Intro: Make a Whamola
You definitely need a Whamola. What in the world is a Whamola? It's a simple one string instrument with a handle at the top to vary the pitch. This upright bass instrument is normally played by hitting the string with a drumstick with one hand and varying the pitch with the other like a whammy bar on a guitar. I was truly "inspired" to make one after watching a video, which defies description, of what appears to be Les Claypool enthusiastically playing a Whamola.
I embarked on a Whamola journey to make one in my garage with a goal of less than $100. During my Whamola research, I discovered Whamola Laboratories which makes and sells beautiful hand-made wooden Whamolas but I'm cheap and wasn't that fully committed to a Whamola to shell out $500+, but that's just me.
These are the steps I used to make my Whamola. The materials for this project came out to less than $100 which is odd because most of my projects go over budget. Using these steps and materials, your Whamola will come out like mine or you can pick and choose which steps you want and make yours unique. Either way, I'm fairly certain yours will look and sound different than mine which is a good thing because Whamolas are like people and no two are alike. Remember, you're unique just like everyone else!
Step 1: Materials and Tools
These are the materials used to make the major components:
Gorilla Wood Glue (shameless plug alert!)
3 Oak Hobby Boards 48"x1 1/2" x 1/4" (Red Oak Hobby Board 0.25 x 1.5 x 4 ft)
1 Aluminum Square Tube 1" x 4 ft
1 Set of Patio Door Wheels (Two Wheels) 1 1/4" in diameter
6 Nylon Plastic Spacers 1/4" long, 1/2" outer diameter, .257 inner, (Lots of 1/4" metal washers would work too)
Threaded Rod 1/4" about 2 ft
10 Cap Nuts (1/4" -20)
1 Wooden Dowel 7/8" x 48" (need just 13" actually)
1 Rubber Foot (Came in set of 4) 7/8" Leg Tips
1 1/4" Thumb Screw (Winged Screw 1/4"-20x 1/2")
Oak Board .75 x 1.5 in x 9 in
Aluminum Flat Bar stock 1/8 thick x 1 in
Bass Tuning Peg (I bought a cheap set of four)
4 Wood Screws
Pickup (Find one or make one):
- Buy/salvage a used or new guitar pickup. A bass pickup would be ideal. Price will vary wildly.
- Make one:
2 Plastic Bobbin Spools
Magnetic Wire 40-44 Gauge normally used. I think my mystery spool is 40 gauge.
4 1/2" Neodymium Round Magnets
2 1/4' Threaded Machine Screws
Scrap of 1/4" thick wood
3 little nails (3/4" shade bracket nails, nickel plated)
1 1/8" Audio Jack
Black and Red hook up wire
These are the major tools I used:
Drill Press (Electric Hand Drill will work but much more challenging)
Drill bits 1/16" to 1/2"
Clamps to assemble and glue body together
Electric Hand Sander and assorted sand paper
Basic hand tools e.g. pliars, screwdrivers, wire cutters,
Beer Fridge (Fully Stocked)
Whamola Opening Concert and Tour Requirements
Drumstick (not chicken, think percussion but any stick type thing will do)
Guitar Amp (Mine are from pawn shops)
Audio Cord from Guitar Amp to Whamola and possibly audio jack adapters
Humility - A modest and humble view of one's self creating and playing the infamous Whamola
Step 2: Crude Body Parts
The neat thing about the three oak hobby boards and aluminum square tube is they are not only the same length, but they line up nicely when put together. This is often called careful engineering and planning but in my case it's just dumb luck.
I glued the aluminum square tube and three oak boards together to make the crude body. I clamped the boards to the square tube so the boards would be flush with each other because sanding is not my favorite pastime. I would recommend using lots of clamps and/or weights to hold it all together and let it set for at least 12 hours to ensure everything is bonded together tight.
Step 3: Just Handle It
The handle came from a red oak board 3/4 in x 1.5 in and it came out to be 8 3/4" long. Before any sanding or shaping, I drilled out the hole for the tuning peg bushing. I drilled the hole where the center of the hole was 1 inch from the end closest to the Whamola body. I would HIGHLY recommend drilling a test hole on some scrap wood so it's just slightly smaller than the bushing as it needs to be tapped in gently so it fits in the hole snug. Mine came out fine but I think if the hole is drilled too big it could be epoxied or glued in there too.
I tapped the bushing in just a little and used the tuning peg as a template to drill the four little pilot holes that hold the tuning peg in place when the screws are put in. Take off all the hardware and start filing, shaping and sanding the handle until it looks as cool as mine. In retrospect, I think I would have rounded the handle a little more and used paracord as a handle wrap, but maybe that'll be a side project down the road. I also stained it and set it aside for later assembly.
