Introduction: How to Build a 5-String Bass Guitar

 Whether you are a beginner or experienced guitar builder, this instructional guide will help you build your own custom bass guitar in just a few easy steps.  Before we begin, you will need a few tools and materials. The tools you will need are: Router with a 2'' straight bit and a 3/4'' round over bit, a jigsaw, a pair of bar clamps,a Phillips screwdriver, a drill with 1/8''-1/2'' bits, a solder gun, sandpaper with grits 120,220,400,600,1200, 1 pint of wood conditioner or shellack, and 1 pint of clear gloss polyurethane. The materials you will need are as follows: 1 sheet 1/2'' x 24''x 24'' plywood or MDF, 1 body blank 2''x 24''x 16'' ( I will be using African Padauk), a standard 5-string bass bolt-on neck ( I custom order mine though ), a pair of pickups ( I prefer Bartolini 589-J style), a preamp (once again, Bartolini brand 4.2 prewired harness from ) , a 5-string bass bridge ( I use Takeuchi brand in gloss black) , 5 tuning machines, a pair of strap locks, a cover plate, a neck plate, and a set of bass strings. This build will take a minimum of two days, and requires an advanced skill with woodworking tools.                                             

Step 1: Templates

     Lay out the design for your guitar body on the 1/2'' plywood sheet. It is helpful to draw a centerline and keep your design somewhat symmetric about that line. Symmetry makes for a well balanced bass, but be creative with your design. Next, use a jigsaw to cut out the shape. Make sure to sand down any marks left by the jigsaw blade with the 120 grit sandpaper. Sanding helps the router slide along the edge without translating any bumps or sharp edges to the guitar body.  Use the remaining plywood and repeat the jigsaw-sanding method to make templates for the electronics cavity, the neck pocket, and pickup cut-outs. A steady hand is worth it's weight in gold!

Step 2: Body Shaping

     Clamp your body template securely to the 2'' x 24''x 16'' body blank and grab the router. Use a 2'' straight bit to cut through the blank. Once again, sand out the chattered edges with 120 grit sandpaper until all the scratches and bumps are removed. Now, switch to the 3/4'' round over bit and route around the entire perimeter on both front and back of the body. Sand out the rough edges with 120 grit sandpaper.  Finally, clamp down the templates for the electronics cavity, neck pocket, and pickups. Cutting depth should be 1 3/4'' for the cavity,1 1/2'' for the neck pocket and about 3/4'' for the pickups. Be sure to cut down in increments of no more than 1/4'' per pass. This will keep your router bit in good shape, as well as prevent chipping or cracking in the body. Also drill out any screw holes for mounting the pickups, bridge, and control knobs. During the shaping process, you can get creative with the look of the guitar.  Here are two examples of different creative styles.

Step 3: Touchwork

     Begin sanding the entire body (minus the cavity, neck, and pickup cut-outs) starting with 120 grit sandpaper. Check for flaws, scratches, and sharp edges before moving on the next grit. Repeat sanding process using the 220 and 400 grits. Important!!! - between 400 and 600 grit, apply a thin coat of wood conditioner. The wood conditioner will soak in and bring out the grain patterns so they are more visible. After sanding with 600 grit, apply a thin coat of polyurethane and let dry completely. Next, sand out the poly coat and WITHOUT REMOVING THE SANDING DUST, apply another coat of polyurethane. Move on to the 1200 grit sandpaper and repeat the urethane / sand process until the body is completely smooth. Finally, apply one last coat of poly urethane and let dry overnight. 

Step 4: Assembly

     Once the polyurethane is dry, lay a blanket or cloth under the guitar body so it wont be scratched during assembly. Begin by bolting the neck and neck plate to the body. The neck should squeeze tightly into the neck pocket. Mount the bridge to the body so that there is no more than 35'' distance from the headstock to the center of the bridge. Screw down the pickups so that they are level and parallel to each other. attach tuning machines to the pre-drilled holes on the headstock.  Installation of the preamp takes a bit of concentration. Follow the wiring diagram that comes with the pickups to determine exactly which leads to solder to. There are four wires, two positive and two negative, that will need to be soldered to the volume pot on your preamp. Every configuration is different, so it is important to follow the wiring schematic exactly! From here, attach the electronics cavity plate cover and knob control covers. Drill pilot holes for mounting the strap locks. This will prevent cracking the body you just poured your heart and soul into. Attach the strap locks with a phillips screwdriver, turning the screw slowly. Adjust the truss rod to straighten out the neck, and string up your bass!

Step 5: Jam Out

   Congratulations! You have just built a sweet 5 string bass guitar. Custom builds become your own works of art. The steps provided may be altered to reflect your choice of finishes (stains, paint, etc..), electronics ( active/passive, soapbar/ J or P style), and body design. I hope you have had fun dring your build. Please email me at with any questions or comments.