Bass “partscaster” finished

This weekend I finished work on the bass for my son. It is a white acrylic paint finish, with a red vinyl decal for the “Rising Sun” motif that he had wanted.

I had considered masking up and painting the red on top of the white but decided to try the vinyl because, should he ever want to return it to plain white it is very easy to do – just warm it up, peel it off and give it a wipe down with naphtha.

As an added bonus I’ve got plenty of the red vinyl left over so if he ever wants to go for a different design (racing stripes, flames, skull and crossbones or anything else that takes a young man’s fancy) it’ll be relatively easy to achieve.

And here’s a quick clip of it in action:

The full spec is:

  • Fender Jazz bass shaped alder body;
  • Generic maple neck with rosewood fretboard, headstock reshaped to mimic the 1951 Fender Precision bass. 34″ scale. It came complete with pre-installed nut and open back tulip tuners;
  • Set/glued neck with the heel carved to improve upper fret access;
  • Heavy Kahler-style chrome top-loader brass bridge with lock down saddles. It can be used as a string-thru bridge but we went for the easier configuration;
  • Pre-assembed Jazz bass control plate with chrome knurled knobs. Neck pickup volume, bridge pickup volume, master tone;
  • Generic jazz bass pickups;

    All parts were sourced from eBay. With the exception of the body and neck, from Papa D’s eBay store. Total cost £129 (which also included an unused pickguard and two spare sets of strings).

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Next stages of the bass partscaster

This one has been on the back-burner for a while and my son has a new girlfriend and so it isn’t perhaps top of his priorities. Quite understandable I reckon! Now that the Voodoo Tele is just sitting there with the finish curing I needed to occupy myself so I dusted this one off.

There were a few things to correct with the body. We had already fixed the badly cut neck pocket. The bridge pickup rout was incorrect, with the bulges slightly too far apart to all the pickup to fit. I taped some MDF over the neck pickup, which was the correct shape, and, using the bottom bearing cutter, transferred the shape to the MDF, which I then used to correct the bridge pickup rout.

I roughly carved the neck heel to the shape we were going for, masked up the body, and spread Titebond Original in the neck pocket.

Here’s the rough carve of the neck heel.

Now that the neck is securely glued in we can finish carving that to the final shape, getting rid of the corner and feathering the edge of the neck into the body.

We were undecided about whether to go for the control plate on its own (my preference)

Or with the pickguard on too (Calum’s preference)

For now I’ve marked up and drilled the pilot holes for just the control plate. If, once it has been finished and assembled, we agree that it would look better with the pickguard too, we can add that then.

One final job today was to add a hole for the earth strap to run from bridge to control cavity, which was also missing from the body blank. I drilled across from the control cavity and then, in the area that will be covered by the bridge base plate drilled a larger hole down to meet it.

And here she is, finished sanded to 220 grit and ready for the primer to go on.

It is going to get finished in white primer, followed by a white gloss top coat and a red vinyl “Rising Sun” graphic.

Fret dressing a new neck

After my experiences of fret leveling/dressing an old neck I felt equipped to have a go on a new neck. Initially I had expected that a new neck wouldn’t need dressing, but I was having trouble getting the action down as low as I’d like and the advice on TDPRI was that all new necks would benefit from it.

I adjusted the truss rod to level the neck, masked it up, and covered each fret with a black permanent marker pen.

A very light pass with my leveling tool and it was very apparent that a leveling was required. It was nowhere near as severe as the leveling of the old worn neck from yesterday, but there were still significant high and low spots.

Here I’ve finished the leveling and am about to start crowning. Note: just as I started I remembered that I was going to be making lots of metal filings in close proximity to a big magnet (the pickup) so I masked it off to avoid a difficult cleaning job.

I’m still without a proper crowning file and so it was more finger punishment with my kludgy home-made tool, but I’m very happy with the end result.

Fret leveling, crowning and dressing

The frets on the Squier neck were fairly worn in a couple of places and I knew it could do with a fret dress. I also found out that it is advised that a new neck can benefit from a fret dress so, before I tackle the two recent project guitars, I thought I’d have a go on the Squier’s neck.

