One day, I got a text. It just said, "Hey, do you want a bass?"
It turned out to be dead, sadly. The neck was coming off, and most of the glue joints were coming apart as well. But I figured I could salvage it for parts, so I picked it up and schlepped it back home anyway.
Now, my first thought was to see if I could get some more glue in, clamp it together, and fix it up, make a working acoustic bass again. But the guy who gave it to me is a sculptor, and I felt like I wouldn't be doing it justice unless I did something really interesting with it. So I figured, why not pull of the neck and bridge, mount them on a solid body of some kind, and turn it into an electric upright?
Here's the design I ended up with:
From there, it was simply a matter of building!
The first thing, of course, was to find a suitable piece of metal. Now, you may be thinking, "But your design uses an I-beam! That's not reasonable!" To be honest, you're probably right. But my dad had an I-beam laying around already, so we went for it. We did a quick mock-up with everything just sort of leaning in place to make sure things fit together the way we expected. They did.
Well, they mostly did, anyway; when we cut the I-beam down to size we gave it just a bit of an angle so the neck wouldn't be leaning way back all over the place. But it was enough to show that things would probably fit.
The next step was to machine the little inserts...
...and drill the holes for them...
...and of course drive some carriage bolts into the neck and screw some connecting nuts onto them.
I regret not having taken any pictures of the machining process here! In my defense, I was operating a hand-cranked mill at the time and also I forgot. Anyway, it all fit together!
Well, after I'd gone back to the store to buy the correct size bolts, I mean. But still, it was nice to see things fitting.
Next was the bridge. The I-beam isn't quite wide enough for the bridge to rest on, so pulled out a surprisingly nice piece of scrap wood (it's ipe, we think) and cut out a notch so it would sit at the right height. We sanded down the top a bit, too, to model the curve of a real bass so the bridge would sit right.
That part went... surprisingly well, actually. Nothing went wrong. So we moved onto the next step: The tailpiece. That was exciting, because once we'd gotten that in place, we could actually string it!
We threaded some wire through the tailpin and twisted it into place for a proof-test. Then we cut a little notch in the bottom of the I-beam to slide the wire into.
And it worked! We got the tailpiece and the bridge set up and strung it - and the tension of the strings held the bridge in place just like it's supposed to. It was even playable at this point, althought it was badly out of tune.
I'd like to take a moment here to say that if you decide to do this yourself, you should absolutely, 100% take the strings off at this point and crimp the wire in the tailpiece together with a nicopress fitting. If you don't, then the wire will eventually un-twist itself as the tension from the strings pulls at it, and when it comes apart, you'll have a heart attack as the entire project goes "SPROING" unexpectedly.
Fortunately, when this happened to me, nothing was damaged, so after a brief moment of panic the project continued.At this point, the only thing left was the endpin and, it would turn out, something to lean the bass against while playing it. The first we accomplished by means of a little clamp we made out of another block of ipe:
And the second by means of a very carefully adjusted (we hit it with a hammer) flange that bolts onto the side.
And with that, we were done!
Oh, yes, I nearly forgot—I put one of those pickups that goes under the wing of the bridge on it so it'd make noise. This was a fairly wide bridge so I had to wrap it in tape and wedge a penny in there with it.
All in all, it was a highly successful project. I'm immensely satisfied with how it turned out, too—it's got a great sound. You can listen for yourself if you click this link. Once the link is up.