The Minibass: Decisions, decisions.

Before I get any further into this build I need to firm up some design decisions. At the moment I’m just preparing the body and neck blanks which, to a certain extent, I can do without much regard to the config of the final instrument (other than know it is not a thru neck).

This post is really nothing more than me jotting down my thoughts about all of those decisions; the ones I’ve made and those I’ve yet to make. It is this latter category I really need to focus on, to make sure I don’t miss anything that would impact an early stage of the build. Some of the other decisions can be postponed, and be made immediately prior to the build step they impact. Normally I wouldn’t do this – I like to have a very clear idea of absolutely every minor detail before I make any sawdust. As something of a prototype this one is different though – and I will want to review and revise those design decisions based on current progress.

OK so let us start at the head of this mystical “Minibass” and work our way down to the tail.

Headstock

Should the headstock be flat and parallel to the fretboard (like a Fender) or angled back like a Gibson? On this one I’m going to go angled – only because I’ve never made a scarf jointed headstock and I’d like to add the skill to my “portfolio”. Because this bass uses these polypropelene strings the neck is not under as a great a tension as usual, so it should be a safe playground for me.

Type and layout of tuners? I really like the plain simplicity of the Fender style big-eared open tuners. Added advantage is that they’re not overly heavy and relatively cheap. For the layout I want the headstock to be as compact as possible, in keeping with the overall concept of a Minibass. I’m going to go in a staggered 2+2 configuration, aiming to keep the string run as straight as possible over the nut to the tuner post.

Nut

Because I’ve chosen a Gibson-esque headstock it makes sense to use a Gibson style nut too. The nut rests on the neck itself and butts up to the end of the fretboard, rather than the Fender approach of having a thinner nut that sits in a slot on the fretboard. The nut is going to be made from bone. If you’re interested in how I’ll be preparing the bone see this post.

Neck

This is the aspect that, at this stage needs the most careful planning. I need to decide scale length, whether it’ll be fretted or fretless, whether it flat mounts to the body or is angled back to clear a higher bridge, fretboard radius, width at the nut, taper, shape of the neck profile, type of truss rod, what fret markers I want. Phew! Lots to think about.

First off, because this instrument relies on a piezo pickup mounted in the bridge, I want a good downward tenson on the bridge saddle. This means a steeper break angle between the bridge and the string anchors, which in turn leads towards a higher bridge. Therefore it’ll be an angled back join with the body. As on many of my previous builds It’ll get a glued neck join, with a decent sized tenon into the body.

next is the decision about the truss rod. It probably doesn;t need one because of the low string tension but, because I may want to add relief to the neck (a slight bow forward) I’ve decided to install a double action truss rod. When I was building my Voodoo Tele I found this aspect one of the most difficult and I’d like the opportunity to practice and see if I can get it better this time.

In deciding the scale length I have a number of limitations. First this style of bass usually has an 18-19″ scale, although they can go up to around 23-24″. Secondly, the fretboard supplied by Steve Benford is pre-slotted for a 25.5″ scale length. That is too long for my needs so, if I chop it at the 1st fret slot, making that the zero fret, it would give me a scale of ~24″, at the 2nd fret, ~22.5″, at the 3rd fret, ~21.5″ and at the 4th, ~20.25″. I’ve dithered between 22.5″ and 21.5″ for a while but, making a decision right this moment, I’m going to stay true to the principle of, making it smaller at every opportunity (whilst still being playable) and go for the 21.5″ scale length.

I’ve also struggled with the decision about whether it should have frets or not. I would love a fretless, and I think this more acoustic sounding bass will really suit it. On the other hand, the shorter the scale gets the harder it is to play a fretless accurately. I’m also crap at playing a fretless, it would take a lot of practice to start maaking sounds that I like hearing and I’m worried that I’ll move onto the next project and this one will just gather dust in the rack. And that makes the decision for me. I’m going to save my first fretless project to be a 34″ scale. Sorted.

I want this neck to be of a medium width, but perhaps a touch flatter, both front and back, than usual. It’ll get a fretboard radius of between 12″ and 16″, probably erring towards 12″. I’m going to have a go at making either my own radiusing jig or, more likely, a radiused sanding block.

Last choice should be the easiest to make but is another one I struggle with. What sort of fretmarkers should it have? I’m not quite sure why but, stylistically, fret markers have taken on a huge significance for me, and I want to do something really cool. I really like the thumbnail fretmarkers on Gretsches so I’m going to haave a go at doing something similar in appearance. It will be a very different technique though. At the point where the neck outline is marked on to the fretboard and neck (before the fretboard is glued on), I’m going to drill 8mm holes centred on that line. This will get a darkwood dowel or plug glued in place. Then, when I trim along the line, it’ll just leave a semi-circle slice of that dowel in the fretboard, looking like a thumbnail from the front and a rectangular block inlay from the side. For the 12th fret I’m going to drill a 3-4mm hole into the dark wood dowel and glue in a light-wood dowel. When cut in halt this will make a double mark when viewed from the side

Body

Whereas the body shape is usually the first thing on the drawing board, this is completely different. I’m going to set myself some hard constraints (position of bridge, size of the blank, type of string anchors, position of neck pocket, position of control cavity, etc. I’m going to leave the design of the silhouette until much later.

Because the blank is of a sandwich construction and the neck tenon will be visible on the top, I have to decide whether to feature this or whether to add a thin cap of a single timber, such as a figured maple. This is another decision I’m going to postpone until I can see how it looks. If I like it I’ll feature it, if not I’ll cover it.

Bridge

As I mentioned earlier this will be a relatively high bridge, to make sure I’ve got a good break angle. Because it is an acoustic style bridge, and because I yet know exactly how these strings will react with regards intonation, I’m initially planning for this to be a floating bridge. once I am happy with the intonation, I’ll glue it down, and can finalise drilling the holes to properly install the electronics.

I haven’t yet decided what materials to use to make the floating bridge. In keeping with the rest of the guitar I’ll aim to use something out of my offcuts bin. I’ve got a few decent sized pieces of maple that will be used for the first attempt. Essentially all I need is a block of wood with a slot cut into it to hold the piezo element with a bone saddle riding on top of it. Turning that block of wood into something that fits with the guitar’s aesthetic will be the challenge.

Because I’m initially going with a floating bridge I need a separate method of anchoring the strings. For this I’m going to use a string through approach, but instead of coming through from the back they’ll come through from the tail end. Hard to describe, but you’ll see what I mean when I do it.

Electrics

I’ve ordered a piezo element and small on-board preamp. I’m waiting for these to arrive because it is difficult to accurately plan out installation until they’re on-site.

Finish

Regular reader of this blog will not be surprised that I’m going to choose Danish oil again. That was the easiest of the decisions.

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