Condor - 5 and 6 String Bass Builds

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by geoffstgermaine, Jan 23, 2017.

  1. geoffstgermaine

    geoffstgermaine Senior Member

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    I'm making some progress on my new builds in my new shop, so I'd like to take the opportunity to share my bass builds here. The guitar builds I'm doing now are all Les Paul derived, and since those have been shared very well with a lot of detail on this forum, I thought I'd post something that I don't see nearly as much. Don't hate me - my upbringing was as a bassist!

    I'm building four basses here - two 5 string and two 6 string. I'm using Condor as the name of this model. Differences between the 5 and 6 string basses are that the 6 strings have a little narrower string spacing at the bridge (18 mm vs 19 mm on the 5s). Nut string spacing is the same and the 5 string comes in at 45 mm and the 6 at 54 mm. The basses are all bolt on with 890 mm/35" scale lengths.

    Electronics are Bartolini pickups and preamps. Hardware is all Hipshot and I'm using the D style bridge, which is a separate bridge and tailpiece. Individual bass specs are:

    Condor 001 (5/3)
    5 Strings
    Flame Maple Top
    Northern Ash body with black veneer and Ash accents
    Hard Maple and Northern Ash neck with black veneer accents
    Cocobolo fretboard
    3 x Bartolini X55 pickups, NTMB preamp
    Chrome Hipshot D Bridge and Ultralight Tuners

    Condor 002 (6/3)
    6 strings
    Cocobolo Top
    Walnut body with Maple veneer and Bloodwood accents
    Walnut neck with Cocobolo and Bloodwood laminates and Maple veneer
    Cocobolo fretboard
    3 x Bartolini G66 pickups, NTMB preamp
    Black Hipshot D Bridge and Ultralight Tuners

    Condor 003 (5/2)
    5 strings
    Cocobolo Top
    Walnut body with Maple veneer and Bloodwood accents
    Walnut neck with Cocobolo and Bloodwood laminates and Maple veneer
    Birdseye Maple fretboard
    2 x Bartolini X55 pickups, NTMB preamp
    Black Hipshot D Bridge and Ultralight Tuners

    Condor 004 (6/2)
    6 Strings
    Redwood Burl Top
    Northern Ash body with black veneer and Ash accents
    Hard Maple and Northern Ash neck with black veneer accents
    Birdseye Maple fretboard
    2 x Bartolini P26 Quad Coil pickups, NTMB preamp
    Chrome Hipshot D Bridge and Ultralight Tuners

    Here's the Illustrator design for the 6/3:

    Condor 63 Final_zpsnzdssnyx.jpg~original.jpg

    Here are the body blanks:

    IMG_0611_zpslreeypqe.jpg~original.jpg

    The Ash is slip matched and the Walnut blanks are one-piece, though I had to rotate the bodies very slightly to make them fit on the slab I wanted to use.

    The tops:

    Flamed Maple.

    IMG_0501_zpsolwltrjg.jpg~original.jpg

    Cocobolo for the 6 string.

    IMG_0499_zps60iyrpmx.jpg~original.jpg

    Cocobolo for the 5 string.

    IMG_0500_zpsibv8sjtr.jpg~original.jpg

    Redwood Burl

    IMG_0503_zpsvgpmyjdv.jpg~original.jpg

    I'll try to get some more posts up shortly showing the progress I have on these.

    Thanks for looking!
     
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2017
    dickjonesify, Baylin and Barnaby like this.
  2. SlingBlader

    SlingBlader Premium Member

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    I'm looking forward to your builds. Those are some gorgeous tops. I have a redwood lace burl set very similar to yours. I'm going to use it at some point in the future, so I'm interested to see how you handle it. I'm assuming that it will need to be stabilized with CA, and maybe some grain filling? Good luck with these! :)
     
  3. geoffstgermaine

    geoffstgermaine Senior Member

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    Thanks Gary! The Redwood burl is an interesting one. I've used some CA on an offcut of this top that I used in an acoustic guitar's rosette and I was pretty shocked at the amount it could soak up. I'll have to chat with my finishing guy to get his thoughts. I get these sprayed with UV cured poly. I used epoxy (West System 105/206) on another bass I did with a Redwood burl top similar to the one I have here, but I went with Tru Oil over it. The epoxy worked very well to seal and pore fill the top.
     
