This is an in depth guide for the daring woodcrafting artisan that will explain how to create your own electric bass guitar using various techniques used in wood crafting. This guide will enable you to go through a practice run first, to enable you to understand what is required as far as craftsmanship and application of techniques when creating an electric bass guitar.
"Wiser the man who learns through experience than the man who believes just word."
In other words this guide will first give you an opportunity to practice making the various parts of an electric bass guitar so that you may gain insight and a bit of experience before crafting your final version. Making a fine electric stringed instrument is an intricate and delicate craft to learn so do not enter into this guide thinking that you will reach perfection with your instrument right away.
Practice will be important and this guide will follow the experience that I had while learning the process required to create an electric bass guitar. I have devoted much of my time recently to discovering the art of this craft and I hope that if you choose to follow this guide that you will discover this also!!
So continue on if you feel that you are up to this challenge, and you will see what a little science and imagination can do........
Step 1: TOOLS REQUIRED:
Tools that you will need:
- Hand Planner
- Wood Carving Chisel (optional but very helpful at times)
- Different sizes of Files and Rasps
- A set of screw drivers
- Fine precision saw
- Router and various bits.
- Electric drill
- Belt sander
- Orbital sander
- Reciprocating Saw ( A smaller blade about 3/8th" and a larger 1/2" blade)
- Band Saw
- Drill Press
- Table Saw (Optional, mine has a dead motor)
Step 2: Building Materials You Will Require:
The basics of what you will require to begin this project will be as follows:
1. Wood for the neck blank: For the first run through I recommend getting wood that is cheaper in price. You will need enough wood to create the dimensions 3 feet by 3 inches by 3 inches.
2. Wood for the body: I would recommend any type of maple; ash is also a choice wood. You will need enough to fill the dimensions of around 2 feet by 2 feet by 2 inches.
3. Wood Glue: I would recommend getting Elmers stainable wood glue. If you have another choice of stainable wood glue then that should work just fine. I went through about two bottles of glue during this project.
As far as for the basics of materials these are it. All other materials needed will be listed when they are used.
Step 3: Prototype # 1:
If you want to make an electric bass guitar there is no way around needing some practice first. And practice is good for you too. So if you have never built an electric bass guitar or the like I would recommend running through a test design process in order to familiarize yourself with the process of building such an instrument. This section of the guide will go over the different steps of the process and should hopefully open a new door for you in the realms of creativity.
SO GO GET YOUR SUPPLIES AND GET INTO YOUR WORKSHOP...
Step 4: Creating a Neck Blank:
When I ordered this project off the menu of my mind I decided that I would start with making the neck. The neck is by far the most crucial aspect of the bass guitar, or any stringed instrument for that matter.
Without a proper neck design your instrument will no doubt sound like a deep voiced street bum Be-bopping to the 40oz in his hand that he's forgotten has been empty for hours. So in other words much care will be important on the construction of the neck and all of its components..................................So now that these words have sunk in, (maybe) lets start with what you will need for the neck.
1. Choose a hardwood that is pleasing to you. Do not dare use plywood which should be fairly obvious. Try to choose a Hardwood that is not extremely hard or one that is more towards the softer end of the Hardwood spectrum. The acoustical aspects will vary depending on what wood you use so do your research and choose wisely. Hardwoods vary in price depending on the dimensions and condition of the wood. You will need enough wood to cover the the dimensions: 3 ft x 3in x 3in.
*NOTE: You will not use the entire 3 ft length unless you feel compelled to do a NECK THROUGH design. This guide however will show you in more detail how to make a BOLT ON NECK. (not a Buckethead reference)
2. When Choosing your Hardwood take great care to notice the grain of the wood! Using boards that have similar grain direction and NO KNOTS is your current mission......Find enough pieces that you can create the dimensions specified above. (I used 4 pieces of Aspenwood. This is a relatively inexpensive hardwood.)
*NOTE: If using multiple types of Hardwood, use the hardest for the center to create better core support. For example Maple in the middle and Aspenwood on the sides.
3. O.K. So now you have your choice pieces of wood. They should be attractive, so give them affection as you start to develop your relationship with them. Remember to keep the relationship a platonic one though (currently the legalities of a sexual relationship with Hardwood is questionable.)
4. Now to gather the supplies that you will need to laminate these pieces together.
You will need:
*At least two (2) bottles of Elmer's Stainable wood glue. (Make sure that it is Stainable)
*Multiple clamping devices will be needed to laminate the pieces together. (It is important to use clamps that can achieve many hundred pounds of pressure at least. I recommend using pipe clamps if you have them at your disposal.)
