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Prostheta's Summer Project....


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Hi everyone! Regulars on here who know me are aware that last June (2010) myself and my family relocated home to Finland, and as a consequence I had to sell most of my luthiery gear other than that which I could fit into our van. The building bug being what it is, I have been driving myself half crazy not being able to build instruments. Seriously crazy.

So anyway. This Summer/Autumn I may have the opportunity to build *something* as a one-off, although more than likely with less-than-perfect equipment, setting and financial support. Such is life right now. My primary instrument being bass, I would prefer to build something that I will benefit from rather than GAS'ing ;-) The joker in the pack is a "Black Special" guitar, inspired by Brian May's iconic Red Special, which I have been researching for half a year (at the time of writing). The options have been discussed to the nth degree by my wife and I in sauna (best place to do so) and we're still at somewhat of a deadlock decisionwise.

The primary pressures will be discussed as part of the description of each instrument. It would be most appreciated if the thread warms up with discussion and justification before anybody votes their opinion, hence why I have set this up as a public vote. It's not a "I'd like to see you build X" thread, strictly!

Rickenbacker 4003 "Blackstar" bass


The Rickenbacker 4003 bass was an improvement (subjective word of you know Ricks well) on the original 4001 bass design. The Blackstar iteration of this bass featured the usual palaeolithic single-coil pickups and the traditional Rickenbacker bridge, although in the rare-to-find black finish. The usual Rick bass specs of a Maple/Walnut laminated through-neck with Maple wings are on the table.

Alterations to spec

The bridge hardware - being black - is a complete PITA to find since RIC are notoriously closed-off when it comes to OEM hardware or spares. On that basis, the options are a chrome bridge (umm, no) a Hipshot RIC retrofit bass bridge or "any other" bass bridge, such as a Gotoh 510 or even a Hipshot B-style bride.

The dual rod design of Ricks just doesn't do anything for me, especially with the overly large adjustment cavity at the headstock end. A simple curved stainless steel single-action rod set under the fingerboard with a brass adjustment nut would make me a happier bunny.

Ricky pickups are available, although I am in two minds on how to tackle this one. Whilst I enjoy the Ricky sound, I feel that these antiquated pieces of junk could be a little better! I am open to suggestion on this one, although ideally I would like to stick to the aesthetic of the Ricks. The possibility of a custom wind underneath a black RIC replacement cover is there (mini stacked perhaps?).


Ricky basses float my boat happily thanks to their snarly tone, which works well with my aggressive playing style (both fingers and pick). The original "Rick-O-Sound" mono/stereo wiring will be used, as this would work very nicely with my POD X3 Pro's dual channel inputs. The build style is relatively simple, and Maple fairly easy to acquire. The finish is a simple solid black even across the fingerboard! Despite the fretwork considerations, this simplifies the finishing somewhat.


OEM Rickenbacker stuff is horrendously marked up, which leaves the choice of deviating from the original design or paying through the nose conforming. Pickup choice is stupefyingly annoying since I am aiming for the "Rick sound" but without that annoyingly prehistoric design under the cover. Single coil is a must to hit that sound....perhaps a hybrid between the EMG underwound pickups and a pre-amp in the long term?

Rickenbacker 4001 bass


Essentially identical to the 4003 design, forerunning 4001 "target" design is the burgundy "Cliff Burton" variation, although in its original KEA form (no mudbucker or Strat pickup in the mute cavity). All of the considerations as per the 4003 apply, with the exception of the bridge as the 4001 was all-chrome. The body and neck and bound with single-ply cream binding. The fingerboard is Bubinga, and with the usual RIC idiosyncracy is clearcoated.

Alterations to spec

Most of the parts are easy to come by, which is a bonus. Again, the dual rod neck (I'm sure this changed at some point) will be changed to the single variety. The large inlays (crushed MOP in epoxy, IIRC?) will likely be ditched altogether for the clean look, although I may be tempted to inlay something depending on how the wind blows (and good suggestions).


The readily available parts and simple design make this a pretty straightforward job.


The burgundy colour will be the most awkward aspect to reproduce as equipment is just lacking. In addition, I am unsure as to whether I have binding channel router cutters any more!

