2: Cut, Drill and Notch

Picture of Cut, Drill and Notch

Using a section of the easel leg, cut a notch into the end using a coping saw. I cut far enough down to make sure the string being wound has room to turn.

To create the nut and the bridge, I used some spare bookshelf hardware pins. I wasn't worried so much about proper scale lengths than just a fast little project, so placement is up to you. I have a problem with getting caught up into details and never seeing things through, so let's not worry so much about technicalities of proper tuning and scale lengths just yet. You can either lay them on top or do as I did and drill (haphazardly mind you) through the walls of the easel leg to seat the pins.

On the other end of the stick, drill a hole, small enough to allow only the string through. Use a small washer to keep the ball end from pulling it's way through the wood.

Step 3: Wire It Up

Picture of Wire It Up

Attach the piezo how you'd like really. I opted for speed and just tied it on with fishing line since the notches in the piezo looked inviting to be taken advantage of. You'd think speed meant something more on the lines of hot glue or something. I thought it'd probably sound like crud anyway so I didn't want to make a permanent connection. It hasn't been changed since it burped it's first sounds of "gudginess".

I then soldered my piezo leads to a female 1/4" jack. I didn't want to be limited to two feet of cable and then have to add an extension anyway.

Step 4: Fire It Up!

Picture of Fire It Up!

Whether you use an amp or software, the signal needs to be amplified. The piezo is very sensitive though and operates more by vibration than the electro-magnetic pickups do by their means. This means you have to learn how to play it differently.

I used a Line 6 Toneport UX2 to record everything into Ableton Live.

I've found the slightest grasp and the subtlest touch to the string gives the best tone. It can actually be fretted after a little practice. The improvements to it's playability can go a million directions, but this was just a fun project that yielded surprising results. Have fun!


jexter (author)2009-05-25

This is a really sweet instructable -- a simple but fun and creative idea, using a level of construction appropriate for a proof-of-concept project, and very well described and illustrated. Thanks for taking the time to share this!

dentsinger (author)jexter2009-05-25

Not a problem, thank you!

theredbryophyte (author)2015-12-17

Nice Instrucatable! Which way round do you connect the wires to the female 1/4" jack?

red wire from the piezo is tip. Black wire is barrel or shaft (ground).

sconner1 (author)2012-08-30

I love home made pickups made from cheap piezo elements!
Take them out of the plastic and tape them directly onto a surface of an instrument, wire it to a 1/4" jack and voila, instant plug-in acoustic instrument.
Play with the position of the piezo for the best sound and glue it down.

paulm (author)2008-01-31

nice to see some bassists =)

what kinda music you into? to me, its all rush...

dentsinger (author)paulm2008-01-31

I'm actually a guitarist (22 yrs), but bass is a stringed instrument I can play as well. Mainly because I do a lot of recording, I'm doing everything. My musical tastes might show my age but I do like my metal. Geddy Lee is a very respectable bass player, not to mention the other guys in that phenomenal band. Pinning down my tastes though are hard. One moment I'll be recording something like Pink Floyd, the next I'm doing stuff like Mike Patton does. Many of my recorded assets stored away on my hard drives tend to be more metal oriented.

xrobwx (author)dentsinger2012-08-13

Cliff Burton FTW! Nice Instructable. Very well done!

paulm (author)dentsinger2008-02-14

very cool... 22 years is quite alot, Im into it 7 years.

rollingstoner357 (author)paulm2008-03-21

yeah I played violin for 6 years then sorted playing was a easy transition

dreath77 (author)2011-01-14

Where the f$:! Is a transducer I can never find it at radio shack, I even asked the people at radio shack and they didn't know what it is. Where else can i get one.

lewisb42 (author)dreath772011-09-18

It's Radio Shack part number 273-073. Hopefully their computer knows where things are located in-store if the salespeople don't.

LanceDrolet (author)dreath772011-09-17

They're in the cabinet with the discrete components. Usually listed as piezo buzzers.

kranoscorp (author)2008-11-08

A couple of questions What about the lack of truss rod? Is the rod strong enough to last through the bass string pressure, or will it eventually bend? How on earth do you play that thing? Is the string raised far enough from the rod for you to pluck it? Is the lower end higher up from the rod to give you plucking room? Do you play it as an upright, or sideways like an electric? How do you tie the non-ball end of the string to keep it from going out of tune? Speaking of tuning, what is it tuned to?

dentsinger (author)kranoscorp2008-11-11

Just as a wood block is considered an instrument, this too was simply a venture into percussive texture. Just something else to explore, no big deal.

the z0diak (author)dentsinger2010-07-13

i bet you could also play it with some sort of slide to get a unique sound out of it

kranoscorp (author)dentsinger2008-11-11

Ok, I actually have a good idea for a trussrod I could use, but atleast can you tell me how you set it up. I have no idea how you are able to raise it to a usable level without adversely effecting the action.

dentsinger (author)kranoscorp2009-05-25

Think of this more as a another novel idea for making a little noise. Lose all the worry for the other junk.

rezent (author)2009-07-21

check out the band Motograter! they actually made an instrument very similar to this only using steel industrial cable instead of the bass string. they actually play their "motograter" with a massive drum stick! the "motograter" actually replaces the bass in the band.

tudgeanator (author)2009-02-27

I finished mine!!!!! Although, i'm using the machine head method over at the altoids tin instructable,and i havn't found a bass string yet, so ive got a guitar string (the G-string -which i way too high).It's the only old string i could find because i binned my old guitar strings (i had about 20) a couple of days before i found this instructable-how annoying!

tudgeanator (author)tudgeanator2009-02-27

Sorry for double posting-it wouldnt let me attatch images to the previos comment...i wonder why?

kranoscorp (author)2008-11-13

I have tried looking for a piezo transducer, but I am having little luck. Will a piezo that they use for buzzers work? Is it the same thing as a transducer, or are they different?

dentsinger (author)kranoscorp2008-11-14

Yes, should be te same thing. They come in all different sizes and shapes

dentsinger (author)kranoscorp2008-11-14

I'm not sure. I simply wired mine to a 1/4" mono jack and plugged it into guitar preamp hardware with lots of compression to boost the signal.