There is a superb thread on fret levelling over at TDPRI and I based my approach on the advice I found there. First step was to adjust the truss rod until the neck is dead flat, checking it with a good straight edge.

Then I attached emery cloth to a totally flat block. Go and read the thread for suggestions for things that you can use, but I noticed, in the trash outside my local glazer, a 300x100mm chunk of 25mm plate glass. A quick word and the piece was mine (although I left them enough for a couple of pints to say thanks). I stuck the 120 grit paper, to the glass with double-sided sticky tape and I had myself a fret leveling tool. The recommendation is to use 180 grit, but the 120 was all I had.

I taped up the fretboard with masking tape and used a permanent marker to cover each of the frets so I could see exactly where I was removing metal.

After a couple of passes with the leveling tool you can really see where the low spots are.

And here’s as far as I dared take it. You can see, in the close up on the 2nd fret that there is still one tiny flat spot but I decided to leave it at this and see what I could do to polish it out. If that doesn’t work I can always do it again.

Once the top of the frets are level you need to put the curve back on them again, known as “crowning”, so that the last point where the string touches the fret is right in the centre. All of the advice says that this is the one job where you need the proper tool – a crowning file. The cheapest of these I could find was over £30, so being a cheapskate I decided to see if I could make something myself. I routed a narrow slot into MDF and glued in a small curved strip of the same emery cloth I used for the leveling tool. I then trimmed it down to a convenient size.

And I certainly proved that you really do need a crowning file! It worked, but took ages and ages, and was very tough on my fingers. I’ll be ordering a crowning file this evening and will consider it £30 well spent. I’ll only have to use it a couple of times to have more than paid for itself in guitar tech fees.

Overall I’m very happy with the result and I’ve ticked off another guitar job that I never thought I’d have the cohones to tackle.

Next guitar project underway – Rejuvenated Strat

Over recent weeks I was bequeathed a rather decent 1989 Korean made Squier Strat. Nothing exotic or fancy about that, but there is something about the workman-like simplicity of it that appeals.

It is not without faults. It had been crudely converted into a left-hander. The movement of the upper bout strap button down on to the lower bout is an easy fix.

More difficult is the attempt to get the jack socket out of the way of a left-hander’s forearm. The previous owner’s well-meaning neighbour, had drilled through to the original jack socket, and then hammered in one of the sealed unit jack sockets. This was an awkward one to get out.

Once everything was stripped off, it was interesting to see the original paint colour under the pickguard. A pretty vivd red, compared to the faded terracotta it had become.

I just love the deepening amber from the neck and fingerboard lacquer though. This is going to remain unchanged apart from a good clean up.

It was then that I got thinking about the body… there’s a sh*tload of thick paint on there that will take hours to get off, to leave me with a rather shoddy plywood body underneath (it is easy to see where Fender cut the corners) that is going to need a fair amount of repair before the long refinish job. That’s when I remembered that a certain Mr Noise, blogger and Six String Bliss forum regular, bought a couple of Strat bodies on eBay a few months ago. I’d only ever heard him mention one of those bodies. A quick email confirmed that the other was still free, and for a very reasonable sum will be heading Wirral-wards as fast as my wee postie’s legs can carry it.

So it looks like this is going to turn into a rather fine looking amber necked, vintage sunburst Strat.

There are some decisions yet to take. This one is going to be done on a minimal budget and so will be ending up as a home for whatever spare hardware I happen to have knocking about. I’ve been thinking long and hard about reusing the original pickguard, pickups and controls. Whilst that classic aged ivory/white looks fantastic against the sunburst, one of the things I’ve never really liked about Strats is the middle pickup, which is exactly where I’m most comfortable striking the strings. I happen to have a couple of spare black Seymour Duncan P-Rails knocking about. I’m now searching for an “interesting” low-cost alternative material for making a scratchplate. Leather? An old numberplate? Hardwood veneer? If you have any bright ideas, please don’t keep them to yourself!

Option 1 – Original

Option 2 – P-Rails white

Option 3 – P-Rails and black