Bass guitar kit build

I recently began playing bass again in a band with friends, and it's been super fun. It seems so easy, i think partly because we've all been playing our instrument (in my case with a large gap) for 30 years or so, but also because our two singers already have many high-quality songs in the hopper. As our guitarist said, "joining this band is like being born on third base".

I still have my '70s Guild bass and it works great, but it could frankly use a bit of repair. I like the idea of having a spare bass for a backup and something that has a different sound for different uses. I also like the idea of not spending a pile of money on a guitar, no matter how many cool options there are that i'd like to own. Also i also like to make things, so started to look at kits as a cheapish way to get a guitar without having quite so much woodworking.

One of our guitarists has a Harley Benton guitar, a discount brand sold through a shop in Germany, and that was appealing but i wanted to find something that didn't involve $90 in shipping cost. The more i shopped the more i wanted to find something that wasn't a P- or J-bass or Hofner clone, which make up most of the cheap kits around. 

I ended up with this P-J kit from Vibeworks Guitars, $207 after shipping.

the pieces of a bass guitar kit arranged on a wooden table

The kit included all parts, even some basic strings and a cheap cable to connect with an amp. The only extra materials are some solder for the pickup connections and whatever finish you want. It has a jaguar-style body and jazz-like neck, with the combo of precision split pickups and a single coil jazz pickup at the bridge. This seemed like a good option for flexible tone, and i've generally liked the jazz basses i've played even though the neck is a bit narrower than i'm used to on the Guild.

The wood parts were completely unfinished, so everything would need some level of work before assembly. The neck is maple and fully built with frets, markers, and nut already installed and prepped. The body is alder with everything milled and the primary holes pre-drilled. The body and neck are numbered to match together.

As shown, the neck comes squared off, since the most common headstock styles are trademarked. I drew out and cut it to a general Fender-like shape and filed/sanded it smooth. The bass had some milling marks and needed a bit more sanding, but probably less than 2 hours total before starting the finish.

finishing the bass neck, showing a jar of varnish and brush with neck propped up on pegs

The finish is some Epifanes spar varnish that i had left over from the earlier dashboard project. It was brushed on and wiped off to keep the finish thin and matte. The neck got 4 coats and the body 3, and the finish feels like smooth wood; not glossy, just a slight texture to it.

the bare bass body hanging from a wire after a coat of varnish

While the neck stayed quite light the wood on the body darkened a couple of shades with the same finish. I was hoping to keep a natural finish rather than painting a color, so i was happy to see that the wood looked pretty good.

This isn't part of the instructions, but once the varnish was dry i used some aluminum tape to add shielding inside the body cavities to help keep the electronics quiet.

bass guitar body showing aluminum tape lining the cavities in the body that will hold the pickups and wiring

As much as i like the wood finish, i also wanted something different with it, something a little funky to keep it from being too serious. I enlisted one of my kids to paint a cute thing with too many of something, and got this amazing character:

close-up photo of an orange and blue cartoon rabbit head with nine eyes

The assembly process was very straightforward, it can really be done in a couple of hours if everything is ready to go. I took some time to lube the tuners and break them in a bit, but everything seemed to fit up fine until i got to the bridge.

The stock bridge in the kit is the same as an average Fender Squire bass, but i really like the heavier bridge on my Guild and that kind of sustain, so i swapped the kit bridge for a Gotoh with brass saddles. It fit perfectly, but i realized that something wasn't quite aligned right. When using the pre-drilled holes and the neck in place, the E string was right at the edge of the neck by the 12th string. Either the neck was a hair out of alignment or the bridge holes were in the wrong place. At this point it was way easier to move the bridge, so i drilled new holes 1/8" over and the alignment is much better. 

In hindsight, it was a mistake to install the pickups first, and i had to move the p-pickups. With the fit of the pick guard and control panel, there's a very small window of fit locations, so the best approach is really to place the pickups there and let the pick guard determine the placement, since the pickup holes are also a close fit. As a result, there are 2 sets of many of the holes, but thankfully most aren't visible on the finished bass.

full shot of the completed bass, with all parts and strings

After assembly, the neck truss rod only needed a minor adjustment to give a slight relief for the strings. I spent some time getting the action dialed in as low as practical with the bridge, then the intonation and pickup height. It worked on first plugin, no issues with the wiring or controls. 

The tone is very good, with a little more meatiness and weight than the Guild's single pickup. The bridge jazz-style pickup has a bit of noise as all single coils do, but the split precision pickups are dead quiet. I've used the bass in a couple of band practices already and i'm really happy with it.