*NOTE: Make sure you have enough clamps to apply equal pressure along the length. I would recommend having (4) to (8) clamps.
5. Escourt your Hardwood to your workshop; Make sure the area is clean and comfortable for you and your wood. It's time for some lamination.......
Step 5: Laminating the Wood, Roughing Out and Shapping a A Neck Blank:
Alright the neck that I created consisted of Four (4) pieces of Aspenwood. The Two pieces I used in the center were slightly thicker then the Two pieces I used for both sides of the neck blank. *As an optional step I took some wood stain and stained the sides of the thinner pieces. (This was to create a visible line between the sections of wood.)
1. Lay out your planks of wood. I separated the planks in Two (2) parts. One thick and one thin. It is important to place the 2 planks together with the same paths of the wood grain. In other words the 4 planks should be glued together with the wood grain flowing upward toward the top of the neck.
*NOTE: The reason for this process is to increase the strength of the neck blank after lamination and to allow for cleaner cutting.
2. Now that you have the boards set up, You will want to position your clamps so that you can easily place the neck blank in them after applying the glue. Place the clamps equaly side by side in a row.
3. Now for the glue. Make sure that your pieces of wood are as clean as they can be. You want the glue to adhere to the wood as perfectly as it can with no obstructions. take a damp cloth and wipe down the wood to get it a little moist. *DO NOT GET IT TOO WET! just enough to open up the poors in the wood a little. Next Take some glue and carefully apply it along the length of the board so that it is covered with a thin layer of glue. Do this same process to the other board that you will be gluing to. Now repeat this process so that all 4 pieces are glued together.
4. When you have all the boards glued together place them into the clamps and tighten the clamps up *Remember that you want to have as much pressure as the clamps can provide. Have a damp cloth ready so that you can wipe off any glue that seeps out of the seams. (It is much easier to get the glue off when it is wet)
5. When everything is set up and secured in the clamps. Its time to walk away for a while. This is where patience is important. Keep the clamps on for a period of at least 2 days so that all of the moisture from the glue can properly dry out.
.Now that you have your body blank lamented, its time to rough it out and shape it. For this sequence of steps you will need your bandsaw, orbital sander, belt sander, files and rasps and also a carving chisel if you have one.
1. Begin by marking out where the headstock will be on the neck blank.
2. Mark out the location of the end of the fretboard. This should be exactly 24 inches from the end of the headstock where your nut will be.
3. Mark off where you will be bolting the neck onto the body. I recommend at least 4 inches of space that will make up this area.
4.For the contour of the neck mark off 2 inches along the underside of the neck lengthwise as the distance to where the fretboard will glue onto.
5. With these measurements made cut off excess wood from the neck blank using your bandsaw.
6.Use in combination the belt sander, orbital sander and rasps to begin to shape the neck down to its refined dimensions.
7. If you have a woodcarving chisel, use it!! It is very time consuming but for some reason very rewarding.When using a woodcarving chisel remember to make your gouges with the grain not against it.
Step 6: Creating a Body Blank:
1. For my bass guitar body I used some Red Maple. I bought a plank that was about 2 inches thick and was 4 feet long and 10 inches wide. This was more than was needed but a small portion of the plank was slightly cracked and had a knot in it. So when you go out looking for a nice piece of wood for the body be sure to find a piece that is free of damage and has no knots. Also think about where you will be cutting the plank in half at in relation to its grain.
2. A major factor to think about when designing your Bass guitar body is the ergonomics of the instrument. Being able to comfortably manipulate the instrument while playing should be an important factor of the design.
3. I recommend using a reciprocating saw or a band saw to cut your piece of wood in half. A reciprocating saw is a reliable tool to create straight cut lines. However if you do not have either of these and you are a fan of hand saws go for it.
4.So now that you have cut the plank in two lets get onto the lamination of the body blank. This process will be a little different compared to the neck blank.
*Line up the two pieces of wood with the grain going in opposite directions this time.
*Before applying any glue lay out your clamps so the blank can be easily placed in the clamps. When you place the blank into the clamps and tighten them the body will want to break apart at the middle seem. To remedy this you want to place weight on top of both sides of the body blank.
- When your clamps are ready take a damp cloth and moisten the two edges that you will be gluing together and apply the glue. Press both pieces together and remember to wipe off any excess glue that seaps out the sides.
