One of the great things about building custom instruments is having a steady source of inspiration from customers. I always have a deep pool of ideas I hope to employ as soon as the opportunity presents itself, and when a customer brings an interesting proposal to the shore of that pool, then it’s the perfect time to dive in!
A recent example is Benjamin LeRay’s Headless Torzal Std. 4-string. His main requests for the bass were that it be headless and as light as possible. The neck is three piece mahogany/maple/mahogany, neck-through construction. It’s actually what I like to call “set-through” because the neck goes through the top of the body but the back of the body is solid across. The body top is spalted maple (very light), and the back is redwood. He originally asked about basswood or balsa for the back, and I talked him into this redwood. Along with being plainly beautiful, it is deceptively light. The fingerboard is cocobolo, and though it’s unbound, it has a thin maple purfling line below it. I carved a volute at the end of the neck, just to let your thumb know it’s at the end of the neck. The headpiece blank is brass and was supplied by ETS. I added the truss rod adjustment in the center of it and otherwise shaped it to fit, then had it nickel-plated.
The redwood has an interesting side story. I got it from my dad Jon, but it was once part of a Pacific Gas & Electric Company water penstock in Northern California. This from Jon: “The current penstock is steel and in the same location as the old redwood one. It feeds the Inskip powerhouse in the Battle Creek drainage. We were told that the redwood penstock was put in around 1915. Back then it would have been the Great Western Power Company, which was later bought by P.G. & E. The redwood was classified as “pipe grade” — the highest grade of redwood. Whether parts of the penstock were replaced over the years I don’t know. Can’t guarantee that all of it is that old, but I think it probably is. I’m sure the redwood would have come from the north coast of California. Humboldt County probably. We still have a pile of the iron bands that held it together and the iron fittings that sealed the butt joints where two boards met. Each board was 20′ long, I believe. They were staggered so that no two joints were together which made it a continuous 6′ diameter pipe. The contractor who removed the penstock cut it every 20′ with a chainsaw then lifted each section out with a crane, so the board lengths are random. You might look on the internet for ‘Inskip Powerhouse.’ There is a big salmon and steelhead habitat restoration project in that area and you should find maps and diagrams of the water systems there.”
Between the redwood, spalted maple, and mahogany, the bass itself was only about 4 pounds. The ETS headless hardware, Nordtrand Fat Stack pickups, and Aguilar OBP-3 preamp added a few more pounds, so the bass overall weighed just over six pounds. Because of the softness of the woods involved, I gave it an epoxy primer, followed by topcoats of my usual finish (Satin KTM-9).
The body is my usual shape, but tweaked to accept the headless tuners, and the upper horn was extended to further improve the balance as well as compensate for some shifting that occurred in making room for the bridge.
Along with this bass I also built a custom Torzal neck for a Tacoma acoustic guitar for Ben. Now that he has been gigging around France for several months with the bass, Ben has recently put in an order for a sister to the bass–similar shapes and wood combinations, but in an electric guitar (Torzal, with a head).
Ben & the builder