Now for the handle bars. I cut off two pieces of the aluminum flat stock bar about 5 inches long. I think the key of this part is taping them together so they're exactly the same. I trimmed off one end to make them flush and the other end at an approx 45 degree angle to make a length of 4 3/4 inches long. If yours has a different length it will be fine so as long as they're the same, masking tape is our good friend. Keep them together and drill a 1/4" hole where 1/4 threaded rod holds the bridge wheel and handle together and then drill a couple holes for the screw used to hold the metal handle bars to the wooden handle. Again, keep them taped together so they’re the same. The first hole should be 3 1/4" flat end and the second 4" from the end. As long as they're the same, I don't think it's going to matter much.
Step 4: Refining the Body
The body needs some holes and attached in step one is a really crude and not to scale drawing describing where the holes should be drilled.
First we need a notch where the top nut wheel goes. I drilled a 1/2" hole down from the face and 1 1/2" from the top. Then using a saw, or in my case a band saw, I cut from the top down to the hole to make a really crude half oval shape notch for the wheel. Using a rotary tool and various bits, I tried my best to clean it up and remove the wood and aluminum so that only the sides were left.
Next we need a 1/4" hole for the threaded rod which holds the nut wheel and handle so the center of the hole is 1" from the top. Most importantly, the hole needs to be as close to the face/fret board or the string will not clear the wood. I drilled the 1/4" hole so it's 1/2" from the front and the wheel sticks out enough where the string doesn't hit the fret board but it's close.
As per the diagram, drill the two 1/4" holes for bridge hardware 32" from the top and 1 1/2" and 5/8" from the face/fret board.
Now would also be a good time to drill a hole for the pickup wires. You'll be threading two pickup wires to the face so the hole should be big enough for the two wires and not any bigger. Mine is 31 inches from the top.
We need a hole in the aluminum tube at the bottom for the leg adjustment wing nut. This is a little tricky so I would highly recommend drilling a test hole in a piece of scrap flat bar aluminum. Drill a small enough hole where you can thread the hole using the wing nut to make threads. If you have access to a tap and die set, that would be ideal to make the threaded hole in the soft aluminum. I didn’t record the exact drill bit size but it was easy to thread using the wing nut using a pair of pliers to twist the wing nut. Also, the wings were a little wide for the channel so I bent them up a little so it would turn easier in the channel.
The hole on the side for the little audio jack 31" down from the top is a pain because it's really two holes. The 1/4 thick wood on the side is too thick to put the nut on. So I drilled a 1/4" hole first, then to make room to install the nut I drilled a 1/2" hole leaving just enough wood (approx 3/16") so I could put the nut on and secure the little audio jack to the side. Again, I would highly recommend trying it out on a piece of 1/4 scrap wood first in an effort to eliminate practice holes in your future family heirloom.
These are all the holes needed (I think), so start shaping and sanding until you get the shape desired for your smoking hot Whamola body. Also, I used an electric rotary took with a wire brush to scratch up the aluminum on the back and the aluminum flat bar pieces in an effort to create a brushed aluminum effect. Now would also be a good time to splash on some stain or oil of your choosing.
Step 5: Pickup Artist
A Whamola would not be complete without a pickup. It obviously needs to be heard, by many...
One option is to buy a used or new pickup. Mount it and wire it up to a jack.
Another option is to make your own. I opted to make my own because I have in my possession a mystery roll of magnet wire (40 gauge?) and the rest of the parts were inexpensive.
The base is a scrap piece of oak 2 1/2" long and 1" wide. Drill two 1/2" holes for the magnets. Drill three little pilot holes for the three tiny nails. I used nickel plated shade nails as terminals to solder the wires to. Place two magnets in each hole and glue them from the bottom so the top of the magnets are flush with the top of the base. The stack of magnets in each hole need to be opposite polarity. To ensure this, I stacked all four on top of each other, then placed two in the first hole, and scooped up the remaining two, flipped them over and stirred up some epoxy.
There's a lot of art, engineering, research and physics that contribute to making quality pickups. Unfortunately, my pickups don't have any of these attributes but they work and more importantly, I like the way they sound. There is a wealth of information on how to make different kinds of pickups and how magnets, polarity, number of windings, gauge of wire, etc...play a role in the tonality.
We need two coils. I put the plastic sewing bobbins on a bolt and mounted it on my drill. The spool was propped up on a free spinning dowel where I guided the wire with one hand and operated the drill with the other. Some will count the number of windings on each bobbin while making the coil but I simply fill up the bobbin and leave enough room to smear a coat of red insulation to keep the coils together and keep them from vibrations. The trick to my method is leaving a nice long lead for the inside coil and using masking tape to keep the lead out of the way during the precision winding process. Make two coils and put on a coat of liquid insulation.
Cut two 1/4" threaded screws to the depth of the bobbin so it rests on the magnet but doesn't stick up too high. The magnet is the only thing holding my screws in the bobbin but I put a little hot glue on the bottom of the bobbins to keep them from moving around.
