Build A Bass – Part 2
There’s nothing more satisfying than building your own custom bass or guitar from quality parts, but real life can get in the way. Huw Price takes on a project that deserves to be completed
Fitting The Bridge
Allparts Jazz Bass bodies come without pre-drilled holes to allow you to choose your own bridge, so I had to figure out where to place this vintage-style bridge. I wasn’t working from blueprints and I couldn’t find any information on line, so I called guitar builder Dave Dearnaley for help.
Dave told me that early Jazz Bass bridges were often set so far back that it wasn’t always possible to intonate the G string correctly (apparently this is one of the reasons that Badass bass bridges with their wider adjustment range became so popular).
Dave had the solution: he suggested adjusting the bridge so the G string saddle screw protruded a quarter of an inch from the saddle, then positioning the bridge with the G saddle exactly 34″ away from the nut.
This gave the bridge position worked out in one dimension, but I still needed to ensure that the strings would run straight down the neck. Masking tape is invaluable for protecting your instrument’s finish when you’re marking out and using sharp metal tools, so I taped up the front of the body and marked the position of the front of the bridge.
Placing a long metal ruler carefully against each side of the neck, I drew a continuation of the neck line onto the masking tape to provide a side-to-side guide. The centre saddles were then removed from the bridge and the bridge was lightly clamped into position. Next I tied string to the E and G string anchor holes, and tied them to the appropriate tuners.
This provided the perfect visual guide to position the bridge and I double checked that everything was square by measuring from the 12th fret to the front of the saddle on each side. After marking the position of the bridge screw holes I removed the clamp and the bridge, drilled pilot holes, removed the masking tape and finally fitted the bridge.
Slotting The Nut
With all the bridge saddles back in place, the next stage involves stringing up the bass and tensioning the strings just enough to hold them in place. If you put a capo on the second fret then you can adjust the position of the strings over the nut by eye.
I’ve tried measuring the string spacing at the nut before, but doing it by eye always seems to produce better results for me.
After marking the string positions with a pencil, it was time to slot the nut. I’ve done plenty of guitar nuts but this was my first attempt at a bass nut and I don’t have any dedicated bass nut files – so I just used my thickest file and wiggled it from side to side to make the slot wide enough as I worked down towards my guide line.
This provided a good enough rough cut, and then I took the strings themselves and used them as ‘files’ to round out the slots (in case you’re wondering, this probably won’t work with flatwound and tapewound strings). I continued until the slots felt ‘right’ as I was playing the bass. If it’s harder to fret a note at the first fret than the second fret, the slot is too high. If the open string rattles or buzzes, the slot is too low and you’ll have to pack it out with baking powder and superglue… or, in the worst case, start all over again with a new blank.
Once happy with the depth of the slots, I wrapped each string with a small piece of 800 grit wet and dry paper and smoothed the slots out. The top of the nut needs to be filed and sanded to allow just the top half of each string to protrude above the slots, and you can shine up the bone with chrome polish.