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The great Jermaine Jackson “J” Bass

Our mutual friend and phenomenal bassist Dammo Farmer decided that Jermaine Jackson should meet me and that I should make him a knock ‘em dead gorgeous custom Signature Bass. I said, “You bet, bring him over, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of that guy!!”

So one day The Great Jermaine Jackson showed up at my door and we were instantly like little kids in a candy store, thinking up the coolest bass ever for Jermaine. We’re barely at the starting point but something tells me it’s not going to be anything like my normal Wyn basses!! Strap in folks, here we go!!!!!

Jermaine Jackson has a unique look and style about everything he does. I welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with Jermaine to build him a very custom bass. He came over one night with our mutual friend, Dammo Farmer, and we went about discussing bass construction, ergonomics, materials, and just about everything else we could think of!!

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During a second visit with Jermaine, he brought up the idea of designing the body of the guitar based on the way he writes the capital letter “J” when signing his name. The graphic way he does it has a nice balance and design to it and we left it that I’d play with the shapes and see what I came up with. On Jermaine’s third visit, I had pasted these drawing onto a board so we could explore the possibilities. There are of course lots of factors involved. In addition to the graphic design, we have to come up with a shape that’s ergonomically playable and balanced for those “little practicalities” like being able to put a strap on it and play it.

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The next fun thing to do is to get a cheap material like cardboard or in this case, 1/8″ masonite, and do a quick cut out of a couple of full scale shapes to start to see if these small drawings could really translate into a working guitar. Seeing things at their proper size, even though flat as a pancake, will tell you a lot in a hurry about proportions and playability.

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Since the body is the “J”, what about inlaying the fretboard with “ermaine”? Folks, this movie writes itself!! Okay, Mr. Jermaine, “that’ll be a piece of cake.” (no it won’t, but it’ll sure look cool) Jermaine grabbed a pencil and spaced out his name. We’re like a couple of kids that broke into the science lab at this point, dreaming up elaborate inlays and finishes. Some how I’m pretty sure that leaving it in tan masonite is not going to be the look that Jermaine is going for!!

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Okay, carefully observe the child like look on Jermaine’s face. Does this look like a kid that’s just found his favorite present under the tree or what? More to come ……………………..

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I deviously made Jermaine sign the bass design that he approved. I told him it was procedure (In a very procedural sort of way). (I really just wanted a cool keep sake from all the fun we’re having. I don’t want to brag, but he completely fell for it!!!)

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Published by Randy, on July 21st, 2010 at 10:31 pm. Filed under: News,Photo GalleryNo Comments

There’s a Bass Player in this photo

Okay all you Wyn fans. There’s our buddy Eric “Pikfunk” Smith playing his heart out on stage with Rihanna. He’s the guy in the back. Yes, there’s a guy in the back………… he has a bass guitar, black shirt……….There is a guy in the back with a black shirt on. That’s Pikfunk………….. Okay, never mind……………………

Eric Smith and Rihanna

Published by Randy, on July 21st, 2010 at 9:15 pm. Filed under: NewsNo Comments

6 Recent Wyn Basses

All of the basses I’m building these days are to fill custom orders. Since I can’t seem to get far enough ahead to list any new basses for sale on the site, I thought I would at least include pictures of the last group of six that I finished in June.

First is a 5-string with a highly figured Pomelle Bubinga top, a thick Wenge tone layer, African Mahogany body core and a Figured Bubinga back. The neck is made with four layers of Eastern Hard Rock Maple and three layers of Wenge with a Maccassar Ebony fret board. Nordstrand Fatstack pickups, Aguilar OBP-3 Preamp, Hipshot hardware and Rosewood knobs. This guitar has a HUGE but very defined sound and went to a great Chicago player.

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The next two photos are of a Flamed Koa 6-string with a Wenge tone layer, African Mahogany core and Koa back. The neck is comprised of 7 layers – a two piece tapering Wenge core, three Padauk stripes and two Wenge outer rails. The fretboard is highly figured Cocobolo. Nordstrand Fatstacks, Hipshot hardware, Aguilar pre, and Tigerwood knobs!!!

This bass was custom made for Bill Dickens. He asked to have Ebony ramps installed, a paper thin neck, super low string action and a very high pickup setting. If you’re familiar with Bill’s amazing lightning fast playing, you can quickly see that every nuance in a basses set up is going to be critically important. I struggled to get everything to his liking, but eventually I feel I pretty much did and of course when you work with demanding players, you always learn a ton!! All good and the bass has an extremely dynamic and yet bell clear tone.

