Minibass neck and headstock

I started off today’s work session by getting stung on the arm by this little b*stard. Not a good way to begin.

Now that I’ve received the tuners and truss rod I can get going on the neck and headstock.

I secured the neck to the bench with double sided tape and then, to the right hand side, a piece of straight parallel timber as a guide. The position of piece to the left is less important because it is only there to keep the router baseplate level. Note where I trimmed out the corner of the right hand piece so that it would fit around the headstock – so that I can rout the full length of the neck.

I centred the 6mm cutter on the neck’s centre-line and checked it along the full length of the neck.

I clamped on an MDF stop, so that the cutter would stop at the right place on the neck, making sure the truss rod slot was big enough but no bigger than necessary.

Here is it after the first two passes.

And finally with the truss rod fitted. Note that the nut end is a couple of millimeters wider than the main part of the truss rod. I adjusted the side guide in and out a couple of mm to enlarge the slot to fit. There was a tiny part of tear out on the left side but this will be completely covered by the fretboard so no harm done.

Now on to the headstock. I had sketched out a rough shape on paper, aiming to keep the tuners as close as possible together. I really want to give the impression of this being a small stubby bass and the squat/wide headstock shape will be a key part. I transferred the sketch to MDF and tested it out. I was happy with it so this became the headstock template.

On the bandsaw I rough cut the headstock to shape.

And this shows the evolution of the headstock, from paper to template to neck blank.

I trimmed the ends of the headstock and neck templates, to ensure they fitted together neatly and attached them to the neck blank with my indispensable double-sided tape

A few passes round with the router and this is the neck ready for the next stage.

It is slightly rough around the scarf joint because it is not possible to get the router to run smoothly across the change in angle, and keep the bearing in touch with the template. This is no problem though because this area will be getting extensively carved once I’m ready to start profiling the neck.

The next stage is to mount the fretboard but, before I can do that I need to install the inlaid fretmarkers. I’m waiting for the arrival of a set of plug cutters so that I can cut neat rounds of contrasting hardwood to glue into the fretboard. Once the inlays are in I’ll glue the fretboard to the neck, trim it to shape, sand in the radius and then install the frets. Once they’re in I can profile the neck, cut the angled neck pocket into the body and the finishing post will be in sight.

Making a radiused sanding block and a fret press caul

If there’s one thing I love almost as much as building guitars, it is making the templates, tools and jigs to make guitars. Today I set out to make myself a radiused sanding block and a fret press caul. Now I could go to any of the reputable luthier suppliers, such as Stew Mac, or LMI and buy these but, because I tend to build types of guitars that you can’t buy I decided that it would be worth the investment in time to work out how to make my own – for that time when I want to build something with a 17.25″ radius.

I had spent a few hours researching ideas for making a radiused sanding block. Most of them are router based, either routing the curve into a single piece of wood, or routing several slices which are then glued together. I tried a couple of these approaches with limited success (i.e. they were a complete disaster). I then hit on a solution I hadn’t seen anywhere else – to use my bandsaw. I clamped a piece of MDF to the bandsaw’s table. I drilled a 4mm hole 12″ from the blade. I then drilled a series of 4mm holes at 30mm intervals in a length of 75mm wide 18mm thick MDF. I popped the drill bit through the holes and hey presto it cuts a 12″ radius into the other end, step to the next hole and cut the next, and the next and the next. I put the first one to one side (more on this later) and glued the remaining eight slices together. Hey presto 12″ radius sanding block.

Last time I made a neck I tapped in the frets with a leather faced hammer and, whilst it worked, it left me with a big job of fret levelling. This time I’m going to have a go at using my drill press and a caul, to press the frets into place. Hopefully this way I can be much more consistent with the fit of each.

I took the first piece of radiused MDF and drilled a 22mm hole through the face, and an 8mm hole from the edge to meet the larger hole. This allowed me to fit a threaded rod and a couple of threaded plugs (both rescued from a long gone Ikea bed) onto it to create a post that can chuck into the drill press. Hey, once again, presto.