Fender Jazz bass


What better instrument to build on a budget with insufficient tooling, experience and money? A Fender!! Nothing amazing in this design, but the simple work ethic of doing-it-right and doing-it-better-than-Fender is probably the name of the game. Hell, countless builders from amateurs to pros have done this since the year dot and not really changed much from the original design so why should I?

Alterations to spec

Plain vanilla, although with a bridge upgrade and the same Rick-O-Sound stereo output options as described above. In that respect, the third pot position will be a second jack socket in addition to the normal mono equivalent. Pickups will be the straight down the line J copies, either Delano or EMG-X depending on priorities of organic tone or noise-free operation. Budget willing, a nice piece of birdseye or flame for the neck would be nice. Rather than installing the rod from the rear I intend on a single action stainless rod under the board. No fret markers in mind at the moment.


Barstool with a neck. Almost all suppliers sell J-size neck and body blanks. An antique white finish and oiled neck are neither expensive or onerous in terms of equipment or cost. Sweet.


I can't entirely think of any actually. Perhaps the fact it is just-a-Fender? I suppose the consideration of where to locate the rod adjuster counts as a con. A clean headstock would be nice, but adjustments at the body end? Yeurch.

G&L L-2000 bass


What is better than a Fender? What a stupid question. Essentially, no different to the Jazz build however the pickups fascinate me. Those MFD things even acquired Leo yet another patent due to their ingenious method of a highly focused magnetic field changing the overall function of the pickup.

Alterations to spec

The bass pictured is the 30th year anniversary model with white pickup covers. G&L also sell their MFD pickups via the website, but in black. I also have a dislike for their bridges as many users report the lack of body to bridge coupling, and modify their basses by screwing the bridge down through the holes usually used for through-stringing. Perhaps an OEM option same as the Blackstar would be on the cards for this one. Again, no markers. Those things are for accountants and button pushers.


Simple as a Jazz! Easy to source materials, easy instrument to make, to finish it is would be relatively inexpensive....apart from....


....those pickups cost a lot of money! I feel that my fascination for those big ol' super output donkeys fixated me on the whole G&L thing. Otherwise, same pros as the Jazz.

Aria SB-1000 bass


I decided to picture the "natural" finish SB-1000 as it demonstrates the build logistics better than the intended all-black bass I have in mind. Yes! Another Cliff Burton special. The construction is 5-piece Maple/Walnut through-neck with Ash wings. The single MB-1E pickup and associated "BB" circuit is what makes this bass unique-sounding.

Alterations to spec

The SB-1000 has its own aficionados who'll describe that the original SB-1000s had a radically different neck taper and (crazy) 16mm string spacing to the modern reissues. Fair call to them, however I reserve the right to opt for a normal 19mm spacing at the bridge and a profile that suits my playing! In addition, the impossible to acquire pickup and Marmite-sounding rotary would urge me to concoct sometime a little special whilst offering the same options. Perhaps monkeying with a dual "under the hood" active pickup like an EMG35-TWX or EMG35-TWX would be fun to maintain the single pickup aesthetic. Does anybody has experience with the EMG dual-mode pickups as to whether you can access both pickups outputs, or are the internally switched? The 5-ply neck would be awkward to construct and joint given my lack of appropriate tooling and workspace. Perhaps a 3-ply would be more appropriate.

The bridge will obviously need altering, as the original is just not available. A Hipshot or Gotoh 510 would be the first choices.


A great simple bass that doesn't require expensive woods and something a little left of centre to make!


EMG dual-mode pickups probably cost as much as two "normal" pickups. Haven't found prices online as of yet. The laminated neck is a complication.

Brian May Red Special-style "Black Special" guitar


Anybody that doesn't recognise the Red Special should promptly file around behind the chemical sheds and wait to be shot summarily. Without going into huge detail, the RS is perhaps the most important home-made guitar other than maybe Les Paul's Log. Rather than just putting together ready-made bits, Brian and his father even went as far as to inventing a floating tremolo system with a range similar to a Floyd. In 1963. Over a decade previously.

