Not a huge amount to report of late so a quick state of play and how things have progressed the last five months is probably a good idea.
Well, aside from having made a hell of a lot of furniture recently the instrument front is a little stagnant. I guess I have found the working conditions at my place of a study a little volatile given the clear and quiet working space I prefer for making instruments. The five-string prototype bass has been completed however needs a little work with the electronics side of things. A fine instrument that turned out exactly as I hoped it would, however the prevailing conditions mean that the proposed “actual” version might be on semi-permanent hold. For one, I have found that the Paperstone materials slated for use as the fingerboard is a poor material for fret holding and generally does not keep a fine appearance.
The Gibson RD build is still bubbling away in the background with various specs having been altered, most of them to suit economics of both time and money. As time presents itself I have been backwards-engineering the Moog pre-amp circuit with the intention of shrinking it to a more manageable SMD board. Akin to the heavy RD Artist, I have built this bass’s body and neck from Birch which should be relatively similar to Maple if not more pleasing if you go for the “tonewood” thing.
So here is how the Carl Thompson tribute bass turned out:
Did I mention that the pin router is toast? Well, after languishing at one end of the shop for years relatively unused until I got my mucky paws onto it the commutator decided to burn out the bearings. Unfortunately these don’t appear to be available so the entire machine is sitting there waiting for somebody to man up and decide to write the whole thing off and buy a new one.
Well, I am not 100% sure that this is true yet (long story) however I believe that my place of study has had a new desiccator fitted to the compressed air system. Having wanted to learn and practice paint technique, having wet air kind of put a massive stop to that. Time to start practicing on scrap methinks. Probably after confirming that we actually do have a working desiccator of course.
A build which is currently on the drawing board, probably to be started in a week or two is an instrument based on the 1977-82 Gibson RD Artist. This is somewhat of a vanity build, as I do have a penchant for offset instruments like the Thunderbird/Firebird/Explorer, etc.
The original bass and guitar models used a large Moog-designed pre-amp and envelope modifier with mixed results. The RD Standard came without the active electronics and a slightly different pickup configuration. A nice little eBay find is a store selling NOS Gibson electronics and parts from the Kalamazoo factory including parts for the RD. Unfortunately, the only pickups are those from the Standard which isn’t too much of a big deal. I might snag one of those loaded pickguards when my next SB-1000 pre-amp sells on eBay….
Like most Gibsons of that part of the 70s the RD was made entirely from Maple making it bright and insanely heavy. Whilst I don’t have Maple on hand, I do have access to excellent quality Birch which possesses the majority of the aspects of Maple, unfortunately including the weight. Birch is reportedly brighter than Maple in some respects (drummers can’t be trusted!) but we’ll see how this one turns out.
Currently I have not chosen a finish for this instrument although I would like to consider binding it. A possibility that passed through my head during sauna tonight was a transparent red finish over a flamed Birch top. Not sure about the back, however this could happily be a burgundy or even black. I’ll have to do some mockups I guess.
The electronics present a challenge. I have a few photos of both the track and component sides of the board plus schematics so it is not impossible to recreate the circuit from this. Ideally I would like to acquire the original board and the instrument cavity’s dimensions. Not for the sake of authenticity (I have already made tweaks here and there to my own liking) however it would be an interesting project to make a small batch of repro boards on a group buy for RD owners who want to restore their instruments. Ten would be ideal as I could then consider having the boards professionally etched rather than homebrew like the test boards would be.
Hardware is another consideration. The originals used the “unideal” three-point bridge system. A nice looking design (in my opinion) however difficult in terms of intonation range and string capture. I may swap this out for the Hipshot retrofit bridge after initially fitting one of the original bridges. I’d very much like to compare how the Hipshot bridge improves the instrument first-hand and indeed it would be a great product to write a review on.
I wrote elsewhere about the completed prototype bass build, for which this is the final design. This incorporates ideas and techniques which were not present in the prototype such as a compound scale, hollowed body, figured woods, etc.
The original design has not really changed much, however some of the visual aesthetic has. At first I envisaged adding a veneer of carbon fibre to the fingerboard and utilising it as highlights in areas such as the truss rod cover electronics covers, etc. I decided against this on the basis of cost plus it is a material that I do not have sufficient experience in finishing. Although I have enough experience working with carbon fibre, committing it to this instrument could lead to sticky situations further down the line should it not work out. Perhaps some other time.
The basic CAD design is not too far from the prototype:
The only major decision is the choice of bridge to be utilised. Whilst the prototype incorporated the fantastic Hipshot D style bridge system the non-perpendicular bridge saddle line in this bass requires a heavily raked set of saddles (not illustrated). The D style bridge has a fantastic range for intonation however it falls just slightly short of what would be required for this bass, plus angling the bridge would be inadequate on many levels. Currently I have two options, one of which is to have the basic bridge body machined from brass where I live or having Hipshot custom mill me a unit. I haven’t asked the question either way, however I will be doing this before moving forward on this bass what with it being such a crucial component. Other options such as the single-string bridge saddles sprung to mind however I would much prefer to maintain the use of the fishtail stringing system as opposed to rear bridge capture.
Additional points to this build include fibre optic fret side markers, possibly with the inclusion of several fibres around the body around the top as “stars”. The body itself will be heavily hollowed in addition to the svelte 30mm body thickness so overall it should be quite a contrast to the solid Mahogany prototype.
Although I have documented this build in far more detail over at Talkbass and Project Guitar, I’m going to write a little here about this instrument. The important reason – I guess – is that doing so here on the blog brings things like this into a more “meshed” chronological order which forums do not.
The basic idea behind this bass was for it to be a prototype for a more complex and involved subsequent build. Nothing too fancy or time-consuming, however still a reasonably involved project of itself. I drew up both this and the final instrument in CAD as per usual….
….and from there I made a quick dirty photo mockup of how I envisaged the instrument to get the balance of colours and concepts correct….
As of writing, this bass is now sitting here at home disassembled after having been finished, strung and set up. It went 100% perfectly to plan and is now waiting for the arduous task of finish sanding before oil application. The final bass which this was the proof of concept for is about to start being built so I will wrap this up (other than for progress on the sanding, oiling and final finished posts) with a selection of the in-progress photos.
The previous blog structure was inappropriate for the content I was pushing to it, so I wiped it clean to start again. Simple and clean this time around methinks. I don’t have the time to dedicate to doing anything more complex anyway!
A few of the leading posts will just be re-introducing existing projects to go from there.