Handcrafted basses

WOODWORK

Right. Let's start with the real bussines now. There are several ways to build a guitar: bolt-on-neck, neck-through-body, even a one piece guitar is possible. When a neck-through-body construction is used, you often see pieces of different wood, partly because it looks good, partly because of it's special resonance characteristics. I am not going into all the methods of building, let me just describe how I build my MB1J bassguitar.

It has a neck-through-body construction, with a non-adjustable neck. I had some good mature pieces of beechwood and mahogany to start with, so I didn't need to make the neck of different small pieces of wood, nor did I have to apply the "bookmatching" principle described on the PREPS page.


Here is a short overview of the items on this page:

- Glue pieces together except fretboard
- Draw the guitar on the wood
- Cut out the body
- Cut out neck and headstock

- Straighten the sides of the neck
- Make gully for trusrod
- Make headstock thinner
- Smoothen transition of neck and body (heel)
- Sand body roughly
- Shape back of neck
- Smoothen transition of neck and headstock
- Place trussrod
- Glue fretboard
- Straighten fretboardsides
- Make holes for pickup
- Make electronics-compartiment
- Make hole between pickup and electr.comp.
- Deepen place for knobs and connector
- Make holes for tuners in headstock
- Smoothen the guitar with sandpaper



Here we go:

This was the design I used, the original drawing was more detailed, but this was how I drew it on the wood.

 

A cross-section of the body. It shows the different pieces of wood used on the bass. 1: beechwood, the main part of the neck. This piece includes body, neck and headstock. 2: also beechwood, back of the body including the heel of the neck. 3 and 4: mahogany, the "wings" of the body. 5: meranti, the fretboard.

The body is 4cm thick, part, no.1 was 3 cm thick (not anymore after rounding the neck of course). The fretboard (no.5) is 7mm thick.

 

This is the first stage of actually building the bass. Body and neck parts are glued together. Use Poly-Urethane (PU) glue for this. It is very strong, and water resistant. It has a clear, brown color, so it camouflates the seems between not-so-perfect fitting parts well. Don't use the white glue at all for building guitars. By the way: PU-glue will NOT get out of your clothes! Draw the shape of the guitar on the wood. Start with a centerline first, it helps you drawing of the neck. Don't sand the centerline away until you are finished with all the woodwork, you will need the line in the later stages.

 

Now cut the body out with the electric saw, till the middlepiece. Why only till the middlepiece? the curves are too sharp for the saw, you better do those curves with the router after cutting the neck out.

 

The neck and headstock have been cut out. It begins to look like a bassguitar. At this stage, you can start with smoothing the bodyedges and with a gater, and sandpaper. Also the heel of the neck is to be shaped roughly with a gater or the powerfile. Leave the neck and headstock alone at this stage. When working with the gater or powerfile on the body or heel, a mishap is alway possible. In that case, it's better that the neck is not smooth yet.

 

Straightening the sides of the neck, is done as shown in the picture: you have to make sure that the router is guided by a 100% straight piece of wood or metal. At this stage, you can smoothen the transitions between neck and body, and between neck and headstock as well with the router. Tighten the clamps well, the vibrations of the router can loosen the clamps if not tight enough. At this stage the back of the neck is still square, and the headstock is still just as thick as the neck.

 

 

The headstock shouldn't be just as thick as the neck of course. I use the router to make it thinner. It depends on the tuners how thick the headstock exactly should be. I used Fender-style tuners on the MB1J, the headstock is 14mm thick. Using the router like that confronts you with a problem: More than half the thickness should go off (16mm), but the router can "eat" only 5-6mm of wood at the time. So you can't do it in 1 go, and the second time you have no wood left to rest the router on. This is the the trick to do it: leave a few edges in the wood "unroutered". About 2mm wide. After you're finished with the router, simply take a chisel and cut the standing edges away, or file them off. See picture below what I mean.


Shaping of the neck

Now it's time to shape the back of the neck, of course the neck is thinnest near the headstock. I can't give you exact measurements, this is a matter of "feeling", the best thing is to copy the measurements of a guitar YOU like to play. I experimented with different shapes and measurements, the only thing you should think of: don't make the neck too thin, otherwise the neck will be too weak.

See picture above.

No.1: draw the shape of the neck on the side.

