This article was originally printed in Bass Player Magazine which Chris (a.k.a. Bogdon Vasquaf) comments: “My greatest accomplishment is my Bass Player Magazine story in the January 2008 issue.”
Bogdon Box Bass
By Bill Leigh, Jonathan Herrera & Greg Olwell
It all started with YouTube. About a year ago, I saw a clip on the popular video-sharing website of a guy playing a 2-string bass made from a cardboard box and a neck that looked like a piece of wood flooring. My initial reaction of mild amusement turned to surprise when it became obvious that the box really sounded like a bass.
A few months later, I received an e-mail from Chris Badynee, the guy in the video. Badynee, who performs under the name Bogdon Vasquaf, initially built his cardboard bass as an alternative to renting an upright for home recording. However, the video of his homemade cardboard box bass had generated some Internet hullabaloo, so he decided to offer his contraption as a mail-order, build-it-yourself kit. The Bogdon Box Bass, which comes complete with a piezo pickup, weed-whacker strings, and Bogdon Vasquaf’s signature on the front, is unlike anything else.
“My box bass isn’t a replacement for quality materials and fine craftsmanship,” says Badynee, who has a healthy sense of humor about his product. “It’s a novelty that shouldn’t sound good at all.” To find out how right he might be, I grabbed some packing tape from the office mailroom and went to work.
Build It & They Will Come
As with any build-it-yourself project, assembly is a big part of the allure. The Bogdon Box Bass kit arrived in a box—no, not the same box I’d soon be building and playing—and came with all of the parts and hardware ready to assemble. All I needed were tools, adhesives, and about two hours of build time. I had to purchase wood glue and a hot glue gun, but otherwise I built it with common house tools, like a phillips-head screwdriver, wire cutters, and packing tape. An exquisite instrument built from highly figured woods it ain’t, but that’s part of the appeal. As Badynee says, “The Bogdon Box Bass represents a reduction in technology and a simplification of needs. It’s fun to do something that almost doesn’t make sense.”
The kit comes with some pieces prepared in advance: the neck is pre-drilled for woodscrews, and the box has printed cut-and-fold lines. I downloaded the manual from Bogdon’s website and went to work. I built the neck first, because the wood glue needed to dry overnight. It took less than ten minutes to glue and screw the three-piece neck together and less than two hours to glue and tape the box into shape, attach the neck, and get tuned up. One bit of construction was a little unsightly: Following the directions, I made a cut in the box top for fitting the neck, but the resulting hole left about a q” of space between the box and the neck, which I filled in with hot glue. It wasn’t pretty, but it held steady. Overall, this bass is pretty sturdy. The body is made from double-thick corrugated cardboard and was solid enough to survive multiple car trips and a few dings. Still, it’s cardboard, so I wouldn’t get it wet.
Using double-sided Scotch tape, I mounted the contact piezo pickup to the inside of the body, on the A-string side, with its output jack poking through the box near the string anchorage. The pickup fell off during our video shoot, so I cut open the box, taped the pickup back into position using packing tape, and re-taped the box closed. Problem solved. Badynee informed me that the kits now come with mounting tape for the pickup.
Once assembled, the Box Bass drew attention like a hot rod at a strip mall. It says “different” right down to the fake ƒ-holes printed on the box. Everyone, even non-bassists, had questions (usually starting with, “Can I play it?”). The bass’s approachable size, and the fact that it could stand on its own, made it so accessible to play that most of my colleagues found it nearly impossible to walk by it without plucking a note. The bass sits low, and I didn’t mind bending over to play for a few minutes, but for a longer run I was more comfortable improvising an endpin by setting the bass on a chair or a milk crate. The rectangular neck is surprisingly comfortable. The Bogdon Box Bass picks up a few statistical superlatives, too: It’s the most inexpensive and lightest bass we’ve tested, and it has the longest scale length: 45 1/4 inches.
Box? Bass? Both!
Though it’s basically a box, a stick, and some nylon strings, it really has upright-like tone and grooviness. I liked its warm, big sound and slightly blurry pitches. It sounded a lot like a gut-strung upright, which made it equally good for bluesy walking lines and hillbilly slapping. Unplugged, it wasn’t as loud as a “normal” upright, but it worked reasonably well with other acoustic instruments. Initially, having only two strings was limiting, but with a little experience—and simplifying my bass lines—I found the Bogdon pretty usable. (Chris Badynee notes that Bogdon will offer a 3-string version soon.)
The pickup has no controls or preamp, so you can simply plug the Bogdon right into your amp. The transducer does a nice job of picking up the bass’s acoustic, rubber-band-like sound. Since the Bogdon’s contact pickup is attached to the box’s side, it worked as well at capturing the string’s slap sound during some Johnny Cash-inspired boom-chicka-boom moments as it did amplifying the sound of my pants-leg rustling against the bass’s side. Even cardboard boxes will feed back at moderately loud volumes, but I could control feedback somewhat by turning the bass away from the speaker or adjusting the amp’s EQ.
A Boxful Of Good Times
The Bogdon Box Bass is clearly too novel and impractical to be your only bass, but it’s a terrifically fun instrument to build and play. It also sounds pretty good and draws plenty of attention, so be prepared to answer questions any time you leave the house with it. Even though it’s made from inexpensive materials, building the Bogdon Box Bass offered something richer, deeper, and more child-like than other instruments I’ve played: the feeling of being able to say, “I made this.” That’s right: With a few home tools and a little patience, you can make your own upright bass. For cheap.
Neck Three-piece white oak
Fingerboard White oak
Scale 45 1/4″
Weight 5.5 lbs
Pickup Piezo transducer, mounted in body
Hardware Nuts-and-bolts tuner
Strings Nylon weed whacker line
Nut Galvanized finishing nail
Finishes Packing-tape stripes
Made in My office
Warranty 90 days against manufacturing defects
List/street $74 + shipping ($33.87 to our offices in San Bruno, California)
Pros Fun to play and build, sounds good, and is cheap
Cons A little goofy
Bottom line It’s a box that sounds like a bass, plus it’s DIY fun on the cheap.
Neck Ten minutes (plus overnight drying)
Box One hour, 45 minutes
Total One hour, 55 minutes
Hot glue gun $14.97
Hot glue sticks $6.44
Wood glue $2.27
Double-sided tape $3.59