My Bass Guitar Self-Build Project

My amazing daughter presented me with a Harley Benton DIY Bass Guitar Kit recently and I finally completed the project to design and assemble it (with her help along the way). These kits are surprisingly well made and the bulk of the effort in building them was spent designing the finish of the body and shape of the headstock, after which final assembly was pretty straightforward. Here is a snapshot of what this very enjoyable family project involved.

The Guitar Kit

There are a few styles available in this range and mine was the classic Precision model. The kit itself included a finished timber body and neck (with a generic headstock that you can shape to your liking), along with a scratchboard and all the other electronics and mechanics needed. 

The instructions were also pretty comprehensive and very clear so there were no major issues to report with regard to assembly or functionality of the finished article, although the choice of online images showing what’s in the kit was surprisingly limited (as you can see above).

The Body

Our initial plan was to simply paint the body in a plain colour, perhaps a gold or silver, but we felt this would be too simple (and, quite frankly, boring) so we then tried our hand at rendering a partly concealed LEGO brick pattern, hiding beneath a cracked, plain surface. However, we just weren’t happy with how this was working out so we sanded it down again and went back to the drawing board, as they say.

My daughter then suggested we try our hand at hydro-dipping, which involves (spray) painting the surface of a large container of water and slowly immersing the guitar body into it, where the thin film of (spray) paint formed on the surface transfers onto the guitar as you insert it.

We decided on a 3-4 colour blue/white pattern for this and before applying our base coat, we first applied a few coats of basic white primer.

We then applied around 3-4 coats of our midrange blue base colour, allowing around 3-4 hours for each coat to dry and sanding lightly in between coats to iron out any blisters or excess coverage from the previous coats.

Next, after waiting for a relatively calm day, we prepared our impromptu outdoor hydro-dipping studio (not sure if that’s what you’d call it), which consisted of a plastic storage container large enough to accommodate the entirety of the guitar body at a shallow angle (so with sides could be covered in a single attempt), a selection of white and blue spray paints (but not including the base colour) as well as a wire coat hanger (no DIY project is complete without one of those)!

We also attached a short wooden plank to the guitar body so it could be cleanly immersed into (and out of) the water to maximise the amount of the body the sprayed paint would cover.

While this worked, to a point, and we got a pretty good effect on our first attempt, we realised that doing it outdoors caused the spray paint to dry very quickly and this caused a lot of blistering and poorly covered areas on the body, which needed sanding down afterwards (before varnishing).

We also felt that too much of the base coat, which we both really liked, had been lost in translation so we decided to re-apply a light coating of the base coat over the sanded hydro effect, which actually turned to be a masterstroke, giving it a beautiful knurly, marble effect in the end. A few coats of (sprayed) gloss varnish later (with 2-3 hours in between), the body was finally finished!

It also seems that, in all this excitement, we forgot to take a photo of the body at that stage of completion but don’t worry, keep reading and all will be revealed at the end.

The Headstock

The second major challenge was to select a suitable shape for the generic headstock provided in the kit. After some research online, I decided to go with something inspired by Van Halen bassist, Michael Anthony, who played a very nice Schecter precision-style bass for a time.

After failing to locate a template for this online, I took my chances with printing a cropped version of the above photo, multiple times with varying degrees of scale, until I got one that approximated the size of the generic headstock in the kit. After a quick trip to my brother’s house, to use his microfile saw and vice, I had the basic shape that I was after.

I then set about using my Dad’s old (wood/steel) files to smoothen and deepen the various edges and curves by hand, until I was finally happy with the outcome, which also turned out great!

After a few coats of (sprayed) matt varnish, the headstock was also ready for final assembly.

Final Assembly

Armed with the completed body and headstock, both of which had been varnished (with a gloss effect on the body and a matt effect on the headstock), we set about final assembly.

You’ll note the marble effect on the body that we mentioned earlier, which was achieved by applying (several coats of) a base coat, a single hydro dipping of both sides, followed by sanding and reapplying 1-2 light coats of the base coat again (followed by varishing). The remaining pieces needed for assembly were all provided in the kit (below).

The only real challenge we had during assembly was locating the pre-drilled holes for the pickups on the body, which had become invisible due to the layers of primer, base coat and hydro dipping. We solved this by fitting the scratchboard first, which helped us relocate the pickup holes.

We also had to clip a tiny sliver from the inner edge of the scratchboard, where it seemed a little too tight against the neck (where the neck was fitted to the body).

The Finished Article

While the design and finishing of the body and headstock took several weeks of elapsed time to complete (with various weather-induced delays and trial & error phases along the way), the final assembly of the finished guitar took just under 2 hours (including the tweaks above), and here it is!

I have to say, I couldn’t be happier with it. It’s exactly the look and finish I was hoping for and it plays and sounds as good as it looks, so a thoroughly enjoyable experience from start to finish.

Thanks, Kelly!