Bass guitar design advice

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Bass guitar design advice

Postby Steve Sawyer » Sat Jul 27, 2019 10:34 pm

I'm getting ready to put pen to paper to start to design the next build, which will be a 4-string bass.

I don't have a "commercial" 4-string bass handy from which to take measurements, so my first question is what range of widths should I consider for the width of the neck at the body end of the neck (21st/22nd fret) and at the nut?

I will have many more questions as this design starts to take shape, but getting these dimensions down will let me get started on some drawings.

Thanks!
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby Mark Wybierala » Sun Jul 28, 2019 10:25 am

Sorry Steve but there are no rules for this and its just a matter of personal preference. My #1 that I play most has a nut width that is smaller than a Fender Jazz or a modern Ibanez and there are no functional problems or limitations. Its just a personal choice. Typical modern basses tend to have a fairly large ratio of neck width from nut to the end of the fretboard with the strings being fairly far apart by the time they get to the bridge but this is not technically necessary. Rickenbackers have a smaller increase and a Hofner Beatle Bass almost has no increase. The two most common examples I think are the Fender Precision Bass (wide nut) and the Fender Jazz Bass (narrow nut) but through the years even these have not remained consistent.

As a scratch build, some things may dictate a better decision such as your choice of bridge with the distance of the string spacing at the bridge determining some of your decisions. You also need to consider the distance from the strings to the edge of the fretboard and the functional width of the frets which isn't exactly the same thing. My advice is to go to a music store and play a few basses to see what you like. You could bring some calipers.
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby Freeman Keller » Sun Jul 28, 2019 12:36 pm

Steve, even if you aren't building a clone of something it might be worth while to get plans for something similar to what you want to build, copy what you like and modify what you don't. These folks have several different bass plans, you could start with a P or J bass and go from there.

http://www.guitarplansunlimited.com/Bas ... asses.html

If you don't want to do that you could just go to Warmoth's site and see what the dimensions for one of their bass necks are and follow (or modify) that

https://www.warmoth.com/
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby Bob Francis » Sun Jul 28, 2019 8:28 pm

The Warmoth idea is great! Nut width varies by manufacturer and model, as does the pocket end of the neck.
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby Steve Sawyer » Mon Jul 29, 2019 2:46 pm

Thanks, everyone! Great suggestions. Thanks, Freeman for that link to Guitar Plans Unlimited. They even have plans for a 30" Alembic which is nice, as this will be a 30" short-scale bass. That is a nice overall body shape, but I'm leaning toward something like some of the Schecter's I've seen. I'm not a big fan of the enormous horns that appear on some guitars and basses, but the Alembic and Schecter execute them nicely.

And thanks, Mark for that discussion.

I have a lot of decisions to make on this build, including what kind of neck - set, bolt-on, neck-thru. I have a nice slab of walnut, a set of tuners, an EMG pickup, and a bridge that I'm not super enthusiastic about. I may shop around for a bridge that I like better, and per your suggestion, let that drive some of the neck dimensions from that. My favorite "local" guitar store (it's 45 min away on a good day) is real good about letting folks just wander around and try this 'n' that, so that would be a good place to start wrt my personal preference. My current bass is a bass VI, and one of the reasons I want to do a 4-string is that it's really impossible to develop any right-hand technique on it as the strings aren't much farther apart than those on a guitar. I have no philosophical objections to using a plectrum, but would like to start to learn some right-hand technique as it does give you a different sound.

So, again, thanks for the advice!

Oh - I should mention too that I won the raffle prize at the last meeting of our woodworking club. We meet at Maker Works, and the prize was training on their Shop Bot CNC router. Because I always design everything in Sketchup, it might be fun to run the design through Vcarve and see what I can do with a CNC! I'm not sure I could design the neck profile to my satisfaction, so that's still going to get hand-carved. It seems on my last two builds that the neck profile relied less and less on profile templates as I got close to the finished shape - it was a more tactile "how does this feel" thing. However, it'd be interesting to do everything else on the CNC just for the experience.
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby Bob Francis » Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:02 pm

Keep this thread alive Steve!
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby David King » Tue Jul 30, 2019 4:45 pm

Bass neck widths ranged widely early on in the instrument's development. Once Fender came along with their P and jazz basses most of that diversity went away forever. It's a very personal choice so hard to advise you if you have limited experience with the instrument. I'd say that the slimmer Jazz bass necks tends to be the more popular of the two models. Of course Fender was very interested in part interchangeability to save on tooling and that results in some compromises that you can escape from. I do like printing up full scale paper rendering using fretfind and seeing how those feel when stuck down to a rigid strip of scrapwood or foam insulation board.
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby Bob Francis » Tue Jul 30, 2019 6:18 pm

Or at least try to play a few different basses at music stores.
My first bass was a Fender with a 1 3/4 (or close) nut.
It is still my go to guitar and I have had typical Jazz width necks.
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby Steve Sawyer » Thu Aug 01, 2019 12:28 pm

Bob Francis wrote:Keep this thread alive Steve!

I will - lots of questions to come! :D
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby Steve Sawyer » Sat Aug 10, 2019 10:09 pm

Next question is pickups. One or two. Single-coil or humbucker. Single-piece pups or those "split" pickups I often see on basses.

I am super ignorant about bass electronics, so forgive me for such a vague question. Unlike a guitar, where I know what the different options are and their effect on the sound, I know nothing about basses. The bass I play is a bass VI with three single-coils, so it's a different beast altogether.

I have a single bass pickup that I'd like to use if possible, but I really don't know what it is (asking about that in a thread in the electronics section).

Thanks.
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby Gordon Bellerose » Sun Aug 11, 2019 9:43 pm

Firstly, let me comment on the nut width question.
I measured an Ibanez bass that came in for repair. I rather liked it and took measurements.

