MY NAME IS BRIAN, AND I’M A BASS hoarder. I suppose it all started in earnest when I came to work at BASS PLAYER about 7 years ago. Emboldened by the constant exposure to killer gear and enabled by a steady paycheck, I began to amass a small army of axes. In hindsight, perhaps I went about it all wrong; while I could have simply saved up to buy something super nice, I instead trolled eBay and Craigslist in search of “ugly ducklings”—castoff instruments that weren’t being sold by their owners as much as they were being banished to the land of misfit toys (aka, my garage). Setting my budget for each purchase at around $300, I spent a few years adopting odd-ball outcasts, nursing them into playing shape with a few tweaks and a fresh set of strings. But more often then not, after just a handful of gigs and rehearsals, these new recruits were taken off active duty and left to languish in their stacked cases, ridden hard and put away wet as my attention turned to a fresh batch of basses. Today, I’m pulling three such basses out of retirement.
Realizing the honeymoon ended all too quickly with these instruments, I decided to spice things up by swapping out some hardware and body parts (nowhere near as gruesome as it sounds). Requiring nothing more than screwdrivers and hex keys [Fig. 1], these are the kinds of modifications even the greenest of tinkerers can endeavor to try.
Astute readers might recognize the mapletopped ESP bass you see here [Fig. 2, at left], as it was my guinea pig for testing a Lindy Fralin ’51 P-Style pickup back in December ’08. Though the bass is still plenty cool, I decided to treat it to a bit of bling—a Full Contact Bridge from Babicz [Fig. 3]. Though there was no real problem with the ESP’s stock bridge, I was intrigued by Babicz’s ingenious “eCAM” saddle design, which allows the entire saddle—rather than merely its set screws—to maintains constant contact with the bridge itself, thereby improving coupling between the bridge and body. (That, and I just thought it just looked cool!) To access the screws that attach the bridge to the bass, I needed to remove all four saddles—a step I hadn’t anticipated, but was no big whoop. Within minutes, I was setting string height via Babicz’s slick system, which uses a set screw o rotate the saddle drum, thereby raising or lowering the string [Fig. 4]. With the flatwound strings I generally use on this bass, it was hard to discern any significant impact on the bass’s sustain (increased sustain being one of the goals of this design). But the lack of palm-puncturing set screws jutting out from the saddle made palm-muting both sonically pleasing and physically painless.
To switch things up with two neglected Fenders, a Jazz Bass built from parts and a ’62 Reissue P-Bass [Fig. 2, center and right], I went for a somewhat more radical approach: neck transplant surgery. I’ve been on a years-long quest for the right P-Bass, and after installing a Leo Quan Badass Bridge and a Stellartone TonesStyler on my ’62 Reissue Precision (see review, August 2010), I knew I was on the right track. But preferring thinner J-style necks to the wider Precision necks, I felt a neck swap might be in order. Placing the P-Bass face down on a padded surface, I slowly removed the four neck screws in a crisscross pattern in an effort to minimize trauma on the neck’s screw holes [Fig. 5].
After using the same method to remove an American-made Jazz neck from a parts-built J-Bass, I fi t the P-Bass with the Jazz neck. With its plumper profile and narrower width, the Jazz neck turned my disused Precision into a brand new bass. Securing the P neck to the J-Bass, I suddenly had yet another Frankenstein Fender that I couldn’t wait to take out on the town. Though the sonic impact of the switch was negligable, it made the basses feel like two utterly transformed axes.
In future columns, we’ll detail such electronics upgrades as pickup swaps and preamp installation. In the meantime, dig out one of your own dusty basses and show it some love.