Monday, February 23, 2015

Aromatic Cedar


Aromatic cedar smells so wonderful, but a couple lungfulls of sawdust isn't so wonderful. I think I'll be getting a bunch of use out of my respirator as I carve away my upright top…

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Ghoul

In the evening, T and I like to sit on the couch and draw with the TV on. Last Sunday she was like you should draw a ghoul and then zonked out while HBO's show on Bob Durst came on. So I started drawing a ghoul and then it became Durst—either way really… pretty creepy.



Monday, February 9, 2015

How to cut cedar?


After looking at some double basses up close and personal I noticed really being drawn to the ones with the curvy tops—go figure. My original plan was to get 4 pieces out of this board to make up the front and back of the bass, but now I'm thinking I'll need to keep it as thick as possible which means I'll only get a top out of it. It means I'll lose the symmetrical thing, but maybe that's OK? I haven't decided yet…



Monday, January 26, 2015

The SMR Workshop


Last Saturday I met Steve of SMR Double Basses and one of his very talkative cats (the other guy went upstairs). I called him that morning saying I'm building a double bass and I haven't ever played one and I would love to pick your brain if you're cool with that—and he was!

I found SMR online a while back and was surprised to see that it's based in Evanston—right around the corner. It's a funny thing, Skokie has a good amount of violin shops, but they don't deal with the double bass. I've reached a point in my build where I really need to get up close and personal with some good basses and see what makes them tick. Steve was nice enough to show me all the basses in his workshop which resides on the lower level of his 2-flat.

I walked around plucking the A strings of basses from Germany, China, the Czech Republic… even some from Chicago and it was amazing how distinct each were. I promised to shower him with tedious and detail-focused questions as my build progressed and he seemed pretty OK with that. We said adios and took off for our respective gigs…

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Sloppy Joe Armstrong

Rushing makes it easy to start over.

Mistakes were made on all fronts.

I have a terrible memory.


I put this down last summer because I felt there was some shoddy craftsmanship at play, but when my trusty fretless conked out on me at last weekend's gig I thought hey I should finish that tele I was building last summer. As it turns out, I probably should have let the sawdust bury it.

The intention  Last summer I was listening to a lot of Bill Frisell and Bill Kirchen which lead me to luthier Rick Kelly and his Bowery Pine Teles. I thought, I have all the parts to put together a bass, except the body, however I have a garage full of 2" x 2" pine—so why not build own?  And I did. The goal was to have a magneto fretless to compliment my piezo fretless.

Good things  Although I'm not real happy with the end result there are things that I like: 1. the graphite finish on the back plate and neck—pencil, hairspray and pledge (still in the experimental stage); 2. simple electronics (series/split/paralell switch, vol, kill switch)


Irksome things  that will bug me constantly: 1. the pickup is mounted to the left—the poles don't line up with the strings; 2. the bridge sits higher than a fender bridge so the neck is set too low; 3. the back plate makes the bass heavy; 4. the graphite finish rubs off a bit as you play; 5. the ƒ hole is sloppy; 6. the body's outline looks like a frumpy telecaster


The irksome things could probably be fixed, but I wonder if it's worth it… probably not. I learned some things and my trusty fretless seems to be trustworthy again—it was a worthwhile project.

Here are the specs on Billie, the Garage-caster:

Body: Pine
Pickups: Hong Kong Humbucker ($16)
Switching: Paralell/Split/Series
Controls: 1 Volume, Kill switch
Bridge: "Gibson Style" bridge

Neck: Maple with Ziricote/Zebrawood veneer
Fingerboard: Rosewood (fretless)
Scale length: 32"

Friday, January 16, 2015

40 hours

"Let us say that you take the easy way and buy the neck and scroll 'ready made'. If you do this you will always have the feeling that you cheated in the construction and when asked if you really made the instrument you would be obliged to say, 'well, all except the neck and scroll.'" —H. S. Wake, To Make a Double Bass

This obscure and helpful book was a birthday gift from the Champaign Carty clan—thanks guys!


I'm 40 hours into my Rocket 88 (electric upright bass) build—23 hours of planning and 17 hours building. That's 40 hours over the course of 3 months, so you could say I'm taking my time. As you can see in my clamped up mockup I'm starting to practice my new upright moves.