Thursday, December 31, 2020


If you can't play with the ones you want, build the ones you're with.

[NOTE: I built a total of 9 finished basses in 2020, but have been posting over on Facebook much more than here. Here's a year-end summary of my personal bass projects - individual postings and videos on each of these builds can be found at ]


Well, it's finally over (unfortunately not the pandemic, but most definitely the calendar year). If you're the clever, crafty muso type like myself, the inevitable result of being bored because you're not touring and performing is to end up involving yourself in many "projects." In my case (as one does), making more basses. In fairness, I actually unloaded 3 basses this year, but even I will admit that this probably does not quite balance out with the 9 basses I built for myself, but it kept me sane. So.
I hesitated posting this year-end roundup because of the obvious humble-braginess of it (yes, spellcheck, I am claiming this as a real word). But let's face it, some of us didn't even survive the year, so I prefer to err on celebrating life and creativity in any form it takes.
The first two basses on the left were admittedly completion of projects started in 2019, and as they were completed before mid-March 2020 it's a stretch to even call them COVID babies. But the virus actually did exist as of late 2019, and this whole year is kindof a blur at this point. My BLUBOY relic'd '61 Jazz, with flats and original Fender mutes under the bridge cover, absolutely nails that thuddy jazz bass sound heard in early-mid '60's rock recordings, until bassists worldwide decided they wanted more high end to cut through on stage and summarily removed them (think GREEN EYED LADY and the HAIR Broadway soundtrack). The natural '51 P Bass (minus the tortoise pickguard, which I love but remove when performing Zeppelin sets) nails John Paul Jones' live P Bass grunge sound on the proper songs (esp. IMMIGRANT SONG and BLACK DOG from live tapes in the early '70's). This original proto-Precision bass is the ONLY bass pictured that I actually got to perform live with this year, as all gigs were shut down by mid-March. Let's hope 2021 offers more live performance opportunities, because you never really know how a bass will actually sound until it's live on stage mixing with the other instruments and voices.
The '67-style Jazz Bass with the blocked bound neck was officially a boredom project, where I swapped the neck from a Jaguar Bass I liked but never loved because the body is probably too lightweight to ever have the fullness I'm looking for. There are few (bass) things prettier to me than a "fully dressed" Jazz, as limiting as that may be sometimes (especially if you want to palm mute specific but not all notes in a song, which is impossible with the bridge cover), but the bass has a great, bright yet full Geddy tone.
Behind it, the only non-Fender pedigree bass and another "boredom project" - a "Fenderbird" assembled from a Korean Epiphone body had I upgraded with active EMG pickups many years ago, paired with a Korean Fender maple neck. I planned to sell this once completed, especially since I didn't think the lighter wood used to manufacture the body would be particularly full-sounding, and I had disliked the neck on 2 previous basses I used it on. But after hand-stripping, staining and sealing the body, fighting for a week or two with the 3-point bridge bolt holes (thank you Polyurethane adhesive) and cleaning up/sealing/fret dressing the neck - OH MY is this an excellent bass (so much so that I decided to sell another even more souped-up Thunderbird I built back in 2008 instead). The neck is super straight, the action super low, and I now have an outstanding Fenderbird for if/when I get a call to fill in as Entwistle in a Who tribute one day.
The second Sunburst Jazz bass on the floor is my JPJ Tribute Jazz, built as close to original 1962 John Paul Jones jazz bass spec as possible. The first version of this has a bad neck, so I spent a bit more $$ on a Fender-licensed WD neck (this one with an Ebony fingerboard) put on a set of Thomastik Jazz Flats, and - I now refer to this bass as the finest bass I have ever made (also possibly as MOAB, aka Mother Of All Basses). I look forward to performing Zeppelin music (and anything else) around the world with this beast once that asshole Mr. COVID is dead and buried.
