NOTE: 22 additional photos and two sound samples of this instrument are available. Click here for information.
If you've ever wanted to learn to play the stand-up string bass,
this instrument is ideal for doing just that. If you learn to 
play on this simple doodle-bass, without any doubt you'd be able 
to walk right up to a standup bass and play it immediately -- even 
if you've never even touched a big standup bass before.

This thing is a LOT of fun to play. It has the same 40" 
string-length as a big standup bass and is perfect for noodling 
around and figuring our bass runs, slides etc. Unlike the big 
standup bass, you can even lay-back & play the thing. It cost me 
under ten dollars, all new prices, to build (I had a stock of 
various gauge weed-whip line - so the cost for a few feet of 
each gauge, off the reel, was just a few pennies).

Of all the instruments on my webpage, this doodle-bass is by far 
the one I find myself playing the most. It's rather addictive.

This doodle-bass is intended to be used for learning, tinkering 
and diddling and not in performance, but despite the tiny 
soundbox, it's sound is surprisingly loud and nice (see info
later in this article about electifying the instrument).

This instrument has four strings tuned (low to high) A,D,G,C 
(the A, D and the G being pitched exactly like on a 4-string, 
upright bass, while the C is pitched a few tones above the G). 
Anything played on this practice bass can be played on a standup 
bass --- although the key is different, the fingering positions 
remain the same. Another way of looking at it is that it's like 
the top four strings of a six-string bass. Later note: I see 
where Victor Wooten often plays a 4-string bass with this same 
A,D,G,C configuration which he calls a "Tenor Bass".

Whatever you play on this simple instrument can be directly 
applied to the standup bass -- same relative fingering 
positions, same fingering intervals etc.

The biggest plus is that it is a load of fun to play - very 
conducive to "inventiveness & improvisation". The smooth weed-whip 
monofilament nylon strings lend themselves very nicely to a 
"slipping and sliding" style of playing. Every bass player who has 
played this thing has been quite favorably impressed.

Click here for a sound sample of this instrument. The reproduction of this sample cuts out some of the lows, but not fatally.

- Four inexpensive regular guitar tuning gears (bass guitar tuners 
  are not necessary).
- 4' of straight, clear pine - 3/4" thick by 2  1/2" wide
- A few feet of .050", .065", .080" & .095" monofilament weed-whip line
- A discarded 7  1/2" diameter by 2  3/4" to 3  1/2" cookie tin 
- A small piece of 1/8" plywood. Old interior doors are a great 
  source of this plywood (for soundboard)
- A scrap of any type of wood to use as a bridge
- Four 1/2" tacks (used instead of a conventional nut)

I built two of these things in one evening after work. They're
very simple to make.

Click here for construction details.

- Buy the straightest, most knot-free piece of regular pine  
  that you can find (go at least one step up from "furring-strip 
  quality"). In reality, it's difficult to find a piece that's 
  absolutely straight. If there is a slight bow to the wood, I 
  suggest orientating this bow upwards, as the pull of the 
  strings will tend to cancel the bow. With these soft nylon 
  strings there actually is very little string pressure of the 
  sort that will bend the neck and my instruments show zero sign 
  of trouble in this area. Of course you can use hardwood, but 
  it makes for a heavier instrument.

- I know lots of folks would never think of using pine for a
  neck or fingerboard, but I have done so for years using nylon 
  strings and have no fingerboard indentation on any of the many 
  banjos or other instruments I have built. One banjo has been in 
  nearly daily use for many many years.

- K-mart sells the best weed-whip line --- buy the round type
  (they're starting to make square, serrated & even pentagonal 
  shaped line). I've used this type of line for all sorts of
  musical projects. Later note: Tru-Value stores generally 
  have such line in many different gauges.

- The more I see of conventional type nuts, the less I like them. 
  On this bass, four appropriately placed tacks serve the same 
  purpose and are a lot less troublesome. Just make sure they are 
  set at the proper spacing.

- Rasp/round off the bottom side of the neck and sand smooth. 
  It need not be rounded off too much.

_ The thicker weed-whip line won't fit through the hole in the
  tuning-gear post, simply drill hole bigger.

- Very little in this project is critical or fussy. I made my 
  bridge 7/16" square by 2  3/4" long. I try to make it so the 
  strings are about 9/16" from the fingerboard at the point where 
  the neck meets the tin body. Make the grooves for the strings 
  (especially the two outer strings) quite deep to keep them from 
  falling out of the grooves. I glue the bridge down. On my 
  instruments the thickest string (A) is about 1 1/4" from the 
  thinnest string (C) at the nut (2 1/4" at the bridge). Make all 
  strings evenly spaced --- a bit more than 3/8" apart (at the 
  nut). LATER NOTE: I now prefer to make the bridge taller, with 
  holes drilled through for each string rather than grooves -- 
  more surefire and less trouble IF you get the holes (& spacing, 
  string height etc) right (mock up a trial, grooved bridge first).

