The Black Pearl
and Willow

I took a look at what to do next, I had some birch, aspen, pine, willow and a piece of very wide old grown maple lying around in the shop so I thought to myself, "These would probably work as bodies, or will they?"

After some consideration I just simply decided to use the aspen body for the 4-string MusicMan StingRay inspired build, and the nice looking willow body for the "workhorse".

 

Specs:

Number of strings:
Scale length:
Number of frets:
Construction type:
Bridge:
Tuners:
Pickup:
Electronics:
Strings:
Body shape:
Head shape:
Body wood:
Fretboard:
Neck/Head wood


"Black Pearl"

4
810mm (32")
24
Bolt-on
MM-style, steel/chrome
Vintage style, chrome
BassLines SMB-4A
Original StingRay
Kerly, Nickel RW50-110
Tobias + Yamaha TRB
Yamaha TRB+Lakland
Aspen (Populus Tremula)
Brush Box (Tristania sp.)
5-piece oak w. maple stringers


"Willow"

4
810mm (32")
24
Bolt-on
Steel/brass
Modern style, chrome
EMG JV-set
EMG BQC System
Dunlop, SS 50-110
Tobias + Yamaha TRB
Lakland+StingRay
Willow (Salix Caprea)
Iroko (Chlorophora excelsa)
7-piece maple & iroko

Soon enough I'd made a template for the body shape combining the Tobias and Yamaha RBX by laying the two outlines on top of each other in Photoshop and printing it out in 1:1 scale on four A4 size papers.
Taped the four pieces together and drew out the shape with a pencil.

The body blanks was already planned and glued, so I changed a new thinner blade into the bandsaw and started cutting out the shapes.

So now I had 5 bodies with the same shape. I weighted all of them to get some practical proof and hard evidence of how much these woods weigh compared to each other. The aspen was 2kg, willow 1,92kg, pine 1,82kg, birch 2,4kg and the maple 2,31kg.
Since poplar was one of the most common species of wood used on early StingRay's, I chose aspen for the StingRay inspired "Black Pearl", since poplar and aspen are related (the Salicaeae family) with very similar properties.

So the bodies started to be in working order, it was time to start looking at the necks and fretboards.
Both fretboards fret positions where marked (very easy to do by laying the two boards along each other and drawing out the lines with a straight edge). Since cutting out the fret slots in definately not my idea of having fun, I tried to saw them using the bandsaw. The cut was a bit too wide to get a tight fit, so I just dropped in a lot of glue in the slots before placing the frets in the slots. Turned out to be just fine once the glue had dried properly.

And so it was time to show the bodies some attention, the pickup cavities were drilled and routed out, and the neck pockets routed using the same method as I used on "Faith". Control cavities and all holes needed drilled, and the outer edges were rounded on my homemade router table using a 25mm diameter router bit.

And so the boring and agonizing sanding had to be done (never liked this part of woodworking).
I applied two layers of knotting laquer diluted 50/50 with turpentine as a filler/primer, fairly easy to apply and dries very quickly. "The Black Pearl" was then sanded and primed with ordinary alkyd based spraycan primer and a few layers of matte black spray paint. The black spraypaint was needed because the Taika pearl glaze is translucent. I dyied the silver pearl glaze with some black paint paste and applied it with a small plastic foam sponge, let it dry over night and sprayed a few coats of clear spray lacquer the next day.

All along I wanted to try making a nice sunburst finish on "Willow", by spraypainting the edges first with red and then with black spraypaint. Turned out to be not as easy as one would think to get a nice good-looking fade. It took me a few tries to get it as it is now, but I'm not totally happy with the result, maybe I'll do a strip-down some day and try a re-finish on it.

The laquer was let to dry for a week or two, and it was time to focus on the hardware and electronics.
One nice benefit of working on two projects side by side is that you can work on the first one while the second one is drying. The control cavities were shielded, pickups and electronics installed, all the hardware and necks screwed in place and the adjusting of strings height, intonation and neck relief.

The pickups and electronics on "Willow" were originaly installed on my Fender Jazz, so I had to remove them from it and install the original pickups and electronics back on it. So now my Jazz is in original condition, just as it came out of the factory.

Surfing the net at various sites about electric bass onboard electronics I found something that would fit the StingRay inspired build. The original MM StingRay Bass preamp, a fairly simple circuit with a pre-drawn PCB and everything. A perfect DIY project for the evenings on the sofa in front of the TV. Ordered the parts, drew out the PCB, etched it in a bath of Ferro chloride, drilled the holes for the legs of the components and soldered it all into one piece. All parts are more or less standard electronic components except for the 1Mohm reversed logarithmic potentiometer. Good luck finding one, your gonna need it. But it turned out to work just fine with a ordinary linear pot as well, so don't waste your time. The IC op-amp has one more neat feature, it's possible to adjust the drawn current the op-amp uses with a simple resistor (the 1M5 resistor between pin 8 and ground). By using this feature you can get a very low current drawn from the battery feeding the preamp, somewhere someone claimed that one 9V battery would last about 2-3 years in nominal use.

If you're interested more info on this DIY preamp can be found at diystompboxes.com

As you may know, the MM style pickups (usually) has two coils (basically like two J-pickups side by side). And just as on all StingRay's the mode of the whole pickup is selectable with a 3-way switch, either in paralell, singel coil, or series.
The problem was I bought a switch that wasn't a basic DPDT (Double Pole Double Throw) switch, so I had to figure out which of the pins was what. Eventually I drew up a schematic on how to connect the four leads from the pickup to the switch. The white and black leads are from the "upper" coil, while the green and red leads belongs to the "lower" coil.
The 3,3kohm resistor is to cut down the signal level on the singel coil mode to match the paralell and series signal levels. A bypass switch was connected to bypass the electronics if needed.
A.k.a. an active/passive-switch.

So there it was, a few adjustments here and there, a few test drives to get some idea of what they both sound like, and their both ready for the road...

Below a few sound samples of the two basses with various pickups/settings.

The Black Pearl

Paralell



Singel



Series


Willow

Neck Pickup



Bridge Pickup



Both Pickups


 

"A chord is not a chord until the bass player decides which note to play"

- Sting