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Gretsch 5123 with weak E string - no solution in sight?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by AlexanderB, Oct 26, 2013.

  1. AlexanderB


    Feb 25, 2007
    Bought somewhat on a whim, and after a stumbling start my Gretsch 5123B is growing on me and I enjoy the unique voicing, the feel and of course also the elegant design. It is a nice instrument to pick up for singer songwriter stuff or general low key / acoustic music.

    However, the generally weaker E string and especially below third fret has rendered it almost useless with my band. And even if it is just an old rock/blues/jazz power trio, playing the lowest notes will cause me to almost drop out of the mix unless I REALLY dig in. So it is not a small problem.

    Having analyzed the problem a bit I have come to the conclusion that it the problem is neither P/U alignment, voicing or anything else. I find the problem to be fundamentally acoustic. When played acoustically and with my ear pressed against the rim or lid, the bass' output just really drops, especially fundamentals, on the low E string notes. Exactly as it does through my rig.

    To me it is almost un-gigable now, in spite of compressor, eq tweaking and hard attack on the bottom notes.
    Has anyone found a solution that works here? Some have mentioned re-aligning strings, move P/U up or down etc.
    Who has had success?
  2. AlexanderB


    Feb 25, 2007
    And no, it is not the strings, amps, P/U etc. I even had another one of these basses briefby before and that was even worse in this aspect.
  3. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    I had a 66 Starfire that had a similar problem. I still consider to be the greatest sounding 3 string bass ever made!
  4. Jeema


    Oct 27, 2013
    "it is not the strings"

    So you did try changing string gauges? That was my only guess. Sounds like something weird is going on with some bad resonance or destructive wave interference or something...
  5. AlexanderB


    Feb 25, 2007
    Thanks guys!

    I have seen someone replacing the standard bridge with Tru-Arc but I have no idea if the claimed improvement in volume and sustain will also help up the relative volume of the E-string.
  6. wvbass

    wvbass Supporting Member

    Mar 1, 2004
    West Virginia
    My 5123 has pickup alignment issues. I can very carefully align the bridge so that everything is even, but even so, the act of plucking the E string can pull it away from the pole so that the attack is lost on the lowest notes. Technique addresses this somewhat; a compressor helps more.

    Even so, it is a great sounding bass and a keeper for sure.
  7. GlennW


    Sep 6, 2006
    ^^^That would be my guess. The floating bridge floats too far to the left because the strings are pulled when played, and the E string isn't in the magnetic field like it should be.

    OP, do the notes on the E string warble...fluctuate in volume?

    There's a way to anchor floating bridges which uses pins in the top of the body and bottom of the bridge base.
  8. AlexanderB


    Feb 25, 2007

    Yes, I have also tried off-setting the floating bridge to better align the E string. While it has some (not much) effect on the weak sound, the G string that then is wildly offset still sounds even and full. I think that supports my theory about the weakness mainly being an acoustic/mechanical issue or the G string would hardly be audible during those conditions.
    By the way, thera are other basses with mis-aligned P/U but in those cases it seems the volume more than the tone is affected, if there IS an audible difference.
  9. AlexanderB


    Feb 25, 2007
    Further information. Detuning the E string a bit and playing the E on the third or forth fret does not cure the problem.

    There is no "strange" issues with the E itself, it is just weaker, lacks almost all fundamental and has very little "brilliance". The string itself is OK, just as it was on my other 5123B.
  10. Seems odd to me - I haven't had that issue at all with mine.

    Hope you can find a good fix - it would be shame on such an amazing instrument to have to leave it in the case when recording.....

    Best of luck,

  11. nshuman

    nshuman Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2012
    Montreal, Qc, Canada
    Well, I don't own that particular Gretsch model but I have an Eastwood Classic V with Thundertrons so this should be close enough.

    First, the issue you describe is easy to experience on that type of bass for very different reasons. I have seen it with my stock pickups, with the TV Jones, with various strings, etc.

    First, before going any further, I will believe that it is not the strings because it can happen with perfectly good strings. However, if you have Rotosound 77 strings on that, I'd say there is a high likelihood that the problem is the E string. That has happened to me many times with 77s.

    With that out of the way, the pickup alignment is not so crucial unless it's wayyyy off. On a bass with a floating bridge like that, it will be hard to get perfect alignment because it will change depending on the shape of your neck, the type of string, the action you want etc. You should however check pickup height. For thundertrons, you should have the following (All are from bottom of string to top of pickup housing, not screws and in inches): Neck: 3/16 to 7/32 at E, 3/16 at G. Bridge: 5/32 at E. 5/32 at G.

    Now, the bridge placement will be a big thing. When I first got my Eastwood, it was my first floating bridge bass and it took a LONG time before I could get it placed right. You need to get your tuner out and try and get a clean setting on your amp to get the tone just right and not just the tuning. If the issue is one that you can hear just acoustically, it is probably the bridge placement or the string itself. Try the adjustment washers on the bridge screws also, you will definitely have to rise or lower the E string to fix this. Of course, every little adjustment up and down usually means another adjustment side to side or front and back to correct the action and intonation.

    The bridge itself can also be an issue. I hear a lot of people raving about tru arc bridges and I am sure it will be an improvement over that adjustomatic one. The one that came on the Eastwood was a hoffner style one and it just made it a hundred times to get the sound just right. Going to a gretsch Space Control bridge helped a LOT. I think that while I would prefer a solid tru-arc, the space control one is what comes closest given that it is basically just a big metal cylinder. The space control bridge will also help with string over PU alignment.

    But, really, unless you have a dead string or some kind of really weird bridge failure, this issue is usually a result of the bridge placement and string heights, intonation, etc. It can take a LONG time to get it where you want it.
  12. Paul McCartney never got his intonation right on his Hofner apparently. But he seemed to get along okay anyway.
  13. nshuman

    nshuman Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2012
    Montreal, Qc, Canada

    Indeed, sometimes where you want it does mean perfect.
  14. AlexanderB


    Feb 25, 2007
    Thanks for the additional information.

    Having tinkered around with it a bit more it seems that detuning the whole instrument a whole step (DGCF) helps a bit. The open D sounds much better than the open E and the volume balance is better across the strings.
    Playing the 41 Hz E on the second fret still sounds "weak and dull", especially compared to the open D, but it is a bit better, it seems.

    This just reminds me a bit too much about another FMIC bass I bought sort of "on a whim":
    Hmmm. Next step is to try a set of different strings. And no, I do not use Rotos. Have tried them and was not impressed. Luckily the set was extremely short-lived and got dull and out of tune harmonics really fast.
  15. nshuman

    nshuman Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2012
    Montreal, Qc, Canada
    Make sure they are Flats :)
  16. AlexanderB


    Feb 25, 2007
    Flats? :eek: :rollno:
  17. GIBrat51

    GIBrat51 Innocent as the day is long Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2013
    Lost Wages, Nevada
    Bad slot in the nut? That seems to be the only thing that hasn't been mentioned. Also, pickup (and pole) height is pretty critical on a Gretsch, and it's not just a matter of turning a screw (on my Broadkaster, anyway). I had to make new shims to raise mine; helped a bit, but it has lots of other issues, too. As for the bridge, does the base sit flat on the body? Sometimes they need a little sanding. I wouldn't presume to reccommend a different bridge; I like the stock one. The Gretsch Discussion Pages has a good tutorial on pinning the bridge, if you want to do that; otherwise, lots of people reccommend bow resin to keep it from moving around. The only other thing I can think of, is what some others have mentioned; bad E string. Seems to be a fairly common problem with some brands, and they tend to come in batches. Good luck! :)

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