Klowd_13 (author)2008-06-02

does the string just sit under the Piezaro thingymobobber? thats kinda what it looks like but im not sure. Cheers, -John-

dentsinger (author)Klowd_132008-06-03

Imagine a string-thru where the ball end is seated on the opposite side. That's what you're looking at in the main photo. The piezo sits on top of the wood right behind the hole.

Clayton H. (author)2008-04-25

does the store that you bought the pickup at have a webcite? Because I have been looking for one and Radio Shack has discontinued theirs.

dentsinger (author)Clayton H.2008-04-25

Here it is:

Prime Parts

Honestly, if you do a search for piezo transducer, you should find them everywhere pretty much.

Clayton H. (author)dentsinger2008-04-25

Well I have found some but they are oddly shaped and a tad expensive.

dentsinger (author)Clayton H.2008-04-26

Hmm, well aesthetically they're pretty much the same in their operation. They're a tiny crystal encased sandwiched and encased by a plastic housing of some shape. The shape depends on what application it was intended for, but all essentially rely upon the crystal's deformation by means of shock and vibrations to produce small instances of voltage. The bass string's vibration modulates that voltage thereby translating electrical current into the audible waveform it represents. It needs to be amplified to be heard of course, but with a good understanding of compression, you can make some amazing sounding instruments.

dentsinger (author)2008-04-06

Thank you!

Eddz69105 (author)2008-03-06

How long should the leg be?

chalky (author)2008-01-28

AAAAAAAAAAAH now i gets it!! well slap my face and call me grandma!!!!!!!!!!!

technodude92 (author)chalky2008-03-04

*slaps face* have a nice day grandma!

shantinath1000 (author)2008-01-29

I know that it looks clear enough but I have been trying somthing like this with no luck- Is the transducer ( in it's case) just tied to the stick?

Yes. It's just tied to the stick near where the string contacts the wood to pick up the most vibration. Just touching the piezo while it's plugged into an amp sould give you a ton of noise if not feedback. The build and concept is the easy part. Knowing how to adjust your amp/software for the tone is the more difficult. Most importantly is how to properly use compression, but that's a subject for someone else to get into. By "no luck", what is not happening?

I built a solid wood ukulele with the piezo from a buzzer under the bridge but never seemed to get it to work (sound). I am messing about with it again and will try plugging it into a friends amp rather than powered computer speakers. any thoughts?

They are rather fragile, so the solder connections would be most suspect I think unless it's been bent in half or something. The PC speakers might be expecting a line level. In that case, it would probably be inaudible. Best to try plugging it into an amp. Flick it a tad to hear if it's operable. Being that a uke has non-steel strings, they are dampened quicker by the wood. This means using a piezo requires good pickup location and fastened securely to get the best level.

Do you think that hot gluing it directly to the bottom of the bridge would work? If I hot glue it -should it be ceramic side to the bridge? Also could you please explain what "line level" is? Since I don't have an amp myself what might be a work around?

dj_nme (author)shantinath10002008-01-30

A "line level" signal is 1V peak to peak at 1K Ohm impedance. If you look at a circuit diagram for an audio device and there is a 1K Ohm resistor across the signal and ground, then it is intended to have a line level output. A pre-amp can turn a high impedance (mic, piezo sensor, etc) into a line level signal. Something like a "Champ" pre-amp kit from Jaycar Electronics would be the ticket.

HAL 9000 (author)2008-01-28

YES! The Whamola!! A fan gave something like this to Les Claypool, and he now features a "Whamola" jam at most concerts. Great sound. Instead of a tuning knob he has a lever he can pull to adjust the pitch. Very neat sound, and hes i guess what you wold call a master with it. Sweet instructable!

Green Stink (author)HAL 90002008-01-29

yes indeed, it's called the whamola, due to it being a 1 stringed bass w/ a huge whammy bar, on the 80's metal guitars there was always a "whammy bar" that basically tilted the bridge to tighten or slacken the strings. I've seen Les about 60 times since 91, he got it in Vermont from some hippie aquantance of Trey's when they were working on the Oysterhead album @ Trey's studio. Despite the concept of him using it as an odd & eclectric improv instrument to create something unique....he has fallen short in making you think the instrument does much more than a sound w/ little diversity. However, he doesn't use effects, a bow, or seem to really take it that seriously, in my opinion. It does look like a fun project for me though....trying to make one that is...thanks!

dentsinger (author)HAL 90002008-01-28

I saw that as well. I love Les. I'm really a guitar player of 22+ years with little bass experience, but I've always loved Mr. Claypool's work. I'd be incredibly gullible to think a simple string instrument is by any means an original idea these days. Thanks for the comment!

GorillazMiko (author)2008-01-28

Cool! I like it. Looks awesome, kind of easy to do too, nice work!

paulm (author)2008-01-28

could you kindly upload this to youtube? it would make viewing much eaiser ;) looks interesting, Im a bassist myself

dentsinger (author)paulm2008-01-28

fizil (author)2008-01-28

Nice grungy sound :)

About This Instructable




Bio: I am who I am they say, though I know the others really know different.
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