The body is hollow cheap softwood blockboard with an Oak centre hidden by Mahogany veneer. The neck is ancient Swietenia Mahogani. Pickups are three modified Burns Tri-Sonics with a comprehensive (and slightly redundant in certain combinations) switching and phasing system. The neck profile competes with vintage Fenders for baseball bat-iness.

I've researched this guitar a HELL of a lot, and know it far too well to consider not building one, one day.

Alterations to spec

I always said I would make a "Black Special" before a Red Special, both for the reasons of refining process and because I don't use tremolos. Also I am unable to make the tremolo system, as I have little metalworking experience! Therefore the trem is out of the window. I dreamed up the idea of using a black Strat-style bridge baseplate fitted in the recess under the rear half-moon plate as a string anchor and using either a TOM or roller bridge instead of making my own as per the original RS. These details are still in the making. Other than that, everything would be as-is even down to the crappy wood for the body and Oak inserts!


I said I'd make one. Is that a pro? It would help me move my whole RS project forward!


I'd not end up with a bass.

Supplementary video evidence:

Ignore the marketing blah this guy spews in this YT video of the reissue of the SB-1000

Awesome Brian May solo on the Red Special


Edited by Prostheta
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Firstly, Prostheta, officially welcome to my country! Before getting into voting a few tips for an expatriot luthier in Finland - I've been an expat myself and know how helpful advice can be. A couple of links that may come of use:








http://www.spelektroniikka.fi/luet2002.htm (GP-pages in catalog, also English description)

http://www.uraltone.com (nice place for gtr components, amp parts, speakers etc)

Sorry to hear that you're short of tools. Are you aware of the folk high school (kansalaisopisto) system in Finland? You could get onto a woodwork class to have access to decent tools. Alternatively you could talk to a headmaster/woodworks teacher at a local primary/secondary school, you live in a small town so they might be flexible enough to give you keys to the class for the summer. BTW, did you know that there's a luthier school in Ikaalinen just some 120km from where you live? They may be able to help you, too. There are numerous professional guitar makers in Finland considering the size of our population.

Then into your poll which I think is an unfair one (5 basses, 1 gtr). Knowing your research on the Red Special OF COURSE you should make one if you haven't by now! However, as a guitarist I couldn't care less to make a bass myself so I understand if you choose to go for a bass. Unfortunately I know nothing about basses so I cannot help. The Rickys are my favourite, have a look at this and this one my friends at Amfisound made for one of Finland's front row bassists.

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Thanks Maikkeli! I've already emailed Amfisound and had a quote from Petri at Korpi. Juha is very well known across this board also, and I've considered emailing him to see if he would accept me on my language course's 4wk työharjoittelu although relocating to the Hämeenlinna area for 4wks would be next to impossible on our "finances". I've also been around the spelektroniikka.fi site a lot whilst figuring out whether to construct my own pickups to fit within a Rickenbacker aftermarket cover would be practical.

DLH would be a good place to visit if our car were on the road and we were stocking up on wood for many instruments. Unfortunately I can only plan one at a time as and when, and we can't store spare lumber anywhere. :D

Uraltone! Cool site. Never seen that one before, so I'm going to have a good dig around that one. Thanks! Another project bubbling in my mind was a bass cab, so perhaps they might make the unnecessary expense of that somewhat less....ummmm....unnecessary?

This autumn I am planning going to a kansalaisopisto course here in Luvia (list at www.otsola.fi) to make this project happen. I'll see if our Aunt Helka knows the school (she's very connected in Luvia) because that is where the Otsolan evening kansalaisopisto course is held anyway. It would be cool to be a bit more than a "part time" woodworker here in Luvia, especially as I plan on pursuing a puuseppä course at Winnova. Maybe that's the way forward!

I saw both of those Rickenbacker style instruments on Amfisound the other week! Very cool, and coincidental that I was about to email them about Maple for one. I really like the 4004LK style Ricky; the carving is really appropriate and tasteful.

Sounds like I have a lot of contacts to email and people to meet. I really wish that my Finnish was at a better standard already :-\

You can choose more than one instrument on the voting form!

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Sounds like you already know most of the important contacts!

