This was not a standard build by any means, it was the second instrument that this client commissioned; the first being a tribute to Michael Anthony’s Jack Daniels bass.
Both instruments are “Art Instruments” meaning that they are for display purposes only. That doesn’t mean that they are not functional by any means (we don’t do “props” at Moonshine)…
We started out with an inexpensive imported lightweight body and a maple/maple paddle headstock neck from GuitarFetish.com. To be honest I didn’t expect much but I was pleasantly surprised… the neck wasn’t the pretty maple (not that it mattered for this project) but it was straight and the fretwork was surprisingly well done. I’m not slamming GFS but at this price point it’s basically a crap shoot when it comes to quality. In this case, it worked out great. I recommend GuitarFetish.com to anyone who wants to build on a budget. Their pickups are exceptionally good.
The body is made of paulownia, a very lightweight wood that has come into prominence as a guitar body wood in the past few years. In addition to being light in weight it is also very soft (almost balsa-like), at least the wood that GFS uses for their body offerings. It is my understanding that there are different (species?) types of
some harder and more dense… I am new to using this “wood du jour” (swamp ash, knotty pine, sinker
wood, etc… Basically smoke and mirrors but that’s another blog for another day…) but I do hear good things about it. I purchased a red body thinking I would be ahead of the game when it came to the paint job but that turned out to be incorrect.
Years ago I painted someone’s Peavey Wolfgang in this style using nitrocellulose lacquer over the original poly finish. It came out okay, not my best work but it looked killer from “stage distance” and to be honest it was a replica of a beat to crap guitar and was never to look new and shiny.
This time was different because I was adapting a design based on a stratocaster guitar to be on a precision bass. While they look similar, there is a huge difference in size/details/etc… I started looking into the history of Eddie’s original frankenstrat. I thought I knew a lot about the guitar but the more I researched the more details and the reasons/events that were the reason for them blew me away… First, people have too much damn time on their hands and boy am I thankful for them! They made my life so much easier and provided me with all of the pictures and information I would ever need. I have learned more about this guitar than I will ever need.
I started by looking at the first version Eddie had which first painted black, wrapped tape around it and then painted it white. This was the guitar pictured on Van Halen’s first album. Later he added the red finish creating the guitar that started the “Super Strat” fad of the eighties.
What made this build different as well as extremely fun was nailing all of the little details that were found on the original guitar. I tried to get the paint job as close as possible including the “sloppiness” of the original build… It is odd to build an instrument and be intentionally sloppy especially dealing with being OCD (and a bunch of other letters…). The tremolo was a no brainer, I used an imported model that I purchased off of a popular auction site; again I expected crap and was surprised how well this thing was made and how good it functioned (it’s a bass, no dive bombs happening here). It was roughly a Stratocaster style design which meant the body would have to be routed so that the trem springs can be mounted in the back of the body. To insure that the tremolo mounting posts would not tear out of the body I inlaid a piece of oak where the posts would be installed. The Tremolo did not come with instructions/diagrams so I measured and cut out templates for the top and back routes (I may use this tremolo again one day). I filled the P pickup route and part of the route for the control cavity. I was originally going to add a strat output jack plate but this was one place I felt it looked better the way I did it.
I made a purposely rough looking route that would resemble a strat. Then came the painting process, I was careful to use different size tape to look authentic. After the paint dried it was time to distress the finish, I can’t stress enough how difficult it is making some look naturally beat up and worn… It doesn’t happen by dragging it down a gravel road or attacking it with a belt sander!
As for the neck, I cut a F*nder-isque headstock shape and added a lightly relic’d oil style finish, I also fabricated a brass locking nut.
I used a double Jazz pickup in the bridge position wired directly to the volume pot (with Tone knob…), the neck pickup and the five way switch mounted in the middle position are not connected. I used eye bolts for the strap buttons. The crowning touch on the body was the 1971 U.S. Quarter; Eddie originally put his there to help bring the Floyd Rose back into position…
The bass went together quickly and I was surprised how easy the bass played and how great it sounds, not surprisingly with the pickup mounted so close to the bridge the bass sounds super aggressive. A perfect Rock and Roll Machine!
Thanks to William Ritter for the great photos.