Adventures in Upgrading My Fender Sting

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Mike Yocum, Jun 10, 2010.


  1. Mike Yocum

    Mike Yocum

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2008
    Synopsis
    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.

    Thanks,
    Mike
     
  2. JTE

    JTE Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Mar 12, 2008
    Location:
    Central Illinois, USA
    Hmm... I've considered changing things on my Sting, but it just sound so good that I'm not interested in messing with anything on it. The 60 Hz buzz is a real problem, so I'm always on the lookout for a solution to that. The issues with the bridge in my experience have been over-rated by some folks. It of course depends on the individual bass, the condition of the nut, and most importanly, the strings. I'm using GHS Precision flats (45-105 or whatever their set is in that range) and my bass intonates fine with that set. Same with the DR Hi-Beams and the stock strings (which, despite FMIC's assertion, are NOT like any Fender roundwound I've tried).

    Thanks for sharing the process you went through. Can I ask how high your strings are from the body? Distance of the bottom of the E to the top of the body right in front of the bridge for example? That'll give me some idea of how much room the Gotoh bridge takes.

    John
     
  3. Mike Yocum

    Mike Yocum

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2008
    John,

    There's just a tad less than 1/2" between the body and the bottom of the E string -- about 31/64". There's about 7/16" between the body and the bottom of the G string. As I said in my post, without the bridge section from the Fender HMV, the Gotoh bridge would not have adjusted low enough under the G.

    Regarding buzz, there is absolutely no shielding on the black and white single conductor leads from the stock pickup. There is a chance that you could reduce the buzz by shielding those leads and grounding the shield in the control cavity, however I wouldn't expect miracles.

    Thanks,
    Mike
     
  4. coronado3

    coronado3 Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2008
    Location:
    Indiana, USA
    For those taking on this project, I put a Fralin SC shaped, split-coil pup in my sting and it fit perfectly... Hotter and fatter than the original stock pup.
     
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  6. Mike Yocum

    Mike Yocum

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2008
    I did consider the Fralin single coil split early on. I even called them and they said that there would be no problem with it fitting, just to let them know that it was for a Sting when I ordered it. While I am not unhappy with the Duncan Stack for Single Coil, having the pickup fit right out of the gate would have saved about a month's waiting tine on the project.

    I'm glad you're happy with your Fralin and your Sting!

    Thank,
    Mike
     
  7. mongo2

    mongo2

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2008
    Location:
    Downdashaw
    I tried other pickups to reduce noise but went back to the OEM pickup or use an SD Quarter Pounder in my SCPBs because I prefer their tone. I just orient myself and/or amp so the noise is minimized and then blame any remaining noise on the Tele and Strat players in the band. :)
     
  8. JTE

    JTE Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Mar 12, 2008
    Location:
    Central Illinois, USA
    Hmm... I like blaming the guitarist for noise!

    ;)

    John
     
  9. Decker

    Decker

    Joined:
    Mar 30, 2004
    I put a Quarter Pounder in mine and did not have to make any modifications to either the pickup or the bass.
     
  10. Orpheus55

    Orpheus55

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2006
    Location:
    Port Charlotte, FL
    Sorry to raise up an old thread, but I love my Sting bass and found the OP's post to be very informative and entertaining (and cautionary) I added a Basslines SCPB (from Musician's Fried) to mine with no modification or problemI've toyed with replacing the bridge, but never really had intonation problems once the neck was straigntened out. After trying severla pickguards (a black that scratched too easily, and a hideous black pearloid) I found a well-made brown toroise shell on Jeannie's ebay site and it looks fantastic (if not period correct). I think that time will be kind to these Sting basses, despite the odften maligned Stinglay.
     
  11. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2009
    hmm, you might be leaving on the wrong coil in single-coil mode. switching a stacked pickup to single mode should make it louder, not quieter. (the bottom coil actually cancels a bit of tone and output along with the hum.)
     
  12. jmattbassplaya

    jmattbassplaya

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2008
    Location:
    Just south of Atlanta!
    This was a good read :)

    I love my 51RI a lot, but I've been considering buying a new body for it that wasn't a slab. I hate to admit it, but it really does hurt the bottom side of your forearm after a while.
     
  13. bluesdogblues

    bluesdogblues

    Joined:
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    Albums:
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    Just found this thread and read it. Interesting. Me too have a Sting P, and annoyed by the 'single coil buzz' too, esp when I use it on Recording sessions. No way I can hide it from the engineer/producer, much less 'blame it on the guitarist' for the buzz noise :p
    Years ago me too considered in replacing the PUp with the Seymour Duncan's/Basslines. First I consider the SCPB. but I'm affraid it still a single coiled which won't make the buzz dissapear. Then I learn about their Stack Single Coil like Mr.Mike. But at that time I postponed the idea because my lack of information (I livein a country far from USA where misbuying something would be a big trouble).
    Now after I read Mr Mike's experience I became more scared. No way I can do what you do with your bass pu cavity problem.

    And then come the 'Fralin'... Now my questions are:
    1. Dear Mr.Mike.. How 'tall' is the Seymour Duncan Stack Single Coil comparing to the stock PU. If we don't do any change to the cavity? I strung my Bass(es) pretty high action so maybe I can get away with that. And the wiring that you say, can I get by with the standard hardware (pot etc.), unlike you that customize them?
    2. About the Fralin... Will 'the Buzz' dissapeared with this PU? And how is the sound like?

    Thanks in Advance and sorry for my English.
     
  14. lucas vigor

    lucas vigor Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2004
    Location:
    Orange County, Ca,
    Good thread!

    I have done some mods, but most of them are strictly cosmetic (and not period correct!) But I have since added a bridge cover and pickup cover (For later model Ps) and I have the Duncan quarter pounder.

    There still is hum sometimes, but since I always play with the tone rolled completely off, it's not a problem. This bass screams for flats anyway, and I often stick foam down under the bridge.

    I too would like to change the bridge, and most definitely the cheap tuners....and get rid of that crappy plastic nut for a bone nut or something else...then the bass would feel better to me.
     
  15. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2009
    if you mean the fralin split-coil version, then yes it will be silent; it will also be louder and stronger than the duncan stacked pickup (split-coils usually are).
     
  16. bluesdogblues

    bluesdogblues

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    Yes that Fralin PUp I guess... ('51 P-BassĀ® Replacements Single coil Split which cost $140.00 ea. in their website, CMIIW).

    If it fits right in without any modification to the bass, no buzz anymore & sounds good then I think I'll try it.
     
  17. bluesdogblues

    bluesdogblues

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  18. bluesdogblues

    bluesdogblues

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    So.. Lindy Fralin Split Single Coil PU vs Seymour Duncan Stacked Single Coil PU for my Sting P-Bass...which one you choose SOUNDWISELY?

    tks
     
  19. bluesdogblues

    bluesdogblues

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    Talking about eliminating hum, since I actually like the sound of my current stock PU,
    I read things about "shielding PU, cavity, pots/electronic etc with alumunium/copper foil to eliminate hum"... Will it work? I don't know, but if it works, then it's a cheaper solution I guess.

    So Now the choices are:
    Lindy Fralin Split Single vs Seymour Duncan Stack Single vs Shielding the stock....

    Any comment please?
     
  20. bluesdogblues

    bluesdogblues

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    Bump!!

    How about Lindy Fralin Split Single Coil Precision Pick Up +6

    How does it sounds if anybody know/have experience with?

    Thanks
     
  21. charlie monroe

    charlie monroe Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Feb 14, 2011
    Location:
    Buffalo, NY
    any fender bass will benefit from shielding. start here.
     

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