Building Bass: Part 1

Hello all,

Making music recently has been quite a slow process. I’ve got several tracks coming but have been taking advantage of the nice weather, something that is fairly rare for Manchester.

However my studio hasn’t been totally neglected. Music may have been slow but I’ve been working on fixing the odd instrument and improving my set-up to make things slightly easier for myself when the inevitable rain sets back in.

The largest job is the repair of my bass guitar which has seen better days. Although originally a simple scratchplate repair job, my ideas have slowly spiralled into making massive alterations to the whole instrument and it’s taking me quite a while to get everything up and running. So I thought why not take some pictures of the process, explain what I am doing and point out any issues I have as I go along. This could either go horribly wrong or work out well! Either way it will be a good learning experience and provide some content for the blog.

Before I get into the step by step process of the work I’m doing to my bass I thought I’d give a little history behind it to add some dramatic weight to it.
I purchased this bass in college from a close friend of mine who currently plays guitar for some of my tracks. It had already seen a few battles; being used in a high school punk band and it had seen several repair jobs after being thrown around and battered. Over the years I’ve had friends draw on it, stickers added to it and it’s become a part of my life. In college I would jam with friends using it and over time it’s become a regular staple of my composition process. I find it incredibly comfortable to sit on my couch in the evenings and just play around with it, this has resulted in the basis of several tracks when I have moved the ideas onto other instruments. All this nostalgia gives this instrument great sentimental value for me, far above its cost.

Over time, though, its really not been good enough to use in production. The low quality electronics, and the fact that there was no shielding, left a background hum which made it unusable on most recorded tracks and this inspired me to think about replacing the electronics way before the scratch plate broke.

Then one day someone left the bass plugged in and resting against a wall. When, inevitably, it fell over, the jack lead put too much stress on the scratch plate and pulled the jack plug out of the bass, along with half the scratch plate.

At first I was annoyed, then I decided to use it as an opportunity to turn it into an instrument I could use, not just when jamming but as something I can record with. So over the past half year I have been ruminating over what I want to do with the bass and how I should do it.
As time has gone on the project has become more intensive, but finally I got the parts needed and have the time to work on it. So here’s the detailed set up of what I want to do.

The Set Up.

So the aim is to turn my P bass into a PJ bass, adding a jazz bass pickup to the bridge position, replacing the jack plug with a third pot and moving the jack to the bottom of the bass as I have never liked the position of the jack into the scratch plate. I also aim to replace the scratch plate with a metal one, rewire the electronics with new pots and screen the cavities in the bass.

As you can see this is quite a big job. The part I’m most worried about is carving out a new hole in the bridge position for the jazz bass pickup to fit inside and drilling a hole for the jack lead as I will, for obvious reasons, only get one chance to achieve this.

The first thing to do was to go to several shops and look at PJ bass pickup positioning before I asked someone to carve a hole into my bass. There is plenty of information online about how the effect of pickup configuration will affect the tone; but to simplify things, the closer to the bridge the more treble and as you go further towards the centre position the sound will be deeper. Looking at many of the Fender style PJ bass, they tend to have the jazz bass pickup halfway between the bridge and the central P bass pickup, so I have decided to stick to this tried and tested method.

After measuring up in some shops I decided that the centre of the jazz bass pickup should go exactly between the top of the P bass pickup and the top of the bridge. I marked these out and then used the pickup cover as a template to draw around to give my friend the knowledge of where to cut with his router. Here are some pics of me doing this, which will provide a nice ‘before’ shot for when the bass is finished.

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