5. When the body is tightly clamped at as much pressure as can be made, check to see if the body is still even and clear off any excess glue. Now for another break because the body blank will need to sit in those clamps for at least a few days just as you did with the neck blank.
Step 7: Shapping the Body Blank:
1. When you design the pattern for the body first take into account where the neck will be bolted onto. This is important because the end of the fretboard should be at exactly 24 inches. You will need to take into consideration the remaining 10 inches to the Bridge that will complete the 34 inch scale. So basically the length of the body should have enough room to properly bolt on the neck while still leaving room (10 more inches) to extend down to the bridge. It will be up to you and your design on how much room you want to leave below where the bridge will be mounted. Also when creating the design make a decision on what types of pickups you will be using. The pickups will eventually be mounted within the 10 inches below the fretboard and under where the strings will be.
2. Draw out your design onto the body blank. I recommend using a pastel or a piece of charcoal to draw out the design. The design i drew out took into account possible errors i would make when cutting. So whatever design that you make draw it out a little larger so that you can give yourself a margin of error when cutting.
3. When the design is laid out you can begin cutting. For the cutting I used a bandsaw with a thicker wood cutting blade with larger teeth. The Red Maple I used is a relatively hard wood so the larger blade made for easier cutting. To reduce the strain on the blade when cutting I made cuts inward towards the body and did so along every side. This made it much easier to cut along curves and to be able to remove wood easier.
4. Some tips to remember when cutting and using a band saw:
*make sure that the bandsaw is in proper working order with all elements properly tightened and the blade secure.
- Do not go too fast (This should be obvious)
- Remember to cut in a forward motion. It may feel like the blade is what is moving but the only thing moving should be the wood. Carefully control your cutting by moving the wood towards the blade. (Not doing so will ruin your blade!)
Now that you have your body cut out use the tools that you used to shape the neck to shape the body up to your design.
Step 8: Practice Is Good!...Let's Get Detailed!!
At about this time a sound of a skipping record should be heard. Upon the hearing of this sound you should pause for a moment (smoke um if ya got em!) and realize how much you have just learned through this experience. Hopefully you are having fun crafting your bass guitar, and have also gained insight on how such an instrument is created. This step is very important because it should help you realize that there are many things that you would add or change to this project if you could........................ Well there is never any time such as the present; so pull back out your drawing board because its time to use the knowledge you've learned so far to create Prototype #2.
Practice will make the road to perfection much easier to travel along, and the more you traverse this path, the more you will become your own guide. Making a perfect bass guitar from scratch the very first time is not easy and unless you are some sort of musical savant you have probably made a few mistakes so far. So take this chance to rethink your design before you make your second prototype bass guitar.
Some things to think about:
1. What wood will you use for the new neck?( I chose African Padauk hardwood; this wood will produce a deeper overtone. Also this kind of wood has an amazing natural red orange color)
2.What wood will you choose for the new fretboard? ( I also chose African Padauk for the new fretboard. Padauk tends to have variations in its colors and the piece i chose for the fretboard has a slightly darker hue then the piece i am using for the neck.)
3. What wood will you use for the new body? ( I decided to use a portion of the body from Prototype#1, My plan was to incorporate this with more Padauk in a complex laminate body)
4. Will you change the style of truss rod in the neck? ( I changed my truss rod to a double action truss rod to compensate for the extra weight of the new wood)
5. Now that you have learned a little bit about the details of constructing a bass guitar, what else can you add or change to create an ultimate Bass Axe? ( Considering that I am more comfortable playing while sitting down, I designed the body for my Prototype #2 to fit comfortably to my lap.)
HOPEFULLY YOU ARE DECIDING TO NOT GIVE UP. IF YOU ARE GIVING UP, WHY DID YOU EVEN START?
Step 9: Prototype # 2:
This is designated as the Brainstorming page for this guide. Before starting prototype #2 begin using your imagination. Take a log of the output of this imagination sequence and use these ideas for your new design.
Step 10: Prototype #2: Neck Blank/ Roughing Out & Shappng:
its time to use the knowledge and experience you gained from crafting your first neck blank to create a better one. The process will be the same as the first neck blank that you created, so refer back to step # 2 while creating this second neck blank...
Some things to consider:
1.What new wood are you using for the second neck blank?
(The Padauk I used was thicker than the Aspenwood I used for the first neck blank. This second neck blank only required 3 pieces glued side by side to create the proper dimensions of the neck.)
2. Do some research on the new wood you have chosen.
(Padauk has a tendency to splinter a bit when cutting. This is the sort of information you will want to gain on the working properties of your new wood.)
