Handcrafted basses

MATERIALS

For body and neck:

Actually a lot of wood is suitable one way or another for building guitars. The best thing is to stick with the wood they normally use for guitars like maple, rosewood, mahogany, ebony, and get it from a guitarshop.You have to be sure that the wood has the right age and moisture level, in other words: You don't want to end up with a cool looking guitar...... after a few months with a huge crack in it, or looking like a corkscrew with pickups. There's more on the LINK-page, but check out Alembics cool homepage! They show samples of the kinds of wood they use. You can even order wood there, but it's not going to be cheap though.

That, of course, can be a problem. One of the reasons for building a guitar yourself can be lack of funds, this was certainly the case when I started building years ago. The Fenders, Gibsons and Rickenbackers were too expensive for me. I had to find alternatives for the wood they normally use for guitars, and I did. Oak, beech and meranti are hardwoods that are used a lot for furniture and doors. They are cheaper and a lot easier to get as woods like walnut, koa or purpleheart.

Apart from that, here are some hints about choosing wood for your guitar:

- Softer wood gives you a warmer sound, with less sustain, harder wood produces a brighter sound, with more sustain. Woods like furwood are too soft. Not strong enough, and kills all sustain.

- The hardest woods like azobe, can be very difficult to work with. Pieces tend to break off when using the router. Everytime a screw is used, you have to drill a hole first. You have to use tools that are normally used on metal. It's almost impossible to use a grater on this wood.

- For the neck, take wood with a regular, straight grain. You can get beautiful pieces of wood with a wild woodgrain like this:, but they can be quite fragile, and not suitable for building the neck. For the body goes the same. If you want a special grain for your guitar, use the "sandwich" method, like Alembic does. Only the top layer of the body is usually an exotic kind of wood, with a special grain.

- If you pick fresh, new wood, there is a good chance that the wood is going to work, it is going to bend or twist. If that happens to the neck, you have a real problem. So unless you can get hold of old, stable wood, rather use more small pieces to build the neck and body instead of one big piece. More about this on the PREPS page, there's more to it.

Don't use these materials:

- chipwood, not nearly strong enough, no resonance at all. Don't even try it!
- MDF/HDF, wich is, in fact, pressed sawdust and glue.
- normal plywood, in most cases, altough there is laminated hardwood available that does work well for a body.
- furwood, pinewood, too soft, not strong enough.
- pertinax, the brown stuff they used to make electronic prints with, it sounds as bad as it smells.

Alternative materials:

Over the years, exotic materials have been used for building guitars:
- Aluminum necks: Kramer had this; was very sensitive on temperature changes, one kept retuning constantly. There are still guitars being made from aluminum. I wonder if they've fixed the tuning problem.
- see-trough guitars from plexiglass, like the Ampeg Dan Armstrong guitar (see picture), Kawai made also one.
- Carbon-fibre: Status basses, Bond guitars where completely made of this, including the frets.
- Steel, marble, concrete: sounds crazy, but I know guitars have been built with these materials. I don't know about the soundcharacteristics though.

Status bass with carbon fibre neck


Hardware:

I buy this stuff with exception maybe of a nut or a tailpiece. There is great hardware available from Grover, Gotoh, Schaller and other brands. Don't go cheap here! Go for quality, you won't regret it! For optimal sustain, don't pick the standard L-shaped bridge, but get a solid brass bridge. When you are using a zero fret, the material of the nut doesn't really matter, since it only holds the strings in place. The strings vibrate between the bridge and zero-fret. When you don't use a zero-fret, take a brass nut, again for optimal sustain.

 


Next page: Picked your materials, have a pile of wood lying around? Go on to the DIMENSIONS page for some more pre-build info.