NBD: Memphis (Matsumoku?) Precision copy

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by ATLbassist, Oct 12, 2016.

  1. I’ve always been a single coil / bright sound kind of guy, tending toward Jazz, Rickenbacker and Danelectro basses. But after scoring someone’s SX PJ project last year, I’ve been thinking about heading into actual Precision territory. (I have a Squier 50s P, but that doesn’t count.) Japanese lawsuit-era gear has become a point of interest lately, so I thought I’d take the plunge into both at once.

    I found a 70s natural/maple Memphis-branded Precision copy on eBay complete with pickup covers. I was really attracted to the grain patterns on the body. According to the seller, the body is maple, too. I looked at a few other threads here, but not too much information about these. If my research is right, it was likely made in the famed Matsumoku factory (it has an MIJ-stamped neck plate). If anyone knows more about it, I'm all ears!

    It looked to be in good condition, so I went for it. It arrived today! Here are some pics from the auction.

    30166410842_7c5fa06ee8.jpg Memphis Precision Bass copy by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    29985489090_dbedb9d9da.jpg Memphis Precision Bass copy by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    30166417532_9f340e5a04.jpg Memphis Precision Bass copy by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    30166412452_7ce3f9e3f6.jpg Memphis Precision Bass copy by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    The good

    The build quality is great! It feels solid and the body is definitely not plywood. The neck feels about the same thickness as the 50s P, but a hair wider; also very solid. The electronics work, and are surprisingly quiet. I thought I’d need to shield the cavity, but I don’t think I’ll need to. I may anyway, though. Even better, the truss rod seems to be working fine. Which is a good thing, as you’ll see…

    The wonky

    The action is sky-high.

    29985445930_30670e796e.jpg Memphis Precision Bass copy by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    Lots of gunk on the bridge. The threads seem way too tall. Brass saddles, maybe?

    30282035635_78398efcd5.jpg Memphis Precision Bass copy by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    Frets definitely need cleaning. Yuck!

    29985447660_45a9e3bd37.jpg Memphis Precision Bass copy by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    The pickguard is also lifting around the jack. When I put a cable in, it feels like it’s hitting bottom. Possibly related: the tone knob function is reversed (tone rolls off as you go clockwise).

    30166385972_7f853e2a6d.jpg Memphis Precision Bass copy by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    Next steps

    1. Straighten out the neck. I have a quarter turn on the truss rod; so far, so good. Another quarter turn later today should get it where it needs to be.
    2. Teardown and cleaning. Polish the frets (tape and steel wool, probably) and track down some Ronsonol to rub down the fingerboard; wipe down everything else with Simple Green. I’m also going to take apart the bridge and hit it with some metal polish. Hopefully the local Ace has some shorter threads for the saddles.
    3. Investigate what’s happening with the jack and the tone knob. I’m lousy with wiring, so my setup guy will have to take over here.
    4. New strings! It came with rounds – Rotosounds, I think. But I’m thinking of a nice set of Chromes here.
    5. Change the pickguard. Lots of wood and white is kind of blah, even with the covers to break it up. Tort might work, but then it would look just like my Jazz. Black also seems blah. Any suggestions?
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2016
    jhb138, Marshall Guiton, AGH and 2 others like this.
  2. Rib 13

    Rib 13 Supporting Member

    Jun 20, 2006
    Congrats! the fixes are minor and negligible -- the only thing that would be scary is the action, which sometimes indicates truss rod trouble, and i hope this isnt the case (the E and A saddles look set way too high )...........
  3. Looks like someone set the action to eliminate all fret buzz when using long arm strokes and a pick...
    Lower those bridge saddles and see what happens...
    ATLbassist likes this.
  4. Chico Ruger

    Chico Ruger

    Dec 11, 2014
    Western NC
    I don't think black pg would be blah. That's what I would put on it.
  5. shawshank72


    Mar 22, 2009
    First do a complete setup and see if the bass is in need of a shim.
    If so put one one in, if not play the hell out of it.
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  6. That's a pretty good-looking bass. I'd have bought it, too. But the bridge setup, egads. It probably just needs the neck straightened out and a bit of a shim. Good looking instrument, tho.
    ATLbassist likes this.
  7. Good news - the setup worked. The neck straightened out well, so no problems after dropping the saddles down. No shimming necessary. There are a couple of dead spots at the very top of the neck, but I'm not really concerned as I don't venture up there very often. The set screws are just too long (unless you want to have upright-like action). Compared with an MIM Jazz bridge:

    30264185066_18f22f656e.jpg Memphis Precision Bass tear down by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    I think I'll swap in the set screws from the MIM bridge. I might swap the mounting screws, too. I started the teardown last night and found that the stock bridge screws are pretty small. Would this affect stability or tone?

    29668732844_dbe2ebcfce.jpg Memphis Precision Bass tear down by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    More oddities with screws: the ones in the tuners look like pickguard screws, so they don't make full contact with the backing plate.

    30175389052_8456124743.jpg Memphis Precision Bass tear down by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    No wonder they seem a little loose.

    29660460223_391996fb4c.jpg Memphis Precision Bass tear down by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    On top of that, the screws for the bridge cover are massive. I'll need to find some in the same size with a smaller head.

    29668731884_c2d6a0f1bd.jpg Memphis Precision Bass tear down by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    Cool kanji marks in the neck pocket. My friends in Japan say that 野本 means Nomoto - the inspector's name, I guess.

    29660603364_816d20c04e.jpg Memphis Precision Bass tear down by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    Now, the electronics. Turns out the lifting jack was because a wire got wedged between the body and pickguard, so I moved it out of the way. I know nothing about wiring, but exposed leads in the sautering spots doesn't look right. Also possibly something missing from the tone pot, which would explain the wonkiness. Any more eagle-eyed people want to offer pointers?

