Noise Bass Instrument

After 4 months of living in Whistler, I am back in Vancouver with my family. Unfortunately, I can’t continue my existing projects until the new year; as while I was in working in Whistler, my family brought all my supplies to a storage facility so that our house can get renovated. We’re living in a different house temporarily. I probably can’t continue my existing projects (air cleaner, resistance soldering unit) until I move back in. This will be my first Hackspace project on my return.

For the actual project, start reading here:

I want to build a semi-acoustic stringed instrument, which does not fit into any existing category. It will be tall, fretless, and played upright (like a cello or upright bass). The construction and body will be more guitar-like, but rougher. It will use the upper harmonics of low-tuned, loose strings to make a harsh-sound of many frequencies. I will also rely on electronic effects to heavily distort the sound. I am making this specifically for noise music.

Recently, I have aquired a taste for Harsh Noise music, mostly from Merzbow. This makes me want to try making noise music myself, and it would be a good opportunity to make my first instrument (since it probably won’t take the precision needed to make a “good” instrument for other genres).

I want it to have a 38" scale length (the length of the vibrating part of the string). For comparison, bass guitars range from 30" to 35" (34" being most common), and orchestral upright basses ranges from 105-110 cm (41.3"-43.3"). I think I’ll have any truss rod (unless if someone can sell me a long carbon fibre rod), but this shouldn’t be too bad as it’s fretless and tuned loosly. The soundboard at the bottom will be rather small for an instrument so big and low-tuned. There will be 3 playable strings and one sympathetic string. There will be two electromagnetic pickups and at-least one piezo pickup, with separate audio outputs for more complex effects. I was also thinking of adding some unusual features, like a metal container filled with water, and a sand-filled chamber for noise.

Here is how I will construct it:

I have these two pieces of maple to make the neck and fingerboard. The longer one is 33". I should of gotten it cut at 47", but it was a stupid last-minute mistake that I’ll have to work around. I’ll have the shorter one glued on-top for the fingerboard. It’s fretless and loose strung, so no truss rod.

I want to know if it’s possible to make a cut like this in the plank, and then put that bottom surface through a router. What tool do I use to give it that wedge shape? Does the router accept a shape like this, or does it need something that can sit flat on the table?
If not, then I suppose I would have to either carve the back of the neck manually (is this how it’s often done), or have the head glued on as a separate piece. But most instruments seem to have the head and neck as one piece, and I don’t know if I can make a strong enough connection to resist the tension.
I want to use this Washburn travel guitar as a reference for the soundboard. Of the guitars I tried at Rufus guitar shop, I decided that this soundboard sounds the closest to the harsh kind of sound I want. The soundboard is small even for this instrument, but I’m not making mine too much bigger. I want to emphasise the upper harmonics, and it’s primarily an electric instrument.

Although the top panel will be a similar shape, I’m probably going to have the sides and center carved from a block of wood (rather than steam-bending panels for the sides). However, I don’t know if I must use the mill for this (either CNC or manual), or if there’s another way to make an electric guitar-like body. I’m not trained for any of the mills.


As long as you have the drawings in either Solidworks or AutoCAD Fusion 360, you can make the G code from CAM add-ons. Best is redo from one piece.

Interesting project. Thanks for sharing. I would be interested to hear examples of how low the strings will be tuned and what sort of harmonics you would be going for. Have you considered prototyping each of your concepts in isolation before you build them into a beautiful instrument?

You could use a CNC router for that. One way would be to shim up one side of the piece so that it is inclined on the router bed. Then use a simple facing operation so that the router levels off the piece. Since the piece is inclined, “level” will actually cut an incline into the piece. Since your piece has two inclines, you would do it in two setups.

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After doing my Ukulele neck:

There’s a few ways to approach this. You can get some roughing done with saws (band saw/table saw) if you jig it up properly.

As manual as it sounds, I would highly suggest moving over to a rasp and doing a lot by hand. Not only is it satisfying to do a lot of it by hand, but the shape if it really is nice to tune by feel. I love how my neck feels and I would have never been able to do that in CAD.

Give me a shout if you have specific questions.

This would be a great application of the wood router!!! It should be able to do the cuts on the beck that you want.

If you want bright sounding tone. The finger board made of Maple or Ebony are generally best as they are quite dense. Rosewood is warmer sounding. I’m not so familiar with more exotic woods.

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I have made a (slightly rough) plan of the instruments shape on Blender. Here is an image of the main body, rear piece of the neck, and a rod for reinforcement. The top and rear panels, as well as the fingerboard, are not shown.
I have some pieces of spruce glued together for the body (although I will redo it with alder if I have to restart), and I will use those two pieces of maple for the rear neck and fingerboard. For the neck reinforement, I will probably use a 1/2" wide square tube of steel, although I might instead choose carbon fibre if I can find somewhere to buy it in the right length (about 1m). I will probably not have any adjustable truss rod, but hopefully it wont be such a problem as this is a fretless instrument.

