Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sparky Bass & Portlandia

One of the things I love about building/making/creating is that, even if I have a goal for the project, I never really know how a project will come out until it's done. It's all the happy accidents that occour during creation, and the decisions made as they present themselves, that make the journeys so enjoyable for me (and the projects usually end up - suprisingly - different yet better than I could have imagined). My latest bass project is named Sparky after my grumpy old chihuahua Sparky...
...and a sparkly gold bass I saw at Guitar Center Hollywood back in 2013.

This Fender Custom Shop Early Relic '60s Jazz Bass stopped me in my tracks, with a body color I would have not previously thought of as attractive. But as I have gotten deeper and deeper into classic 50s and 60s bass guitar looks and finishes (and the whole 50s-60s era design in general) this bowling-ball sparkle gold paint stikes me now as thouroughly cool and classic, even if in a slighly ironic/kitchy way. It played OK, but the just under $3000 price tag was never is the cards or the bank account. I took some photos and filed it away in my head for future possibilities. A year earlier I purchased a gold-top Casady Bass, and a couple of months ago I also aquired a gorgeous gold-top Epiphone Les Paul guitar, so the finish was and remains on my radar.

In my January 2014 blog entry I wrote about completing my first full-on attempt at relic'ing with the black P-Bass. I took it on a couple of gigs, but like most lighter-weight P-Basses I have owned, the very bottom string tone seems to be missing something. Wood can be such a crapshoot; the body wood has to have sufficient mass PLUS be resonant, and sometimes there even seems to be a magic combination of neck and body. I have also recently come to the conclusion that lighter bodies are OK for Jazz Basses (see my Pepito Jazz Bass), but the Precision tone screams of body mass, especially on the E string. As much as I worked on the black P-Bass and LOVED the look, I knew this body was not going to cut it for me. So I watched eBay and found a seller with a black Ash Fender Squire P-Bass body with hardware and pickups that weighed 7lbs, which I bid on and won for under $60.

After spending some/time researching gold sparkle spray paint, I setted on cabs of Rust-oleum Gold Glitter paint at Home Depot. I figured it might cause some finish issues (it's actual gold glitter suspended in a paint base) but it COULD look awesome, so I sanded off as much of the black finish as I could.

Once stripped and sanded, I primed and started applying the coats. For the first base coat I tried using up a can of metallic spray paint I had lying around for years, only to realize after starting to spray that it was silver, not gold. I would love to take credit for this genius way to have the silvery color showing thru certain sanded areas to look more "worn," which it now does, but it was just another in a series of happy accidents.

The gold glitter paint really isn't "paint" as much as a delivery vehicle for gold glitter in a clear base. It goes on rather thick, but looks phenomenal, just like my memory of muscle car finishes and classic bowling balls. I had no idea at the time how it would take to cracking/relic'ing or even sanding, but I guess we will find out. 
Attempts at cracking, using upside down compressed air to freeze the finish, were mostly a disaster, although it might be because this finish takes forever to cure (a month later it was still getting pushed around a bit by hardware screwed into it, like golden fudge). 
All I really succeeded in doing was create lots of bubbling in the finish, which I had to sand out and repaint. 
After four cans of glitter, I sanded the finish as smoothly as I could, with some deliberate - and some not so deliberate - sanding thru to reveal the silver undercoat. This will turn out to look great, especially on the top where arm wear is not uncommon.

Next, after about a month of curing, I wet sanded and polished the finished to smooth it out as much as possible. I'm not looking for a flawless shiny new surface here, but given the materials I chose to work with that was going to be a bit tough anyway.
Now back to the relic'd Black P-Bass. The neck, hardware and pickups were all great, so I had no choice but to cannibalize them all. 
I decided to age the neck a bit more, including using more muriatic acid on the fingerboard to simulate wear of the finish under the strings where the fingers would fret most often, which I then cleaned and stained. While drying I added shielding to the body cavities, then transferred the electronics and hardware.

I had nicely relic'd the gold aluminum pickguard on the black P-Bass, and had planned on using it on this one. But in my shop I found a very nice WD tortoise pickguard that was very similar in tone to the Custom Shop I saw at Guitar Center, and decided to try it instead. It gives it more of a 60s rather than 50s vibe - very Fred Flintstone.

Finally together, it's certainly a looker!
One more tweak: Having burned in and stained the front if this maple fingerboard, I decided it should have a bit deeper color and another clear coat, so I (lazily) removed the strings, taped up the body and headstock, and sprayed it with a bit more amber and clear laquer.
Once dry, I redressed the frets, restrung, and the setup begins again...
I had to readjust the neck height (with shims) and truss rod a few times, then I swapped out the bridge for an older one I had that enabled slightly wider string spacing to line up better with the pickups. The neck, bridge and nut required quite a bit of messing with to get it playing well, but my initial instincts regarding body weight were correct, at least in this case. The heavier body mass did give the bass more presence on the E string. 

So far I have had a chance to play it at one outside gig with LA Zeppelin, and liked the tone more than the feel. I actually found the 70s-era thumb rest location kind if annoying, which is funny because I used to have in that position on every bass I owned 30 years ago. I guess I just got used to resting my thumb on the edge of the pickguard, or ridge of the neck, or even on the edge of a pickup. The taller thumb rest acted as a kind of a stop for my fingers when playing the E string, which felt constricting, so I removed it. I also think even heavier strings might make the strings feel a bit tighter (the looseness if the 45-105 Rotosounds on this bass is making string height and truss rid adjustments tricky), so I might try a set of even heavier roundwounds and see how the feel (I'm sure they will increase the bottom, esp. on the E, but will mess with the nut slots, string height, etc., so another setup is looming). I want a great passive roundwound P-Bass to go with the flatwound sunburst P seen in the header photo on this blog (an incredibly heavy and great feeling AND sounding bass), and this bass is ALMOST there (and was the best looking thing in this recent photo):
Just like my doggie, Sparky the Bass looks a bit worn out, and can be grumpy and difficult, but hopefully (like my doggie) it's worth it.


On my birthday weekend in April I had a Journey gig near Portland, OR, a city I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting, unless you count watching Portlandia on TV. For a couple if years I have had an amazing example of "bread porn" on the shelves in my kitchen. It's called FLOUR, WATER, SALT, YEAST by Jen Forkish, the proprietor of Ken's Artisan Bakery in Portland, and I have always wanted to go there and bring back his 3 Kilo Boulle. His baked goods (and the pizza at his pizza place) are every bit as outstanding as advertised, and on our first two trips there I spotted the 3 Kilo Boulle in the racks, and was assured that they had them every day. If course, when we drove back thru Portland on the Sunday morning in order to purchase the boulle and carry it on to the plane, they were sold out! But I did get two 1.5 kilo boules instead, which probably fit better in the overhead bins.
In wandering around Portland we also discovered an amazing chocolate shop call COCAO, with probably the finest cup of drinking chocolate I have ever had, including Florence. It was so rich, and so large, even I could not finish it in one sitting, and carried a third if it around for hours before happily finishing it off the next morning in the hotel.
One memorable and unanticipated chocolate stop in the Portland area was Tilamook Dairy. The wife wanted to check it out for the cheeses (which she did not care for), but I discovered a vegan's worst nightmare: an amazing ice cream called Chocolate Mudslide. I must warn you that this stuff is available at Ralphs and Pavillions in the LA area, and most likely many other places, and a few tubs have found their way into my freezer and mouth since then.
BAD VEGAN! Bad, bad vegan!

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