DLH does sell wood in small quantities, just email them and ask for a price list (they have one at least in Finnish). If you really want something special and native ask Ruokangas for some arctic birch to top your Ricky. I've been considering a composite fretboard by Flaxwood for my next project (whenever the time comes), contact the guys in Joensuu if you're feeling ecological!

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I personally like either the Aria or the Jazz Bass. I have never been too big on the Rickenbacker aesthetic and if I were in a similar position, I would want my primary instrument to result from it. I do think the Aria's horns are a little pointy, but overall I think it would work well. The jazz bass is fairly hard to argue with when so many great bassists have used one. Anyway, that is a guitarist's two cents.

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My usual advice is "don't build what you can readily buy," which would lead me to suggest the Red Special or the Aria. However in your case, I say go with one of the Rics. The originals are so wildly expensive that I think it's justified to build your own. Plus you can fix a lot of the weird design choices along the way. I don't think anyone would bother with those basses if they didn't sound so unique and totally awesome. There's nothing quite like a Ric.

I don't see any point in building a jazz -- you can get them all day long from a dozen manufacturers at a dozen price points -- SX to Sadowsky. I feel pretty much the same way about the G&L's, too. Just not worth building when the originals are great instruments and reasonably priced. By the way, have you ever gotten up close and personal with one? They sound fantastic. I've always liked G&L bridge design. In fact, I almost ordered one a while back to use on my own project.

Edited by fookgub
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Thanks all :-)

Fookgub: I agree with the "don't build what..." ethic, however all I see when I look at the prices of many commercial instruments is a) shop markup, :D corners cut by manufacturers, c) static design choice I can't change. Take the Jazz for example....I would prefer to go either active singles via EMG or *nice* passives, like Delano. Pop that cost on top of a production instrument and you pretty much have a cost which would buy half a basic workshop including wood for a Jazz ;-) Not that I have that kind of money right now though.

The G&L hits me as a Fender alternative. The numerous sound clips (raw and produced), YT videos demo'ing them and anecdotal descriptions put them in the pocket nicely. I do disagree about the bridge design however. One big G&L user was unhappy with the lack of coupling thanks to the two/three screws holding the bridge down. He bolted his through the through-body stringing holes and the result was a marked improvement. Other users reported the same after carrying this operation out. Nice design, however not as perfect a design as they could be I guess. Having not had chance to lay my hands on one, I would make a "G&L-a-like" according to similar specs and my own personal choices. I enjoy the thin necks of Jazz basses and Ibanez Soundgears, so I would likely just beef that idea up a little for myself. It would likely handle nothing like a G&L other than in looks and hardware/pickup specs.

I think in that respect, I wouldn't be building anything that you can readily buy as I would be changing things here and there. Plus I can't afford to readily buy a USA Aria or Ricky! Haha....

Maikkeli: Yeah, I've been doing very little other than establishing contacts and sources whilst we've been here! This is a very important thing in my life, and without it I am kind of at a loss. I am going to look into that luthiery school sometime, as it perhaps would also be a great place to spend 4wks työharjoittelu. I can't really afford to blow lots of cash on special tops, fingerboards, etc. right now although it is cool that Juha, et al. will perhaps sell them. Maybe for future builds, sure. Right now I just need to build *something*!

Ripthorn: This is the target design of the Aria. A little different when you see it in black. The link below is to an uber-high resolution image. The obvious alterations would be towards the "black and gold" aesthetic of the model Cliff Burton used until his accident. I don't intend this instrument to become my "main" by any means. I see other instruments as a way of expanding my palette in terms of sound and playability, so a nice 4-string has been pretty much at the top of my list for a while. A Rickenbacker, Aria, Jazz or G&L MFD sound would be a big alternative tone in my bass palette. I am currently humbucker-only (with no coil tapping options, bwah) so perhaps that explains my choices somewhat....!


uber-high resolution picture

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  • 2 weeks later...

Update: I've settled on the Aria, and started to gather materials. The original bridge isn't too complex (the SB-CB pictured uses a Gotoh, and is regarded as inferior to an actual SB-1000) so I'm going to go the whole hog and mill a replica based on the original in brass. I am also going to wind my own pickup housed in an EMG-35 cover. Will start a thread when assembly starts.

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