Embarking on a Long Time Dream

"She Sways," a fretless bass guitar with a high radius fingerboard. ©2024 Crunchysteve.

I've wanted a fretless bass for years. I have my double bass, sure, but it's kind of the bassist's equivalent of a piano, furniture rather than practical. Considering my studio is half of a mid century, single-car garage and my workshop is the other 40% and the laundry is the remaining 10%, there's not a lot of space to keep it within cooee of a microphone, either. So "Baby," as I call her, lives in a decorative corner of the guest room and is kind of hard to even get to for practice. Furniture. IKR.

My dream working instrument is a fretless bass guitar, with just enough fingerboard radius to cross over into upright playing style without hindering my amplified playing style. It's a chambered body, rather than hollow, to minimise feedback-inducing, stray resonance at a gritty overdrive volume. It needs a fully telescopic pike, for upright use, that also folds away completely for guitar style use. It's made of sustainably sourced, plantation grown, Australian hardwood. It's a single pickup, passive bass, because the tone needs to be as closely tied to the acoustics of the instrument, yet still magnetically generated, close to the neck for that deep, retro blues/rock sound. My pedalboard loop switch is buffered, active would double up on that buffering. The pickup, likewise, is old school alnico and has a middling number of windings. The only way to get this is custom built and I've never really had the tools...

Or so I thought.

I've watched a lot of guitar building videos this week and the thing that has become evident to me is, it's not the tools, to an extent, it's far more the patience and pace of the builder's approach. I've seen everything, from beautiful instruments built on CNC machines, to marvels of craftsmanship being rendered with fewer than a dozen, basic hand tools, barely an electric drill in sight! I wouldn't be surprised if I found a video called, "I built a guitar with only a pocket knife and spit." &laugh; I have most of the tools I've seen luthiers, amateur and professional, using, the ones I don't have a cheaply sourceable and, despite a lifetime of being autistic and ADHD, age has settled me to a steady pace and a patient hand. My autism also gives me a strong focus on the learning necessary to complete a project like this. Hence the design drawing, above.

So, to materials, those Australian hardwoods. The walkup start for the main components is known by "Tasmanian Oak" (eucalyptus regnans, obliqua or delegatensis) or "Victorian Ash" (regnans or obliqua.) For the feature contrast laminates I'm considering merbau (insia bijuga), a SE Asian hardwood that is plantation grown in northen Australia to supply the timber decking industry. These timbers should create a subtle two-tone, with a subtle pinky/gold from the eucalypt and a mid-to-deep earthy red from the merbau. I haven't yet decided if I'll do a full, through-neck design or a set neck, the choice comes down to whether I make a neck routing jig or decide to hand shape the neck. If the former, it'll be a set neck, if the latter, And I've pretty much decided on hand shaping a through-neck. Both species take modern glues well, so neither way will exhibit weakness in the build, and I can always do some dowelling or take the stand pike outer tube up into the neck root.

The neck design, as I've mentioned already, will be headless, using a back-tuning bridge at the outer end of the body. I may still include a "vestigial" head for a branding platform and for hanging on a standard guitar wall hook. I'm told the biggest problem with headless basses is the lack of volute and sudden "dive bombs" can result in a careles hand sleeping off the end. To this end, a vestigial head allows for a volute for stable, deep note playing. The neck will be built to my Precision's dimensions, but with a somewhat higher fingerboard radius, to the extent that longer grub screws in the middle 2 bridge saddles will allow radius matching at the bridge. the truss rod is 570mm, just 30mm shorter than the fingerboard length. I'm contemplating 3D printing the branding (the bass clef rotated to form a C with eyes) in a "metallic" and inlaying that into the vestigial head.

The single pickup is a "soapbar" in the style of Music Man Stingray pickups. The neckline of the body will be solid, but the wings are chambered. The timber over the chambers will be curved down towards the wings from the face at the neckline. The sound holes are bass clefs, opposite hand and rotated, again, to create the Crunchy logo. The volume and tone knobs will follow the line of the lower sound hole's colon, the output socket will be out the side, perpendicular to the line of the volume and tone knobs and centred between them.

I'll be aquiring the wood in the next few weeks from my local hardware store. The usual dividing, book matching, gluing and planing techniques will be used for the front and back timbers in tasmanian oak. The body and neck blank will be laminate lengthwise, with a tasmanian oak centre, slightly wider than the truss rod, then a merbau strip of 6mm width, a 6mm tassy oak strip either side, another pair of merbau strips, the the wings will be entirely tasmanian oak, including the downcurved top and back pieces.

I'll talk finish if I get to that stage. Please respect my rights to the design in whole or in part. Unlike most of my projects, this one is fully closed source. The shape of the body and sound holes are branding that is uniquely meaningful to me, "Crunchy" and all rights are reserved.


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