After finishing "Faith" I got some itchy fingers and a few ideas about what to do next, I guess I was "begging for trouble", so to speak.
The second thing I have had as a small dream ever since I started playing bass in my teen years, was to be a proud owner of a "cool" 6-string. Those 6-strings always look so "pro" somehow, a truly gifted and semi-serious bassist should definately own one.
A common problem that immediately comes to mind when thinking about 6-strings, is that they are big, wide fretboards/necks and therefore heavy on your left shoulder (among other things). So the idea of making it a shorter scale than the standard 34" came to mind. Shorter scale length means easier playability, shorter necks/fretboards and in general lighter in weight and a bit less demanding on construction. But the downside to it all is less tension on all the strings, which in turn can result in "floppy" and/or a loose feel on the strings, and that "tight" sound will be a challenge to accieve. One thing to remedy the problem would of course be to use as heavy (thick) strings as possible to get the tension up, but on a 30" scale that would'nt make any difference anymore. So to keep it all moderate I decided to make it a 32", a compromise that seems like a good intermediate solution, and I found a few luthiers out there on the net that makes 32" scale basses with good results.
So next was to choose what kind of woods to use on her.
The same principle was applied to this project as on "Faith", to use only domestic woods. So let's take a look at different woods and compare them to one another.
Below a chart which shows the weight (density) of some common scandinavian woods, in percentual comparsion to spruce. The weight is per cubicmeter.
Maple is the most common woods used in necks on basses and guitars, there's no question about that. There are some obvious reasons for this, but what about some other woods?
Some other good candidates for neckwoods could be elm, birch, beech or even oak, even though a neck made out of oak would be a pain in the ass for your shoulder. But how about birch? Available enough to get your hands on some still only 12% heavier than maple. Birch is easy to work with, after all it's been one of the best woods for making furniture since the dark ages.
But what about the other mechanical specifications of birch?
Below a chart that shows the strength per weight of different woods in relation to spruce.
If you compare maple to birch you see that birch has got about 19% more strength than maple. Considering strength, ash would be a good choise too, but perhaps a bit too heavy.
So what about the stiffness? Perhaps the most crucial mechanical property to consider when constructing a neck that has to be rigid and withstand the forces the strings tension puts on it.
Birch is almost in it's own class when it comes to stiffness. Compared to maple,birch is about 37% more stiff. Beech would be another good candidate, but is a bit too heavy, and hard to come by where I live. Ash would also work, although it's a bit more heavy than birch, but on the other hand its got great strenght per weight.
So what have we learned here?
Considering that this build will be a shorter scale neck and therefore less tension on the strings, a sturdy and stiff neck will be needed to avoid getting that "floppy" and/or "loose" feel. Considering that birch is the most stiff of all these woods mentioned here, and the less tension that will be present compared to a full 34" scale, the possibility to use only one truss rod (instead of two, as most of the 6-string basses on the market do) sounds like a good idea. Less metal in the neck, less weight in the neck. The same goes for some sort of reinforcements in the neck, like graphite or aluminum bars. Why use those when you can choose to use a material that is as stiff and sturdy as possible?
So the choice for neck wood wasn't really that difficult to make. And since I had some nice cherry at hand, I decided to make it a 5-piece birch/cherry neck. Just to throw in something special in the mix, "with a cherry on top" so to speak. And naturally a neck-through-body construction was chosen, to get a consistent and sturdy construction as possible (besides, I wanted to try and build a neck-through, something I'd never done before).
Elm is perhaps one of the most beautiful species of wood that grows in this northern country, somehow (IMO) it's got the looks of a tropical wood, but is not that common.
Fortunately I had already purchased some pieces to use for the body wings with this build in mind when I was buying some wood that I used on "Faith". And with some cosmetics in mind I thought I'd try to make a thick accent line in the body using 5mm thin laminates about 5mm under the top and back. Check it out in the pictures and you'll understand what I mean. Another "brilliant" idea that I wanted to try was the neat little trick to add some dye in the glue, to get a pronounced thin black glueline between the laminates in the neck and the body. I made a test and dyed the glue black, glued a few pieces together using the dyed glue, and the result wasn't really that bad.
Just as on "Faith" I wanted to combine two different shapes of bodies. This time I wanted to use one of my all time favourites the Ibanez SR, and second to that the Yamaha TRB. Did some templates of the two different shapes on the PC in Photoshop, and printed the templates on 4 different pieces of paper (to get it in scale 1:1). Then I penciled out the new shape to get a shape that is something in between the Ibanez and the Yamaha. Cut the template out with a scissor and there's the new shape. It ended up looking a lot like the Ibanez SR, there isn't really much of the Yamaha in it.
So what about the fretboard? Wood that is hard enough and is available in large enough pieces for a fretboard is a difficult "story". Lilac, hornbeam and fruittrees probably would be a good choice, but where to find pieces big enough and not full of cracks?
Oak would be the next possible wood, but oak is known to react chemically with both PVC-glue and metal. Since this was going to be a fretted instrument (metal frets) the next contestant in line was ash. (I am talking about "European ash" here, Lat. Fraxinus Exelsior, not the kind that grows in the southern states of the US).
Ash is a fairly beautiful wood too, with quite light-beige/yellow sapwood and light-brown/grey heartwood.
I read some threads on the TalkBass Forum about mandolin wire used on electric basses with fairly good results, so I had this idea of using as wide frets as possible but as low as possible. Searching the net I found some interesting facts about frets on Luthiere.net. I chose the lowest frets I could get my hands on on Banzai Music, the Dunlop 6130:s.
On the same pages I also found a Bartolini pickup set for 6-string that seemed good, it was time to try something else than EMG;s.
