Introduction: Making a Through-Neck Bass Guitar From Scratch
NOTE: You should read the whole thing before starting. Commit it to memory, because my style of writing is erratic at best. Important things *may* be out of order a little.
edit: Read this 'ible too before starting. It's where I went wrong and how I've gone about fixing it. https://www.instructables.com/id/Miscellaneous-Gui...
So there I was last summer watching Scott Pilgrim, and I think, 'I really wanna play bass'. A few short months later I have one. Jump to present day, I'm getting greedy. I want another. I can't afford one of those shiny Rickenbacker deelies, so I set about building my own.
This bass took 'inspiration' from a number of versions of Rickenbackers. The head's that of a 4001c64 reissue, the skunk stripe down the middle was featured on 4001s from the early 70's onwards. Other things I just made up as I went along. The thing is, I've never actually seen a real one, so I just went from the pictures that looked the nicest. Now, in the interest of protecting RIC's IP, I'm not going to put up the CAD files I've made, nor am I going to tell you how to make them. The fact that my bass came out looking like a 4001 is entirely coincidence.
Got a guitar with a broken headstock? Check out my other 'ible:
Step 1: Sourcing the Materials
You will need:
A nice long hardwood plank, mine was cherry and around 1100x250x30.
Rosewood (for me, but you could use ebony or maple or something) for a fretboard, roughly 650x70x6.
A thin strip of walnut or something with a radically different colour for a skunk stripe (if you want one) the same length as your plank.
Machine heads, make sure they're already set up for how you want your head (2, 3, 4 a side), some models are non-interchangeable.
Bridge - I found a pretty nice Rickenbacker bridge going cheap
Decent strings - I was unsure how much tension it would be able to handle, so I've got some real light gauges on there.
Pickups - I made my own, but you can buy them pre-made. There's plenty of instructables on making them, so I'm not going to cover it.
Selector switch - obviously redundant of you only have one pickup.
Potentiometers - Logarithmic for volume, linear for tone. 500k ought to do it.
1/4in socket - Y'know, for plugging in and whatnot.
Capacitors - a 47nF ceramic for every tone pot.
Position markers (inlay)
Truss rod cover
Pickguard, or plastic for a bespoke one
Jack plate (or you can go in the pickguard, doesn't matter really)
Paint - I used tinted nitrocellulose lacquer.
All of this I got from eBay, totaling around £250.
Step 2: Tools You Might Want to Find
All I had when I started this project was a coping saw and a dremel. Now, you can do a lot with those two tools, but it'd take you an eternity, so don't. Fortunately for me, my friend has a decent home workshop and a helpful disposition. So without further ado, that list I promised:
Bandsaw, makes long cuts SO much quicker. You could maybe get away with a scroll saw or even a jigsaw.
Router - indispensable. There are ways around needing one, but it involves a lot of coping saw work and building the body out of layers.
Power sander, because I'm lazy and it's just so much less effort than using a damn block.
Coping saw, for finer work.
Dremel with sanding drum, for cleaning up aforementioned 'fine' work.
Drill - you might want to invest in a decent corded drill for working with harder woods, but for most a cordless will do you right.
Bits for the above, drill bits, spare sanding sheets, saw blades, etc.
Hella clamps. Like, 6.
Radius block - you can pick these up on ebay for about a tenner. They round off your fretboard in conjunction with sandpaper.
And of course, PVA glue.
Step 3: Design
As I mentioned earlier, I'm not going to tell you how to reverse engineer an existing guitar. What I will tell you is how to make a decent design of your own. The first thing you need to decide upon is your scale length. This is the distance between the bridge and the nut. A really nice tool is located here: http://www.manchesterguitartech.co.uk/fret-and-nut-calculators/fret-calculator/
Once you've decided on a scale length (I personally like the 820-880 region), grab yourself a sheet of A0 paper. Then stick a bit of A4 to the top, because it's not quite long enough. Now, leaving yourself about 200-250mm of room at the top for a head, draw a straight line the same length as your scale length. Mark along it the positions of your frets. Congratulations, you've just taken your first real step to designing an instrument.
Now, sketch a body (any shape you like, it's your creation remember), around the bottom bit of your line, leaving about 120mm below the endpoint of the line for the bridge to attach, and meeting the neck somewhere around the 19th/20th fret. Looking nice, isn't it?
Draw a line 42mm (for a 4 string bass, look it up if you're making a different config.) perpendicular to the scale line, centered on it's tip. This line marks the narrow bit at the top of the neck where the nut sits.
Where the scale line meets the body, draw a line roughly 60mm across, parallel to your nut line. See where I'm going with this? Yeah you do.
Connect the endpoints of your lines. Look! A neck!
At the body end of your neck, extend your lines, but parallel this time, to the tail end of the body.
Draw on your pickups, then go about 10mm around them. These will (well, won't but let's say they will for now) be your pickup routs.
Do the same with your controls, making a decent sized cavity for them. Connect the control cavity to the pickup cavities.
You can now draw a pickguard that will cover all them unsightly holes. Clever, eh? Now draw your pickguard again on another sheet of paper.