Minibass: Routing the body shape and laminating the headstock

I have still to design the headstock layout (awaiting the arrival of the machine heads) but I do know that the current headstock will not be wide enough. I cut strips of sapele and the unknown hardwood and glued them to the sides.

While the glue dried, I attached the body template with double sided tape and routed it to shape, first with the top bearing bit…

…then remove the template so that I can cut deeper…

…and then finish off by flipping it over and running round it with a bottom bearing cutter.

and then I just had chance to snap this shot before the rain came.

Minibass: Making a bridge, cutting neck and body templates

I started off making an acoustic style bridge. First I cut the slot, by mounting a dremel router bit into my drill press, with two fences to guide the piece through. It took me two goes to get it right.

I ran it through the table saw, with the blade tipped at 30 degrees, to chamfer the sides.

After testing it on the 1:1 drawing I decided it was too long so trimmed each end. I sanded it to 220 grit and then dropped it in the jar of brown aniline dye solution.

I cut out the neck template. I’m going to use a separate template for the headstock, but cannot finalise the shape of that until the tuners arrive and I can work out the smallest, most compact shape possible.

I then cut two different versions of a body template. I prefer the one on the left so the other will get scrapped.

I used the template to draw an outline onto the blody blank and trim it to shape. Here is what I’ve got so far.

Here you can see the scarf joint on the headstock, and the 12″ measure at the bottom gives you an idea of just how small this thing will be.

Routing the bass’ pickup cavity and gluing the neck joint

Despite my earlier pessimistic post, I did finally get a rain-free hour and I was able to get on with the final few woodworking jobs.

I first made a template for routing the pickups. I started by drilling the three 13mm holes for the pickup ears and then cut the shape out for the body of the pickup.

I tested it a couple of times on a piece of scrap MDF, making slight changes with a rasp and sandpaper, until I was happy with the fit.

I attached it to the bass body with double sided tape and routed it to 16mm deep, testing the fit at the point where I needed to remove the template to get to the final few millimeters.

I drilled the two holes into the control cavity for the pickup lead and bridge earth strap and then just had time to pack everything away before the rain returned.

After packing away I moved inside, checked the fit of the pickup, and then glued and clamped up the neck.

Tomorrow, should I get a gap in the weather, I need to drill the pilot holes for the strap buttons and bridge mounting screws, and then I’m on to sanding it down in preparation for the finish. Thankfully these two jobs don’t need much kit so I can quickly jump in and out to take advantage of any breaks in the weather. If all goes well I should get the first few coats of finish on tomorrow. This is my favourite part – where you first see the true colour and grain pattern of the wood.

Routing the control cavity and making a matching cover

Today I planned to get the control cavity for the bass finished, including cutting a matching cover from sapele. I used Inkscape to draw out the shape of the control cavity cover, printed that off twice and on one, drew the shape of the internal cavity freehand.

There were stuck to MDF and cut into templates.

For this job I needed three templates; one for the internal cavity, one for the control cavity cover, and one for the ledge the cavity cover sits on. The last of these two need to match as close as possible. I’m still searching for a way of using the router to create two exactly matching male/female templates, and I spent a couple of hours of experimenting with collets and straight cutting bits, with no success. More research required on this topic. Instead I used the offcut from cutting out the cover’s template, to make myself the template for the cover ledge. Not exact but close enough for me at this stage.

I select a piece of offcut sapele, and planed a couple of millimeters from a portion of it.

I attached the cover template, and routed round it to a depth slightly deeper than I would want for the cover.

I set up a fence on my band saw and sliced the sapele, just slightly thicker than I would need for the cover.

I attached the templates to the body and routed the cavity and cover ledge.

Rather than having a screw on cavity cover I decided to use neodymium button magnets, an idea which I’d seen used to great effect on the Musical Instrument Maker’s Forum (aka MIMF). The magnets are 6mm in diameter and 3mm thick. I drilled a 6mm hole at each corner. Initially these were just 3mm deep. I put pairs or magnets into each hole, put a drop of CA glue (aka superglue) on the top of each, then pressed the cover down. Once the three magnets were glued to the cover I could drill the holes to 6mm deep, put a dab of glue at the bottom of each, and then push in the magnets with a cocktail stick. NB: If you’re doing this then you need to pay attention to the polarity, because you want them to attract the magnets on the cover, rather than repelling.