  4. geoffstgermaine

    geoffstgermaine Senior Member

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    Back with an update. I'm really just catching up to the present and I've realized going through the photos I've captured that I haven't done a great job in keeping a photo record of the work. I'll have more photos of progress and operations/how I do things once I get caught up to where I am now.

    One of the purchases I made when I moved into my new show was a vacuum pump and bag. I went with the Excel 5 pump and 20 mil polyurethane bag from veneersupplies.com. That supplier is highly recommended as shipping and communication have been very fast and responsive on a couple of orders and the products are of very good quality and the pump came with very easy to follow instructions.

    The bodies of the basses are made up with some contrasting laminates below the tops. I did this previously with a Redwood Burl topped 6 string bass and was very happy with how the look turned out. The contrasting laminates are Maple Veneer (0.6 mm) and Bloodwood (4 mm) in a sandwich (Maple/Bloodwood/Maple) on the Walnut bodies and Black veneer (0.6 mm poplar) and Ash (4 mm) in a similar sandwich on the Ash bodies. On the Ash bodies the ash layers were cut from the body blank halves so that the grain lines up continuously across the veneers (photos of this later).

    A couple of things I learned with the veneers and vacuum press:

    -Use an adhesive that is compatible with veneering work. I discovered in testing the vacuum press that regular yellow glue can produce bubbles and tears in the veneer once dry, which seems to result from the amount of deformation in the veneer after the veneer absorbs the water in the glue. I used Titebond Cold Press Veneer Glue for the bodies, but there are other products that will work as well.

    -Apply the adhesive with a roller. I used to use stick to spread glue and using the roller now has me using it for all gluing as it's faster and cleaner.

    Ok, so here's how it looks in the vacuum press:

    IMG_0655.JPG

    I'm also doing headstock veneers on the front and back of the headstocks. As the leftover from the bodies wasn't big enough to get two one-piece veneers, I bookmatched all of them, which allowed me to get two for each bass from the body top offcut and also kept things consistent between the top/back of the headstock and amongst the basses. I use epoxy for the Cocobolo, as there can sometimes be issues with using yellow glue with it due to the very oily nature of the wood. I'm using Smith's Oak and Teak Epoxy, which I've used on a guitar with a Cocobolo top and neck last year and which worked very well.

    Headstock veneers lined up:

    IMG_0890.JPG

    And glued up with epoxy. I used little finishing nails with wedges to glue them up. They have to be thickness sanded to 2 mm now. One of the Flamed Maple sets was from the centre seem of the top blank, so it was already glued up.

    IMG_0897.JPG

    Thanks for looking!
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2017
  5. SlingBlader

    SlingBlader Premium Member

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    Looking good. :) I've been contemplating getting a vacuum bag for a while now. I acquired a decent vacuum pump that came with an inverted pin router that I bought a while back. (it had been used for vacuum clamping workpieces to routing templates) I just need a few connectors, etc. Is that the 4x4 bag?
     
  6. geoffstgermaine

    geoffstgermaine Senior Member

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    I have a 2' x 4' bag. I'm really happy with it and I'm planning to use it for a lot of clamping operations. The only tricking thing is coming up with ways to ensure the pieces don't shift when they go in the bag or come under pressure. I'll be doing the tops in the bag and I'll be using 1/4" dowels installed where the pickups cavities will be to keep them aligned.
     
  7. SlingBlader

    SlingBlader Premium Member

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    That's a good idea. I've seen other guys make oversized glue ups and use brad nails to keep everything from shifting. Are you using a mesh breather mat?
     
  8. geoffstgermaine

    geoffstgermaine Senior Member

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    Yeah, I have a mesh breather mat that I use. I can sometimes get it to work without the breather mat depending on the piece I'm clamping and as long as the connector is appropriately positioned, but it works much better with it.
     