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I capped the back of the head stock with Flamed Koa for no particular reason other than I’d never done that before and I thought that Bill would appreciate it. (I like it!!)

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Next we have a Ziricote topped 5 string. I’ve decided that Ziricote, like Wenge is pure magic. Wenge produces great mids and super lows with attitude and focus. Ziricote produces great clarity across all frequencies with a sweet purity in the highs. You put these two woods together and you have a pretty great chance of ending up with a very musical sounding bass. The first time I used this combination was on Abraham Laboriel’s 6 string. The California player that ordered this bass wanted to get as close to what I had done for Abraham as possible. The neck is a 7 lamination neck with two taper cores of Wenge, Padauk stripes and outer rails of Bubinga. Figured Cocobolo fretboard. Sweet!!

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The next Cocobolo 6-string bass went to the Canadian Jon Laws, Drake’s Bassist. The top is comprised of heartwood (reddish) and sap wood, (whitish). The sap wood is the newest growth to the outside of the tree, the heartwood, older growth in the tree’s center. I love to find this combination (somewhat rare) when I can as it graphically redefines the shape of the guitar. Cocobolo is also a great tone wood and is fairly even across all frequencies. A full Wenge neck with Padauk stripes. This bass knocked down my neighbors garage before Jon got it. It had to go to Canada for the safety of all Americans!!!

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This Cocobolo 5-string went to David “Bassman” Celestin in New York, Ashanti’s bassist and one of our newest Wyn players. There’s that Wenge and Padauk 7 lamination neck again!! I seem to have a pattern going here!! With the Wenge tone layer on the body, this bass has that same HUGE authoritative sound.

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And finally the last three photos are of Eric “Pikfunk” Smith’s Ziricote bass. We worked together over a number of months to get the look that Eric was going for. His main request was that he wanted a visual flow to go uninterrupted from one end of the bass to the other. I ended up doing several unusual things to his guitar to achieve this look.

First, the guitar is a neck thru like all my basses, but I laminated Ziricote onto the front of the neck as it passes through the body. I basically built a mosaic of woods that connected in design from the top wing to the middle to the bottom wing. They look like one continuous board, but believe me, they’re not. Then I cut the fret board out of a matching Ziricote board maintaining the light streak on the upper side of the neck. I cut a truss rod cover out of Ziricote and I had a headstock cap out of Ziricote. But then I looked at the guitar and decided it needed an accent. A patch of red. I mean common you guys, you can overdose on Ziricote ya know!! So I found a Cocobolo piece that maintained the light pattern but then went to red. To me it just made the rest of the bass pop!

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Eric also requested that I carve the base of the bass in a way that supported the Ziricote grain patterns. And with a thick tone layer of Wenge right under the Ziricote top, it provided a nice dark textured grain to go with the top. Eric liked it so much that he very nicely explained to me that if I ever made anyone else a bass that looked anything like his, he would come down and kill me!!! So you guys heard it first here!! Don’t anybody ask for a bass that looks just like this one!!

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And finally, here’s the back of the bass with a Ziricote back and solid Wenge neckthru. Really, he did……… he said he’d kill me………….

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Published by Randy, on July 21st, 2010 at 8:27 pm. Filed under: News,Photo Gallery1 Comment

Erik Griggs at the Piano

I am continually amazed at how many bass players that come to my place to purchase a bass end up sitting down at my piano and just wailing!! Here is a taste of one of my newest Wyn bass players, Erik Griggs’ piano playing.

Published by Randy, on July 21st, 2010 at 6:56 pm. Filed under: NewsNo Comments

Maurice Fitzgerald on Good Morning America

On April 22, Maurice Fitzgerald appeared with Marvin Sapp and his new Wyn bass on Good Morning America. Video via ABC is no longer available, but we managed to snag this screen shot.

Maurice Fitzgerald on Good Morning America
Maurice Fitzgerald on Good Morning America

Maurice Fitzgerald on set on Good Morning America

Published by Randy, on April 22nd, 2010 at 11:42 pm. Filed under: News1 Comment

Ethan Farmer on Ellen

On March 22, Ethan Farmer appeared with Melanie Fiona and his new Wyn bass on the Ellen show. Click the image below to view the video:

Ethan Farmer on Ellen
Ethan Farmer on Ellen

Published by Randy, on April 22nd, 2010 at 11:07 pm. Filed under: NewsNo Comments

Maurice Fitzgerald and his Wyn basses

Maurice discusses the playability of his Wyn basses:

Maurice Fitzgerald playing one of his Wyn 5 string basses:

Published by Randy, on April 21st, 2010 at 11:30 pm. Filed under: NewsNo Comments

Maurice Fitzgerald’s 6-String Bass in Progression

Here is a rundown of the making of Maurice Fitzgerald’s custom 6-string Wyn bass.