One the glue holding the magnets had set, I sanded the top of the cover level with the body. I’m really happy with the result of this.

I drilled one small pilot hole through from the back of the cavity and then, making sure the relationship between the two looked OK, drilled the second one through from the front.

I used a 19mm spade bit to drill a “countersink” for each of the knobs. This means that the bottom edge of the knob can sit below the top face of the body, hiding the nut and washer securing the pot.

I drilled the 8mm hole for the pot shaft and then checked that it all fitted together neatly…

…before lightly sanding to round over the edge of the countersink.

Hopefully the pickup and bridge will arrive tomorrow, which means I can get the final routing completed, and glue up the neck. All that will be left to do is the final sanding, applying the Danish oil finish, assembly and set up.

Carving the body of the custom bass

When it comes time to carve wood I have found that the combination three different tools works very well for me. A flat and half-round rasp, a hand-drill with a spindle sanding drum loaded with 60 grit paper, and cabinet scrapers. The hand drill is great for removing large volumes of wood quite quickly. It is a bit of a crude and unwieldy beast so is not suited for fine work or in tight areas – particularly round the neck pocket where there are a couple of sharp fragile corners that would be easily damaged. For these areas I use the rasps. Once the wood is close to the shape I want I’ll smooth the area with the cabinet scraper, and then sandpaper and a sanding block.

The front view.

And the rear.

There is further work to do on the neck heel, but this will be after the neck is glued in place. I can’t glue the neck in before the pickup cavity is routed, so I’m waiting for that to arrive before I can make further progress.

Here are the pickup and bridge that I’ve ordered for it.

Good second day of progress on the custom bass

I started out today with the realisation that I didn’t like the body shape which I’d made a template for yesterday. So I started with making a new template.

I then roughly cut the blank to shape

Planed it to 41mm thick.

Attached the template with double side tape and routed round until the body was trimmed to shape.

I rounded over the back edge.

Made a template for the neck heel and routed the pocket in the body to a depth of 18mm.

To assist with the body carve I routed in steps in 1.5mm increments.

And then sanded them smooth.

Tomorrow I’ll order the bridge and pickup and while I wait for those to arrive I’ll rout out the control cavity and keep going on sanding the body into a smooth organic shape. Delighted with progress so far but I’m absolutely knackered now. Time for a shower and off to the pub to recuperate.

The next project: A custom 4 string bass

No sooner than I get the last project off the workbench and my fingers start itching to get going with the next one. This next project has many similarities to the last one. I’m going to take a cheap instrument I bought on eBay, build a new sapele body, upgrade the hardware and hopefully turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. Some of the key design details on this one will be the extra long top horn, a carved top and reshaped headstock.

The instrument in question is an early 90s Aria Pro II Avante Series. After dismantling it, I lathered the neck and headstock in Nitromors to remove the heavy poly lacquer.

While that is soaking in, I mark a centre-line on a piece of MDF and the old body, line them up and then trace round with a pencil.

If I was just replicating the old shape, I would use a bottom bearing router cutter, but in this case I want to make changes to the shape of the two body horns; lengthening one and shortening the other.

I trim the MDF close to the line on the bandsaw.

And here’s the MDF template with the neck, just so I could make sure I was happy with the shape.

I’ll sleep on that and decide whether to make any changes (or perhaps even start again) tomorrow morning. If the weather is better tomorrow I’ll be breaking out the router and planing the pre-glued sapele body blank to thickness.

Strat/Tele hybrid completed with 30 mins to spare

In the space of 167.5 hours I have been able to transform this…

…and this…

…into this.

I’m not overly enamoured with the white pickguard and hardware but I’m going to leave it on for a week or two and see if it grows on me. I do really think that a black/white/black pickguard with black pickup covers, knobs and tips will suit the natural finish of the sapele much better.

Of course the pickups are still as crap as when they came out of the Tanglewood so I’ll be shopping for some replacements.