Building a Bass

For many years I have wanted to make an electric guitar; indeed I have owned Melvyn Hiscock’s excellent book on the subject for over a decade.

Making an electric guitar involves a lot of (mostly wood-) work; this requires a lot of space, ventilation, tools, time and skill. To avoid the bits requiring the larger tools and the serious skills I thought I would begin by assembling a guitar from spare- and aftermarket-parts, as covered in the last chapter of that book. Unfortunately by the time I added up the price of all the parts required it was always orders of magnitude more than the price of an off-the-shelf guitar instrument that appears almost identical.

I wanted a fretted bass, so I went to Thomann.de to see what they had. I have always liked the look of the Fender Precision Bass, and since I am not alone there are now many clones. You can get one which at least looks right for €75, and I would expect it to sound pretty good if set up properly. What caught my eye, however, was the P-Style Bass kit which looks like the parts for the same instrument. If that is the case, it’s a little mysterious that it costs €10 more to not have it assembled for you…

Anyway, I went for the kit because I wanted to paint it with some satin-effect black paint I bought a while back in Halfords which I thought (correctly) would look a lot cooler than the gloss black of the pre-painted bass.

Painting the body was easy: I was careful to remember to mask off the neck socket so that the additional thickness of paint didn’t make it impossible to fit the neck. I considered painting the neck to match, but masking the part of the neck which fits the socket without leaving bare wood visible outside that area looked nearly impossible; and besides I like the look of a wooden neck on a painted body.

Once the paint had dried, I attempted to follow the instructions to assemble the instrument. The first snag was that it describes how to install a different kind of tuner mechanism than is in the kit. Happily I was able to work it out for myself. The second snag was that the screws supplied to attach the tuners to the head were quite fragile: as a result two of the tuners are now retained by three screws rather than four, and there is a snapped-off screw thread in the fourth hole so I can’t rectify that.

The only other problem I found was that the cutout for the neck in the scratchplate was not large enough. I snipped a bit off with some cutting pliers, which looks a little ugly but probably isn’t noticeable if you aren’t looking for it.

I estimate that the build took me between 45 minutes and 1 hour. It took slightly longer than that to set it up after building: tuning, checking the neck relief, tuning, checking the action, tuning, checking the intonation, tuning, checking the intonation, tuning, etc. You would need to do all this (or pay to have it done) on any new bass and I didn’t find it any more or less difficult than anything else I have set up. The end result is in-tune all the way down the fretboard with no buzzing, which is as good as it gets.

All in all, I enjoyed the experience of building a bass. I don’t know if it sounds better, worse, or the same as the €75 pre-built bass I could have had instead but I do know that it sounds as good as I need it to. I am certain that it looks more how I want it to look. Here is a picture of me with the bass I built:

IMG_0702

Having successfully built a bass I am now more confident about mucking around with it (and my other instruments) in the future. I would like to remove the existing pickups from my fretless bass and fit it with piezoelectric bridge saddle pickups: its body is quite small, the fingerboard is long (it would have 24 frets if it had frets) and with both a split P-style and a chunky J-style pickup it leaves no space under the strings. I think that removing the electromagnetic pickups would make playing slaps and pops easier, and that a good piezoelectric bridge system would be a great fit for the sound of flat-wound strings and no frets.

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