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Building an Electric Upright Bass (EUB)
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Since I first displayed the EURB I began building in 1998 on my web page, I've gotten a number of inquiries for plans or instructions. Well, I didn't have any, and have none to offer, but I can pass on some details about the instrument I built, as well as share with you its faults so you don't repeat my mistakes. Be advised, while I have worked on my electric and acoustic basses, this was my first instrument building experience. There are folks out there who actually know what they're doing.

These photos may help inspire you to form plans for your own EUB. You may note that my creation was in some ways inspired by the NS Design EUB, although I prefer my final look to the Czech-made NS instrument's look and sound (well, of course I do ;-) ). I scoured the Internet extensively for electric upright basses for ideas on design and construction. It was that mission that began my collection of links that helped to form the basis for the Double Bass Links page, which BTW has at least two links to guys who have plans available for their creations- I can't vouch for their quality. The photo on the left is from before I changed the pickup and bridge arrangement, shown further down the page.

Since I play Double Bass, my goal was to create a compact electric version that would feel and sound similar to the real thing. So I began with the purchase of a used URB fingerboard. I was very lucky -- the ebony board turned out to be a beautiful piece of striped ebony beneath the black stain, which complements the electric instrument wonderfully and caused me to purchase more for some the the details, like the tail block. Rosewood can also be a good selection, and will generally have a slightly warmer sound than ebony; purpleheart is also being used for some fingerboards lately, and can also be gotten for a decent price. Less expensive upright basses often have hard maple fingerboards that are "ebonized" (painted black). If you are on a budget, it can be an acceptable substitute, but keep in mind differing maple varieties have various hardness levels. (BTW, I do stock ebony and rosewood fingerboards as well as other parts in my Gollihur Music store.)

My second purchase was wood from Exotic Woods; there are alternate sources, of course, but I chose them since they turned out to be only an hour from me, and provided very nice stock at reasonable prices. I purchased a piece of quarter sawn maple for the neck and lightly flamed maple for the body. Luthiers will tell you that quarter sawn maple is very strong, and as a result, a truss rod is not necessary (and probably wouldn't be effective) since my neck would be patterned after a standard upright bass neck. Since we're talking an inch thickness of quality quarter sawn maple, plus a heavy ebony fingerboard, it will withstand the pressure of the strings without a problem. If your neck is thinner, electric bass style, that may require a truss rod depending on the depth and quality of the fingerboard wood.

I did bury a 1/4 x 1/4 piece of graphite in the neck, epoxied into a deep channel. I was advised by a reputable custom builder that this would not only enhance sustain, but help avoid any dead spots. He warned me that the longer-than-usual neck I was building could tend to be dark without it. The EURB does have plenty of sustain and has a very even response with no dead spots. Acoustically, it sounds remarkably like a real URB. (hey, I was surprised as anyone else!)

upper neck
neck transition (shoulder reference point)
tom-tom hardware combined with a heavy duty cymbal stand
The upper neck is modeled after a conventional bass; note the change in neck profile. Closeup of transition to a boxier shape; not very noticeable, but you can feel it; it's a "D neck." This is where an URB neck would transition to the shoulders of the bass, and is a needed reference point for fingering positions. I used a heavy duty cymbal stand and tom-tom mounting hardware.

NOTE: The following includes a bit of a mish-mosh of comments involving pickups and changes I made over the last few years; I finalized my choices and am happy with them. Bottom line: A K&K Big Twin pair of transducers beneath a short maple bridge with a thin slick of cork between it and the body + the Moses/Lace URB magnetic pickup. I apologize for the jumpy nature of the text, but perhaps the chronicle of my journey will help you take some short-cuts.

