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Hi All

@avengers63 's Warlock thread has sparked off a decent amount of like-minded discussion about lightweight and slim builds.  Rather than derail his build thread, I thought it might be interesting to share our respective experiences, thoughts and musings in a separate thread.

Kicking it off - my move towards slim builds has been more about weight reduction...trying to rationalise just WHY so many basses and guitars are soooo heavy.

The point I started shedding the 'conventional' thinking of guitar and bass design was when I was asked if I could make a playable bass out of this piece of unknown species, splitting, balsa soft/rock hard in places African wood:

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 It was wavy and varied in thickness from 22mm to around 18mm

To cut an immensely long story short I built a full-scale bass that is still played regularly by a pro-player but, more importantly, added the first few conclusions:

  • That most of the functional requirements can be met by a through neck - the strength, the rigidity, the bridge and tuner positioning
  • The body is, surely, simply a convenient place to put the pickups and strap-buttons!   :lol:
  • The pickups cut a significant distance through the through neck, so maybe I should concede that a bit of the body stops the instrument snapping in half when you tighten the strings :D
  • If you want to enclose controls, etc, then the limiting factor of the body thickness is simply the electrics maximum depth or width, and the jack
  • That a thin body makes a much greater difference to the weight compared with most other practical weight relief approaches. 

Here was the finished bass:

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The observant amongst you will have noted that the through neck is the same depth as the neck, and that is actually thicker than the body wings!  The through neck tapers towards the sides to meet the slimness of the body...

And this was the start.....

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Watching with interest

For pickup materials (not winding styles or wire gauge or # winds) I would rate the order of importance to the tone this way: Bobbin shape and height  Polepiece length and material 

A look at the height differences

Posted Images

wow, that is awfully thin!  I think you just won the thinnest guitar I've ever seen contest. I believe in you tho, you could go thinner! 

"The pickups cut a significant distance through the through neck"  perhaps surface mount pickups with individual winding per pole and lots of surface area for winding?  or... perhaps just a piezo strip.  thin top hiding the wires?  I'm guessing 3/4 would still be the lower bounds w wood but what about fiberglass reinforced?  pots... they make super thin 12mm alpha.  lumberg jack is pretty thin... so... bring on the 9/16" and 2lb guitars!

anywho, nothing to contribute... hollowbodies are my thinnest guitars!

 

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So, problem areas were:

  • Potentiometers - standard ones are fairly slim but stacked/blends and push-pull/push-push are quite deep
  • Switches - Short LP 3-ways are not too bad; full length LP 3-ways are crazy deep; strat 5-ways are pretty much the deepest of the lot; the 'kinked' LP 3-ways fitted to SG's etc not too deep
  • Jack sockets.  Vertical (think SG, P-bass) - forget it for super-slim.  Side entry standard switchcraft needs a minimum of 1". Barrel is slimmest, but not the most reliable.
  • Rotary switches tend to be very deep too.

But - you can put pots on their sides.  And you can use, as I say above, barrel jacks (switchcraft aren't bad, reliability-wise)

I used some of these work-arounds in the Psilos bass:

 

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IMG_2450.thumb.JPG.4dd3922ad68b47a9ba77dcb91354c5ba.JPG

Oh yes...batteries (particularly the clips) and preamps can also be problematic :lol:

 

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i have noticed on carl thompson basses he "builds up" the depth of a control cavity by top mounting a control panel made of a thicker piece of wood- Ie- control panel made of 1/4" wood- controls are mounted on that- and that brings the back of them up enough so they dont hit the back of the control cavity on a thinner bass. 

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1 hour ago, Mr Natural said:

i have noticed on carl thompson basses he "builds up" the depth of a control cavity by top mounting a control panel made of a thicker piece of wood- Ie- control panel made of 1/4" wood- controls are mounted on that- and that brings the back of them up enough so they dont hit the back of the control cavity on a thinner bass. 

Yes - good work-around, @Mr Natural .

