The Birth of Aradia (part II)

To recap from Part I, Aradia began life as an ill-thought-out project to build a new bass that would combine the elements I liked best from my two existing basses. I basically wanted something akin to a Precision bass, but with a mahogany body. The mahogany body, I bought from eBay, to find that whatever bass it had once been part of, its neck pocket was too small to accomodate a standard P-bass neck.

Eventually, after a year or so of finishing up a thesis, followed by nine months of being woefully underemployed (and therefore skint), I was fortunate enough to find a full-time day job. This meant I could finally afford to spend money on such frivolities as, say, other bits of a bass guitar, and back to eBay I went.

Jazz bass neck pickup

Not owning any power tools, let alone possessing the confidence and know-how to make the adjustment accurately myself, I decided to look for someone who could widen the neck pocket for me. Those who’ve read ASAMptI may remember my mentioning that the first featured artist, Chris McConville, plays in a band called The Bishops. When I asked around (well, posted on facebook), he reminded me that Alex Bishop, one of the guitarists from said band, is also a luthier, bulding beautiful gypsy jazz-style acoustic guitars in a small workshop in Deptford. So I took the two parts to him, and for a very reasonable sum he made the cuts that I was too afraid to make myself. While I was there, Alex also showed me the guitars he was working on, and we had a long discussion about different methods of finishing the wood – the man really knows his stuff – as well as where the hell this bass body could have come from. We suspected it had been taken from a short-scale bass, hence the small neck pocket, and was intended to have a two-part bridge – separate saddles and tailpiece, like a lot of Gibsons. (Incidentally, if anybody has any idea what it might have come from, suggestions would be more than welcome.) Still, I came back a week later to find he’d got a wonderfully snug fit between the neck and body.
No screws, no glue - that's a tight fit.

Now it was my turn. A few days later I amassed the assorted components – trickier than it might sound, as I’d moved house in between buying them and starting to put them together. Once I’d found everything, I set about putting the machine heads onto the head.

I decided to choose a slightly fancier option for these, after I came across a seller offering them in “black chrome.” Pretty, aren’t they?

I had memories of screwing Brenda’s machine heads into place years ago, and certainly remembered it being a difficult and sweaty task. I think I must have had a bigger screwdriver to hand at that time, or I’d forgotten just how difficult maple can be to work. Armed with only a gimlet and a relatively small, cheap screwdriver (my good one was at work that day), I’m astonished to this day that I didn’t completely obliterate the screw heads. (One or two of them are still a little bit loose though, I will admit. I’m just wary of going back to those ones for fear of actually obliterating their heads.)

The next major bit of screwing that was required (stop sniggering at the back, please) was the four screws that would hold the neck to the body. Alex had achieved a wonderfully tight fit with that joint, but sadly not tight enough that the neck wouldn’t have popped straight out once it was under tension. I only wish I’d asked him to drill some guide holes as well. I mentioned above that maple was a bit tough…driving four even larger screws straight into it certainly bought that fact home to me. There’s only so much you can do with a gimlet, and I did that much, leaving the screws to do the rest of the work.

This is not to say it’s impossible. Carpenters of the past must surely have achieved harder feats that this without the aid of electric drills, I told myself as I tried to ignore the pain of a screwdriver that seemed it would rather push itself back into my hand than rotate that screw through another degree; I mean, probably not Karen, but she’d have made a good fist of it at least.

It wasn’t long before I was trying to rotate that screwdriver with both arms, and once more concerned that I was damaging the screw heads. For the most part, they were at least moving – once enough torque was applied, anyway. I could feel that the screws weren’t quite going in straight, but they were getting gradually closer to the countersinks on the back of the body. A bit longer, I kept telling myself, as I wiped away sweat and winced at my sore palms (again, stop sniggering at the back), you’ve almost done it. If this works, these screws can be as buckled and chewed up as they like; they never need to come out again.

Alas, it was not to be. They were becoming harder and harder to turn, and there was one that simply refused to move. It sat proud and mocked me from the face of its chewed-up head, and I reluctantly realised I was not going to be able to do this by hand. I could loosen off the other three screws and remove those (another day, anyway: there was no way I would have picked up the screwdriver again that afternoon) but the fourth one just wouldn’t move in either direction. Time to seek the assistance, greater experience, greater wisdom and greater toolkit of my father. But this post is probably long enough as it is, so I shall tell that part of the story in Part III.


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