This is a 6-string Claro Walnut topped bass that’s nearing completion for Maurice Fitzgerald. I had saved this exceptional Walnut for a very long time and his bass seemed like the perfect place to use it. I decided it would be a nice aggressive design element to angle the book matched swirly grain patterns in towards the neck. It was a fun thing to find this Cocobolo board that could carry this same angle from the body and extend it up the neck.

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The back received the same Claro Walnut treatment with a body core of African Mahogany. The neck construction is using a super thin taper core of Wenge with Padouk striping.

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This photo also shows the tone and visual accent layer of Padouk just under the Claro Walnut top.

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Since a 6-string neck built from Wenge can be quite a weighty thing, I have done everything possible to carve deep cutaways and to keep the neck as slim in profile as possible. (I think the easy access right up to the 24th fret is going to be pretty sweet.) I found a very light weight African Mahogany billet for the body core, further reducing the weight. This bass will be finished in a couple of days!!

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Thank goodness I’m slow at putting together web site entries. This allowed me to finish Maurice’s bass and photograph it before my latest entries were placed on the site. So here it is in all it’s glory. I must say that with the Claro Walnut top and back, Wenge taper core neck, and Cocobolo fretboard, this bass has a killer warm sound. Very pristine and defined highs and mids and yet the low B has an amazing throaty attitude.

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The Claro Walnut on this top is found in Northern and Central California. In addition to its great tone attributes, Claro is known for it’s highly figured rich brown color and striking grain patterns. A very fine wood to work with!

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From the back, this taper core neck thru bass really shows a nice aerodynamic design quality. Maurice insisted on taking the bass before I got a chance to test it out in a wind tunnel!!

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The little mark that appears to be a scuff mark on the edge is actually part of the wood. I sanded and sanded thinking it was a surface mark. It was not. Lets call it a distinctive beauty mark that only nature can provide!! There is no up charge for this special feature that appears from time to time!!

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These 6 ferrules give the option to string through the body from the back as well as from the top.

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Published by Randy, on April 21st, 2010 at 10:52 pm. Filed under: News,Photo GalleryNo Comments

Robin Zielhorst’s 5 String Fretless

Robin Zielhorst is the bass player for the band Cynic. Here are some photos of the making his custom 5-string fretless Wyn bass.

This is the start of Robin Zeilhorst’s 5-string fretless bass. It was a very complicated bass to make for a number of reasons that I’ll get into as we go along. I will never forgive Robin for putting me through this. He’s a very nice guy and I like him, but I’m going to have to some how punish him for a very long time!!!!

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Yes yes yes, I sure do use a lot of glue don’t I? Apparently I own some stock in the Tight Bond Glue Company.

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The body top is out of the wildest Ziricote I’ve ever seen. At this point I have stacked the layers of the body wings but they’re not yet glued together. The Padouk stripes in the neck will be a nice colorful accent to the mainly black and white Ziricote and Wenge.

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The reverse side of the guitar with a Ziricote back. Ziricote comes from Mexico and Central America and grows like no other wood I know of. The grain resembles an art nouveau cloud illustration. I can’t make any sense of how the tree grew to produce these swirling patterns. Ziricote is extremely hard and produces a clear bell like tone.

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The layers have now been glued together and the body is ready to shape. Notice on the top upper horn that the Ziricote doesn’t completely cover. That’s because there is a Wenge tone layer right underneath it that I plan to reveal with the carving. The edge grain on Wenge will add a nice graphic contrast to the Ziricote.

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At this point I have shaped and buffed the wings to start to get an idea of how it will look when finished. The wings are still not glued to the neck. I go as far as I can in shaping the wings before gluing to the neck because there is such easy access to the wings when they’re separate. Once the neck is glued on, you have to navigate around it when shaping. Not impossible, but certainly a lot more work.

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Here I have a custom jig for gluing the wings to the neck. The clamping shape to the right is bolted to the jig but slides in slots. That way it won’t flip off of the guitar when tension is introduced but will still slide so that I can tighten the wings against the neck while gluing. You’re also starting to see some of the inlay work on the fretless finger board. This was all Robin’s idea!!!

