Bringing Life Back to a Rickenbacker Tuxedo Bass
This Rickenbacker bass was sent to us under some unique circumstances. The owner had purchased it online and had it shipped directly to us with the intent to refinish it and see if any fretwork might be needed.
The owner had this Erlewine Lazer, used by Johnny Winter, in mind as inspiration for the eventual finish when the project was complete.
Right off the bat, we noticed that the neck had some serious warping. You can see that closer the body, there is a pronounced dip in the fret board, and the entire neck seemed to be twisting forward.
Upon further inspection of the frets, we noticed a lot of discrepancies that we think were the result of a previous fret job and fret board replacement. Here, in the lower register of the neck, you can see that the distance between these two frets is 1.351 inches.
Staying within that same space but moving to the treble side, that measurement changes to 1.375 inches. Issues like this were evident all over the fretboard to varying degree. This suggests that these fret slots were cut by hand. Based on all of this information, it was decided that the fret board needed to be replaced.
There were some other issue noted as well, such as this crack in the neck. However, this had been previously repaired and was going to be covered by the finish anyway so it was nothing to worry abut.
We started by removing the frets and setting out to remove the playing surface. We do this by applying heat to release the glue and then gently separate the board from the neck.
Once that was completed, we fashioned the new board out of sugar maple. After cutting a new board and working it down, this piece is measuring 0.375", which is right where we want it to be.
One of the unique things about Rickenbacker basses is the scale length, which is 33.25". It is so uncommon that there is no commercially available template for the fret slots, so we had to find another way to mark them. We did this by printing off a 33.25" scale on paper attached it to the fret board here. We used this to ensure that the slots cut for the frets are spaced accurately and straight for proper intonation.
After cutting the slots we lined up the new board with the old one for the sake of comparison. The Two slots that line up here are the first frets. The slot on the lower, new board to the left is where the front of the nut should be. The end of the old board on top is where it was. This is another issue with the previous work that had been done on this instrument. This picture is also a great illustration of the importance of materials. The fret board we pulled off was flat sawn maple, while the one we created was quarter sawn. In addition to using a stronger species of maple, quarter sawn wood has much more dimensional stability and will assist on keeping the neck straight, which was also flat sawn coincidentally, and needed all the help it could get.
It also became apparent to us that the two truss rods in this bass had been worn out and needed replacement. We decided to give this instrument every possible option for strength we could to keep the neck straight so, we also added a carbon fiber beam down the middle of the neck.
We trace the outline of the neck onto the new board and roughly cut it down to size. This will allow us to glue it down easier while ensuring it doesn't end up being too narrow.
We then start sanding the surface to introduce the radius into the new board. We use radius gauges to check our progress. Once we have the proper radius, we will glue the neck and fret board together.
For this job, we glued the fret board on with epoxy rather than wood glue. Wood glue has a potential to introduce a little bit of moisture to the wood itself. While this normally wouldn't be a problem, the pre-existing issues of this instrument combined with the flat sawn neck made use stay away from any steps that could lead to issues in the future.
After the glue has dried, we started sanding the edges of the board to match the neck, we installed the new frets and drilled holes for the fret markers.
After stripping the polyurethane finish that had been applied, we then began the process of recreating the original all white finish. This bass is a Tuxedo bass, which was all white with black hardware. It was unique for this finish because it also covered the fret board. We used acrylic urethane for this finish because it is unaffected by UV light and will not yellow over time.
The owner had sent in one of his band mates to add these unique accents to the bass (inspired by the aforementioned guitar used by Johnny Winter) before the final stages.
Once the finish has cured, we have to go over each fret to remove the excess finish. We attend to each fret individually to ensure the best result.
After installing all of the hardware and completing a setup, we can now see that the playing surface is totally straight and the neck has much more stability for the years of playing to come.