6 Oct 2012

Daisy's Story: How to defret a bass

Earlier in the year, I bought a new bass.  My normal bass is a lovely Fender Precision, but I've wanted a fretless for a while.  However, I don't really have the cash to buy one right now, and if I had, I probably couldn't justify buying another bass with it anyway!

So I decided if I could find a half decent fretted bass at a bargain price, I'd have a go at defretting it myself.  At Alfie's Musical Instruments in Brighton, I found the perfect candidate.  They'd marked the price down on this thing so much because, due to its unusual appearance, they simply couldn't sell it.  So for the "make me an offer" price of £100, I picked up Daisy:

I admit, to my shame, I initially tried it out as a joke.  It became clear quite quickly, however, that there was nothing - absolutely nothing wrong with this bass.  It's a Daisy Rock short scale bass, with Seymour Duncan designed pickups, and it sounds cracking!  Plus, with the short scale neck, it's really nice to play - easy as you like.

Daisy Rock, if you haven't heard of them, make guitars aimed at girls.  Now, personally, I don't see why that means they have to be shaped like flowers or hearts - there's nothing particularly masculine or feminine about a Fender Strat (though I appreciate the argument against, say, a B C Rich Warlock).  However, they've more recently moved away from the 'novelty' shaped guitars and have some really nice looking gear.  More importantly, they're lighter, with shorter, slimmer necks, making them more suitable for players of the generally smaller-handed female gender.  They're also very well constructed (being formed initially by Tish Ciravolo as an offshoot of Schecter, becoming its own entity in 2003).

So I had my bass.  Now to, er, deflower it!

What you need:

Clockwise from left: soldering iron; wood filler; flexible wood filler
applicator trowel thing; sandpaper (assorted); wood laquer; fresh pot of tea;
strainer; mug; screwdriver; pincers

The most important part of the toolkit, obviously, is the tea.  For this project, I chose the Thé Mélange Madeleine by Hediard of Paris.  It's a black tea, with aromas of orange and vanilla.  Great for any time of the day, but particularly for a quiet afternoon sit-down.  And for defretting a bass.

Now, onto the main business. The first thing you'll have to do is remove the neck from the bass (this assuming, of course, that you've got a bolt-on neck on your bass.  If you haven't, well, I guess you've just got to be a bit more careful with the paintwork on the body!

I was terrified about this.  Thought it was going to be a massive job, and that I was going to bollocks up the whole instrument somehow.  However, it really is as simple as removing the screws from this little back plate.

Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy

Once that's done, you're only dealing with the neck itself rather than having to wield the whole thing.  So now to remove the frets.  The ones on Daisy, it turned out, were held in place with these little teeth on the sides of the frets, so they just needed a good tug with the pincers to get them out.  Other makers, however, sometimes stick a blob of glue on the bottom of the frets to keep them in place - so if that's the case, you'll find things a lot easier if you heat up the frets with the soldering iron to melt the glue before pulling them out.  Don't be too rough with them - you don't want to rip a bloody big hole in the fretboard.  I managed to get away with a minimal amount of flaking around the edges of the slots in the end.

Apply Heat

If you can't get pincers, pliers work just as well

Once you've got all the frets out (bloody therapeutic, let me tell you!) you need to fill the slots they've left behind.  Get your wood filler and apply with your bendy palate knife thing, then when it's dried, sand down the whole neck so it's nice and even.  Coarse paper to get the larger lumps off, then a finer paper to get things nice and smooth. 

Sandy... oh Sandy...

Nearly there.  Wipe the neck down with a damp cloth to make sure you've got all the dust off, then once it's dried you can start varnishing. 

Do thin, even coats across the whole thing.  Take your time!  This is where the tea comes in handy.  Have a cup in between every coat.  I did four coats in the end, which is sufficient.  Some people prefer to use epoxy rather than lacquer, as this gives a slightly harder, glassier surface, which is conducive to faster playing and a slightly brighter tone.  However, Homebase were all out, and my bass playing ability wasn't really worth the drive to Wickes to get some. 

Once you've done, and the lacquer is dry, get the finest grain of sandpaper you can find, and give the whole fretboard one last going over to get it nice and smooth.

And there you go - your very own fretless bass.  I can tell you, the sense of achievement is marvellous, especially if DIY isn't your thing.  I'm the sort of guy who does a lap of honour if I successfully change a lightbulb!

In all her glory!

When it comes to stringing the thing, you need flatwound strings.  Partly because they make for a much more smooth sliding action, but also because roundwound strings, when they vibrate, act like a saw on the wood underneath, and you'll bugger your fretboard right up.

So to finish, if you'll please excuse my bass playing ability, here's a quick demo of what Daisy sounds like in action.  I'm over the moon! 

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