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Fretless Bass Conversion… Part III – Post Thumbnail

Fretless Bass Conversion… Part III

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So, after filling in the frets and re-shaping the neck, the next step was to remove the thick finish (and black paint) from the body of the bass. I was also going to slightly reshape the body, mostly to allow easier access to the upper frets as well as to soften and round out the edges a bit.

The stripping/sanding of the body took a lot longer than I expected. In , I had done this on a black Ibanez six string bass, and it was a relatively quick process. But with this bass, the finish was much harder, and much, much thicker, so it took forever. I ended up having to buy a sander (I bought a Milwaukee ¼ Sheet Palm Sander) which worked great, but it was still a very time-consuming process. Actually, it took a little over eight hours in total just to get the finish and paint off and then a couple hours more to shape the body and sand it to a smooth finish. Wow.

From the little research I did, it seems the body wood is probably Agathis since the bass was originally manufactured in Indonesia. Maybe I'm wrong? And no, it wasn't a single piece of wood like I was hoping for, but I didn't have my fingers crossed on that – I expected as much. I'd like to say it's a 3 piece body, but there's a tiny "extra piece" beside the input jack, so I'll say it's a 3.1 piece body. ;-) (At least all the joints are symmetrical though, and they actually look good where they are!) The wood is nice and light, but the downside is, this wood is ridiculously soft. No wonder they had so much sealer/paint/finish on this bass! (Oddly, the front also had a red stain evenly applied – I think they were going to go with a different color and then changed their minds at the last minute…?… Hm.) Regardless, I'm sure this bass will sound much better now, even if it is a little more fragile without the 1/4" thick finish…

Here's the bass body after being stripped of the old finish. If this doesn't look like Agathis to you, and you think you know what it is, let me know – thanks!

Stripped Bass Body Front – Agathis?
Stripped Bass Body Back – Agathis?
Stripped Bass Body Front – Agathis?
Stripped Bass Body Back – Agathis?

Next: dying the bass. I ended up going with a black dye. (I can't remember why I decided against the white?) It's still going to be finished with a light (urethane gel) matte finish though. I think it'll look great when it's done! (Seeing how soft this body wood really is, I think I'm going to have to apply two coats of the finish to it. I originally only wanted to do one coat, but I don't think it's a good idea with the softness of this body. We'll see…)

I used an ebony black analine water stain from Lee Valley and it was very easy to apply. You only need twelve hours between each coat, and after each coat, I rubbed it very lightly with #000 steel wool. The directions for the dye say you need to let the final coat dry for 24-48 hours before applying the finish, but after letting some intermediary coats dry for 24 hours, I think letting the final coat dry for at least 48 hours will be the way to go though. 24 hours for sure won't be enough.

Here are some photos after 3 or 4 coats (I can't remember how many) of the black analine dye. This isn't final though – after these photographs were taken, I applied one last, final coat of dye and I'm going to let it dry for at least 48 hours before I start applying the urethane gel finish.

Fretless Rosewood Fingerboard – Dyed
Dyed Bass Body Front – Agathis?
Fretless Rosewood Fingerboard – Dyed
Dyed Bass Body Front – Agathis?

(Oh yeah, I also dyed the maple neck black – it actually looks great!)

While letting the last coat dry overnight, I was starting to question whether I would need one more coat of the dye, but after looking at the bass this morning, I think it's perfect now as it is. 24 hours more drying time, and it should be ready for the finish.

Now that the whole bass (headstock, neck, fingerboard, body) is all black, it made sense to also change the hardware to black. I've decided I won't be keeping this bass, instead I'll be selling it (for a profit) as soon as it's done. It really is a great bass though, and I know I'll have a hard time parting with it once it's done, but I intend on using that money to make a new five string fretless bass from scratch (well, sort of). Hm. Naturally, I didn't buy the hardware I would have bought if I was going to keep the bass (which would have totaled $350USD) but I was able to find really good black hardware for the bass for just a little over $100USD.

Mind you, the bridge I ordered from AllParts is out of stock, so I'm still waiting to hear back from them on other bridges. They seem to be taking their time getting back to me though. Terrible.

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I also still have to figure out what I'm going to do about the electronics and about shielding/grounding the bass better. Since I'm not going to be keeping the bass, I'm definitely not going to spend another $400USD to put Bartolini pickups and/or electronics in it either. But at the same time, I'm not convinced it's necessary. The bass sounds great with the current pickups and electronics (just a tad bit noisier than I'm used to, and it does record really really well too… (When I finally sell the bass, I'm going to put up recordings of it for sure.)

My next article on this bass won't be so soon, but I'll update as soon as I get a chance – likely after the finish is applied and just before the new hardware is installed…