Frankly, I can’t think of an easier Do Savor and more enjoyable project than building a fretless bass, and trust me when I tell you, it’s easier than you think! With a little patience and attention to detail, you can have a top-of-the-line instrument for half the shelf price! If there is one thing I have learned over the years about building my own fretless basses, once you take the responsibility of making your own ax, you become a master of your own sound. If your bass sounds and plays well or sounds and plays crappy, it will be because you took the time to put the parts together and experiment!
The best preliminary step to building is to go to more local music stores and play basses. Make a note of what you like and what you don’t like about the bass’s sound, appearance, and configuration; that way, when you are ready to drop some cash on your parts, you will know what to get. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you use crappy parts, you will get a crappy sound. Always get the best grade woods and hardware you can afford; trust me, it makes a HUGE difference!
We will start with the body. In this tutorial, we will be using a simple two-piece Alder body, but as I said earlier, your tastes and budget can be the judge on what tone woods or combination you would like. The first step is to sand your new body with 60 to 150 grit sand paper. This ensures a smooth feel, even grain, and a uniform look on the wood. Remember to always sand with the grain of the wood and not to push down too hard.
Pushing down too hard, especially with lower grit paper, will destroy the sultry curves of your bass. The idea is to make everything uniform, especially for the feel and texture of the wood. Sanding allows the stain or finishes to penetrate the wood in the evenest way possible!
Once your body is sanded, a good wipe-down with a tack cloth or a damp rag will remove all excess debris and prepare the body for the next step. I really enjoy this step of the process simply because you can make your instrument look any way you like. There are many options available to you in the area of stains and paints. For this bass, I used a simple Minwax Water Based Stain in Fruit Punch. Out of all the stains, I’ve used water-based allows for the easiest application and clean up, not to mention its environmentally friendly.
A simple coat or two of this stain can yield luster and beauty, depending on the kind of wood you use for your bass. A visit to your local hardware store can get you started, and there is a wide range of colors and blends to choose from!
Another thing to keep in mind is that you might want to go with the Tru-Oil finish by itself, especially if you have a nice grain of wood. A simple image search of Tung Oil or Tru-Oil finished instruments will yield many beautiful results. Please explore and experiment.
Once I chose a color, I coated the body with MinWax Pre-Stain. This water-based compound fills in the pours of uneven hard woods and allows for a more uniform and even stain across the whole body. Please make sure always to follow the directions on the can for the best results! After drying, I started to stain the body.
Again, I can not stress how important it is to work in a safe and well-ventilated area. While it is maybe temping to do this in a more comfortable area, you don’t want to expose yourself to fumes and suffer the side effects! I hung and finished the body in my apartment patio closet, perfect for shelter and ventilation. If you find a coat unacceptable, you can always sand it away with low grit sandpaper. However, it will require the same low to high sanding process, and if you are not careful, the sanding can erode angles and curves.
After getting the color right where I like it, it’s time to seal the body with a finish. As stated earlier, we will be using an effortless but effective gun stock finish called Tru-Oil. Just like the stain, make sure you find a well-ventilated and climate-controlled area and clean it of any debris. To cut down on spots and fingerprints, find an old wire hanger or shoelace and hang the body up at just about eye level.
Take an old rag, pour a small amount of finish and gently rub the finish in small circles, making sure to spread the amount of finish as far as possible (a little goes a long way). I find it easier to do one side at a time to help prevent smudges. After each coat, allow drying for about an hour and buff lightly (as not to remove previous coats) between coats. I find about 10 to 15 coats is enough to build a nice luster and provide a nice hard surface, but going to about 20 to 25 will be more than enough. A final buffing with steel wool will give the finish a dull shine and a smooth touch. Give about 24 to 48 hours to cure the finish completely.
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