- Occasionally the thin metal of the bottom (lid) might rattle. 
  This can be completely cured by silicone-glueing a "full-sized" 
  disk of 1/8" plywood inside the lid.

Later note: Although I don't play any electric instruments, I have 
added a simple acoustic pickup (made from Radio Shack components 
for a few dollars) to this thing that make the thing play and
sound like a commercially-made fretless electric bass. It's loud.
Click here for information on very inexpensively electrifying the doodle-bass - adding a pickup.

Let me know if you build one. You'll be surprised at the results.
                     "VERSION #2"
          I just made a successful version 
          of this bass with the IDENTICAL tuning 
          configuration and pitch (& string-length) as a 
          big standup bass -- It's low end is quieter, but 
          otherwise it has all the qualities of the 
          version described above - the difference being 
          that it is strung and tuned EXACTLY like a big 
          bass (EADG). The "breakthrough" came in using a 
          larger cookie tin. The following short 
          description should enable anyone to build one:
          - The neck and tuning head/gears are 
            identical to the instrument described above.
          - I used a 10  1/2" diameter by 6  1/8" deep 
            cookie tin that used to hold 80 ounces of 
            cookies. Any similar tin sizes should do as 
          - Instead of four small soundholes, I used 
            two 1  3/4" holes centered 3  7/8" to the 
            right and to the left of dead center.
          - String gauges: E=.105"  A=.095"  D=.080" 
            G=.065" monofilament nylon weed whip line
          - Secure the lid onto the bottom using silicone
            sealant to help eliminate rattles. I had some 
            trouble with the thin metal of the bottom (lid) 
            rattling. This was completely cured by 
            silicone-glueing a "full-sized" disk of 1/8" 
            plywood inside the lid -- dampened all the rattle.

Click here for a photo showing this "late addition" (#2) alongside a conventional 4-string "Doodle-Bass" (#1).It also shows version #3.

            The small block of wood just above the tin on 
            the right side of the neck serves as a 
            "leg-rest" -- set this block on your right 
            thigh so that the G string is elevated & thus 
            not dampened. Later note: I removed this block.
            It wasn't that helpful.
            The yellow arrow in the photo points to where 
            a 1  3/4" diameter hole is cut into the side of 
            the tin (the African Kora routinely uses this 
            type of sound-hole). This hole is centered 
            1  3/4" down from the top of the soundboard. 
            Because most of the sound in this bass is 
            projected outwards, this hole makes it easier 
            for the player to hear -- especially the low E.

                       "VERSION #3"

