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Custom Shop: The Making of Orchid (Part 3)

This week, we continuing the series on the making of Orchid, a custom bass by Rick Toone. If you missed it, check out Part 1 and Part 2.

Trapezoid Neck Profile

Ebony facing is glued to the headstock. Next, the fretboard, headstock and contours are precisely shaped, including the patented Trapezoid Neck Profile used on these two basses.

We’ve all grown accustomed to rounded neck profiles, but in actuality a rounded shape is not particularly ergonomic. In contrast the Trapezoid Neck Profile provides plane surfaces for you to leverage your thumb or fingers against. Reduced effort allows your hand to relax.

Traditional hand tools are best suited to the complex and precise geometries of the neck. In sequential descending order: spokeshave, rasps, files, sandpaper.

Once the neck is dimensioned, stainless steel frets are installed, leveled, crowned and polished. Stainless steel lasts much longer than traditional nickel frets.

Body Building

Seven pieces of wood, in total, form the blank for each body. Resonant frequencies of these participating species combine into a single tone. One piece of wood forming a body would work equally well. Not better, not worse, just different.

Mostly, though, we do this for beauty.

Walnut adds a subtle accent between curly maple top and swamp ash back. Blanks are glued and clamped. Then planed flat in preparation for neck fitting.

Fitting the Neck

The accurately dimensioned and fretted neck is fitted to the body. The quality of this neck-to-body joint will significantly influence the tone of the instrument, as vibration travels from the long thin neck to the solid mass of the body. I like both glued neck joints and mechanical (bolted) neck joints. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. For this project, neck joints will be glued.

In a production environment, mapping and routing of body cavities for necks and electronics would be done by template (or CNC). Because these two basses are unique, however, this work is instead done by hand with router, drill and chisels. Essentially these bases are final prototypes. Based on Corey’s input and the evaluation of the NoTreble community, I will make templates for production based on which of the two scale lengths is more successful.

In these two photos we see the 32″ neck dry fitted to the body. The 34″ body waits in the background.

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