Saturday, February 28, 2015

Rikkers Build, Part 1: Choosing the components

A little background first - after some great success modifying basses (and having them modified) and trying one of their olive-topped 5 strings at the london bass guitar show 2014, I decided to get a similar bass built by Rikkers (based in Holland - http://

Rikkers go into great detail and apply great craft to their instruments, hand-winding their own pickups - their SwitchBucker units have a great USP - microswitches on the individual coils for superb tonal flexibility. Ferdinand has been making basses for 30 years, and his entire demeanour speaks of a quiet inner satisfaction in the work he does. He's a happy man.

So, it was with great anticipation I entered into the design phase of the project! Rikkers being in Holland, the guys decided to use facetime and general Apple-y tech goodness to consult: I'd already decided that I wanted the Bodyline - which I suspect is amongst the first shapes Ferdinand made when he started out. It's a great looking bass, balanced with a nice taper at the bridge and a great headstock shape. First order of business though, choosing the olive top!

Choosing the top

With enthusiasm and patience, Ferdinand showed me a huge hunk of Olive he has (part of a diminishing stock, apparently!) and proceeded to use a black outline of half the bass and a mirror (neat!) to show me potential tops: the eventual outcome would look slightly different as the wood is cut and then bookmatched.

Here's what I had to choose from:

I liked this one, it has lots of interest and a sweeping curve from the bridge end to the horns:

Ferdinand thought this one would be fun - it's got a frog in it!

This one reminded me of zebras:

And this one has very strong lines with interest on the wings:

Another interesting combination of shapes here - the bass almost has a sort of rounded triangular shape on it.

After some deliberation for a couple of days, I went with my gut instinct: the first one! The combination of sweeping curves in a V, combined with the interesting shapes on the wing pieces, had a Quality about it which drew me to it: I'm a strong believer that your initial instincts are often the best ones, particularly in visual stuff.

Neck and Wings...

Then we settled on materials for the rest of the build: I wanted a "nathan east" style sound - something modern, focussed, with plenty of scope for tonal variation (the OBP-3 Rikkers uses gives a lot here) - Ferdinand had great suggestions, and I did some research via some guitar builder websites: there's some excellent material out there on tonewoods and the kind of attack, decay etc they will give your sound. The bass is a through-neck, so the wings don't contribute a huge amount to the sound: the neck woods are the engine here. After reading about how ebony fingerboards help give a focussed tone, I decided on that (tips from Mr East there) - but what to do for the neck?

After some discussion, we went with a 5-piece laminate of hard maple, Ovangkol and Wenge: the headstock gets faced with another slice of that glorious olive wood.

Hardware and little touches...

We go for black hardware (I like the contrast) and top dot-markers on the edge of the board, but only one inlay on the front of the fingerboard: I wanted to have a single statement input into the bass. I decided to put some kind of celtic knot band at the 12th fret, in abalone so it would shine in the darkness of the ebony.

Frets are stainless steel (I hadn't realised you could make frets in stainless steel!) - a little extra as dressing them actually wears out a set of files! But the longevity will be a great thing: apparently the frets wear out strings, which is great.

In terms of playability, I went for a wide spacing: this bass is to be an all-rounder, with a leaning towards ease of thumb-work for funk!

All these items were discussed with the kind of open, friendly chat you'd want: gentle recommendations, agreement on good ideas: an exciting and engaging process!

How you pay

Rikkers take 25% up front, with the balance before delivery: in my case, this worked really well as I wanted to pick the bass up at the bass guitar show - and kicking the build off in time was crucial.

Next time: How the build progressed, and the updates I got while it was happening!