Click here, for more recent information 
on turning this Doodle-Bass into a very effective 
ELECTRIC UPRIGHT BASS I bought a copper-bottom, 6 quart stainless steel cooking pot at the local Salvation Army for a buck (one handle was broken). This is the kind of pot you'd cook spaghetti in. I also found a length of straight 3/4" thick by 2-1/2" wide oak. "Version #3 is a marriage of these two items. It is strung and tuned exactly as with "Version #2" above, that is, exactly like a big stand-up bass. It's sound is bassier than "Version #2". Because of the high, existing "lip" along the top, inside of the pot, (which is ideal for holding a soundboard) I resorted to using 3/16" thick plywood for the soundboard instead of 1/8". The soundhole layout is about the same as with the "Version #2" above, except a bit larger & no side soundhole (yet). Not wanting the top of the neck to touch the underside of the soundboard necessitated making the hole in the pot a bit lower. This posed no problem, but it's best to carefully calculate string height, bridge height etc lest the strings buzz when the bass is fretted up the neck. A word about cutting the rectangular hole in the stainless-steel pot's side -- whew! My new drill-mounted grinding wheel didn't touch it! The grinding wheel was disintegrating quickly. I dulled several brand new drill bits (I know better - but was desperate for the hole). Surprisingly, a regular file worked without obviously dulling -- but was painfully (ie: too) slow. What worked best surprised me - I used an off the shelf metal cutting saber-saw blade. It took considerable patience and care, but eventually I had my hole! I filed it to exact fit. Getting the handle brackets off is a bit of a challenge as well. Because of difficulties cutting the stainless steel hole, and working the oak, this instrument took me four days of sporadic evening work to complete. #3 is really good-looking and about twice the weight of #2 -- This is not objectionable though. My digital camera broke, thus no pics are available at this point. I have real low action on this instrument and it plays as smooth as silk. ................................................................... A CRASH-COURSE IN BASS PLAYING - FOR FOLK (AND SIMILAR) MUSIC: With this type of accompaniment, the basic two notes of almost all chords can be played in "parallel pairs". Consider this example in the key of D (0 means play that string open - not fingered): nut G string :-------------- (Notice what I mean D string 0-------------- by "parallel pairs": A string 0---------5---- The 0,0 being one pair E string :---------5---- The 5,5 being another) key of D One "parallel pair" utilizes the open D string, which is played first and then the open A string (these two notes are repeated over and over in time with the music). For the other "parallel pair" in the key of D finger the 5th "fret" on the A string (played first) and then the 5th "fret" on the E string (these two notes are likewise repeated over and over). You see that these two "parallel pairs" in the key of D sound identical. The reason you'll find people preferring to play the "5,5" pair is because for certain tunes, the open strings of the "0,0" pair can sound too sustaining (ring too much). Bass players usually play the higher note of a "pair" first, the occasional exception being that when accompanying some 7th chords, it sounds better to hit the low note first (as is the case in "You are my Sunshine" - below). These "parallel pairs" are just the basic "1st & 5th" of a chord and are played over and over alternately - in time with the music --- but with a working knowledge of these few pairs (once you get a feeling for the sound of the pairs) it's easy to find other (ie "non-parallel") notes to play within chords. Short ascending or descending "Runs" at the end of one chord - leading into the beginning of the next chord are a great way to keep things lively -- as long as they are not over-used. "FRET" POSITIONS FOR BASS FOR COMMON CHORD PROGRESSIONS FOR THE LOWER END OF THE FINGERBOARD (see note about "frets" below): :-------------- 0-------------- :---2---------- :-------4------ 0-------------- 0---------5---- :---2--------7 :-------4------ 0---------5---- :---------5---- 0-------------7 :---2---------- :---------5---- :-------------- 0-------------- :---2---------- D G A Bm 0-------------- :---------5---- :-------------- :-------------- 0---------5---- :---------5---- 0-------------- :---2---------- :---------5---- :-----3-------- 0---------5---- :---2---------7 :-------------- :-----3-------- :---------5---- :-------------7 G C D Em :---------5---- :-------------- 0-------------- :---2---------- :---------5---- :-----3-------- 0-------------- :---2---------7 :-----3-------- :-----3--------8 :---------5---- 0-------------7 :-----3-------- :--------------8 :---------5---- 0-------------- C F G Am :---2---------- :-------------- :-------------- :-------------- :---2---------7 0-------------- :---2---------- :-------4------ 0-------------7 0---------5---- :---2---------7 :-------4------ 0-------------- :---------5---- :-------------7 :-------------- A D E F#m :-------------- :---2---------- :-------4------ :-----------6-- :---2---------- :---2---------7 :-------4------ :-----------6-- :---2---------7 0-------------7 :---2---------- :-------4------ :-------------7 0-------------- :---2---------- :-------4------ E A B C#m The above short instructions apply mainly to bass playing for folk, old-time, some basic rock and other types of music with definite, laid-down rules, progressions etc. There are many other vastly different types of playing. I'm not exactly sure what to call it, but I also very much enjoy just playing - improvising - inventing - to no particular song and with no "destination" in mind ---- if you're lucky, the instrument will sort of start playing itself - with often very pleasing results. NOTE Re "FRETS": Of course this thing has no frets - being fretless allows for full and unhindered slipping and sliding, which can make for wonderful sounds. By "frets" here I mean where real frets WOULD go - if the instrument had any. You can mentally imagine where these "frets" would be, OR you can attach 1/8" strips of white paper (cut from gummed address labels) to indicate exactly where your finger should go for a particular fret. If you do this, number the paper frets 1-8, which correspond to the "fret" numbers in the above charts. People learning the fiddle often use this paper fret setup with much success. Very quickly you'll find yourself not needing the paper frets at all. Distance (in millimeters) from the center of the paper frets to the nut (start of string): 1st fret: 58mm 2nd fret: 112mm 3rd fret: 165mm 4th fret: 211mm 5th fret: 263mm 6th fret: 341mm 7th fret: 416mm 8th fret: 451mm Here's a brief example of how to put these simple concepts into action (the first version using all open strings): You are my sun----shi---ne my on--ly sun------shi---ne open open open open open open open D str A str D str A str D str A str D str you make me ha------ppy when skies are gr---ay open open open open open open open A str D str G str D str G str D str A str And here's the same song, played using the 5th "fret" positions: You are my sun----shi---ne my on--ly sun------shi---ne 5th 5th 5th 5th 5th 5th 5th fret fret fret fret fret fret fret on A on E on A on E on A on E on A str str str str str str str you make me ha------ppy when skies are gr---ay 5th 5th 5th 5th 5th 5th 5th fret fret fret fret fret fret fret on E on A on D on A on D on A on E st str str str str str str

Click here for a chart showing how bass clef notes relate to the bass fingerboard.