No.2: You can use a powerfile to give the neck it's shape, using a grater (start sweating) is also possible. A router can also be used for this, but, depending on the shape of the guitar, this may be a problem. You have to guide and rest the router in such a way that you get the tapering shape of the neck. Give it a try, it's certainly the best way, easy and guaranteed straight. In case of a grater or powerfile: use a metal ruler to check if the back of the neck is straight.

No.3: Now use powerfile or grater (powerfile not really recommended for starters) to make the back of the neck round. A V-shape is also used sometimes. Again, this is a matter of taste. give the sides and back of the neck a color with a crayon. This way you can see were the grater has been.

No.4: Leave some color at the middle and on the sides as shown. This way you can be shure there are no big dents in the neck, and that the sides and back are still straight. When using a grater: This tool leaves a lot of marks on the wood, and you have to file and sand a relatively great amount of wood off, before you get rid of the marks. This makes the neck even thinner of course. Pleas take this into account.

 

We are getting somewhere now. The next thing to do is making holes for the pickup(s) and electronics with the router. In case of the MB1J, the electronics-compartiment is at the back of the body. Keep the fact in mind that you need a cover plate for this compartiment. It's best when the cover plate is mounted IN the body, not ON the body, so you need a deepened part, bigger than the compartiment itself. Don't make the compartiment too near to the edge of the body. I also deepend a part at the front for the knobs and connector with the router, fitted with a half-round fraise.

Cut out the fretboard, and glue it on the neck (don't forget the trussrod). You can make sure the fretboardsides are straight and have exactly the right measurements BEFORE you glue it, or you can do the trick with the router again to make the fretboardsides right (see "straightening" the sides of the neck) AFTER glueing. I did the last. Drill holes in the headstock for the tuners. Unless you have a professional, upright standing drilling machine, you won't be able to drill the holes exactly straight. So use your drill to make 7-8mm holes and use the router (at the back of the headstock) to make the holes the right size.

Drill a hole (about 6mm) from the pickup to the electronics-compartiment (for the wires).

Now the dusty part: Use file and lots of sandpaper to make body, neck and headstock nice and smooth. When you thing you're finished sanding, use a cloth and a little water to make the wood moist (not soaking wet!). This way you can see what the wood looks like after finishing treatment, you can see that the parts that need some more sanding really stand out. About sanding the fretboard: use a 30cm (12") woodblock to fold the sandpaper around, and sand the fretboard with long strokes from body to headstock. Use high-grain sandpaper for this. Don't use sandpaper with hand, nor a sanding machine.

RADIUS:
I use a flat neck on my basses, I don't really see or feel the advantage of a radius, and it's easier to build too. But there are enough guitar- and bassplayers who think otherwise. There are 2 types of radius: the single and the compound. The single radius means that the fretboard has the same curve near the headstock as towards the body. Since the neck has a tapering shape, this means that the distance between strings and fretboard is not evenly spread, going from headstock to body, especially on the outer strings. When using a small radius, a higher arch so to speak, the strings will make a lot of fretnoises on some spots, and you'll have to adjust the strings higher above the fretboard. Wich plays less comfortable. Thats why the compound radius was introduced, the radius is greater towards the body, that means less curvage of the fretboard in comparison to the curve near the headstock (see picture).

Most modern guitars have this. The problem is, that it's hard to make that yourself. Stringed instrument craftsmen use molds for this, but it still is difficult work. Most manufacturers, and modern luthiers use computer steered routers (CNC machines) for this job. To get a (single) radius on the fretboard there are special hollow sanding blocks available for the most common sizes (picture).

 


Some construction photos of the LJ1 bass. Bolt-on neck. The body as well as the neck are built up from 2 layers of wood.


The 2 pieces of the neck, before glueing


Glue is drying, the trussrod is also in place


Front and back half of the body gleued together


Rough shape of neck and headstock


Smooth sanded neck, the hardest woods have a shiny surface


Back of the neck


Body and neck


Hey, it fits too...


Neck with fretgrooves


Frets are in place, pressed to let glue dry.


Note: To save a lot of work with the router (the cavity for the neck), the front half of the body has already it's rough shape before glueing the parts together.


Next page: Now we have a piece of wood that looks and feels like a real guitar, let's move on to the finishing touch, the DETAILS.