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Actually what we have going on here is that I have cut slots for each fret marker across the Macassar Ebony board. But rather than have white line inlays going all the way across, Robin wanted white just under the B string and then mother of pearl markers under the G string. I ended up putting white plastic, then black dyed wood, then mother of pearl markers so that I knew everything was in perfect alignment. Also you can see on this photograph how nice the Wenge layer looks against the Ziricote. On the lower edge you pick up that great textural striping that is one of the hallmarks of Wenge.

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To coordinate with the Padouk striping of the neck, we chose Padouk for the Wyn laser cut inlay.

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Some additional shaping at the base to accentuate the wild grain. Here you can also see that this bass has five body layers. The Ziricote top is followed by Wenge, then an orange Padouk accent stripe, African mahogany for the body core and then Ziricote on the back.

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The back and neck are now fully shaped as well.

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The lighter middle layer connects so nicely with the light portions of the Ziricote next to the neck. I’d like to take credit for that, but that’s just one of those happy accidents you get when you work with such stunning wood combinations.

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As you look at the electronics, you can see that we not only have my typical 6-knob configuration, but an additional switch and knob. This is because Robin requested a piezo bridge saddle pick up as well. So we have a full mag pickup set up, a full piezo set up, and an ability to blend the two together in any proportion desired. Quite a lot of work for my dinosaur brain to absorb, but it actually worked the first time I plugged it in. There are two independent pre-amps in this guitar that work in conjunction with each other. When you open the electronics cavity, it sort of resembles a 12 cylinder BMW.

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Due to the two pre-amps, I installed 18 volts worth of batteries in a separate battery box. But because Robin had requested a very slim guitar profile, there was no where to locate the battery box on the lower wing. So I located it on the upper wing and routed the wiring through the pickup cut outs. Also this bass has the string through body option to tighten up the low B and to get more sustain and wood resonance. Even though that Robin guy really pushed me on this one, I learned a great deal and am very pleased, as is Robin, with the way it turned out.

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Published by Randy, on April 20th, 2010 at 10:08 am. Filed under: News,Photo Gallery1 Comment

Edwin Oliver’s Bass Progression

The following 24 photos document selected steps on the road to building Edwin Oliver’s Cocobolo 5 string bass. There are of course many steps that are left out but I think you’ll get some insights into my process by the ones that are documented here.

This first photo shows a full scale plan that I make for each bass. Two necks in strips are ready for lamination.

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This is my neck lamination jig. Since I do all of the work myself, it holds all the clamps in perfect alignment while I assemble the strips with way too much glue on them. My motto is “Never enough clamps, never too much glue!” This motto has served me well over my woodworking career.

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Here, Edwin’s neck is clamped in a taper with opposing tapered boards to allow the clamps to be parallel. I have many theories on why taper core necks are great besides the fact that they look very cool having to do with grain and string alignment as the neck tapers toward the head. But putting one together can be some kind of fun. The glue makes everything want to slide along the taper. I have learned a number of tricks along with a number of new swear words to help me accomplish this task.

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Here I’m routing a channel for the truss rod. I do this with my opposing tapered boards clamped to the neck so that I have a fence that I can run along to put the channel squarely down the middle of the neck. I will laminate on side boards for the headstock after this is accomplished as having the headstock on the neck at this point would be in the way of my fence. One of the key things to guitar building is to really figure out the order of every step. If you flip the order, you can really box yourself into some corners. Again, the value of the new swear words (not really).

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The blue item with a chrome end is the truss rod. As you can see, there is no headstock yet, just one narrow taper.

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At the top headstock end, the channel must widen and deepen where the round barrel emerges to allow for tightening access with an allen wrench.

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Here I’ve done a set up. I just set the fretboard wood on top of the neck and placed the wings next to the neck to photograph and send to Edwin for his approval. Since many of the basses I build are for people far away, I do many set ups along the path and send them photos to keep them in the process and to make sure that we’re on the same page.

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I of course had laminated and cut out the body wings before this set of mainly neck photographs were taken. I laminated a quilted maple back onto the wings and have routed out for the electronic components as well as drilling holes for the controls. The neck at this point is just one square heavy chunk of Wenge and Bubinga.

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This is a photograph of the edge of a wing before it’s glued to the neck. The two slots that you see are for wood biscuits that will go into the wings and the neck when gluing. This makes the neck and body glue joint extra strong and it helps me to align the body to neck when my over abundance of slippery glue wants to make everything slide around.