Step 4: Making a Start
Remember that lovely drawing you spent so long on in the last step? Well, it's time to take the scissors to it. Sorry. Cut out the two body sides from the neck (which runs through the centre of the body, remember). Stick all three to your plank and draw around them. If all the stuff doesn't fit, well, you're gonna have to design a ukulele or something aren't you. Or buy a bigger plank, whatever works.
Step 5: Take a Saw to It
Pretty self explanatory really, stick your wood in the bandsaw. NOT THAT WOOD YOU FOOL! Oh, god, someone call an ambulance!
Joking aside, don't stick any part of yourself in the bandsaw. It will result in the loss of said part. I don't know about you, but I'm rather attached to my parts. Attached by stuff that hurts real bad when severed.
Step 6: Add a Skunk Stripe (optional)
You have a neck, yes? Well, saw off 6mm or however thick your stripe is, then saw the remaining bit in half. Sand it down fairly smooth, then ply them all back together, replacing the thin strip with your accent wood.
Step 7: Rest for a Bit
Sit back and admire your work. Have a cold drink. NOW BACK TO WORK.
Step 8: Smoothing the Edges
Putting your power sander to good use! Smooth off the edges now, because you can't get in the bastard corners when you've glued the body to the neck. Yes, I found that bit out the hard way.
Step 9: Gluing the Thing Together
The method shown in the picture is, helpfully, wrong. Remember those bits of wood that were exactly the right shape to give the edge a flat surface? Well I should have kept them and used them here to stop it slipping, and so should you.
You may as well do the head now too, I didn't, but then you have the benefit of learning from my mistakes.
Step 10: Fretboard Inlays
Steer clear of this step. Read it anyway because parts are still relevant, but just use dots instead. I didn't use a respirator, consequently I had a horrible cough for two weeks. Hot rosewood dust is nasty. As is hot shell dust. The latter may even be carcinogenic, I can't remember. The only reason I'm including this step is because it took me ages and the final product looked pretty good.
Position your fretboard on your neck, then using your lovely neck drawing which you ABSOLUTELY DID NOT THROW AWAY, mark out the fret positions. If you're using dots, lucky you. Drill into the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 15th, 17th, 19th, and if you have it, the 21st frets. Glue your dots in. Lucky you, you can move on to the next step.
If you're using shaped inlays, then break out the dremel. Using the above positions, draw around your inlays with a fine pen. Cutting inside the lines, make a hole just a little bit too shallow for your inlay to fit in. It's better than it dipping. Glue the bugger, fill the edges with a combination of rosewood dust and either pva or cyanoacrylate (super glue). Don't use araldite, it gives it a funny dark colour. Now repeat.
Sand off the excess with the power sander, just because it's quick. Now get your radius block if you have one, and get sanding.
Step 11: Fill in the Body
Hopefully this shouldn't be necessary, but if you only shoddily finished the joining edges of the body and neck, you may have to. Collect a load of dust from the bandsaw, mix it with PVA glue and jam it in the cracks. No innuendo to be had here that I can see, so I'll just leave it.
Step 12: Cut Out the Head
Whip out your trusty coping saw, and cut out the head. You did make sure there was enough room between the machine heads for the mounting plates on the back, didn't you? Ah well. Told you to read it all first. Now dremel your edges nice and smooth like.
Step 13: Routing the Various Cavities
Routers are scary. They're all noisy and sharp and spinning metal death. Get someone else to use it, like I did.
Get your pickups and draw round them as precisely as you can. Now go about 3mm around that line. See what I did there? I made you overcompensate with the scratchplate so it'd definitely cover all the holes. Now measure the height of your pickups. Set the router depth to exactly that, no deeper. If the chuck isn't tight enough, the bit will slowly move lower. This makes for a horrid looking rout and potentially a hole through your creation (and table).
Get the truss rod channel done while you're at it. It should be exactly the same depth as the rod is high.
Step 14: Have Another Rest
You can have a hot drink this time. Go on, you deserve it. While the kettle boils, take a peek at my excellent bass, all placed together.
Oh, and sand the faces smooth. Don't forget that. And shaping the neck. I did mine with the trusty power sander. No photos I'm afraid.
Step 15: Start Painting!
Yours will be different to mine, but this is what I did: Get a few layers of clear coat down first. Gloss is nice. Wait for it to dry solid (a day or three).
Next, realise you forgot a crucial rout and go back to step 13.
To do the sunbursty thing, I got a can of tinted nitro lacquer and sprayed at a 45 degree angle, aiming at the edge from the centre. Came out quite nice, but not close enough to the edge for my liking really.
Give it a few more coats of clear, wait for it to harden. Sand it down with some real fine paper, then give it one last clear coat.
Step 16: Glue the Fretboard On, Add Frets
The fretboard needs plenty of glue, plenty of clamps and plenty of drying time. I left mine 2 days to make sure.
A tenon saw was just about the right width for the fret wire I used. They went in a treat. The ones that were a bit loose had a dab of super glue on them. The ends were filed down with a dremel.
Step 17: Other Stuff
Now it's time for you to make up your electronics. As this is entirely dependent on the set up you've chosen, I can't really comment on what you should do here. Only that you should do it. There's hundreds of websites dedicated to guitar electronics, and probably a fair few guides right here, so why go over old ground?
Truss rod adjustment and intonation are the same story. Look it up. I did.
I've probably forgotten something vital. Comment, why don't you.