Introduction: Bass Guitar Made of a Broken Ski.
I wanted to give my all time favorite ski a second life, after I broke it by the binding.
And what's cooler than building a bass guitar out of it, bringing it to ski trips, jamming around the camp fire?
That was the idea, secondly, having no experience at all, I had to find out how to do it.
The internet has a lot of hints and inspiration, and gave me enough confidence to take on the challenge.
One of the main inspirations came from https://www.monsterbass.nl/index.html with plenty of "to the point" knowledge.
I had no clear idea of the result, it evolved during the process, which was part of the fun.
Step 1: Finding Out What You Need, More Than the Ski.
Since I wanted it to be an electric bass, this is what I found I needed:
Strings, frets, nut, bridge, pickups, tuners, volume and tone controls, truss rod, pick guard, a strap and material for the neck and body.
I chose to use a 4 string jazz bass as inspiration, to adapt my measurements to.
Ebay was trawled for parts, and the project evolved gradually each time a new part arrived in the mail.
The tools I used is in the picture.
Misc saws, metal saw to get through the steel edge of the ski, plain wood saw to cut a rough shape of the wood and the ski lengthwise (which ruined it, since there was two fiberglass layers in the ski), small hack saw for the fret slots and a jigsaw to saw curves.
Clamps for gluing.
Misc measures, I alternated between measuring and thinking a lot.
Wooden file and rasp for shaping.
Sand paper for shape and finish, I used 100 grit, which gave me the smoothness I was happy with.
I attached it to an electric sander, but I did not plug it in.
It gives a good weight and control of the sanding, but made me look a bit silly.
Rubber fret hammer and flush nippers for the fret ends.
Fret file (still in the bag, the frets turned out to be quite flush).
Metal file for smoothing the fret ends and the steel edges of the ski.
Drill with wooden bits and a small diamond disc for cutting the pick guard.
Step 2: Starting the Creative Process
I took what little I had, laid it out on the dining table, and messaged a photo to my friends saying "How can this possibly go wrong?". This gave me an obligation to complete the project, and everyone a good laugh.
The ski was way to wide for a guitar neck, so it had to be cut lengthwise.
I used only hand tools, so it doubles as exercise, which does no harm.
I wanted to keep the ski brand logo as much as possible, which meant that the strings needed to be positioned to one side of the ski.
To get the depth and length of the body to fit the pickups and bridge, I got hold of a piece of 2x6 from the waste pile of a construction site. If you ask kindly, they will give it to you for free.
The ski is too thin for a guitar neck, so I got a piece of 2x4 as well, which I shaped to roughly fit the top side of the ski.
I could have spent some more time on this step, since I had to glue it 3 times and even add screws to make it stick. There is a fair amount of tension on the neck from the strings, countered by the truss rod.
It is not recommended to fix a bent neck by tightening the truss rod, but since I wanted to use my ski, and it is designed with a slight curve, I had no choice but to try it. It worked quite well.
Step 3: Shaping the Neck
Now it starts to get fun, removing material and creating the shape you want.
I was afraid to remove too much material, and left quite a thickness in the ends, which was removed later.
Since I tried to create, rather than copy a guitar, I did not have to make it symmetrical.
I tried to grip around the neck repeatedly, to feel where there was excess material to be removed.
Step 4: More Body
I found I did not have enough room for the control panel, so I had to decide on a shape and go to the construction site waste pile again, to get some more weather worn 2x4.
Some planing of the sides 2x4, plenty of wood glue and pressing it together by putting a heavy toolbox on top over night, gave me plenty of room to figure out the shape of the body.
Step 5: Assembling
Using a fret calculator, you get the exact positions for the frets for your scale length.
I used a full size 86cm scale, since it is quite standard, and about right where my ski was broken.
This gave me the possibility to fit 24 frets, giving 2 full octaves on the strings.
I tried as hard as I could to be exact when cutting the slots for the frets, since this is what makes the tones in tune or slightly off.
Getting the position for the bridge positioned right, was a trial and error procedure for me, since the odd shape of the neck did not make it easy to work with a center line, all the way from the nut to the bridge.
A center line would have made it all much easier, but so would more precision tools, trial and error also works out fine in the end.
As you can see from the picture, when starting to thread strings from the bridge to the nut, the bridge turned out to be slightly off the center position.
The shape of a ski tip is not like a guitar head, which would not get enough pressure from the strings on the nut.
I chose to drill holes through the ski and mount the tuners upside down, stringing the tuners on the back side.
This way I got the needed preassure from the strings to hold the nut in place, without gluing it.
The ski was way too thin for the tuners, so I had to add material on the back to make it thicker.
This also gave me the possibility to stiffen the ski tip, which had got me increasingly worried for its wobblyness.
I used some pieces of hard wood, that came from the transport protection of a washing machine, that I had kept.
I also added some eyebolts as string guides, since the position of the tuners are way off what is normal.
Originally this gave a tension on the ski tip, twisting it quite a bit.
It did not affect the possibility to tune the guitar, and when the string height was lowered later, the twist is way less.
The head is still not stiff, but I can use it as a whammy-head, since I don't have a whammy bar, making it all just a fun feature.
The cavities for the pickups and the controls were made by drilling holes and smoothing the cavities with a knife.
I found this easier than using chisels.
The fret markers were made by drilling holes, gluing and pressing in leftover Ikea wooden plugs.
They were cut flush after the glue was dry.
Step 6: Finishing Touches
I made a pick guard from the back plate of an old laptop.
It is made of aluminum, and works well to shield the electronics in the pickup and control cavities.
I grounded the bridge, which in turn grounds the pick guard.
Whether to do this or not has different recommendations, but it makes my guitar quite free of hum, even without humbucker pickups.
Since the guitar does not have the traditional horn on the body, where it is natural to attach a strap, I had to make a triangle of straps to be able to get the guitar to hang in balance.
This guitar has a lot of weight in the over sized head.
I have a piezo pickup glued between the neck and body, in the attempt to get some more acoustic sound, but all it got me was noice. That was disappointing.
It is soldered through a volume control to the output jack, in the same way as the other two pickups.
I liked the patterns of the wood grain, and the bruises of the waste material, so I decided to coat the wood with linseed oil.
At first it made my fingers smell like fish, when I played the guitar, but only the first few weeks until the oil was properly absorbed by the wood.
I used my soldering iron to burn name and number to it, making it a one off, unique, hand made guitar.
Now, I have to figure out how to play it, the next fun part of the project.
I wonder if it takes longer to learn how to play ZZ Top songs, than growing a ZZ Top beard, time will show :-)