c.2014 Antebellum Fretted Banjo Bass (Revised)

Update Oct 26: This bass has gotten a lot of gigs under its belt and performs beautifully. Like I state below... you get the most out of it with a heavy-ish pick but it will hold up in volume with a good heavy-handed finger-plucker, too. The low tension of the short scale keeps it easy on the left hand for longer shows and the light weight (6lbs 3oz) makes it easy to hang on a strap. The body also sits comfortably in a normal guitar stand which is useful if you plan to switch to different instruments in a live situation.

Half a year later and I finally have this instrument pegged down! Here's a link to the original version. What did I like about the original? Tone, power, light weight, portability, rugged design. What didn't I like? The slightly "too long" reach that the big body forced on my left hand combined with the 34" scale neck. For a taller guy it might've been fine but for me it was a little unwieldy after a couple hours since the body doesn't sit like an electric bass at all. I also wasn't thrilled with the Savarez classical bass guitar strings I had on the other as they just weren't durable enough for pick use (which is what this instrument wants).

So... I eventually got around to ordering a 30" short scale neck from Warmoth with a pau ferro fretboard. This came yesterday and after an hour of installing hardware and bolting it up to the body (I'd since used the original 34" neck on my electric bass) I dragged it out to an acoustic gig last night "in the white" and it performed admirably. Aside from the neck change-out I redesigned the "body frame" to be a bit more ergonomic (while also providing access to all the frets) and installed a different tailpiece (simple metal type for more tuning stability). Strings were changed to GHS "pressurewound" (ie, ground roundwound) steel electric types which means durability, stability, and a bit more punch and volume. With the shorter scale the steel strings are also warmer than when I tried them on the long 34" scale variant.

In short: this version "nails it" for me.

I splurged a little to get the pau ferro fretboard (feel of rosewood but with a bit more snap like ebony) and medium-flamed neck stock. I figured I'd be playing it a bunch so why not have some looks?

The aluminum frame is door or rug trim material and I've had a bunch hanging around that I used on the last few banjo bass models.

The bridge is adjustable and rosewood.

This is an old 30s guitar tail. I may swap out to a modern bass trapeze tail but I had this on hand... so why not? The big rubber grommets mute overtones which is necessary on this instrument (to my ears).

Please ignore the sawdust inside the rim -- it's been hanging in the woodworking area for 5 months...!

We have a lot of old tables in the shop and there's something about the aluminum trim which just reminds me of 50s formica stuff.

These are standard-issue Grover bass tuners and work nicely.

There's not a lot of bright sun today but you get the idea with the maple... it's easy on the eyes.


albox said...

Am I correct in thinking ( based on your previous post) that this would be loud enough to play with several other acoustic instruments ?
What would you charge to make another one? :)

Jake Wildwood said...

Missed your comment!

I think basic options to build something like this would start around $600-650, though with how hardware keeps creeping up in price, I can't be sure of that. Scale and neck type could be anything you wanted as I like to order from Warmoth but there are compromises between the different scales and whatnot.

It's certainly loud enough to play with many people. I've used this just fine with 6-7 acoustic and I no longer use a double bass for acoustic gigs since this does the job.

The caveat is that you need to use a pick on this to get the volume you'd want but that's no different from the old mandobasses which were the same way. Banjos like concentrated attacks rather than the wider travel of bare fingers... which is why an old-time banjo player often gets covered up in a jam while someone using fingerpicks on the same banjo would be hecka-loud.