We generally consider ourselves rather fearless when it comes to working on guitars. Over the years, we’ve done some pretty crazy things at the request of some of our more experimental clients. Most of these things don’t really scare us, but occasionally a little pinch of fear is important: there’s no easier way to completely ruin a guitar than with a router. A healthy dose of fear in these cases help keep us sharp when we’re routing on your precious instruments, and we go to great lengths to make sure everything is absolutely right the first time.
A few weeks ago, we had a home-made bass come in, and the owner/builder wanted to add a new pickup. While he had done an admirable job in building the bass, he opted to have us do the routing for a P pickup. This was going to be tricky: the bass was already completely built (making maneuverability a problem), it was made from zebrawood (which is prone to chipping), and it was hollow! A really cool bass, but a bit of a challenge for routing.
Our first order of business was to map out exactly where the new pickup was going to go. We carefully measured everything out, and centered the layout following the alignment of the neck, and chose to put the pickup directly under the strongest harmonic (2 octaves above the root).
Next we had to create a routing template that would sit high enough above the body to allow movement of the router. Since the neck was glued in to the body, there was no way to remove it, and it was sitting fairly high above the face of the body. So we made some risers out of some scrap wood, screwed those to the template, then attached the whole operation to the body using strong double-stick tape. This was just tall enough to allow the router to clear the neck, while still being low enough for the router bit to reach the top.
Now it was time for routing. We picked out our sharpest router bit, and set the speed of the router pretty fast, so that the zebrawood wouldn’t chip as it was being cut. It’s jobs like this that justify our love for our Festool router – yeah, it was super expensive, but totally worth every penny when doing delicate work like this. Plus, it’s just a ton of fun to use!
Our route turned out beautiful – no chips, nice clean lines. Nice!
Now, here was an interesting conundrum: how to attach install the pickups. Precision pickups are designed to mount directly to the wood below them – but there’s no wood to attach them to inside this hollowbody bass! Early on in the planning process, we had decided to install some wood blocks just under the route inside the bass for the pickups to attach to. We made these small blocks out of some mahogany we had laying around -and even though they would be invisible, there was no reason to not make them look nice:
We then glued the blocks inside and clamped them in place:
After allowing the glue to cure for 24 hours, we did some extra shaping of the mahogany blocks, to allow for height adjustment for the new pickup.
Now all that was left was installing the pickup, which was to be wired directly to the output with no pots, switches, or any other electronics. We think it looks pretty awesome:
And that’s it! The bass sounds like a super bright, zingy P bass (owing to the zebrawood, which is really dense). The owner/builder is super pleased with the tone, and everybody is really happy with how it came out. Huzzah!