2/27/2014

c.2014 Antebellum Double Banjo Bass




Well, I finally finished it! I had it in my head that after I finished off the neck and "body back" that this thing would bolt together and I'd be able to put a bridge, tailpiece and nut together in a couple hours and string it up. Of course not, though!

At any rate, I'm pretty happy with this. It's as loud as the "Precision" banjo bass but it has more warmth and that distinctive double bass muted mwah. The rim is also 1/2" thinner but 4" wider than the 18" rim on the "Precision" model. It's not going to replace a regular upright for general use but it does give a different but similar voice and its full weight of 9lbs 13oz and smaller profile make it roughly as easy to haul around as an electric upright bass. It also makes it convenient for practice as you don't have to hang around with bulk and weight while you're figuring out tunes.

It has a full 42" scale length and the width of 22" at the widest part makes it approximately close to the upper bout size of most wood basses.



I know the aluminum cladding gives it a futuristic-egg look... but that shape sure gives it some comfort and familiarity coming from the double bass.


Hipshot USA 3/8" tuners, rosewood nut, and a "Brazilian cherry" fingerboard from Gollihur Music. Gollihur is also where I tend to order bass supplies and strings. The neck is quartersawn maple neck stock from LMII.


When I cut the neck I gave it an off-center profile on the rear. It's a little thicker and U shaped on the bass side and a little thinner and D shaped on the treble. This gives it a really slick feel but also lets me get plenty of thumb pressure when playing up the board if need be. Side dots are clay.


This is the necessary "belly rest" that keeps the bass in position while standing.


So here's the deal: I ordered a 5-string set of Corelli medium strings for this bass because I wanted to try some wildly different tensions... the strings were an EADG+C string set. I figured that I could "bump" the tuning down using the ADGC strings to A=E, D=A, G=D, C=G. My initial bridge design meant that this sounded decent but a little weak. I swapped out to the "regular gauges" and got increased volume but also increased downpressure on the bridge.

So, after trying about a half-dozen different bridges (I worked from midnight to 3 AM in this obsession) to try to coax a sweeter, more slide-friendly slick banjo sound and feel out of it, I went back to using the ADGC strings on it and cut this sculptural, thin rosewood bridge. Voila, just as much volume as the bigger strings with the bigger bridge but a much more loose, slide-friendly feel that can easily double for rockabilly-style string pulling/snapping sounds. It also "feels" more banjo as I tend to associate banjos with lighter gauges.


The tailpiece is super-simple: just a rosewood slab. It works!





The "body" being that big slab of maple... is notched and then fitted into a cut-out on the rim. This helps keep the rim stable and keeps the install simple. I added a couple of screws that go through the notched areas to keep it rigid to the rim.


It's a simple bolted-neck joint.


My oak dowel makes a very simple endpin. I have it simply cut to length with a rubber foot screwed to the bottom. It's an inelegant but very light and easy solution. Since I was cutting down on weight I wanted to avoid using one of those heavy steel adjustable endpins. With this, you simply rotate the endpin slightly and slip it out of its brackets. Friction holds it in place and a tiny little nick with a hammer on the end of this bracket means that the dowel can't slip further than the bracket.


I used Hipshot USA tuners on this guy, too, as I just like them so much. Light, responsive, slightly smaller keys, and small footprint.

There are a few nicks and dings from handling this bass around the house (and during assembly and reassembly) I fully expect it to get a lot more of those love bites over its life...!

2 comments:

JAMES VERROCCHI said...

The bridge appears to have a radius, can it be played with a bow ?

Jake Wildwood said...

James: It's got a radius to match the fingerboard... I wish it could be played with a bow, but I'd have to have a much taller bridge and the bridge would have to come farther up the pot to allow for arco. It's really hard to make a bowed banjo bass due to the taller the bridge, generally the more downpressure, and generally the more the head sinks down from that downpressure or the more you have to bulk up your bridge and then lose volume and responsiveness.