I did something similar for the African bass above for the jack socket.  The owner wanted a Neutrik locking jack but was insistent that the jack sat vertically on the top.  Of the option of the jack poking through the back and ripping his trousers or the socket sitting on a (quite deep) wood pyramid sitting on the top, he opted for that.  I gave him the option of a much more elegant looking platform but he liked the 'primitive' look of just a slightly pyramid shaped block.  An extreme version of Carl Thompson's approach! :)

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Here he is playing it at Trafalgar Square in London

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1 hour ago, ScottR said:

Pick-ups could be top mounted with dog ears and or routed completely through. Nothing says there has to be a back in the cavity. Jacks could be external.

SR

Yes - great points! :)

 

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Let's talk pickups in guitars because bassists are usually ok with wonky and strange new things. Guitarists tend to be afraid of change and want to sniff the hyde glue you used to set the neck in their 400 lb Les Paul Copy.

One issue is traditional pole pieces. They directly affect the magnetic signature of a pickup. Standard pole pieces are .75" tall. 

A standard vintage leg HB Pickup measures +/- 1.15" total depth. 

IMG_20190104_175037.jpg

A new short leg HB pickup measures in at +/- 0.865" total depth

IMG_20190104_175019.jpg

The shortest traditional HB pickup using stock bobbins I have ever built is +/- 0.63" in total depth. (Also would note they tend to sound very modern because of the 1/2" pole pieces. I used a forbin laser cut baseplate for this one but you can bend the legs on a short nickel baseplate, cut the excess, and drill and tap new mounting holes. 

IMG_20190104_174952.jpg

 

The shortest custom HB I have ever built that still sounded really nice (and unavoidably modern) came in at 0.605" total depth. The particular pickup in question has custom bobbins and a custom baseplate.

IMG_20190104_174941.jpg

 

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For pickup materials (not winding styles or wire gauge or # winds) I would rate the order of importance to the tone this way:

  1. Bobbin shape and height 
  2. Polepiece length and material 
  3. Baseplate and bobbin material 

So if you adjust the pole pieces usually you have to adjust the winds

If you adjust the bobbin height and shape good luck making it sound like some other pickup. I have always had to use trial and error and judgement. A lot of times adjusting the poles and the magnets in accordance.

Baseplates changes are subtle and hard to discern changes to tone.

Of course the higher output the pickup the less any of this matters... so all you monkeys running 18.5K pickups are not allowed to comment on anything I write. Work on your metal faces. 

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The thinnest decent HB I ever built is based on a design I borrowed from Tom Anderson (a hero of mine).  It uses .25" diameter A5 pole pieces for the magnets and custom bobbins I designed to help keep the profile low but allow enough wire to get into the higher K ranges (15K+). I still have tweaking to do on the design and probably need to make about 10 more to get enough data to make a nice range from clean to mean. IMG_20190104_175048.jpgIMG_20190104_175051.jpg 

 

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A look at a traditional humbucker with a forbon baseplate (I can make them out of almost anything). For future models I am planning on moving to Garolite. 

It is pretty hard to tell the difference  between this pickup with flat baseplate and a traditional nickel baseplate.

This is probably the easiest conversion for non pickup makers as the baseplates can be ordered from Mojotone and swapped out pretty easily.

 

IMG_20190104_175058.jpgIMG_20190104_175055.jpg

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Still on the subject of the pickups, the white wood Psilos bass above had yet another variation on the theme - individual coils.

The customer wanted the magnetic pickup (it has piezo also) hidden and so it basically had to come in from the back.  But he didn't want to lose the continuity of the through neck that fitting a conventional pickup from the back would result in (basically, the neck would all be cut away).

We had a think about it and he talked to a custom pickup builder, Martin Herrick, who suggested individual coils:

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It didn't matter, for this solution, how wide they were so I could stipulate the maximum depth I could live with.  He arranged the polarities and the winding direction to at least give a passing nod to hum cancelling (and note each coil is shielded) and also adjusted the windings - and therefore the resistance - on each to match my configuration of the coil positions relating to each string:

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The result was the clean integrated radius fretboard/top while retaining both the slimness of the body and the balance of string volume:

_MG_2519.thumb.JPG.242358bdd388e3e65410cd1f947e3a2b.JPG

 

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2 hours ago, Andyjr1515 said:

Fascinating, @RestorationAD !  Very useful information.