*Refer back to step 4 and step 5 for reminders on how to glue and shape your neck blank.
Apply your experience from crafting your first neck blank into this new neck. Remind yourself of any mistakes you may have made on the first neck so that you can make this one even better.
Step 11: Prototype #2: the Body Blank, Cutting/Shapping:
If you are still working through this guide than you are an individual who understands how persistence and imagination are important to fine craftsmanship. The first body blank that you created was a very simple design as far as usage of wood goes. Lets heighten the challenge of this project and go for a more complex style of body.
*Refer back to step 4 for the basics on how to laminate the bass guitar body.
As far as making the body blank more complex, here is what I did:
1. I decided to reuse a portion of my original bass guitar body for the left side. I cut the end i wanted to use off of the original body using a reciprocating saw.
2. Next I took the remaining portions of Padauk and glued them side by side. This was very similar in process to how the neck blank was laminated together.
3. I then glued the remaining Red Maple left over from creating the original body to the Padauk pieces. These were left in clamps for 1 day.
4. After these pieces were glued I made 2 cuts with a reciprocating saw. With these two portions that I cut off I then re glued onto a different area on the body blank than where I had cut them from.
The newly glued pieces were left inside the clamps for another day. (Remember to plane the edges that were cut so that that they are flat enough to glue them together evenly.)
5. I repeated the process just described once more. After these 2 steps of cutting the body blank now had a very interesting cross hatched appearance.
6. After drying for another 2 days I removed the blank and sanded it down with a belt sander 30 grit and then used a hand planer to level it out. ( I was left with a giant smile to say the least)
7. The original portion of the first body that I cut off was then glued onto the side of the new body blank.
*don't forget what you have learned about wood grain direction when gluing these pieces together.
Well now its good to see that you are still here (along with all your digits too I hope!)
Lets begin on cutting out your body blank design for your Prototype #2.
*Refer back to step #5 for the basics of cutting
1. Use the experience that you gained from crafting and cutting your first bass guitar body. This knowledge should prove very useful to you now that you have experimented with cutting out a body design before.
*Some things to remember:
A. Using pastel or charcoal to draw out the rough design.
B. Cutting notches into the border of the design to make it easier to cut and remove pieces.
C. Making the outline a bit larger to compensate for possible errors while cutting.
D. Cutting along not against the grain of the wood.
*Depending on how complex you have made your new body design this might not always be possible but do your best.
After your bass guitar body design is cut out. get creative on its asthetic design. I ended up putting an extra backing layer of wood onto the back of the body. I used Yellowheart and some more Padauk. These two woods in combination give an amazing contrast in color.
Step 12: Prototype #2: How to Make a Truss Rod & How to Install It Into the Neck:
1. Single Action: For a single action truss rod you will need a 3/16 in threaded steel bar just a little longer in length than the neck it will go into. You will also need to fasten a hex key nut to one end of the threaded rod. This hex nut will be accessed from the top of the neck on the headstock and will be the way the truss rod is tightened or loosened. On the other end of the threaded bar you will need to find a way to secure it into the body. A simple method would be to use a tree nut.
2. Double Action: My Prototype #2 has a double action truss rod inside of it. This is a little more complex to fabricate but I like its strength much better than a single action style. For the set up make a single action truss rod minus the bottom end tree nut. Fasten the single action rod onto a smaller rod of the same length at the top of the rod. Use your imagination if you want. Fasten the rods together at the bottom also with whatever method you designed. The double action rod when tightened works in unison with the two rods to create much better torque than a single action rod.
1. If using a single action truss rod you will need to route out a line down the center of the neck that is just a little deeper than the height of the rod. You want it to fit nicely while not being too loose. Route out the line from the top portion of the neck, underneath where the fret board will glue onto.
2. If using a double action truss rod you will also need to route out a line down the center of the neck just a little deeper than the rods height . Be more careful when routing this line out because of its larger height.
TIPS: *When routing remember to make multiple passes each time getting a little deeper.
- Either use a line template to route out a perfect line or go incredibly slow.
Step 13: Protoype #2: Your Fretboard Is Your Friend:
Padauk is an awesome wood. Its tonal properties are a little darker, and it has this incredible reddish orange color. Padauk also has tonal properties that are similar to maple. Lets just say Padauk is under rated when it comes to making basses. Considering I just can't get enough Padauk, I used a piece of it for the fretboard too. Making a fretboard is rather simple, but still not to be rushed. Match your neck dimensions to your neck design from the nut down to 24 inches to a planed piece of hardwood. I would recommend getting a plank that is 1/4 inch in thickness and of course 3 inches wide and 24 inches long.
