In the following discourse, I will describe my experience upgrading my Fender Sting Precision Bass
with a new pickup and a new bridge. I've learned a lot during the six months since my "upgrade odyssey" began and I hope it might be helpful to anyone who is considering a Sting or thinking about upgrading their own. Why I bought a Sting
Back in the early seventies, I had a Fender Telecaster Bass. Guitar folklore was not as plentiful and easy to access then, so I didn't know that it was a remake of the original Precision Bass. All I knew was a friend of mine owned one, Dale Peters of the James Gang played one and I wanted an affordable Fender. Although I liked its sound, the instrument was pretty heavy and I had to replace the single coil pickup once when I caught my E string under the top of the pickup while playing overzealously and destroyed it. I also liked its shape and Telecaster-style headstock and control plate (I'm a fan of subtly different instrument features). When I saw the Sting and played it, I appreciated the fact that its contoured armrest and ribcage area reduced the weight of the body (compared to my old Telecaster's "blocky" body) and that its ash body seemed lighter. Lastly, it was a nod to the old Telecaster Bass (long gone, traded in on my first Rickenbacker 4001). What I like about the Sting
Along with its looks and its two-toned sunburst finish, I liked the sound. There were lots of lows and edgy highs. What I (came to) dislike about the Sting
After playing the instrument for over a year, there were two things I didn't like about the Sting. First of all, I didn't like the bridge. While a two-section bridge is historically accurate, I often play up the neck and I could hear that it was slightly out of tune when I did so, because having one bridge section for two strings means you try to reach a happy medium of "in tune" intonation on each pair of strings, rather than correct intonation for an individual string. Additionally, the single coil pickup buzzed terribly in the presence of interference (e.g., light dimmers) if I took my hands off the strings. What I decided to do
I thought that upgrading to a new bridge and a new humbucking pickup would cure these ills. I received a Gotoh BB-3575-010 bass bridge as a Christmas present from my wife. Its description said that it was a "direct replacement for Fender American Series and early two saddle Precision Bass and Telecaster Bass." For a pickup, I chose the Stack for Single Coil (hereafter referred to as SfSC) from the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop, which reportedly is the same pickup that Sting himself uses. Pickup Replacement
I discussed my plans to upgrade my pickup here
. Some folks had told me that the new pickup would not fit, because the pickup cavities on a genuine old Fender and the Sting (which is a Japanese reissue) were different. However, others said that they had dropped Seymour Duncan pickups into their Stings or '51 reissues with no problem, so I decided to risk it. After numerous emails back and forth between Maricela Juarez of the Duncan Custom Shop and me on "Will it fit?" and "What if it doesn't," I placed my order. Well, it didn't fit. The routing of old Fenders and the Sting are just different enough on two fronts: shape and depth. I asked Maricela if she would remake the pickup with the shape I needed if I sent her my original pickup and she graciously said she would. When the new, correct shape SfSC arrived, I installed it and it fit shape-wise now, but not depth-wise. The Sting's pickup cavity was too shallow for this new taller pickup and the pickup hit the strings when fretting notes up the neck. Now to be fair, Duncan does warn about depth on its SfSC web page
that "because this is a Stack, make sure your guitar's pickup cavity has at least .81" clearance." But clearance where
, I wondered? Do they mean between the top of the body and the bottom of the pickup cavity or between the bottom of the pickup cavity and where the pickup should sit under the strings? The latter turned out to be true and perhaps understated. Additionally, the pickup wires went from two unshielded easy-to-dress leads to a shielded bundle of four leads and ground, which needed to be factored in with the pickup's height because it has to run underneath the pickup. I calculated that the cavity needed to be 1/4" deeper altogether. I bought an inexpensive 1/2" x 1/2" straight routing bit with a bearing at the top to guide it around the inside of the pickup cavity and routed down that 1/4" in three passes with the help of my dear wife. The cheap bit did a good job except for the fact that it left a small "lip" at the bottom, which I removed (mostly) with a chisel. I also needed to make the channel that the pickup lead travels to the controls and output a little more accessible to the larger lead bundle, so I used a 1/4" drill bit to carefully enlarge that area too. Believe me, lots of thoughts go through your head when you're removing that wood, including "What if I route too deep?" (I had checked for that) and "What if the router or drill slips?" Fortunately, with lots of preplanning and caution, none of these things happened. The SfSC now fit and was properly installed, with some adjustment room to spare. And the buzz was gone. Bridge replacement
