In 1991 I studied music for a year, and while having the electric bass
as my main instrument I also hired an acoustic upright ("doghouse"),
which I liked playing a lot, and took some lessons on it.
Ever since that I've got this itch to one day get myself a "doghouse", or Double Bass as it is sometimes referred to, but never got around finding, nor having a sufficient financial situation.
So in Y2K it suddenly "hit" me, and I asked myself, "Why don't I build my own Electric Upright Bass" ?
The first thing that really got me going, was me browsing the Guitar & Bass Buyers Guide magazine, in which I found a picture of a Azola BugBass II, and what can I say...
Just like a flick of a switch, I fell in love.
I knew this would be a large and time consuming project, but I just ignored that and bought me some wood, four blocks of alder for the body and four pieces of maple for the neck. I had no idea of where to get hold of some ebony for the fingerboard so I e-mailed a guitar builder and asked him, and he was more than willing to help me out.
So he delivered me a completely finished fingerboard in ebony along with a Dresden bridge, nut and Thomastik Infield Spirocore strings. He recommended these strings, since I told him I was planning to install a magnetic pickup on the EUB, which I still haven't got around to do, because my piezos works so damn fine.
When I got the parts the fingerboard had a ridge running lengthwise thru the board just between the E- and A-strings, so if I would have been able to play the bass, I would have been forced to press the E-string against the fingerboard in a different angle than the rest of the strings.
I later learned that this ridge is known as the Romberg bevel, a flat section beneath the E string of the double bass that allowed the larger string to vibrate more freely when using a bow. This design is still used today, mainly by rockabilly bass players who prefer the bottom E string to vibrate more freely.
I immediately thought that I'd put the planner on it, since the fingerboard seemed to be too thick all over, but I decided to at least try to play the assembled bass first.
So I went to my dad's workshop, and started the hard manual labor of sawing, planing, drilling, sanding and gluing. I eventually had to take it easy and carefully plan the next step ( preferably twice ), since I never had done this type of carpenter's work before.
The neck was glued into a 3-piece block and cut into raw shape with a stick saw.The body was glued together from 9 different boards and lists, since one of the boards was a bit more red than the other three. I decided to glue them together in a pattern, so that in the middle, there's a 4cm red list next to a ½cm lighter list on both sides, a 1½cm red list besides them and the rest a light board out to the side edge.
The body and neck was cut and sanded into shape, and coated with a
urethane-alkyd varnish mainly used on boats, which is quite hard and
has a half-glossy finish.
I made the neck and body joint V-shaped, so I just had to slide the neck into the body cut-out, and it would stick there quite firmly. I also drilled in 5 threaded inserts in the neck, and bolted the neck to
the body with 5 bolts.
So now all I had to do, was cutting and filing the bridge and nut into places, which was more difficult than I would have imagined.
The string holder by the bridge was bent out of brass and I eventually had to make a piece of maple attached to the body to support the holder, since it started to bend even more, when I tuned the strings into full tension. The total pull of the strings on a 41½ inch upright is about 90kg !
So I was ready for the test drive, and realized I had been right about
The ridge was awful, the E-string felt as if it was a MILE away, so I had to remove the neck and put the planer and sander on it. I removed about half of the boards thickness at the nut and practically nothing from the bottom end, and tried to get the surface as straight as possible. Screwed the neck back in place, strings on and...MUCH better.
To get some useful sound out of an EUB, it's obvious
you need some sort of pickup(s).
The most common types are piezo's, so I started surfin' the web, to find
out what there was available on the market, and found Bob Gollihur, who is a reseller of K&K Pickups.
I wrote to him and he recommended the Bass Max piezo pickup along with the Power Pack Pre amp, which has a Volume, Bass and Treble controls. It also features a small trim-pot inside from which you can set the gain of the entire preamp from 1 - 10 times ! This little monster can be REALLY 'HOT' !
The Bass Max is meant to be installed into the wing slot of the bridge,
so I had to modify the slots a bit due to the model of the Dresden bridge.
The piezo slips into the slot, and I inserted a flat maple wedge,
to keep the piezo in place.
The amount of pressure put on the piezo also changes the sound and
signal strength, so I had to experiment with different wedges
and pressure put on the piezo.
I also found another pickup thru a local newspaper, a prototype and predecessor to B-Band pickups produced by EMF Acoustics. Its a "new" type of pickup technology, that uses a patented EMFi, ( Electro Magnetic Film ) between two thin pieces of wood. As the Bass Max, this one is also designed to fit into the wing slot of the bridge, so I installed it on the treble (G-string) side, just as I did with the Bass Max on the bass (E-string) side. With the EMFi came a small plastic box with a very small preamp, designed for the EMFi, and I wasn't too happy about the plastic box, so I decided to buy me a aluminium box, and install the two preamps into one box.
So I installed a stereo jack into the backside of the body, and ran the pickups wires thru the body to the jack, soldered a stereo cable and plugged it into the jack and the preamp box.
The K&K Bass Max pickup has a bit of scooped mid sound to it,
that sounds almost too thin playing alone, but along with a jazz ensemble,
it's all you'll ever need.
The EMFi on the other hand, has a more warm, soft and deep sound, not far from a miked full-sized doghouse. But on the other hand, the sound is not as articulate, as the K&K pickup. Even though it's mounted on the treble (G-string) side of the bridge.