Handcrafted basses

DETAILS

Overview:

- 2 treatments with Poly-Urethane
- Attach strapholders
- Calculate placement of frets (Online calculation or download!)
- Draw centerline on fretboard
- Draw fretlines
- Saw fretgrooves
- Make positionmarkings
- Put in frets
- Clamp fretboard
- File off fret-ends
- remove glue-remains from fretboard
- Last treatment of fretboard with PU
- Make nut
- Make coverplate for electronics-compartiment
- Attach tuners, bridge, and pickups




Finish:

The bass is almost ready, the woodwork is done. The grooves for the frets are not in the fretboard yet. It's time to give the bass it's first treatment with Poly-urethane. I simply use the PU-glue for this! Apply some on the wood, and rub it in with a piece of cloth. Take care that you rub down all the glue. When it is dry, sand the guitar with the finest sandpaper you can get. After that, give it another treatment. The result is a silky shine, similar to an oil-treatment, only maintenance-free, and without the dirty clothes en greasy hands after each treatment. This is the way I like my basses best, but feel free to give your bass or guitar another treatment of course.

The alternatives:
Acrylcoating: the normal high-gloss finish you usually see on guitars in the music shop. Looks best when you use good spraying equipment. First a few layers of color when desired, and after that several layers of transparent coating. Particular for the well known "sunburst" colors (see picture), you need good equipment for spraying a fine aerosol (almost an air-brush) and a lot of patience.


Layer after layer, not too much at once give the best result. I have used normal canned spray-paint, but it doesn't look quite the same as the real thing. I have to work at my attic with lots of other stuff standing around. One time, after spraying, everything was covered with a shroud of paint, including the laundry that was hanging there to dry. My wife convinced me (what's the matter with you, #$%@^%$ !!!) that I needed an alternative for spraying.

Furniture-oil: The wood keeps its natural look and feel, and you can easily repair little scratches : sandpaper, oil, ready. When you decide to use oil, it's for life. The wood gets saturated with oil, and you will not be able to spray or paint your guitar ever again. The coating will let loose!
The same thing goes for wax. Oil and wax have another disadvantage: just after appliance your clothes get dirty and your hands get greasy. When touching the strings with your greasy hands you will quickly lose the "new" sound of your strings (maybe you don't mind that).


Next step: mounting the strap-holders and test the guitar for the right balance. Pretty straightforward.

The Frets:

Draw a centerline on the fretboard, use a sharp pencil and a good accurate metal ruler for this. Draw the lines on the neck where the frets will come with a protractor. I have made a program for calculating this, you can find it at the FRETS CALC page. Check it out. There is some more explination in the program itself.

Careful now: use a little handsaw to make the grooves for the frets. Use the thinnest sawblades you can get. Put some glue in the grooves. (This is not done by professional builders, but they have means to make the grooves more accurate for the kind of frets used) Hammer the frets in with a plastic hammer or use a block of wood between fret and hammer. I find this the most difficult part of building a guitar. When the guitar is fretted, and one of the frets is not straight, the regularity is gone and it will show very much so, everybody will notice it!
A small comfort: a small irregularity in the placements of the frets is not such a distaster for playing. Especially on a bass you won't be hearing this at all.
You can decide to make the grooves before glueing the fretboard on the neck to reduce the risk. At the other hand, during the process of sanding the grooves can get too shallow, and you have to saw some more. Just after the frets are placed, still sticking out the neckside, carefully wipe the glue away, put a woodblock over the whole length of the neck and clamp it, and leave the glue to dry.

After sawing the grooves, and BEFORE putting the frets in, you can make the positionmarkings. I keep it simple, I just make some holes and fill them with a contrasting wooden plug. Mahogany or ebony for a maple or beechwood neck and vice versa. It's up to you if you rather mount LED's in the neck or do some extravagant inlaywork with mother-of-pearl, I have no experience with that.

When the glue is dry, the fret-ends are filed smooth. The fretboard is checked again for glue-remains, and the neck gets its last treatment, rubbed again with PU-glue.

I made my necks without bindingstrips, I just filed the ends off the frets after I placed them.This is where you recognize REAL craftmanship (After all, I'm just a hobby-guitarbuilder). First of all, a professional guitar builder has a cool machine that makes the grooves automatically at the right spots. After that, each fret is carefully cut at the right length and shape, and the finishing touch is the bindingstrip at the side of the neck. When building your first (bass)guitar, you might want to consider buying a ready made neck: available with or without finish.

The MB1J has a nut like shown in the picture above. It's made from brass, it used to be a doorhandle from an old cupboard. A metalsaw and file are used for shaping, and sandpaper and polishing paste for a nice, shiny appearance.

This is the coverplate for the electronics-compartiment. It is made from 3mm laminated oakwood. You can also use plastic or metal for this. In case of plastic or wood, it's a good idea to cover the plate on the inside with aluminumsheet for shielding.

Put the hardware on the guitar: The tuners, the nut, the bridge and pickups.


The end is near, you have placed the pickups, you could play the guitar now. But what kind of pickups do you use anyway, and how are they wired to the volume and tone controls? Questions, questions.... move on to the PICKUPS page.