Tuesday, July 4, 2017

'Funky Munky'

The 'Funky Munky' sit-down bass is the result of a trade a couple years ago with my friend Carlton Gil Blythe, who lives in Ireland.  Carl wanted one of my cigar box guitars and a couple hand-wound magnetic pickups, so we settled on trading for an old but nice wood drum, a really cool spun aluminum racing disc automobile hubcap the size of the drum, and a couple other doodads. I knew the drum would eventually become an instrument, but not sure quite how.

Well, here's the 'how'.

When I say sit-down bass, I mean on a tall stool, or if your a little on the height-challenged side of life, you may be able to stand to play it.  It's a long-scale (34-inch) 4-string bass with John Pearce wound strings stretched from open-back gear tuners over a handmade rosewood bridge, from custom made rosewood/poplar combo tailpiece. From top to bottom, it's 57 inches tall.

It started with a 18-inch diameter wood drum, 4 inches thick, with calf skin stretched and pinned to the side.

The neck was an interesting pursuit. Much thought and doodling resulted in laminating five pieces of 4- x 36-inch poplar together in a sequence of 1/2" --1/4"--1/2"--1/4"--1/2", which provided for overall design. The scarf joint headstock is 2 inches wide by 9 inches long, and the neck is 25 inches long, tapering from 1-1/2" at the nut to 2-3/8" at the 22nd fret. Once I had determined the size and configuration that would accommodate hardware and be playable, I called on friend Art Richey at the local Carrousel Works factory to rough cut the wood to the pattern I wanted. I had pre-cut the center piece of poplar to allow for insertion of a 1/2" x 1/2" square steel truss rod, which worked out perfectly. The fretboard is a combination of 1/4" poplar and 1/4" Indian rosewood 30 inches long to allow for a 5-inch extension over the drum head, where the TotalRojo logo is inlayed. If you look carefully, you will see a threaded bar extending at an angle from the back of the neck. This 1/2" rod is used to attach the neck to the drum body, and to give strength to the overall build.

The headstock, which is 2 inches wide by 9 inches long is designed with two 1" x 3" openings for tuners. You'll notice the odd shape, which allows for the tuning machines to be properly aligned with the fretboard. Everything was done by hand from cut out to sloping the opening shoulders to allow for the strings to ride unobstructed over the handmade buffalo bone nut.

The horns and footrest were designed to add a little funk to the creation, otherwise it would have been a little boring for me. I hand shaped each piece from 2" basswood (another bit of help from my friend Art). The horns are for looks, but the footrest serves a couple important purposes -- it covers the end of the threaded support rod, and it carries a threaded insert, which can be used to hold a foot extension if someone wants to play it as a standup bass. Each piece is attached to the drum body with heavy duty screws.

Yes, each piece was cut from a solid piece of basswood.

Remember the threaded steel neck/body support rod? Well, it serves another important purpose, too.

Under the extreme pressure of the strings on the bridge, the skin top of the drum would collapse if it was not supported. I chose to create a 'shoe' that would slide on the support rod and fit snugly against the inside of the top.  It is held in place by nuts and washers, in the same manner as how the neck and foot are attached to the body.

The 'shoe' serves another purpose, as well.

Recessed into the 'shoe' surface below the bridge are two piezo transducers, which serve as electronic pickups to amplify sound through an output jack on the body to an external amplifier.

The custom made bridge is crafted from a 1/4" x 1-1/2" x 3" piece of Indian Rosewood from the same piece as the fretboard.  Buffalo bone serves as a string rest for the top of the bridge.

The 3" x 7" tailpiece is a combo of poplar and the same rosewood as the bridge. In order for the tailpiece to function properly, it must be able to move, so I fabricated a hinge that would attach to the body of the drum. I wanted something unique and different as the hinge, so I looked through odds and ends tucked in parts drawers and came up with a brass hinge from toilet seat.  Yup, straight from the lid of a shitter. A 1/2" dowel fit perfectly into the hinge hole, and once it was attached to the bottom of the tailpiece, we were in business . . . monkey business you might say, but it works.

Random shots you may enjoy.

So, where did the 'Funky Munky' moniker come from?

This entire instrument is a bit goofy, so anything less than unusual wouldn't work for a decoration for the headstock. I thought about a lot of things, but nothing rang my bell, until I was clawing through a bin of cabinet drawer pulls at the local craft store.  Out popped this head of a gorilla. Who would ever want a drawer pull like this? No one, I suspect, because there were many in the bin. But, when I saw it, I knew it was perfect for my bass.

Voila, the Funky Munky'!

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