DESIGN FAULT?? I did not angle the neck/body connection so a taller bridge could be used; my "off the cuff" eyeball estimate figured that the fingerboard rise would result in a taller bridge, closer to a regular 3/4 size URB, or at least a 1/2 sized bass. I was dead wrong and should have modeled the elevation on paper, like I did the other view, to confirm the precise height. Draw it out, full size, before you proceed and avoid ugly surprises! My bridge is as low as one inch tall on the G string side, which prevented me from using conventional URB pickups. I experimented with the K&K Double Big Twin and Bass Max pickups. My preference was the Bass Max (the bridge is too small to comfortably accommodate all four transducers of the Double Big Twin -- the Bass Max sounded wonderful and woody, and at least one is on most of Steve Azola's various fine EUBs, including the Ampeg reissue Baby Bass. However, with the low bridge, one pickup would of course not evenly transmit all the strings. I even tried two (one on each side), and while the sound was fantastic, I could not get an even response from all four strings-- unlike a full sized bridge, there simply isn't enough wood to equally diffuse the sound before it reaches the transducers. This was very disappointing, and my compounding mistake was gluing the neck in, rather than bolting it as I first decided, so I couldn't reset/rebuild the neck angle (doh!).

K&K Sound Big TwinI eventually decided to use a K&K Big Twin (two 3/4" surface mount transducers) on a thin maple bridge. Since I will often use this in a dense mix, I decided to use a magnetic pickup system made up of individual string pickups made by Linear Pickups (no longer in business). More about that later; first some thoughts and past experiments.

As you may or may not know, while magnetic pickups can sound ok for pizzicato (plucking), the output and sound for arco (bowed) bass is generally (italics recently added) pretty poor and produces a significantly lower output. However, the Linear Pickups turned out to be different in that regard (see below). In my prior experimentation with a pair of p-bass pickups and past audition of a popular magnetic URB pickup, I also determined that positioning of the pickup is critical for the most "URB-sounding" response -- it seems to me that some commercial available ones that are right at the end of the bridge are not in the best place for the best sound. But, sorry, Linear Pickups is no longer in business (there was a trail of unfilled orders and irate customers prior to its demise; bummer). I eventually used the Upright Bass magnetic pickup from Lace/Moses, and it's very nice; I sold quite a few of them over a couple years. Unfortunately, they are no longer available now, either! (Rats!)

Bullet from Linear PickupsK&K Sound Dual Channel PreampI eventually determined my best results were from a K&K Sound Big Twin and the Moses magnetic pickup, terminating the two pickups to a stereo jack. They were mixed and EQ'd at one of the small K&K Dual Channel Preamplifiers. (Yes, I'm definitely partial to the K&K stuff, not just because I sell their products, but because they sound great.) Since piezo pickups (the Big Twin) require a preamp, I wired the magnetic pickups to the tip connection, so in a pinch I can use a mono plug and run the magnetic pickups alone straight into an amplifier without a preamp.

How Does It Sound??? (the obvious question)
Pretty damn good-- but it still needs refinements. I was able to take it out on three gigs over the Labor Day weekend and enjoy it, but also had to make some play adjustments and keep a steady foot on the Morley volume pedal to keep it even:

The magnetic pickups sound really great, though the individual strings' output is somewhat uneven/different at this point, although the strings are prime suspects. Obviously, URB strings are not designed for magnetic pickups, and while the Corelli 370M on the bass are a dream for both pizz and arco and sound great acoustically, they utilize tungsten steel in their construction, which may be a complicating factor. With pizz, the middle strings are wonderful, but the G is a little thin-sounding (it IS thin) and the E somewhat lower volume and fuzzy sounding. Arco has the unusual opposite effect- while the quality is good across the board, the G and E have a much higher volume. I have not had this problem with the Moses/Lace pickup and will use it, instead, never knowing if string angle was the culprit. The arco response of the Moses is also very good, unusual for magnetic pickups, though I do use a volume pedal or small bass EQ pedal to adjust character when I switch between plucking and bowing.