Soldering magnet wire is a little tricky because of the insulating coating and coupled with the fact the wire is very thin and fragile. I take the coating off my magnetic wire by quickly waving a lighter under the lead wire and it seems to vaporize. Some people scrap off the coating but I've broke wires using that method. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume breathing these fumes are not healthy and avoid them to prevent any drain bamage. Using the wiring diagram, solder the outside lead of one coil to the center terminal and the inside lead of the other coil to the center terminal. The other remaining lead wires can be soldered to the terminals (nail) on each far end. The black and red wires run from the two end terminals to the 1/8” audio receptacle.
In the event it's wired wrong or the magnets are the incorrect polarity, the Whamola will instantly burst into flames. Not really! But it will still work if the magnets are “wrong” or wired differently but there's little doubt that it won't sound as nearly as good as mine. It would even work with just one coil as I have used this single pickup strategy with a homemade diddley bow.
Push the lead wires through the hole drilled and solder them to the audio receptacle. I don't think it matters which black or red wire is soldered on the terminals of the audio receptacle because it’s essentially one long coil of wire and polarity in this regard doesn’t matter. Others may disagree but I would wager that it’ll work and sound the same either way.
Step 6: Back in the Saddle
My original plan for a bridge was to drill a little hole through the body and thread it up and out to the bridge wheel. Unfortunately, bass strings under the duress of a Whamola do not appreciate those sort of angles and will break prematurely. So plan B was to create a single string saddle to hold the string.
Cut a 2 inch length of aluminum flat bar. Drill a 1/4" hole on one end and a smaller hole on the other end. I didn't record the size of the little hole but it's big enough to thread the largest bass string through but small enough that the string stopper doesn’t pass through it. I put the saddle in a vice and bent it to the exact angle 78.5 degrees. Your angle may vary, but again, it won't sound as nearly as good as this one.
I used a 2" piece of threaded rod, two washers, and two nut caps to hold it in place.
Step 7: One Legged Get Away Stick
If you already drilled the hole for the wing nut and threaded it, the hardest part of the one legged Whamola is complete. The leg is a 13" length of 7/8" wooden dowel. Starting from the left at 1 3/4", I drilled 10 holes 1/8" inch deep and 1" apart so it will adjust. I stained it and stuck the rubber foot on the end.
Step 8: Lonely at the Top
All the major parts are created and now the top part needs to be assembled. First we need a 3" length of threaded rod. As illustrated in the picture, there are two nylon spacers and the nut wheel in the notch. It was a tight fit and I had to sand down the spacers a little and clean up the notch even more with my Dremel. Once these pieces fit in the notch, I put on the washers and nuts on each end of the threaded rod but left it a little loose to put the wooden handle on next.
I inserted the tuning peg bushing in by lightly tapping on it and mounted the tuning peg using the four little screws. I made sure the bottom of the handle was flush with the bottom of the metal bar and the handle was 1" from the body. Using the metal handle as a template, I drilled a couple of pilot holes used two short 1/2" wood screws secure the handle on one side and did the same to the other side.
The nuts can be tightened up now but loose enough so the handle moves freely. Then I capped off the threaded rods with two cap nuts. Lastly, there needs to be a short stopper screw on the side of the body to keep the whammy handle from moving over the top as illustrated in the picture. Despite drilling a pilot hole first, the end of the wood still split on mine if you look at the picture closely. Obviously, I should have drilled a little bigger pilot hole and I generously deducted five points off my final grade for this amateurish error. I only put a stopper on one side which works just fine but lacks symmetry but I didn't want to risk losing more points.
Step 9: Like a Rolling Bridge
The rolling bridge assembly needs a couple of brackets to hold everything together. Using the same aluminum 1/8" x 1 inch flat bar, I cut off two pieces so they came out to be 3 3/8 long. Similar to the handle bars, I taped them together and drilled the three 1/4" holes as per the awful "not to scale" drawing attached in step one. On my Whamola, the holes are centered in the middle of the bar and the distance from the flat end to the first hole center is 3/8", second hole 1 1/4", and the third hole 2 1/2". I would HIGHLY recommend measuring the bridge bracket holes drilled in the Whamola body first to ensure the brackets are going to fit properly. Basically my goal was to have the center of the bridge wheel one inch above the fret board. I cut an angle on the top of the brackets, shaped them a little, separated them, and brushed them up with a wire wheel.
Cut three pieces of threaded rod 2 1/2" long for the bridge assembly. Insert the two bolts through the body first but don't tighten 'em up yet. As per the picture, the center part is two nylon spacers on each side with the bridge wheel in the middle. Tighten everything up and ensure the bridge wheel will still turn. Even during the most spirited Whamola operations the bridge wheel will only move just a little.
Step 10: End of Project, Beginning of World Whamola Tour...
String it up! Hard to tell from the picture but the gap between the string and pickup is approx 3/8"
Plug it in!
Grab a drumstick and try it out!
It takes a while for the string to break in so take it VERY easy at first. Odds are incredibly good there's going to be a broken string or two while learning how to play the Whamola.
Might be a good idea to wear eye protection. Not so much because of broken strings flying around but rather it's a good look while playing the Whamola.