  9. geoffstgermaine

    geoffstgermaine Senior Member

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    The four necks are coming out of two neck blanks. The necks for the Walnut bodied basses are Walnut mains with 5 mm Bloodwood and 10 mm Cocobolo laminates with Maple veneer between all of the layers. My concept here is to pretty closely reproduce the layers of the bodies The Ash bodies basses have necks with Maple mains and 5 mm and 10 mm Ash laminated with dyed black veneer between all of the layers. The milled blanks are about 100 mm wide and 45 mm thick. I'll be doing scarf joints for the headstocks. This is what they look like, with more work to follow once the bodies are fully laminated and cut to shape.

    IMG_0699.JPG

    With the bodies I wanted to reduce the weight but I wanted to avoid large chambers. I've done large chambers before and I'm not a huge fan of the way they can sound when you tap on top of them. Rather than a nice "tap tone" you get when you tap on an acoustic top or back, I find that you get a rather dead hollow sound. Anyway, my only real intent was to drop the weight a bit, so I used a method I've used before and that I have seen a number of other builders use in some form or another. Mine is basically just a collection of holes drilled with Forstner bits in a few predefined areas where the holes won't interfere with any hardware installation, cavities/neck pocket or the belly and arm bevels of the body.

    Edit - I also wanted to include for anyone who may be curious, I was able to reduce the mass of the bodies by between 270 and 320 g (0.6 and 0.7 lbs) with this approach. The difference in total reduction was based on a few things - density difference of the bodies, number/size of holes drilled and the depth of the holes. One of the ash body blanks is thinner as I'm using an 8 mm Redwood burl top while all the others are 4 mm so the holes are correspondingly shallower. For comparison, I use a large chamber on my single cut guitars and while the bodies are substantially smaller than the bass bodies, I wind up removing about 650 g (1.4 lbs) of material.

    Here's an example of one of the Ash bodies and one of the Walnut bodies:

    IMG_0916.JPG

    IMG_0915.JPG

    Next up I need to finish getting the body blanks cut and routed to final size and cut the neck pocket area out of the tops, as I'm going to need them for something. After that it'll be gluing them all up.

    Thanks for following along!
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2017
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  10. geoffstgermaine

    geoffstgermaine Senior Member

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    I cut out the tops to rough shape and cut them to exact size on the router table with my master template.

    IMG_0903.JPG

    Then I cut the bodies to rough size on my bandsaw. I drilled indexing holes in both parts of all of the bodies so that I can keep them accurately lined up with the templates and with each other when I put them in the vacuum press.

    Here you can see the rough cut body of the 5/3 body, which is the 5 string with 3 pickups and the Flamed Maple top.

    IMG_0939.JPG

    I started routing the body blanks to size, but I'm running into the problem of tear out, on the first Ash body I started working with anyway. I cut them very close to the final size, but maybe not close enough. None of the year out we t inside the template area, so that is positive. I'm still assessing how I'm going to deal with this. I'll either go to sanding, adjust my technique - multiple passes around the body in 4 mm increments perhaps - or get a spiral cut bit. We'll see. Anyway, here are the bodies as I put them away this evening.

    IMG_0940.JPG

    IMG_0941.JPG

    IMG_0942.JPG

    IMG_0945.JPG

    You may notice that I've cut a piece out of the tops in the neck pocket. I'll need these pieces to be able to put grain matched pieces on top of the neck heels. The neck heels extend past the end of the fretboards in order to give sufficient surface area for the joint as the neck joint is also configured to give good upper feet access. These pieces will prevent some of what I've seen on a few manufacturers instruments when they leave the unmatched neck heel to show between the neck pickup and fretboard end. It doesn't look well finished to me.

    Here's another shot I wanted to include that shows how the contrast layers are going to work on the Cocobolo top basses. The accent layers are Bloodwood and Maple.

    IMG_0944.JPG
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2017
  11. SlingBlader

    SlingBlader Premium Member

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    These are looking great! As for the problems with tear out. I would try to get the shape to within 2mm or so of the final shape before routing. A spiral bit will also do wonders. Keep it coming! :)
     
  12. geoffstgermaine

    geoffstgermaine Senior Member

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    Yeah, I'm looking for a spiral bit for it. I have my eye on the Big Daddy you posted. Even with making multiple passes here and going shallower than the full depth of the body it really wants to tear with the straight bit, which is a brand new Amana bit that is very sharp. I'm probably going to move toward doing an initial cut to establish the pattern on the body blank, only to about 1/4" depth and then take the rough cut closer to 1-2 mm from the pattern on my spindle sander. The tips of the horns in particular are significant risks to tear out, so I may simply have to accept the extra time required to do that on the spindle sander.
     
