The Creation of the Reverse Delgada 12:
First Act's First Custom 12-String Bass

By Philip Snyder

Everything has a beginning... a spark that sets a series of events into motion. In this case that spark was a visit to the First Act Guitar Studio in Boston, Massachusetts in July of 2007. The events that followed over the next 16 months resulted in the creation of the very first 12-string bass ever built by First Act.

Many emails and phone calls passed between myself, Kelly Butler and Bill Jancar at the First Act Custom Studio to hammer out ideas and plans for the design of this 12-string bass. Throughout the process Bill photographed his work, detailing exactly how the bass was constructed. Here are the details of the building of the First Act Reverse Delgada 12-string bass.

This is the first rendering I did for the Reverse Delgada 12 (note that it only has four strings). The idea was taken from an existing First Act design because it was important from the beginning that this 12 be immediately identifiable as a First Act instrument. The reversing of the body not only gave the 12 a unique look but would also help balance the bass. Kelly Butler approved of the design right away and so we dived directly into the details of the build.


The neck blank became the foundation for the 12 and determined that it would be neck-through-body design. It is 3-piece maple construction with walnut stringers and a graphite rod for extra stability. The routing has been done for the dual truss-rods. The adjustment nuts will be on the body leaving the headstock free of a truss-rod cover.



Then the headstock was designed and constructed. This design featured a more dramatic taper than the original concept drawing featured. The new design will insure that each string has good clearance of the tuners. This design is a variation of the First Act "Pompadour" headstock (shown in my original rendering).


A 1/8 ebony overlay was then fitted for the face of the headstock. Its undersized shape is to allow for the binding to be applied. White single-ply binding is installed next to complement the natural look of the ebony veneer. This was a feature First Act has used on many of their instruments and we thought it was a must for this one as well.



After the neck and headstock we move to the design and construction of the mahogany body wings. The extra lines drawn on the sheet show possible deviations from the original Delgada design that might better suit the reversed body. A series of pins in the neck blank will help to secure the body wings for gluing.


The fretboard is glued to the neck and clamped in place to dry. Once the glue has dried the shaping of the neck can begin.


Next the frets are cut to length and pressed into place. After the frets are installed they are dressed. The "circling sharks" inlays are another First Act design chosen to give the 12 a solid First Act identity.


The excess wood from the body is utilized in gluing the body wings to the neck.


The body contour lines are drawn out in pencil. All contours are carved by hand - no CNC cutting here. A lot of wood is removed during this process; one bad move can destroy hours of work.


The pickup positions are marked as are the bridge and tailpiece positions. The scale length is 32" but we wanted the string tension to feel and sound more like that of a 34" scale bass. This was achieved by moving the tailpiece back 3" from the bridge, thus creating a longer overall string length from tailpiece to tuner.



With the strings and hardware removed it is time to begin routing for the pickups. A pickup routing template is made to insure a proper sized rout and to protect the body. Note the large cavity created in the upper horn: Each pickup will have its own retro-style on / off switch.


To Part 2