Digging into my $600 Frankenbass—
my new number one
instrument built up by Nashville
Fretworks around a body and
neck I scored on eBay.
We are creatures of habit.
Our lives, our jobs,
and even the places we dine
seem to fall into a routine. It’s
perfectly normal for us to sip
lattes at the same coffeehouse
on Wednesdays. It may make us
feel comfortable, and in turn,
hopefully make us “work” better.
But what if, after a long
period of time, you realize the
coffee you’ve been drinking was
not exactly right for you—that
it’s just expensive and what you
thought you should drink? Even
worse, what if you knew what
kind of coffee you wanted, but
couldn’t find it anywhere? I’m
sure it happens all the time, and
late last year, it happened to me.
I hit a wall last year. Not
literally, but musically. My tone
and my touring basses were just
not doing it for me anymore. I
woke up one day and I decided
to take control of the situation
by making a change.
Anyone who knows me
knows a couple of sure things.
First, I am an old soul who loves
tubes, WWII-era planes, and
would rather listen to the local
AM soul station than FM any
day. Second, I am a NAMM
junkie. I love just poking around
to see what is new and exciting,
and absorbing what I can from
new products. I don’t go to play
my “look-at-me” licks—I’m just
there to soak it all in.
With these thoughts in
mind, I started making a list of
what I really wanted in a bass.
I like a certain style, sound,
features, pickups, etc., and it
needed to remain relatively
inexpensive so I wouldn’t be
out a fortune (just in case it got
used for a cricket match on the
tarmac at Heathrow).
I started the search, and
before long, I realized that my
wants were not off the map—
just slightly off the beaten path. I
looked into existing models, but
they were either really expensive
or not exactly what I wanted.
I began piecing together this
Frankenbass, and after all the
parts were shipped to my house,
I realized I wasn’t really that
innovative—just cheap. But that
was one of the requirements.
My first requirement was
a slab-style body (i.e., non-contoured).
As if divine intervention
stepped in, someone
on eBay had attempted to relic
a slab body with a flathead
screwdriver—with less than the
desired effect—and he was selling
it dirt-cheap. One of the
requirements on my list was
that my bass needed to look 50
years old, so that was a win. I
could work with that.
Next came the neck. I
have always loved the thinner,
J-bass-style necks because
they’re fast, sexy, and feel just
right. The problem I was facing
with this type of neck was
with the Tele-style body I had
in mind—the big-ass headstock
would look, well, silly. And
if I went with the traditional
P-bass-style neck, I would just
be settling. I didn’t want that.
As fate would have it, yet
again, someone on eBay (who
had to be reading my mind)
took a saw to a licensed J-bass
neck and fashioned the headstock
down to a Tele-style.
Again, who would want such a
thing, right? That would be me.
The main parts were in-house,
so now I just had to get them
into the right hands to make
this all happen.
When you’re at the mercy of local stagehands or airline employees, you simply have to forget that your instrument could be a pile of splinters when you arrive at soundcheck.
I made a call to Shelley over
at Nashville Fretworks. Shelley
brought a ’75 P bass back from
the dead for me (more on that
in a later column), and really
understands where a player is
coming from. After a few conversations
and a few more parts
coming in, I was forced to sit
and wait, since he wouldn’t show
me the progress. Instead, he had
me wait until completion, like
an artist unveiling his work.
When the bass came in, I
was floored. Aesthetically, it had
everything I wanted. It was fantastic
unplugged, but the real
test came when I plugged it in.
My new bass is big, silly, wonderful,
round, and damn sexy.
It tracks well, and is now my
number one. This little project
of mine was a complete success.
Touring gear is expensive,
and when you’re on the road,
there’s no telling what can happen.
When you’re at the mercy
of local stagehands or airline
employees, you simply have
to forget that your instrument
could be a pile of splinters when
you arrive at soundcheck. That’s
what makes this bass so great.
Even with the luthier’s fees, this
bass came in at about $600 total.
I’m not the first or last person
to modify or have a bass
built. I’m sure there is a manufacturer
out there that is making
this bass to these exact specs
on the assembly line. Good for
them, but this bass is mine and
I can truthfully say there are no
others like it.
My front-of-house engineer
loves this bass, and I get compliments
on it everywhere. Yes,
it looks like a $15,000 vintage
relic—which was sort of the
point—but I’m not trying to
pull a fast one. I tell everyone
who asks how it came to be,
and even let most people play
it, unless they’ve been making
coffee. In that case, they have to
wash their hands.
Small variations in our
routines can lead to some
pretty big results. I went after
something a little different and
now have a new inspiration, a
new tone, and a new sense of
accomplishment. All that from
a bass? Yes! Well, that’s sort of
why we’re playing in the first
place, isn’t it? Don’t be afraid to
get exactly what you want, and
if “they” don’t have it, take control
and make it happen.
in the back of a tour
bus, awaiting the low-end
revolution. He can
be reached at email@example.com
coast is clear.