The Mill Rat is a Fender pattern electric bass. The neck and body were built by Warmoth. I shot the nitro finish with rattle cans, leveled and dressed the frets, and cut the nut. It weighs 8 pounds 4.3 ounces with the passive wiring. The components and finishing materials cost about $1,200 at retail.
A few of the choices I made in cobbling this bass together were inspired by specific basses I’d played over the years. The small frets were a nod to a vintage Precision Bass I played in a shop many years ago. That bass had an unbelievably smooth tone. It had a vintage sheen, as if it had been professionally compressed and EQ’ed, and it even sounded like it was being played by a professional! The only thing I could find that might have made that big a difference in the tone was those tiny frets. There was almost no fret clank, just a smooth, musical envelope, like a bowed double bass.
The pickup configuration was inspired by a fantastic Lakland 4-94 Deluxe I got in a trade. Not a bad sound in that bass, and the Music Man pickup had a bold clarity all over the fingerboard. I made that bass work in a variety of situations, and rarely needed much help from the 3 band preamp. As solid as a P-Bass, but a lot more versatile. Getting close to the perfect pickup alignment.
The other design departure from my usual exotic tops, was the absence of a fancy top. There are a lot of believers in the “one piece neck, one piece body” school of thought. I think it is one of several different approaches that can yield great results. I couldn’t find a one-piece body, so the two-piece body with a one-piece neck had to do.
The neck is a one piece flatsawn roasted maple Tele Bass pattern, with a thick ebony fingerboard and graphite stiffening rods. It has twenty-one small stainless SS6230 frets, and these little guys measure 0.080 x 0.037”. It has abalone face dots and side dots. It has Warmoth’s standard profile, 1 ½” nut width, 17.5 mm. tuner ream for large posts, and a straight 10” radius. I finished it in satin nitro over a couple of coats of amber shellac. I added a wooly mammoth ivory nut, polished to 2K. It weighed one pound 14.9 ounces after finishing, with no hardware.
The decision to use ebony for the board partly comes from my bass player's tradition, and partly from the fear that we may not be able to get it someday soon. This is a nice fat piece of ebony, black as heck, with just a few hints of deep brown here and there, in the right light. I much prefer it this way, because it tells me that the wood is not dyed.
The truss rod adjusts at the heel with a 7/32” hex wrench through the channel cut into the top of the body. This is a big deal to me. You can fine tune the relief in a minute, with just an allen wrench. The ebony board is a healthy ¼” at its thickest point. Warmoth puts out some really fine components! No affiliation.
The body is a Warmoth Dinky J, and it is two-piece roasted swamp ash, without my typical fancy pimp top. I wanted to keep the number of glue joints down, as well as the weight, and this unfinished body hit the weight I was looking for. I will keep looking for that elusive one piece piece body!
The rear routed body has four control knob holes, a ¾” side jack hole, and it is routed for a double battery box. I finished it in tobacco burst satin nitro, with the same SM rattle cans. It weighed three pounds 15.3 ounces after finishing, with no hardware. It has a black plastic control cavity cover.
For this bass, I decided to use a Seymour Duncan SMB-4D ‘90’s Music Man pickup in the sweet spot, and a Duncan Hot Stack Jazz Bass pickup in the neck position, in a similar arrangement to the Lakland’s Bartolinis. I wired it up without a preamp to see what it would sound like, and after a few weeks of serious playing, I decided to leave it passive for now. I have all the control I need immediately downstream, so I wouldn’t expect an onboard preamp to improve the finished product much.
Controls are neck and bridge volume pots, and a master treble bleed tone control. A neck coil/parallel/bridge coil switch (set on parallel) for the Music Man pickup is currently secured inside the control cavity because the mini toggle won’t mount in the larger sized hole in the body. I’ll install a Gibson style toggle in there as soon as I am satisfied with the other controls. The controls are CTS vintage style 300K audio tapers measuring 269, 268,and 265K, the cap is a 0.0223 715P, Orange Drop polypropylene film/foil capacitor, the jack is a Switchcraft 11. The knobs are walnut bonnets, that I still need to relieve so they will fit closer to the body.
