I present to you Billow, a prototype of my U-Bass design. The ukulele family are gaining much momentum and finding their way to peoples’ hearts. To be honest I chose to design a first U-Bass because I think the strings are so cool! I plan to design the rest of the ukulele family next, electric and acoustic alike because I just love these little big instruments!
In this project I jumped into new waters in many ways. I have not owned or played the U Bass before so I started out by reading a few articles on the matter. (http://www.ukulelemag.com/gear-reviews/gear-roundup-bass-ukes, https://ehomerecordingstudio.com/bass-ukulele/)
This was a great project because I got to work with a bunch of things for the first time; the neck through model, thin line type of body, an open headstock with violin peg head tuners, fretless design, UST piezo pickup and of course the Nylgut U-Bass strings from Aquila.
The design and role models
I wanted to do a pretty basic design for my first one and chose two instruments to study for the measurements and models. I studied the KALA U-Bass and Magic Fluke Timber. I started the design by drawing the 21,5″ scale and then brainstormed around it in various iterations.
First I was thinking to put steel strings on the U-Bass but decided to go with Aquila Thunder Reds for strings because they are quite traditional for the U-Bass but also the reds are made with a special mixture so they can be left a little thinner than for example the Thunderguts. I plan to definately try the steel strings also in the future.
Inspired by the Leonardo Guitar Research Project I chose to use mostly non tropical wood for my build. I chose cherry for the base of the body and added walnut veneer between that and the birch top. The neck I laminated from flame birch and cherry and the fingerboard is flame birch with cherry dust markings. The bridge I decided to make out of cherry because it is a bit more durable I think than the birch. Only the tuners are ebony this time around but that will most likely change in the future. I hear pear for example is fit for the job and a little softer on the headstock.
The neck was the first thing getting glued. It is the spine of the neck through instrument and so a good place to start.
The base of the body came next, I decided to make this first prototype thin line style to hopefully get some acoustic sound out of it as well.
Then on with the top and assembly of the basic blocks.
The headstock was then shaped and initial holes drilled for the pegheads. These were fit to size with a violin reamer.
Then planning and cutting the body shape and ”soundholes” actually the hole on the left is more a place to rest ones thumb when playing the bass.
The fingerboard plan and 12″ radius. The design on the fingerboard mimics the surface of a birch tree but in a cherry dust reddish tone.
The string hole placements. It came as a bit of a surprise to me how big the holes needed to be in the back to fit the string nots.
The neck finding it’s shape, I left it a bit on the thick side to better bare the pull of the strings.
Made a quick bridge to test some pickups and the setup. It was quite a challenge to string the thing first time around.
I decided to go with a simple UST(under the saddle transducer) with an endpin jack. This will only amplify the volume without any control on the instrument for tone or volume.
Final shaping and sanding..
And some more final sanding
The Finish, three rounds of Danish Oil.
With the busy front design of the U-Bass I chose to set the logo in the back. It will be interesting to see how the logo holds with the oil finish.
Rock & Roll, U & Bass
The hole on the left is there so the player can rest their thumb on the edge of it while playing. The design of the bottom of the body enables the bass to be played in the lap without slipping. The steardy neck gives support to the hand in the small instrument.
Future development ideas
Tuners – different options, ease of tuning
Design of the thumb rest
The design of the neck joint contour