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Last updated Jun 30, 2007 6:53 pm Universal

SlinkP Custom Bass Project

SlinkP's Custom Bass Project

A while ago during a sale I played every bass on the rack at Sam Ash in NYC. Some nice stuff, plenty of acceptable instruments, but nothing at all inspiring. Why doesn't anybody make my kind of bass?

So I thought about building a bass out of off-the-shelf parts. Then I got stuck on the idea of getting the body carved and finished to my taste, which isn't much in line with current fashion. Sure I could go with your basic P-bass shape but... ho-hum. I really like the look of chunky, curvy instruments like the old Gibson Thunderbirds and Fender Jazzmaster guitars, so I'm starting from there.

Current Status

Still gathering parts. I now have all the hardware except the bridge pickup (more on that saga below).

I settled on a builder - Michael Dolan

I'll update stuff below as I make decisions and acquire more parts.

Sketches

The basic shape idea is to do something a bit like an old "non-reverse" Gibson Thunderbird, but a bit curvier, taking some ideas from the Fender Jazzmaster / Jaguar shape.

I'm now showing the sketches in reverse order so the latest idea is always on top...

Latest sketch, 10/26/03 (wow that old???), basically a modified non-reverse T-bird, with reshaped bouts and the neck & bridge shifted back a bit for better balance (I hope). This still isn't quite right. I'm also thinking of going with a classic Gibson color scheme, pelham blue with a white-on-black pickguard rather than the translucent blue and pearly pickguard shown here. I also have a Gibson EB4 pickup that might find its way in to the neck position (yes, 3 pickups, why not?).


Let's see how it looks with a jaguar guitar body. Bleh, I'm not really inspired by this one.


Color concept 2 - a bit toned down, just a translucent finish:


Concept 1 - rejected - sketched in GIMP by mangling a picture of a thunderbird II. The shape will change a bit and the neck will be different. Also this is missing the controls. The blue dye finish is too intense.

Specifications (rough, in-progress)

Body

Must be lightweight. Not sure of wood yet - Ash? But I do really like the mahogany T-bird tone. Not sure whether controls will be rear-mounted or on a control plate. I might do the latter just to avoid having to hack up the wood every time I decide to fiddle with the control arrangement. Don't want to end up with something as mangled as my poor old Ibanez. Or I could just have the builder drill too many holes in it and leave some of 'em empty ;-)

Neck

34-inch scale. Must be lightweight and easier to play than my Ibanez (which is too chunky). I've always been fine with bolt-on necks, I'm a bit paranoid about breaking a nice set neck since it's so much harder to replace - but then, I've never broken a neck yet (knock wood). And I'm really getting fond of the set-neck resonance of my mahogany Greco T-bird. I might have to do set-neck after all.

I want a bright-sounding attack, but still a lot of resonance. Maybe ebony fingerboard??

Headstock

Undecided. Possibly angled with tuners 2-on-a-side rather than 4-in-line. But the body sketch seems to like that giant old-style thunderbird headstock... maybe just slim it down a bit?

Hardware finish

All chrome or nickel. I hate black only like gold on certain finishes.

Bridge

Gotoh heavy chrome bridge, got one for $31. Arrived 10/4/03... looks pretty nice but sadly i can't try it out because the screw holes don't line up with my current basses and i don't want to drill them out. One nice thing is that the string width is adjustable, it gets pretty narrow if I want to try a more gibsonish feel.

Tuning pegs

I got some Hipshot Ultralights (the chrome reversible kind) for $63 total on Ebay.

Body finish

Blue. Translucent or dyed finish? Or maybe Pelham blue.

Pickguard

pearly white? Or just white? Shape based on the non-reverse T-bird pickguard shape which I've realized is a lot of what I like about those birds. Either will get WD to do it, or maybe just have Dolan do it.

Pickups

Still deciding. I want them to sound (and if possible look) like the vintage Thunderbird pickups. NOT Gibson's current T-bird pickups; apparently these sound nothing like the originals or the previous (1976) reissues.

9/28/03 - I scored a single 1976 Thunderbird pickup for $103 on ebay. Arrived friday 10/3/03. Checked it out with a crazy arrangement of tape, alligator clips, and foam, floating over the strings on my cheapo Danelectro bass, as shown. Managed to play a bit like this. Later I picked up a Greco thunderbird clone and briefly tried the 76 pup in it. It sounds really nice (mp3) although it rattles around a lot in this sample since it wasn't screwed down.

I would describe it as a very "open" sound, with deep bass, lots of clear treble, and a funky character which I'm guessing comes from a sharp resonant peak somewhere around 3-5 khz.

In this next picture I'm looking for a sweet spot for the bridge pickup placement...

Construction of this pickup is rather odd. I have since learned this is called a "sidewinder" and is based on a patented design that Bill Lawrence did for Gibson. The polepieces run sideways through the coils, and the magnet runs vertically between them. The polepiece is thus magnetically neutral and is just an inductor. I don't understand how this works :-) But it sounds cool.

Electrically, the two coils are wired in series and the total impedance is 6.5 kilohms (measured with an ohmmeter so I guess it's really DC resistance?). A bit low for a humbucker.

I've also since learned that this is the neck position model, and the bridge position model from this year had a much higher impedance. It's also very different from the 60's t-bird design.

The problem now is finding a suitable mate. Gibson's current models are not at all similar.

Apparently Chandler used to make a replacement for the thunderbird, and they were close to the originals in look and sound. But Paul Chandler replied to my email: they no longer make these and no longer have the materials.

Bartolini makes a pickup of the same size and shape, but again they are reputed to sound very different, too mild, and I don't like the black plastic cover.

So this is where I've been stalled for about a year: worrying about pickups.

Steve Kersting did a custom job for me but due to various miscommunications it didn't come out anything like I wanted. Steve handled it great, gave me the option to have it redone or refund. I decided on the latter.

I might go with a different shape: Gibson's current "TB Plus" pickup which comes in their Les Paul basses. This is a standard chrome guitar humbucker package with a pickup that some have described as "thunderbird on steroids", which sounds like something I'd like :-) I may have to find one of these basses to play and see if I like it.

Electronics

Not sure, but I picked up a good deal on a U-Retro preamp. I'll give that a try and if it doesn't work out, put something else in.

Stupid vanity

I'm looking in to the cost of getting S L I N K P inlaid in the fingerboard. Like this (really ugly rough digital sketch):

... or maybe not, that really is hideous :-)

Inspirations

Originally I was thinking of Mike Watt's "Contemplating the Engine Room", which opens with a really beatiful bass sound (mp3 excerpt). I checked Watt's home page and most of that was done with "bluey", an old 1960s Gibson Thunderbird II (Non-Reverse shape). (This is the picture I modified for my first color concept sketch - I couldn't find any better pictures of this type of bass!)

 bluey

Check this out - I posted a question about this on a talkbass.com forum that's hosted by Watt himself, and he replied here.

The photo of "bluey" also brought to mind a vivid memory from an old picture book of The Who, my favorite band when I was about 12. There was a great photo of Entwistle in the early 70s playing a non-reverse Thunderbird. I had no idea what it was at the time, but even then I thought it was a really nice looking bass, and I can still remember it clearly. I've always loved Entwistle's live sound.

I haven't been able to find that exact picture, but here's some nice shots of Entwistle with one of his custom "fenderbirds" and a non-reverse Thunderbird.

 entwistle playing a fenderbird  entwistle playing a non-reverse thunderbird


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