Some sort of electronics was needed too, but the price tag on those Bartolini preamps/tone-controls were a bit much for my budget, so I found these really inexpencive Artec tone-controls for bass on Thomann. The Bartolini 2-way control has got a price tag of 148€, while the Artec SE-2 2-band electronics is yours for only 33€! Considering that big difference in the price I was more than happy to take my chances with the Artec. If it would turn out to be noisy and nothing but hum, there is always the possibility to change it into something else, like Seymour-Duncan or Bartolini.
And since this would be a 6-string, I decided to put the extra money into buying Hipshot UltraLite's (about half the weight of regular tuners). There was in fact going to be 6 tuners on that head which equals weight, which in turn do NOT equal good ergonomics and a well balanced instrument. If I would have used regular tuners on this the bass it would have been head-heavy.
Number of Strings : 6
Scale Length : 810mm (32")
Number of Frets : 24
Frets : Dunlop 6130
Tuners : Hipshot UltraLite (Black)
Nut : Ebony
Bridge : Wilkinson 6-string
Strings : Warwick Black Label
Neck wood : Birch / Cherry
Neck construction : Neck-thru-body, 5-piece
Body : Elm / Birch
Fretboard : European Ash
Knobs : Elm / Birch
Pickups : Bartolini 100 G6 Set
Electronics : Artec SE-2
The bridge and trussrod and some various electronic parts was ordered from Rockinger Guitars, tuners, fret wire and the pickups were ordered from Banzai Music and the electronics and strings from Thomann.
Time to make that tablesaw "sing" again...
Sawed and planned out all the pieces needed for the neck (the birch and cherry) and glued them up into one block. Meanwhile the glue was drying I cut and planned the pieces needed for the body wings (the elm and birch) and glued the wings too, using that "brilliant" idea of mine with the black dyied glue. More about that later...
While that was drying I measured and sawed out the scarf joint for the peghead, approx. 12 degrees and that into press with some glue between the surfaces. A small short nail was hammered into the two pieces stopping the two pieces from moving and gliding when adding the pressure.
The body wings shape was marked out and sawed out on the bandsaw and the edges rounded with a router bit with a radius of 20mm. The rough shape was sawed out on the neck and head, beeing careful leaving enough material left for the shaping. The surfaces of the head was planned a bit and sanded, and then I decided to add a thin (1mm) vaneer of elm on the front of the head, since I wasn't that happy with the looks of the cherry-strips running along the neck and head.
The body wings was glued on, and before that I planned the sides of the neck at the surfaces where the body wings would be glued on to, to about 3 degrees "leaning backwards". So when the body wings was glued on the small amount of angle made the whole body a bit concave on the front-side and convex on the back-side. This to try and make it a bit more ergonomic, just like the Warwick Thumb basses are.
The channel for the truss rod was routed out and the fretboard cut and shaped using the planner, fretboard glued on and edges of the neck and fretboard filed and sanded, including the back-shape of the neck.
Time to mark and drill the holes for the tuners, and making that sanding block out of MDF for sanding the 600mm radius fretboard.
Time for some body-work...
Marked out the placement for the microphones, bridge and control cavity. Predrilled all the cavities with a 20mm forstner drillbit and the router was spinnin' warm once again. The holes for the bridge was drilled, and various holes needed for the cables, strap buttons, pots, and output jack too.
All that was left was the damn boring stuff.... That's right! The sanding, sanding, sanding, and then some sanding. Oh! I almost forgot, some more sanding AND use of steelwool after the surfaces was sprayed wet with water and left to dry.
The plate for the control cavity and battery compartment had to be made and shaped into place too, including the holes for the brass screwes that holds them in place.
And the knobs...
Of course in a matching style to the laminated body-wings.
|So there it was, the woodwork and fretwork done. Time to put something on the surface for protection and sealing. Just as on "Faith" I wanted a "au naturelle" approach to it all, but this time I did want to try something else than the Osmo Color Oil/Wax-mixture I used on "Faith". Instead I wanted to put on something I had used before on furniture and other various woodworks. A easy wipe-on tung oil based finish, very easy to apply and easy to get good results.
Check out their website here: Rustin's Danish Oil
As I mentioned before I had this "brilliant" idea of dying the glue black by adding some color-paste used in paints wgen they are dyed in the hardware stores. I did a practical test on some scrap pieces of wood and glued them together using the dyed glue, let it dry and leveled the pieces and it looked quite ok. But as it turned out, it wasn't such a "brilliant" idea after all...
As you can see in the pictures below, the glue penetrates very unevenly into the woods fibers. In places it actually looks like mold.
This due to the wavy character of the birch, if I would have used some "ordinary" (less wavy) wood the result would most likely been a lot better.
A good idea to dye the glue in theory, but not so great in practice.
So the Danish Oil was applied three times, was let to dry a few days and it was time to screw the hardware on.
The bridge, pickups, tuners and strap buttons was screwed in place and it was time for the soldering and installation of all the pots, bypass switch, electronics and pickups.
Strings was installed and it was time for that "magic moment", to hear the instrument for the very first time. String spacing at the bridge, the intonation and string height was adjusted to suit my own playing style. The nut had to be filed down some more and only a bit of backbow had to be applied by adjusting the truss rod a bit.
The feel of the strings turned out to be not "floppy" or "loose" at all, in fact I once owned a Warwick Fortress One 5-string (34" scale) that in my opinion felt much more "floppy" than this.
If your not used to playing shorter scale basses you would probably notice that the tension on the strings is a little less, they don't feel as "tense" or "sturdy" as on my main bass, the Fender Jazz. Bending has never been this much fun and easy.