Between the two Sunburst Jazz basses is an experiment to use up a one-piece solid walnut Jaguar/Jazzmaster body blank I've been sitting on for years. It is now part of an outstanding Jazzmaster Bass, a Fender model that never actually existed in any form, but if it does (one day) they could do worse than this 30" scale neck and actual P90 guitar pickups with certain pole pieces removed, resulting in an incredibly bright and full sounding bass (I am available to consult with Fender on the Pelletier Squier Jazzmaster Bass if the opportunity presents itself). It's so comfortable to play, has highs and upper mids that cut like you wouldn't believe, but is still plenty bassy/boomy because of the heavier walnut body (with an incredibly straight neck and low action). I just replaced the tone pot from a B250 to an A500 (which now matches the volume pot), and it's ready to go (where, I don't know, but as long as I'm with it...).
The '72 style Telecaster Bass was another boredom project, as well as a good exercise in fretting (my first attempt in 40 years). The body was from a Fender Squier Tele Bass that has sat in my shop for 12-15 years. I had to fill some radical routing I has attempted back then, then match the top ash veneer grain and paint/stain/finish, and THEN fight for weeks with a crappy warped 3rd party neck, who's headstock I reshaped into the Tele shape it now sports. After essentially giving up on taking the twist out, I pulled all the frets, reshaped the fingerboard to straighten it, then re-fretted it with smaller frets. I even ordered another maple P Bass/Tele Bass neck to replace it, thinking it would end up being trash, but it actually ended up quite playable. The only reason to keep it on my arsenal is the Gibson-influenced OEM Fender Mudbucker pickup, which is so boomy and muddy that I added a series/parallel switch to the tone pot to tame it down a bit. It's quite something, actually.
Next to that on the end is Smiley Red, my relic'd Red over Sunburst project that has been on my mind for a few years now, but only got this far because my body supplier finally restocked their Alder Sunburst bodies. I tried re-purposing the neck originally mounted on the MOAB Bass after reshaping the headstock and painting it the matching metallic red, but the jury is still out on this one. With all top-grade parts including Hipshot Ultralites and KickAss bridge and EMG Geezer Butler passive pickups, this thing should be the Swiss Army Knife of basses, but the neck and frets are still not quite cooperating (with some buzzing in the first 5 or so frets that I just might not be able to eliminate, not matter how much fret filing I do). I've gotten demanding enough as a player and good enough as a luthier that close enough actually isn't, so another neck is currently on order.
This leaves the PUFF-N-STUFF P Bass, a quick little project completed this month. Inspired by a Facebook Bass group photo of a 60+ year old natural Fender Jazz Bass with a hand-painted King Crimson logo, I made mine into a natural Precision Bass (because I really don't need ANOTHER Jazz bass - ever) with a logo from a Saturday morning kids show I loved - AS A KID. It's called Kitsch because it elevates bad or bland art and design. That's why it's cool now, because it was so bad then. And HR Puf-N-Stuff was both cool to my 9 year old brain and really bad to my 59 year old brain. And the bass feels and sounds great to play, too, so there's that.
(There was a 10th project, a Deluxe Jazz with a modified 24 to 22-fret Korean Jazz neck that ended up a but twisted and un-useable as is, so the parts were cannibalized to use on Smiley Red, and perhaps I'll get back to it one day - when I'm bored).
2020 was also the year I needed a few more bass guitar soft cases (for obvious reasons), and I finally have an Ampeg tube bass head to mess around with at home (it's NEVER leaving the house as long as I can help it). Here's to 2021, the year I get to play ALL of these basses on a stage at a high volume with other musicians and witnesses, and (probably) only build a couple more. 
Have a Happy, stay safe, and WEAR A MASK.
AND AS FOR CHOCOLATE: Beware of the COSTO packaging for the TRUFFETTES DU FRANCE chocolate truffles. This was/is an incredible bargain for these addictive and COVID weight gain-inducing chocolate mouth bombs, but BEWARE when you get home and open the box because there's not one, not two, but FOUR packages in there! I also discovered another great chocolate bar at Trader Joes: El Campano 78.5% dark w/sweet plantain (although I must admit the chocolate drawer has gotten a bit less used because 2020 was the year of serious baked goods, which resulted in 10 pounds of COVID weight).