    29660460933_765a70f128_b.jpg Memphis Precision Bass tear down by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    29994496160_8e8786e967.jpg Memphis Precision Bass tear down by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    29660459683_6bb5508958.jpg Memphis Precision Bass tear down by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    29660601054_96c2afc919.jpg Memphis Precision Bass tear down by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    Looks like the pickups are mounted to copper plates so I can skip the shielding foil. They sound pretty good through my practice amp (Fender BXR 100) but I won't rule out an upgrade in the future. I'll need to hear how they sound with the Chromes through my main rig (Acoustic 370 + Ampeg 410 HLF).

    30255976556_44dc6f8a27.jpg Memphis Precision Bass tear down by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    After all that, I taped up the neck for cleaning off the crud. It's the Decatur Beer Festival this Saturday, so this sounds like good Zen work for Sunday.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2016
  8. Glad you're getting the bugs worked out of it. The bridge on my 84 MIJ Squier P has long screws for the A and D, as well. I presume to account for the tighter neck radius.
    The pick guard screws in the tuners there are interesting, as well. I imagine they must have been replaced at some point. Still a very cool bass, though, and a neat find. I love the wood pattern of the wood grain.
  9. Me too! I was really on the hunt for a Tokai Hard Puncher in white, but the pattern in the upper horn going back into the body really put the hooks in me. There's a nice birdseye-like pattern in the lower part of the headstock, too.
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2016
    PWRL likes this.
  10. cdef


    Jul 18, 2003
    FWIW, I believe the body wood is sen, also called Japanese ash (though it's not ash at all, only similar). The intermittent swirly grain patterns are typical. Sen was widely used by manufacturers in Japan in the mid-to-late '70s.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2016
    RSBBass and Groove Doctor like this.
  11. abarson


    Nov 6, 2003
    Santa Cruz
    Awesome acquisition!
    In the picture of the volume pot, it looks like the leftmost black wire isn't completely soldered (cold solder joint). Hit it with a soldering iron to make sure.
    You can rotate the 1/4" jack counter-clockwise (in relation to the picture above) which would prevent the black wire from trying to interfere.
  12. Most lawsuit instruments of the period are made of Sen, so that makes sense. It weighs just over 8 lbs; I'd expect a maple body to be heavier and the tone to be much brighter than it is.

    Thanks for the tip! I'll do that when I get the new pickguard (leaning strongly to brown tort now).
  13. JIO

    JIO Be seeing you. Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jun 30, 2010
    The Mission SF/CA
    musician/artist/owner - Gildaxe
    I have a '65 Teisco where the tone pot is reversed (full clockwise-bass/full counterclockwise-treble) I think it is common on MIJ basses from 60's-70's.
  14. The small screws on the bridge are fine - as long as the holes aren't stripped and the bridge isn't lifting, I would leave them. This is a great bass to learn about wiring and soldering.
    I would put a black pearloid pickguard on it.
  15. Sexy bass, 8lbs is a fantastic weight for a workhorse bass. Rotos/maple FB would give a nice snarly tone... esp with a pick.
  16. Sunday cleaning went well. All the gunk is off of the frets and the bridge.

    30258862482_ea5afb6606.jpg Memphis Precision Bass polishing by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    30258864892_01fbfe0d66.jpg Memphis Precision Bass polishing by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    30340133936_1a86cde969.jpg Memphis Precision Bass polishing by thaddeusthompson, on Flickr

    No hardware stores near me carry the saddle screws. They're 3mm with .5 pitch. Leaving as-is for now; if I run the bass with the bridge cover it really doesn't matter if they're too long.

    I replaced the oval-head tuner screws with round-heads, but I messed up a couple and one tuner isn't sitting right. I accidentally semi-stripped them, so I'll pick up some more screws this week and go a little more slowly. The mounting plates may be slightly bent; I'll need to check and possibly straighten.

    I also bought some sets of pre-loved flatwound string sets from the Classified section - two Chromes and one Ernie Ball. I'm also intrigued with the idea of a black pearl pickguard if the pearl is very subtle. Getting closer to the finish line!
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2016
  17. Eilif

    Eilif Grooving under the MDW runway.

    Oct 1, 2001
    Looks great!
    I wouldn't mess with the height screws no one will notice and if they work fine that's what matters. I've seen "Memphis" tagged guitars that are great and some that are complete crap. Glad you found what looks to be a very good one.
  18. Looking good! The frets could use dressing, but you may as well see how it plays when you put it together.
    The flats will likely have higher tension than the rounds that were on it, and you'll probably have to adjust the truss rod.
    I would take the truss rod nut off and give the threads a bit of lube.
  19. I'm a little concerned about this. I already have the truss rod pretty well cranked; I'm not sure how much more tension it can take. It's kind of surprising given how thick the neck is. I'll see once the flats are on. One of the guys from whom I bought Chromes also has a set of used TI flats. They feel pretty low-tension on my Casady, so I might give those a try as well.

    I've never tried removing any truss rod parts. Do you recommend any DIY guides? Or is this something best left to a tech (I'm going to ask him to look at the wiring, anyway).
  20. The nut just comes off when you rotate it counter clockwise. I've worked on a few basses lately which didn't have enough action on the truss rod - I tightened it as far as I felt comfortable and it still had forward bow.
    In both cases, I took a small flat washer, drilled out the center and filed down the outside, so it would fit over the end of the truss rod and within the cavity. I installed the washer under the nut, and when I tightened the truss rod, I was able to get a little more back bow out of it. This brought the relief down to the point where both basses are now comfortable to play.

    One of them is a P type bass with a pretty hefty maple neck.

    There are other methods to take care of too much forward or back bow, but this one will often do the trick.
    cdef likes this.