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Here I am gluing the headstock cap onto the headstock with Wyn laser cut into the cap. This cap tucks under the fret board so it must go on before the fretboard.

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At this point, the headstock shape is cut out, the fretboard has been notched, glued to the neck and radiused. It’s time to start shaping the neck. The pencil line along the edge is to guide my ruff cut of the extra with a band saw.

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Obviously that just happened. That’s why I didn’t answer the phone for the last five minutes!!!

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Here I’ve continued to free hand with the band saw, cutting bevels along the sides of the neck. The band saw removes material much more quickly than rasping and sanding. However, not so easy to put wood back so I’m quite careful in this stage to not go too far.

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Here we take a big leap forward, I have glued the body wings to the neck and the neck is fully shaped. It’s finally starting to look like a bass guitar. I have gone through lots of wood to find cocobolo pieces that continue a nice design flow throughout the guitar. The light colored wood is the new growth sap wood near the edge of the tree, the red is the heart wood in the tree center.

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Figuring out a matching headstock to the fret board was some fun. When I found a match, it’s like the final piece of a giant jigsaw puzzle has been put in place. Very satisfying!!

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For design and finish, I found a beautiful Cocobolo strip to laminate to the back of the neck through. I know the audience never sees the back of the guitar, but you do!! This is one of those areas that can add a bit of money, (not too much) but really finishes the guitar nicely. To some players it’s quite important and well worth it, to others not so much. Ding ding ding ding ding!!!!! Yes, the correct answer is to PUT THE COOL PIECE OF COCOBOLO IN THERE!!!!

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It’s fretting time!! The fretboard has a 12/20 compound radius. (there’s a reason for that tricky sounding thing), the slots are spaced just perfectly and it’s time to pound in the frets while super gluing them. It’s a double hold in that the tang on each fret wedges into the slot. But the super glue puts it in there for life and makes absolute solid contact between fret and wood for great sustain and tone. If you’re worried about it, in the event that the bass ever needs a new fret job, the frets can be removed by heating them with a soldering iron which softens the glue enough to safely pull them out. Here the frets have been over cut and are curved, ready for installation.

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My very clever home made block of wood with 26 holes, numbered so that the frets are ready to go. I grab, glue and hammer one at a time as I work my way up the neck. My neighbors are especially fond of my hammering during my fretting work.

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Here they’re installed and glued. After a couple of hours, I clip the extra frets close to the edge of the fret board. Notice the leather pouch under the top of the neck. It’s filled with sand and provides perfect support under the neck as you slide it along centering it directly under where you’re pounding.

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I’m ready to level the frets. I have started with a perfectly straight wooden fret board and I’ve set the neck with the truss rod to be dead straight. Then it is clamped into this Stewart MacDonald neck jig to hold it absolutely solid and straight. I have taped off the wooden portion of the fret board to protect it from metal dust. No matter how perfectly you pound in all of the frets, they never sit 100% flat one to the next. So I am going to use a precision ground 24″ long bar with fine sandpaper glued to it to level the frets. I mark the top of every fret with a black marks a lot. I then proceed to very delicately and slowly sand until I have hit the top of every fret. I can see that because I have just slightly sanded off the marks a lot mark. At that point the frets are perfectly level. After a number of additional sanding and polishing steps on the frets, the guitar should be able to be set up with a nice low action and no buzzing at all on any of the 24 frets.

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The bass gets my 6 layers of poly oil finish rubbing out between each coat. Then one final rub out with ultra fine sand paper and a wax job. At this point I am able to install all the components from tuners to bridge to pickups and finally strings.

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I have included the option on this bass of drilling through the body to allow stringing through from the back. You have the option of installing strings on top at the Hipshot bridge which is easier, or going through the back. The advantage to stringing through the guitar, especially on a 5 and 6-string is that that low B is a bit tighter by stretching the string an extra inch. Also, you pick up a bit more sustain and wood tone from the resonating body.

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Rosewood knobs, Dunlop strap locks, it’s time to tune it up, set it up and adjust the intonation.

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And finally, the happiest most magical moment of all. When that wood and metal sculpture piece I’ve been working on for months actually makes beautiful music!! No better moment than watching Edwin try out his new bass for the first time.

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Published by Randy, on April 19th, 2010 at 10:51 pm. Filed under: News,Photo GalleryNo Comments