I thought that this would be easy, but it wasn't. After I got the Gotoh bridge, I read here that some folks had installed the new Fender American Deluxe High Mass Vintage (HMV) bridge on their Stings or '51 reissues, like the ones they install on the new American Jazz and Precision basses. So I ordered one of those, thinking that it might be an even better bridge. It fit fine, however while attempting to intonate after installing new strings (D'Addario EXL 160 medium gauge, in case you wonder), I noticed that the individual saddles all needed to be very far "north" (i.e., toward the neck) in order to intonate and the G string still intonated flat with its bridge piece as far toward the neck that it could go. (An important point to note here: the bridge height adjustments on the HMV were all fine. Each saddle had a flat bottom, which allowed it to move down closer to the body.) I decided that this was an easy fix; I already had a bridge that should fit and I'll just swap them out! Not so fast. I swapped the Gotoh for the Fender and now had extra room to intonate, including the troublesome G string. However, two new problems arose: First, the G string's height could not be adjusted low enough. (Note that the original Sting bridge has saddles with fairly narrow diameters). The Gotoh saddle is completely cylindrical (i.e., no flat bottom) and has a larger diameter than the original saddles, which meant it couldn't go down close enough to the body. Secondly, all of the new saddles had to be so low that the height adjustment hex screws stuck well out of the individual pieces and would catch the side of my palm when playing (I play with a pick). While thinking of ways to make the offending bridge piece go low enough, my wife said, "Why don't you just try swapping the bridge pieces?" I really didn't think that would work; there is no way
bridge pieces from two different manufacturers would be interchangeable! However, since I already had everything apart, I decided to try it and -- what do you know? -- it worked. After some fiddling around, my "Frankenbridge" ended up with a Gotoh base and intonation springs (it needed the Gotoh's longer springs for the longer intonation travel) and Fender HMV length adjustment hex screws and bridge pieces with their respective height adjustment screws. The bridge now has properly adjusted height and intonation, plus the height adjustment screws aren't sticking out nearly as much. Pickup wiring
This part was more fun. I decided that since the SfSC had all four pickup leads (i.e., two for each coil), I would try some different wiring. I replaced the two original (and small) volume and tone pots with push-pull pots from Stewart-MacDonald with DPDT switches on the back. There are basically three ways to wire this type of pickup: humbucking series (the default), humbucking parallel and single coil. In my limited, non-exhaustive listening tests, I could hear little difference between series and parallel. (I'm not sure why; perhaps that's the nature of a stacked pickup. I have tried this same type of wiring on an American Jazz Bass I owned and could hear a marked difference.) I decided that the volume control's push-pull switch would control humbucking series (pushed in) and single coil (pulled out). There were definitely two personalities there, even though the single coil position had less output than humbucking series (which is to be expected). I also placed a treble bleed capacitor on the volume control for less "dulling" when the volume control is turned down. Additionally, I should note that I used 500K pots for the SfSC; the original controls were 250K for its original single coil pickup and generally 500K pots are used for humbucking pickups. After some research and experimentation, I decided to use a rather unique wiring on the humbucking series tone control. This wiring scheme was invented by Red Rhodes and used on the Peavey T-40 bass. It was also covered in Craig Anderton's great book, Do-It-Yourself Projects for Guitarists
on page 78. I won't go into greater detail here, but suffice it to say that it's a neat circuit that in my humble opinion is greater than the sum of its parts. So, the tone control's push-pull switch is Red Rhodes' tone circuit for humbucking series mode and standard tone for single coil mode (pushed in) and tone bypass for both pickup modes (pulled out). I have not only pretty much the original sound of the instrument but also a nice range of other options. A couple of last things to note here: the room required for the DPDT switches makes for a tight-but-OK fit in the control cavity and the control shafts are a wee bit longer than the originals, which causes the stock knobs to stick out a little. Although I haven't done it yet, I'd like to trim the tops of the shafts a bit, so that the knobs sit closer to the body. Am I happy?
Yes, quite. It was a long road with some unexpected twists and turns, however I'm very pleased with the way the instrument turned out. To the naked eye it looks just like a standard Sting; a closer inspection and listening reveals its differences. Would I do it again?
If you'd asked me a month ago, I probably would have said no. For most of us, it's probably better to buy an instrument we're happy with from the outset or experiment on something less expensive (some suggested the Squier Classic Vibe Precision '50s Bass). Additionally, I suppose the reason you buy an artist model or a reissue is to keep its vintage appointments. However, the changes I made were for playability and yes, I would do it again, even knowing what I know now. Caveats
The Fender Sting is not
exactly like an old Precision, even though it looks like one. There are enough subtle differences to make bridge and/or pickup refits harder than you'd first think. Now that you know this, make sure you tell your supplier that the part is for a Sting so that they can make it fit (like the Duncan Custom Shop did for me) or, at least, let you return it if (when!) it doesn't. One last niggling point: you can't take the pickguard off in hopes of your Sting ending up looking more like Sting's original because there is an extra oval wiring route between the pickup cavity and the control cavity, which doesn't look great and is normally hidden by the pickguard.