  13. geoffstgermaine

    geoffstgermaine Senior Member

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    I got the bodies flushed up to the templates today and they're now ready for glue up.

    I wound up having better luck routing the Ash using a top bearing flush trim bit for a shallow pass around the top and then using my top and bottom bearing bit to go around to removed the bulk of the material. The top and bottom bearing bit is a an Amana bit and the cutter isn't straight vertical flute but has some angle to which performed noticeably better on the Ash. The Walnut bodies didn't seem to care and the router cut perfectly fine around them. It seems that the issue was Ash and the vertical flutes. Regardless it's taken care of. All that's left with these bodies is gluing the tops on and then running the spindle sander around the perimeters to clean up the tool marks from the router.

    IMG_1170.JPG

    IMG_1171.JPG

    IMG_1173.JPG

    I got a good look at the Ash laminates in the two bodies and I'm very happy with the grain lineup across the layer of black veneer.

    IMG_1174.JPG

    And then they were put to bed for the evening.

    IMG_1175.JPG

    Thanks for looking!
     
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2017
  14. geoffstgermaine

    geoffstgermaine Senior Member

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    I'm using my vacuum press to glue on all of the tops. I've done the Flamed Maple and Redwood Burl basses so far. I'm using epoxy for the Cocobolo tops, so those will take me a little longer and I'm hoping to get them done tonight after the kids go to bed.

    I use a roller to apply the glue for most of my gluing now. I first used it with the veneer and it's just so easy.

    Before:

    IMG_1225.JPG

    After:

    IMG_1226.JPG

    IMG_1228.JPG

    I put both of these bodies in the vacuum press at the same time. I use 1/4" dowels to keep everything aligned as you can see in this picture of the Flamed Maple/Ash bass right before it went into the bag:

    IMG_1229.JPG

    The glue squeeze out is very uniform:

    IMG_1231.JPG

    After cleaning up the glue squeeze out:

    IMG_1237.JPG

    The post took me so long that I got the Cocobolo bodies into the vacuum press. I use Smith's Oak and Teak epoxy for Cocobolo and have had good luck with it. It's forgiving enough that I can mix it easily with just a set of measuring spoons and it always cures without issue. The pot life is also around 1.5 hours which makes it easy to work with. The downside to that is that the cure time is quite long at around 60 hours for full strength. I usually leave things clamped for about 6 hours.

    Preparing things:

    IMG_1238.JPG

    Into the vacuum press:

    IMG_1239.JPG

    Thanks for looking!
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Dec 24, 2017
  15. Frack

    Frack Member

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    Those laminations are very nice.
     
  16. geoffstgermaine

    geoffstgermaine Senior Member

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    Thanks Frack! I'd done something similar on a bass build a few years back and really liked how it came out. I had also done a similar lamination on the back of the body with one accent veneer and a body matched back laminate that came out very well and made doing a matching wood grain cavity cover very easy to do.
     
  17. geoffstgermaine

    geoffstgermaine Senior Member

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    I'm just about finished with the bodies before moving onto the necks. Unfortunately my spindle sander died... well not so much died as a part wore out that I can't source for replacement. Looking into some options for a new one before I finish some clean up work around the body perimeters. For now I've marked the bodies for the bridge and pickup cavities. I'm not going to do any of that work until the necks are done to the point that I can do the neck pockets.

    Here are the bodies:

    IMG_1306.JPG

    IMG_1311.JPG

    IMG_1312.JPG

    IMG_1313.JPG

    I also had aluminum covers made for these basses. The guy did a really great job. They're black anodized with some engraving.

    IMG_1308.JPG

    Thanks for looking!
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2018
  18. emoney

    emoney Senior Member

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    Great work thus far, they're looking sexy!
     
  19. CatacombKid

    CatacombKid Junior Member

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    These are going to look sweet! Great job!
     
  20. geoffstgermaine

    geoffstgermaine Senior Member

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    Thanks emoney and Catacombkid! I'm looking forward to getting the body contours going so the body laminates will be more visible.
     

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