A very effective way learn to play the bass is to simply put some 
music on the player, turned on fairly low volume and play along 
relentlessly. Some might consider this an "artificial" way to 
learn, but many of us living in the sticks, far from other 
musicians have little other recourse and have discovered this very 
effective and fun learning technique. This method works for a wide 
variety of instruments. Late Note here: Short of a personal
teacher or constant playing in a band, this method is THE way to 
learn to play! I have never had an easier and more fun time 
learning any instrument. The concept of "practice" doesn't ever 
raise it's disciplined head! -- it's just all fun. My personal 
favorite take on this method is a lazy one -- late at night I'll 
simply lay back on the sofa, bass body sitting on the floor to the 
right of me, CD playing in the headphones (cocked off a bit on one 
ear to allow hearing my efforts). CDs breeze by as I play along.

Click here for a chart showing simple 2-note chord positions for the bass

Dennis Havlena
Mackinac Straits, northern Michigan

* A few words about string length. I settled on a 40" string 
length largely because that is what's played most in this part of 
the Great Lakes. I've been trying to pin down what might be 
considered a "standard" string length, but have become very 
convinced that no such standard exists. Information from countless 
sources shows no general consensus -- with string lengths varying 
from 39-1/2" to 42"! In any event, this instrument can easily 
accommodate whatever string length you desire -- just slide the 
bridge forward or back.


A later addition -- about adding frets:

I know most bass players prefer frets. Frets undoubtedly make
for cleaner, more on-pitch notes, but I personally much prefer
the wonderful freedom of a fretless instrument. I so love 
slipping and sliding that I don't think I could ever give it up. 
Another advantage to fretless is that you can jump into any song 
without having to worry about retuning like you would on a fretted 
bass - so long as no open strings are played.

Having said this, a number of people who play fretted basses 
have inquired about adding frets to the doodle-bass. Because of 
this and to satisfy my curiosity, I recently very successfully 
added frets to one of my "#1" (A-D-G-C) doodle-basses.

In my mind, one of the big advantages of the doodle-bass is that 
it's string-length (and where you put your fingers for a 
particular note) is identical to a big standup bass. If you learn 
to play on the doodle-bass, you can play on the big bass.

Wanting to fully preserve this feature, a simple modification to 
the fretted doodle-bass's string-length is necessary.

With the fretted doodle-bass, I wanted to be able to put my 
fingers in the EXACT same position along the fingerboard as with 
the fretless doodle-bass to achieve the same desired pitch, so 
as to be able to pick up either instrument and play it with the 
same fingering & no mental or mechanical adjustments.

This means installing all the frets 9/16" closer to the bridge 
than where you would normally place your finger. Because of this 
"shift" in fret positions, the string-length has to be shortened 
9/16" - for an overall string-length of 39-7/16" instead of the 
40" string-length of the fret-less doodle-bass.

Because I converted an existing fret-less doodle-bass to a
fretted one, I accomplished this string-length shortening by
installing a paper-clip "fret" 9/16" from the former nut 
position. This paper-clip "fret" acts not as a fret, but as a 
new nut.

If I were making a new fretted doodle-bass, I'd just make the
finger-board 39-7/16" long.

If you don't follow all this mumbo-jumbo, I don't blame you.
Don't worry, just make the nut-to-bridge string-length 39-7/16"
& proceed to install the frets according to this table (that is 
calculated for a string-length of 39-7/16"):

Distance (metric) from nut (beginning of string) to:

Fret 1  =  56.22 mm
Fret 2  = 109.29 mm
Fret 3  = 159.38 mm
Fret 4  = 206.65 mm
Fret 5  = 251.28 mm
Fret 6  = 293.39 mm
Fret 7  = 333.15 mm
Fret 8  = 370.67 mm
Fret 9  = 406.09 mm
Fret 10 = 439.52 mm
Fret 11 = 471.07 mm
Fret 12 = 500.86 mm
Fret 13 = 528.97 mm
Fret 14 = 555.50 mm
Fret 15 = 580.54 mm
Fret 16 = 604.18 mm
Fret 17 = 626.49 mm
Fret 18 = 647.55 mm
Fret 19 = 667.43 mm
Fret 20 = 681.19 mm
Fret 21 = 703.90 mm
Fret 22 = 720.62 mm
Fret 23 = 736.39 mm

If you'd like to add additional frets, there are many 
computerized, on-line fret-position calculators on the internet.

After a good deal of playing around with this fretted 
doodle-bass, I can readily see the appeal of a fretted 
instrument - so much so that I'm inclined to pull the frets back 
out, lest I end up liking them. However, upon going back to a 
fret-less instrument, there was a strong sense of relief to be 
once again playing something that can be slipped and slid so 
effortlessly between notes. The sense of freedom is, to me, 
very tangible. Later note: I did pull the frets out.


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