Sunday, September 1, 2013

Building a Bass Guitar Kit, Part 3

(You'll find Part 2 here: (click here!))

OK -- the body is painted.  All that is left now is to sand and polish it.

As with the painting described in the previous blog post, I will strongly recommend John Gleneicki's book, "How to Create a Factory Finish with Just a Couple of Spray Cans!".  There are also some YouTube videos you can watch (for technique).  You'll find plenty on YouTube.  One series I like is by Joseph Tubb (although much of what he does in his series is not applicable to this project).  But for sanding and polishing technique, I recommend checking out parts 7 and 8 of his series.

And part 8 is here:  

I used sandpaper grits of 600, 800, 1000, 1200, 1500, and 2000 (all sanded wet, not dry).  These finer grits were available at the same auto-paint store where I purchased my paint.

(Click on image to view in its entirety)

Here are examples of the shine as I worked.  Note that the reflections of straight edges aren't exactly straight, indicating a very slight waviness in the overall finish.  I'll try to do better on my next body!

(Click on image to view in its entirety)

One problem with using wet sandpaper -- if you aren't careful, water can get under the paint and cause swelling.  Here's an example of what happened when water got under the paint at one of the holes where I'd originally screwed the body to the "stick" (which was then removed for these last sanding steps):

(click on image to view in its entirety -- the problem is to the right)

I also had water get under the paint at some of the pick-guard screw holes.  Fortunately, drying out the area with heat (and applying pressure, such as pressing hard with thumb) can bring the raised areas back down.  I used an incandescent bulb about 6 inches from the surface to dry out these types of mistakes.

By the way -- you might first try plugging holes (and covering open areas, such as the one above) with, say, candle wax, to waterproof them.

Another caution:  if using a wood sanding block, the wood can warp if it gets wet, and your flat block will no longer be flat!

After sanding, I used a swirl remover (Mequiar's, shown below), follow by a 3-M rubbing compound (not shown).  Both were purchased at the Auto Paint store.  The foam polishing pad came from Stewart-MacDonald.

(Click on image to view in its entirety)

When the body was polished to my satisfaction, it was on to final assembly, followed by bass setup.

For bass setup, I recommend first checking out the four great videos by John Carruthers on YouTube, in which he explains the steps necessary to setup a bass guitar:

First:  Truss Rod Adjustment:   

Second:  Bridge Action Height Adjustment:     

Third:  Nut Action Height Adjustment:     

Fourth:  Intonation Adjustment:     

For reference, here's my summary of the setup steps shown in the four videos above:

1.  Truss Rod
     o  Capo at first fret
     o  In playing position, fret the E string where the neck joins the body (16th fret?)
     o  At about the 7th fret use a 0.015" feeler gauge to measure string height above fret.
            To raise string, turn truss rod counter clockwise.  Opposite to lower.

2.  Bridge height
     o  Remove capo.
     o  In playing position, at the point where the neck joins the body (again, 16th fret):
            Adjust E-string saddle screws so that the string is 4/32" above the fret.
            Adjust A-string saddle screws so that the string is 3.5/32" above the fret.
            Adjust D-string saddle screws so that the string is 3.5/32" above the fret.
            Adjust G-string saddle screws so that the string is 3/32" above the fret.

3.  Nut Action Height
      o  For each string:
             Measure height above the first fret.  If greater than 0.022":
                  Loosen string and remove from nut groove.
                  With appropriate file, file in a slightly downward direction (towards tuner) until
                  desired string height reached.

4.  String Length
       o  In playing position, adjust the Saddle Length Adjusting Screw so that the open note and
           the fretted octave are the same.

By the way, during the final assembly and setup I found a few more problems:

1.  Some pick-guard screw holes are stripped (nothing done at the moment, the screws seem to be holding fine).

2.  Truss Rod difficult to adjust.  This neck's truss rod seems to be angled down slightly, so only the short end of the hex driver can engage it, rather than the long end.  Unfortunately, the small diameter of the hole in the wood means that the hex driver can only subtend a small angle of movement when adjusting the truss rod.

3.  During setup, the E string saddle bottomed out.  I fixed this by raising the neck slightly with a shim in the neck picket made with two back-to-back business cards (to get the appropriate thickness):

(Click on image to view in its entirety)

4.  While tuning, I found that the D-string was a little too wide for the slot in the string tree, and it would stick in the slot while I tried to tune it.  The slots were also a bit uneven and had sharp edges at the slot ends (where I was worried about the wire catching).  So I smoothed the front and rear slot entrance/exit edges and widened the two slots with a small file.

Here are a couple of pictures of the finished Bass:


The bass kit was much more work than I anticipated, from fixing problems that originated at the factory (in China, I believe), to painting the body and dealing with all of the little heart-stopping issues that arose (runs, sand-throughs, etc. etc. etc.), to the extra expense of new strings, guitar-specific tools, etc.

So I have to ask myself, was it worth the effort?

For me, the answer is, without a doubt, yes.

Sure, the kit had numerous issues, but because of these issues, it provided an invaluable (and inexpensive, compared to the price of quality basses) learning platform.  Now if I need to do a bass guitar setup --  no problem!  Frets uneven?  I can handle it.  Sealing, painting, and finishing the body?  A lot of work, but I can now get a color scheme I like, rather than one forced upon me by a guitar's manufacturer.

In short, I'd do this again.  But next time I would prefer that the kit be a lefty PJ bass, or better yet, a lefty Rickenbacker knockoff!

However, if your goal is simply to purchase an inexpensive bass, my advice would be to find a used one.  With the tools and paint that I purchased, I easily spent several hundred additional dollars above the price of the original kit.  For that kind of money, you can get a decent used bass.

I would also like to point out that this kit is a left-handed bass kit, and it's quite possible that a number of the issues I mention in this and previous posts are due to the fact that it is left-handed and thus the workers might not have had experience with any changes-to-procedure that might have been required for the manufacture of the left-handed body and neck.  In other words, the right-handed kits might be better!


This was my first time doing any of this:  fret leveling, painting, etc.  Before you tackle your own project, do your research!  Don't depend solely upon my experiences.

Links to Bass posts of mine...

Sonic Blue Bass (part 1 of a 3 part series)

Mellow Yellow Bass

Short-scale Telecaster Bass

Bass Guitar Painting Jig

Repairing a G&L Butterscotch Blonde Paint Chip

G&L ASAT Bass Strap-button Extender

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