The nut width was 1 1/2 inch.
The width at the base of the neck was 2 7/16.
Remember that this was a 34 inch scale.

I built a 5 string a while back, and my reasoning went this way.

I have a Fender 5 string bass, and I found the neck very wide at the nut. It is 1 3/4 inch at the nut.
I wanted to go to a 1 5/8 nut, so that is where I started.
Next was the bridge. It was a 3/4 inch spacing between strings.

My full size drawing started with those measurements.
I allowed for a decent amount of width along the neck so that strings wouldn't be falling off the edge.

After that I drew in the body, allowing for enough upper horn to balance the instrument.
I need your help. I can't possibly make all the mistakes myself!
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby Steve Sawyer » Mon Aug 12, 2019 12:25 pm

Thanks, Gordon. I bought a full-sized plan from Guitar Plans Unlimited per Freeman's suggestion above. It too has a 1 1/2" width at the nut. I'm taking a road-trip to the guitar store tomorrow, calipers and ruler in hand to get some ideas as to my preferences and to get some answers to some other questions I have lurking, like where the pickup(s) should be positioned.
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby Steve Sawyer » Wed Oct 16, 2019 6:32 pm

Something I forgot to check on the basses at the guitar store - neck profile. The only bass I have for comparison is a Bass VI, which obviously is somewhat wider at the nut than the one I'm designing, which is 1 1/2" wide. My Bass VI is about 1 5/8, and the thickness is .825 at the nut and .913 at the 12th fret. Doing a quick sketch based on those measurements, the neck seems a bit of a "baseball bat" profile, but maybe that is more typical of basses in general.

What do you folks work toward for the neck thickness on a bass?

Thanks!
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby Mark Wybierala » Wed Oct 16, 2019 10:45 pm

I'm sorry but neck profile falls into what ever you prefer.

From experience I've found that a lot of things contribute to "neck feel". Play a new instrument with your eyes closed and you'll either like it or you won't. Its a trip again to the local music store to explore what you like and what you don't. As a builder, you are able to see things that most instrument buyers don't. With your eyes closed, you might assume things such as the profile but your hands will tell you lies. Study the necks you play to discover exactly why you like one neck and not others.

Profile isn't the whole story. How does the neck blend into the fretboard wood? Does the fretboard contribute to the profile? If so, how much? Personally, I like it if the fretboard tends to move the profile into an oval -- the neck width is widest at the margin where the fretboard meets the neckwood and the nut width is significantly narrower than the neck -- the neck pushed toward being round as compared to the average classical guitar. I like really rounded fretboard edges and that tends to put the 1 to 4 string spacing tighter and my fretwork is purposefully matching with 50 to 55 degree bevels. But this is my preference.

Test drive instruments. As a builder you're looking for things that others don't pay attention to.
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby Steve Sawyer » Thu Oct 17, 2019 12:46 pm

Thanks, Mark. I agree with your points re profile. However, the thickness is only one element of that. In practice, I'm finding that I carve the profile until it "feels right". I've been using profile cards as an initial guide, and to check symmetry but then go by feel to get it to the final shape. I too taper the FB edges a bit, as that really does feel nice.

So, in this case (and understand, this will be the first four-string bass I've ever played) I'm looking for some thickness guidelines for design purposes, rather than as a guide for a finished profile. Part of the problem for me is that the whole fret-hand technique is radically different for bass vs guitar, and while I'm an intermediate-level guitarist, I'm a relative noob on the bass, so I really haven't gotten enough experience playing a bass to have developed much of an opinion re neck shape! :)
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby David King » Thu Oct 17, 2019 1:15 pm

Split design aka P pickups are pretty great in that they are noise-free, loud (efficient) and have a musically useful tonality with a minimal magnetic pull on the strings. You can balance volume across the 4 string easily and the controls are dead simple. They are a pain to rout for and once routed no other pickups will cover the routed area should you change your mind. Put them where Fender put them and you will have yourself a bass that no one can argue with or talk over.
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby Steve Sawyer » Thu Oct 17, 2019 6:45 pm

David King wrote:Split design aka P pickups are pretty great in that they are noise-free, loud (efficient) and have a musically useful tonality with a minimal magnetic pull on the strings. You can balance volume across the 4 string easily and the controls are dead simple. They are a pain to rout for and once routed no other pickups will cover the routed area should you change your mind. Put them where Fender put them and you will have yourself a bass that no one can argue with or talk over.

Thanks, David.

I decided to go with an EMJ active PJ set. They're sitting in the shop waiting for something into which to be dropped! :D
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby David King » Fri Oct 18, 2019 12:11 pm

Check out a Guild Pilot bass from the 1980s which used those pickups to great effect.
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby Steve Sawyer » Fri Nov 08, 2019 1:13 pm

New question. The plan I'm using as the basis for my design specifies a 1/4" thick fretboard. Both of the conventional 6-string builds I've done used a 3/16" FB. My first build, a Tele, started with a 1/4" FB but looked terrible, even after putting a 9 1/2" radius on it. I ended up re-radiusing to thin it, and compensating when I cut the neck pocket.

Is a thicker FB typical on basses, or is this simply a matter of personal choice/aesthetics?

Thanks!
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Re: Bass guitar design advice

Postby John Clifford » Fri Nov 08, 2019 4:04 pm

1/4" is probably an average nominal center thickness, but it's really up to you. It needs to be thick enough to support the truss rod, assuming that's mounted directly underneath. And keep in mind the geometry of bridge saddle and pickup heights, and desired action. If you're building a Fender-type bass with a thinner fretboard, you might need a shallower neck pocket.
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