It’s an unusual design, which is a hybrid of a neck-through and set-in neck. The steel rod going through is inspired by the piano, which has the strings mounted on a very rigid cast iron frame which gives it good sustain. I want to have a piano-like tone on this instrument, so I’m trying to achieve the effect this way.

Here is the body and neck pieces shown separately. Can anyone recomment to me a good way to route a straight channel through both of them, as you can see?

By “your concepts” I figure that you’re refering to those unusual features that I mentioned (water chamber, sand chamber). It would be hard to figure out a way to test how they sound before building most of the instrument, but I might figure out a way to attach these things on temporarily, just for testing.I might omit those from the final instrument. It depends on how much space I have. The idea of the sand chamber is that there’s a rattling noise (resembling like white noise) that occurs whenever the strings are played (especially the lower notes). Are there other ways to achieve a rattling sound that occurs in response to other (lower) vibrations? Maybe if I’m feeling crazy I can put a sizzle cymbal inside.

The lowest open string will probably be tuned to B0 (30.9hz) most of the time. The interval between the three playing strings will be something between a perfect fifth and an octave.

Here I have 5 pieces of spruce glued together for the body. The two upper pieces used to be one, but they were cut before a change of plans. I added those two additional pieces to the side so that I can make a body wider than the wood that I had. It would have saved so much time if I had a single piece of wood big enough.

My next step is to put it through the thickness planer to flatten the surface. However, there isn’t anyone currently at the Hackspace who is comfortable using it, so I will have to do it another day when there’s someone that can help me.


Great project, awesome design!

To test it before building, you can try multi-physics Finite Element Analysis packages.
Open Source: calculix, OpenFOAM, deal.ii, Elmer (GUI and seems best for your application) (all free, some are single physics and may need to be stitched)
Semi-free: and extensions to AutoCAD Fusion 360.
Most well-known Commerical: ANSYS, COMSOL, ABAQUS (all are $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$)

Please update us with progress.

I don’t know much about anything, but…

I think normally this kind of milled hollow body would be problematic for a string instrument, since the end-grain sides will be much weaker, but it sounds like your design doesn’t use the body as a stressed member, so you should be good :slight_smile:

I have been stuck on this project for some time. I got a pretty long length of 1.5" thick, ~10" wide spruce which has all been wasted now. I tried to laminate them to get a 3" thick piece, but was never so happy with the results. Normally when I see laminated wood, there is no visible gap between the pieces. But my wood always had a significant gap.

What may be going wrong with my laminations? Are the pieces too big? Is the wood glue I’m using (large jug in the Hackspace) aged? Maybe it takes too long for me to attach the clamps after pouring the glue. In that case, I should gather the clamps before applying glue. Maybe there just aren’t enough (good) clamps, so I should buy more.

Here is an example of well-laminated alder:

Even if the lamination turned out perfect, I never got an opportunity to use the planer. I might try putting my existing 5-piece spruce lamination through the planer if I ever have someone to assist me. But I don’t know if I’ll use it for the final product.

If I do decide to redo the lamination with new wood (again), then I want to use Alder, or maybe a combination of alder and spruce if it’s cheaper. I like the sound of alder bass guitars. But like spruce, alder is unlikely to be found in widths over 10.25" (which is what I want), so I would need to horizontally laminate it. But I don’t want to do that unless I know how to laminate properly. At Windsor Plywood, they currently have a long piece of Alder 1" thick, 5" wide.

Another thing; If I laminate horizontally I should use the jointer. But someone has to adjust the outfeed table, as it was too high when I last went there.

Also, should I use steambent wood on the sides instead of carving them from a large piece of wood? It would save material, and I wouldn’t need very wide pieces of wood, but it’s another thing I must learn how to do. Semi-hollow guitars/basses have been made both ways, although I haven’t found any semi-hollow alder bodies on the internet.

I’m going to be away from tomorrow to March 30th, but it would be nice if I could get help with this when I get back. I was also thinking of making a smaller, simpler electric instrument first to prepare myself.

How thick are those walls supposed to be? I wouldn’t recommend steam bending if it is too thick, though hot-iron bending still might be more appropriate. I’ve used hot iron bending and steam bending for my Ukulele on Clario Walnut, but that was no thicker than 3mm; your drawings look much thicker.

As far as the jointer goes, maintaining tools at the hackspace is a collaborative effort. If you know how to set the outfeed table, I implore you to:

  1. Say what you are going to do.
  2. Do what you are going to do.
  3. Write down what you’ve done on the equipment page on the wiki

If you don’t want to use the jointer, you can do jointing on the planer by using a sled. All you really need is a flat sheet material (such as MDF), some wedges, and some way of affixing the piece down. This allows you to flatten one side first, then you can then go back and thickness each piece.

The glue at VHS is not really that old. While one of the bottles is pretty old, it fairly regularly gets refilled. I’ve never had glue up problems.

How are you going about flattening your pieces now?

How are you clamping your pieces?

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