The nickel plated Gotoh hardware includes Res-O-Lite tuners, a traditional bent steel plate bridge with the stock brass saddles, a disc shaped string retainer, and a square jack plate. The bottom surface of the string retainer was radiused and polished to prevent snagging or excessive friction. Dunlop strap buttons and a Philadelphia Luthier heavy neck plate complete the hardware. It is strung with D’Addario XL 170 medium gauge nickel round wound strings.
What can you say about a 34" bolt with a maple neck? It has a dead spot!!!
Yup, as does just about every other Fender pattern bass I've ever played. It helps to have realistic expectations! This bass has a fairly mild dead spot centered at the E on the G. This is a little more convenient location for me than the more common D flat.
In the same vein, the light body and moderately heavy neck make for a little neck dive. This is not ideal, but I can compensate for this level of imbalance.
Beyond that, I have nothing but glowing praise. The Warmoth components fit together perfectly. The fret work was probably useable for most guys out of the box, and it did not require a lot of leveling and dressing, but to play at a very high level it did need a little work. The ebony board was elegant, and it was polished really nicely. The graphite rods save weight, and considering that all of the Warmoth bass necks run a little heavy, I think they are worth any compromise compared to the steel rods.
Overall, Warmoth did a fantastic job, for a reasonable price. If you don't go nuts on the options, maybe do the finish yourself, Warmoth is not expensive at all and lets you zero in pretty well on most of the features guys want.
The standard, non-custom shop Duncan pickups are knocking me out, without a preamp. I've had some very good experiences with boutique pickups, but I have never had a complaint with the regular line Duncan pickups. The ceramic Music Man pickup has terrific fat bottom and strong, clear mids. It has a lot more snap and clarity than most other pickups or combinations I've been using. Really versatile with the tone control, and it shines when you mix in the Hot Jazz Stack to smooth it out a little.
The Hot Jazz Stack by itself is not very exciting to me. It is a little muffled sounding with all the low mids. It kind of reminds me of my Mudbucker days. It does do a good job of getting some of the modern glow off the Music Man.
The Gotoh hardware works great, and it is reasonably priced (and available) for lightweight hardware.
This bass speaks with clarity and authority all over the neck. A beautiful, clear, open voice. Nice bloom!
This project was not cheap (about $1,200), even with me doing frets, nut, and shooting the finish myself. As with all FrankenBasses, its appeal to me is partly in the agonizing over every freaking detail. This one sounds noticeably better than most, but some of that may be my honeymoon with another Jazz/MM pickup affair.
This one plays cleanly, with spirited plucking, at 4/64" on the G and D, 5/64" on the A, and 6/64" on the E. I can usually get the A and E a little lower, but I wanted to take it easy when leveling these small frets. The bass speaks cleanly at these heights, so I am going to play it for a while and see how it feels after a while.
I will consider adding a preamp, and possibly experimenting with some different bridge saddles, after a while. It sounds so good with the D'Addario XL's that I don't see tweaking for some time.
Here are some weights, including mounting screws and hardware. It reads pounds/ounces. Sorry for not converting to metric.
Seymour Duncan 90’s Music Man ceramic (SMB-4D) 0/7.5
Seymour Duncan Hot Stack Jazz Bass (STK-J2) neck 0/3.5
Three CTS vintage style 300K pots (268, 268, 270) 0/ Forgot to weigh them.
Orange Drop 0.223 capacitor 0/ Forgot to weigh these, too.
Switchcraft jack 0/ Forgot to weigh these, too.
Weight of the pickups and wiring harness +/- 0/15
Gotoh Res-O-Lite tuners 0/10.7
Gotoh traditional bridge, stock saddles 0/3.5
Philadelphia Luthier heavy jack plate 0/2.6
Gotoh disc shaped string retainer 0/0.2
Dunlop strap buttons 0/0.8
Gotoh square jack plate 0/0.5
Wood knobs 0/ Forgot to weigh these, too.
Control cavity cover 0/1.6
Battery box 0/1.3
D’Addario XL 170 medium gauge strings 0/Forgot to weigh these, too.
Weight of the hardware and strings +/- 1/7.3