Any experiments with stacked 'noiseless' singles?

Yes and no. Yes I have built several stacked traditional sized Strat Single Coils and J Bass Single Coils. No I have never done them in a thin context as they are almost always taller than a stock pickup. 

No I do not like them much. Personally I would rather the pickup be noisy and dripping with "swag" and "voodoo" than be clean and pristine.

 

15 minutes ago, Andyjr1515 said:

Still on the subject of the pickups, the white wood Psilos bass above had yet another variation on the theme - individual coils.

The customer wanted the magnetic pickup (it has piezo also) hidden and so it basically had to come in from the back.  But he didn't want to lose the continuity of the through neck that fitting a conventional pickup from the back would result in (basically, the neck would all be cut away).

We had a think about it and he talked to a custom pickup builder, Martin Herrick, who suggested individual coils:

_MG_1755.thumb.JPG.d42cf8a0aa80f2850a9297e1f2efd1ec.JPG

It didn't matter, for this solution, how wide they were so I could stipulate the maximum depth I could live with.  He arranged the polarities and the winding direction to at least give a passing nod to hum cancelling (and note each coil is shielded) and also adjusted the windings - and therefore the resistance - on each to match my configuration of the coil positions relating to each string:

_MG_2418.thumb.JPG.5a573b3cdfeb3d6e3af55bd43005ee64.JPG

_MG_2519.thumb.JPG.242358bdd388e3e65410cd1f947e3a2b.JPG

I like the design of those pickups I may "borrow" the magnet concept from that design in the future.

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1 hour ago, RestorationAD said:

I like the design of those pickups I may "borrow" the magnet concept from that design in the future.

Yes - simple but actually very effective.  I think he does a Wal type (I think the Wals are all single coils under the cover) and I think he uses the same concept.  Clever lateral thinking!

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21 hours ago, RestorationAD said:

Let's talk pickups in guitars because bassists are usually ok with wonky and strange new things. 

 

5 hours ago, Mr Natural said:

i have never understood why this is but you are so right. 

I agree.

I am active on a number of forums, some bass-biased and some 6-string electric and have done a number of detailed build threads on each. 

So example: I did a fairly conventional looking but unconventionally constructed lightweight 6-string electric on the electric-biased one - 1350 views.  I did a through neck version of a Gibson SG - 13500 views! 

On the bass-biased forums, I always get more views for the unusual and innovative.

And there are many, many more examples...

Nothing wrong with that, but it is an interesting phenomenon, all the same.

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One of the things I realised with through necks combined with slim bodies was just how much better they seemed - to me - to look at and to feel to play at the neck/body join than a typical Fender or Gibson (to pluck two random manufacturers names out of the air).

Yes - admittedly, the African bass wasn't very pretty:

IMG_5582.thumb.JPG.f82acd13bbf483a3580d32c214d9749d.JPG

 

But surely this was more elegant and felt better to play the upper frets  than a Telecaster doorstep neck /body transition?:

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There were 5 or 6 builds in between those two, and in between, like a young adolescent male, I discovered...curves... :wub2:

And that would change EVERYTHING!

More anon...

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Next thing to talk about are necks. When building a thin guitar you have to be conscious of neck weight. Because the thinner body has less weight to counter a heavy neck.

Things you can do to combat balance problems.

Smaller headstock. 

Reduce the thickness of the fingerboard.

Use a thin "wizard" style profile with the neck

--

Brett

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3 hours ago, avengers63 said:

Going headless is the other obvious solution to neck weight.  The drawback for the hobbiest like us is that headless hardware is often more expensive than traditional.

Also there are more and more options for lightweight tuners coming onto the market. Hipshot are great but, certainly in UK, eye-wateringly expensive.  But nowadays there are good quality and affordable options.

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