Using a bandsaw carefully cut out the shape of the fretboard. (remember to leave a little room for errors.) Next use either sandpaper or an orbital sander to clean up the sides. Take your new fretboard and laminate it onto the top of the neck. Make sure you have installed your truss rod into the neck before gluing, and keep watch of the truss rod to make sure that any glue doesn't accidently fasten it into the truss rod cavity. If you use too much glue when gluing on your fretboard and your truss rod gets stuck then i promise you will not be a happy camper.
After clamping down the fretboard and allowing the glue to dry for a couple days, use a radius gauge and sand down the fretboard to a 9.5 radius. To paint a mental picture for you, imagine the fretboard curve to be the portion of a complete circle.
Step 14: Prototype #2: Bolt on Neck:
For a bolt on neck you will need to route out a neck pocket for the neck to bolt into. Carefully measure out the exact spot that the neck will bolt into and use your router to create the pocket. Remember to secure the body to your work surface so that the router doesn't send it flying across the room. The easiest way to route out the area is to make multiple passes lowering the router bit each time a little lower.
If you routed out your neck pocket correctly than this next step should be a breeze. Measure 4 equally spaced holes in the neck pocket for the bolts you will be using. Next take the neck and drill matching holes into the end that will fasten to the body. Finally using hex bolt screws, bolt the neck onto the body.
Step 15: Prototype #2: Bass Guitar Hardware :
Bass guitar hardware is very important. Without a proper set up your instrument will sound like garbage. The hardware for a 4 string bass guitar is as follows:
1. 4 tuning machine heads: These are where the strings will attach to at the headstock.
2. 1 nut: The nut is made of wood, plastic, graphite, or bone. The nut is placed just above the top of the fretboard and is the beggining of the scale.
3. Strings: With all the varieties we all have our preference. I prefer DR Black Beauties.
4. Bridge: The bridge of the bass guitar is where the strings will fasten to the bottom of the instrument. It is the end of the Bass guitars scale and is also where the strings can be adjusted for height.
5. Pickups: you aren't going to get sound from an electric bass guitar without the pickups. The pickups are located within the 10 inches below the fretboard and before the bridge. Choose a style of pickup that you like. I would recommend any form of humbucker or combination thereof.
6. Controls: These will consist of at least 1 volume control and 1 tone control.These controls should be matched to the requirements of the pickups you will be using.
For the 4 tuning machine heads locate their positioning on the headstock. Drill 4 holes through the headstock to accommodate the cylindrical shaft that the bass strings attach to. Mount the 4 tuning machine heads onto the headstock from the underside of the headstock.
Mount the nut onto the neck just above the top of the fretboard. Make sure that the nut is evenly mounted.
Mount the bridge at exactly 34 inches from the nut on the body. You will be able to adjust the string height with the saddles on the bridge.
Route out spots for the pickups within the 10 inches from the bottom of the fretboard to the top of the bridge. The placement will depend on what type of pickup you are using. The most important thing to remember about the depth of the pick up cavities is that you want to be able to adjust them so they are not to close to the strings but also not too far away either.
As for the controls, you will need to route out an area on the back of the body that will house the control knobs. You are going to have at least 2 knobs and an audio jack. The two controls are going to be an audio volume control and a tone control. Refer to a wiring diagram for your chosen pickup setup. Route out a connecting channel from the control knob cavity to the pickup cavity using a drill. This will serve as a channel for the wires that connect the pickups to the controls.
Over top of the pickup cavities and along portions of the body I plan to cover in an ebony wood veneer. This will create a sort of cover for the pickup cavity.
Step 16: Prototype #2: Installing Your Strings and Tunning Your New Bass Guitar!!
Well to install your strings, thread them through the holes in the bridge and over the bridges' saddles. Pull each string across the Bass guitar towards the tuning machine heads and over the nut at the top. Thread each string into the machine heads and tighten up the strings. Use a tuner to accurately adjust each string.
NOTE: You will probably need to adjust the saddle height for each string on the bridge.
Step 17: You Are the Creator!!!
Well I myself have learned a great deal about the bass guitar through working on this project. I have found it to be a wonderful way to connect with the instrument that I play. However as much as I have learned up until this point, I can not ignore how much I still have to learn about this craft. If you have made it through this guide I congratulate you at your persistence. As for me stay tuned because I will soon be making Prototype # 3 using the knowledge I gained from working on this project.