Saturday, October 24, 2020


A classic Fender Jazzmaster guitar is a very pretty thing, especially in my favorite dress: sunburst body, red tortoise pickguard, cream pickup covers, oversized headstock on an amber neck (ooh, baby, you had me at sunburst). Unfortunately for me I am a clumsy and irritable guitarist - there's just a few too many strings, and they are too close together. Fender never made a bass version of what was the predecessor to the Stratocaster, unless you count the Jazz Bass (which is certainly related in many ways). I've had a walnut a one-piece sorta Jaguar/Jazzmaster blank kicking around my shop for a few years now, purchased at a bargain from a tonewood supplier who cut the body shape out himself, and not in a particularly great way.  I've been looking at it in my shop for quite a while, and have seen a couple of custom Jazzmaster basses online, but not quite as I envision. Since it's not a perfect match to replace my beautiful but a-bit-too-lightweight sunburst Squier Jaguar body that is still irking me (basswood=nolowendwood) I might as well make an attempt at my own version of a 30" shortscale Jazzmaster bass.

I've also have a set of Epiphone cream-covered P90's kicking around for quite a while (they came with one of the few electric guitars I own, a very nice Epi gold top Les Paul with upgraded Duncan mini-humbuckers replacing the stock P90's). These are pretty fat pickups with a lot of winding, and I'm curious to hear them on a bass, but I was also concerned about single-coil hum, so instead of finally using these I ordered a fairly cheap set that came with one wound in reverse polarity, so using them together would be hum-cancelling (my 2 pet peeves - noisy pickups and head-dive). Placement would all depend on the pickguard, so I tracked down a red tortoise P90 pickguard with as few extra holes as possible (I am stuck only with the two bridge bolt holes which will end up showing because this will require a different bridge, with a different scale than a standard guitar scale), along with cream knobs and a 3-position pickup switch.

For the neck, I contacted a neck maker on eBay and ordered a 30" scale maple paddle-head (so I could cut the headstock shape I wanted). It took a few months to patiently acquire all the parts, but I guess now is the time to try to make this thing.

The biggest challenge is going to be the placement of the neck and neck pocket, which decides the routing of the neck pocket and pickups, location of the bridge, the proper geometry for the headstock and tuners, and (if necessary) shortening the neck and re-shaping the heel. Not sure how many frets will be in this thing, or even if the truss rod location inside the neck will allow me to shorten it from the 24 (?) frets there currently to as little as 20. 

The headstock also presents some challenges - I have some smaller tuners, and want to keep it around the same length as a Mustang Bass (which is a bit smaller than a standard Jazz or P Bass). The angle the pickups are drilled is important to keep the lines straight, and quite a bit of eyeballing was involved to get everything looking right (I guess... the math is way too hard, but I trust my eyeballs). So here we go...

I was able to shorten the neck itself (to a 20-fret version, in order to avoid too much neck imbalance). I got lucky in that the truss rod used by the builder did not extend as far as the 20th fret - I did a smaller cut first just in case I'd have to settle for 22 frets (or ruin the neck entirely).
It looks like the remaining heel will still fit a standard Fender heel body route (although I will also check the squarer version before pulling the trigger, as routing is forever).

The headstock is requiring quite a bit more work than anticipated, because of course it does. Having just recently done quite drastic surgery to three other Chinese Jazz Bass headstocks (these quite poorly cut at an angle that required serious reshaping and re-drilling), I've gotten pretty comfortable with this Frankensteining of the headstock, and it's slowly shaping up nicely.
Next up will be finishing the headstock (probably with a layer of veneer on top to clean it up), then shaping the heel so I can get a final placement for the neck heel, pickups and electronics routing for the body.