My tailblock is also striped ebony, and the holes within are drilled at a slight angle to avoid a ninety degree turn. During my first re-do of the bass, I lowered the height of the tailblock to get more tension on the bridge (and to keep the strings in their slots), since it was much shorter than I had intended. The gold trim rings (not necessary, just decorative) are tuner rings obtained from Stewart McDonald.

note the through-body string mounting and rout for excess string length Check out the photo to the right - the strings are mounted through the body, and I routed narrow passages on the back of the bass travelling back up the instrument for a few inches, terminating in a larger round hole for the string end. This was done to take up additional string length -- I can use standard length 3/4 URB strings without worrying about winding too much of the wound section onto the machines. This is for two reasons- first, I am using compact electric bass (Gotoh) machines, which don't have much of a winding shaft, and second, some strings (like Corellis) warn against too much string wind on the machines-- it can damage the string. It worked out very well.

The original bridge continued to evolve-- the original was a piece of maple mounted on a pair of mandolin height adjusters, attached to a striped ebony plate. The two 3/4" K&K Big Twin transducers were mounted on the bottom between each pair of strings, with the wires going through the body. 2-10-04 2-04: I've redesigned the bridge and pickup arrangement. I found that a bridge on top of the Big Twin transducers worked best; there are a couple thin slices of wine bottle cork between the transducers and the body; they help to warm up the sound. I've omitted the adjusters.

Latest 2-04 pickup arrangement, see above

A note about finishing; while you may not be able to fully appreciate it in these photos, the final finish is gorgeous! The maple has a ton of flame in it that was brought out by the finish that luthier Karl Hoyt, who built me three custom basses (see on my personal Bass Page) suggested. And it's so simple to do:

Per his instructions, I dissolved some amber aniline dye (available from many luthiery outfits; got mine from Stew Mac) in a small quantity of Minwax Wipe-On Poly, clear satin. (Note: Karl sometimes adds a little brown analine dye, too, for a different color - see my five string fretless electric bass on my personal bass page) Before you use the mix, however, strain it through a coffee filter to remove any particulate. The Satin does a nice job, and still has a slightly shiny quality. Make sure you add enough; my first solution looked like weak tea, and the added color was very weak, too. (Try it first on some scrap wood!! Patience, Bob!!) When I did my reassessment of the instrument and sanded the body down further to reshape it, I redid the instrument using a much stronger solution for the second application which delivered absolutely wonderful results-- it looks too professional for an amateur like myself. ;-)

Naturally, you want to gradually sand the wood until you get to 400-600 grit sandpaper or so before you apply any finish. I applied three or four coats, using a very light 3M finish pad (not steel wool but similar) after each well-dried coat to make the surface completely smooth. After it is completely dry and rubbed, you can add a couple applications of Minwax paste wax, which protects the body and finish even further and does not get sticky, even on the back of the neck-- very slick once buffed.

Since this is a simple rub-on technique, it applies smoothly and you get no brush marks. Thanks to Karl for sharing this technique! He will also sometimes use some tung oil applications on some woods prior to finishing to bring out the grain even more (I'll try that next time!).

Labor Day weekend- finally out on stage!  
Labor Day Weekend 2000, finally out on stage (Rusty Nail, Cape May, NJ)

No bass is complete without a case. Birch plywood and pine dividers -- also needs to be completed, with an exterior finish and interior cloth coverings.

to be continued and refined as more photos are taken and the bridge/pickup evolution continues. The next project will be a 34" scale EUB for my son, Mark, this time with a taller bridge and a K&K Bass Max destined for its pickup.

BTW, if you are planning a project, I have a source for fingerboards-- that's how I started my EUB, with a fingerboard, and drew out my project from there and designed my neck around it. I have brand new fingerboards, Click to see

Eminence I became a dealer for Eminence EUBs after I bought a four string removable neck model for myself. Yeah, I still have a warm spot in my hands and heart for my project bass, but this Eminence is schweet! Click the photo for further information.

I also am a dealer for NS Design. They've come out with the WAV4 at $895, and it's become hard to justify building one like I did when you can get into such a nice bass at such a low price.

Bob Gollihur, Eclectic Bass
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this individual page was last updated April 6, 2007 Yes, I know, I really need to redo the whole page. ;-)
© 1997-2005 Bob Gollihur