Test recording of the custom bass

This morning I made a quick recording with the new bass and, rather than posting to soundcloud, as I normally would, decided to test out Windows Live Movie Maker to add a slideshow and some video.

The track was recorded direct into Reaper and Amplitube. Drums by EZ Drummer.

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Custom bass is finished

The Danish oil had hardened nicely so it was on to assembly, wiring and set up.

First I gave the body and neck a good wipe down with a wax-based non-silicone polish. Note the tapered candle stuck through the hole in the top left of my bench. I leave that in there so that I can quickly swipe screws across it to lubricate them as I assemble.

This is the step I usually forget. I thread the earth strap wire through from the control cavity and fan out the strands to make a good contact with the base of the bridge.

All the hardware on.

I wire up the cavity. Simple passive volume and tone. The one variant I use is rather than putting the tone control across the input to the volume I put it across the output from the volume (aka “The Fezz Parker mod”). This reduces treble loss at low volumes. The lead from the pickup is far longer than I need but, raather than cropping it to length, I prefer to roll it up and tuck it away in the cavity, because I may want to reuse the pickup somewhere else later and I may be glad of the extra length of wire on it.

I break out one of my favourite little tools for testing continuity. Its a jack plug and short length of cable from a broken guitar lead. I can use my multimeter to clip one end to the lead’s shield and then go probing about touching all of the parts that should be grounded (pickup ground, pot backs, bridge) checking connectivity.

Now the wiring is complete I can get the strings on, do a rough initial set up (I like to let it settle for a week or two before doing a final setup) and there she is… COMPLETED!

It took me eight working days. The costs break down as follows;

Item Amount
Donor bass £53.20
Sapele timber for body £18.00
Musicman style pickup £14.99
Chrome bridge £17.99
Total £104.18

That’s what I call a result!

Preparing the bass for finishing

I’m into the final furlong now, and just need to get everything ready for final finish to go on.

The first step is to mark the final position of the bridge and drill the pilot holes for the screws to mount it to the body. I initially set the G string saddle to about 2/3 to 3/4 of its range of adjustment. Using the long rule, laid along the line of the thinnest string, I position the bridge so the G string saddle is exactly 17″ from the 12th fret (this bass has a 34″ scale length).

I mark the front edge of the bridge and then using my square and the centreline extend the mark.

Once the bridge is fixed in place, you generally have two axes of movement. You can move the saddles back and forward, or up and down. You can’t move them side to side. This is the one aspect of fastening down the bridge that you must get exact. To do this I run threads from bridge to nut, which makes it really easy to get this alignment perfect. I mark the top and bottom of the bridge.

I use a small bradawl to mark the exact centre of the outermost two holes. I drill the pilot holes, screw the bridge down using these two and then I can take my time and use both hands to accurately mark up and drill the remaining holes

I drilled the hole for the jack socket (the one scavenged from the Aria is a rather neat screw in barrel type).

After drilling the pilot holes for the strap buttons and pickup height adjustment/mounting screws the woodworking stage is complete. Onto preparation for finishing. I lightly dampen the body to raise the grain.

I usually regard this procedure as something simple and quick – but I realised I was missing an opportunity. On two of my recent builds (the Stratele and the Voodoo) I was disappointed that glue seepage round the neck pocket had interfered with the application of finish. As I was wetting down the body I noticed these marks where glue has seeped into the wood. I spent a few minutes with a Stanley knife blade and fine sandpaper getting rid of all traces. Before…

…and after.

I printed off the decal, shot a thin coat of nitro clear lacquer over the headstock face, applied the decal and then finished with two more coats of lacquer, all with drying time in between.

Once that had dried I removed the raised grain. This involves just getting rid of the ends of those torn fibres, and rather than sanding I think of it as more like wiping the body down with a piece of 320 grit paper in my hand.

And here she is after the first coat of finish.

It’ll get another heavy coat of warmed Danish oil this evening, and then tomorrow I’ll start applying thin coats using 600 grit wet & dry.

Voodoo Telecaster: Lacquer, Decal and Truss Rod Cover

When the Sanding Sealer had dried I couldn’t resist loading up the components onto the body to see how it looked.

I flatted that back with 400 grit and then spent another day adding coats of sanding sealer, leaving it to dry overnight.

I started the morning by flatting it back with 400 grit again and then on with the first coat of lacquer.

After the first coat I applied the decal to the headstock. I had printed it out the previous night and coloured in the text and skull with the liquid gold and silver pens.

After applying the decal, I gave it a couple of very light coats and then started to bury it in the lacquer. In between each coat I would flat back with 600 grit to feather the edges.

And here is it well and truly embedded.

At the same time as these coats of lacquer were going on the headstock I was also doing the body. One thing I’ve noticed about the Rothko & Frost lacquer I’m using this time was that it was a lot more viscous than the Reranch stuff I’d used previously. It was getting very orange-peel-y, as you can see here.

Whilst I was never going to overcome this totally, I flatted back with 600 grit and resolved to try and lay the last couple of coats of lacquer on a little thicker, and hopefully stay just on this side of drips and runs.

It was scary for a minute or two but it had the desired effect. Not without the orange peel effect totally but much better, and the lacquer coats are thick enough now to allow me the luxury of polishing this out.

Now that the lacquer is on I just have to remain patient for at least 2-3 weeks so that it can cure to a state where it is hard enough to polish.

So while that’s happening I’ll get on with some of the other jobs and finishing touches.

First off I need to make myself a truss rod cover. I had though about using a piece of the maple offcut from the cap and then it dawned on me – I still had a lot of that horn left over that I had used for the nut. I timmed off a thin piece

And after 30 mins with increasing grades of sandpaper had this.

I wasn’t too sure about this lighter shade so I trimmed off another piece from the dark end of the horn and crafted this one.

Much better, don’t you think?

And that’s it for now. Tomorrow I’m going to finish up a few of the loose ends on the Rockmangle, and wire up the Tele control panel.

Making a headstock decal

There was a problem with the neck pickup of the left-handed Telecaster I built a couple of weeks ago so Rob dropped it off with me a couple of days ago. The eBay vendor was most helpful and the pickup is on the way back for replacement. While I’m waiting for the new part I took the opportunity to add a headstock decal.

I did this by printing the reversed design on to laserprint waterslide paper and then colouring in the letters with a liquid gold pen.

Once the ink was totally dry I soaked it in a saucer of warm water and applied it to the headstock. After letting it dry I shot it with a couple of coats of clear nitro-cellulose lacquer and it is done.

I’m really happy with the result. I hope Rob will be too.