New body or pickups

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by bigdave13, Dec 16, 2012.

  1. bigdave13


    Mar 21, 2012
    Hey there... Just trying to get a bit of insight. I was thinking of swapping the body of my Fender Jazz to a mahogany or black korina body from Warmoth. I am looking for a deeper, warmer, fuller (not muddy) sounding bass, but I wonder if I would be better off upgrading the pickups instead... I typically play standard blues music, occasionally with horns in the band... I guess you could say I am skeptical the wood would make that much of a difference. Any thoughts? Thanks in advance!
    Big Dave.
  2. funkingroovin

    funkingroovin Conquering A-D-D,and all the other notes as well!

    Apr 19, 2009
    I wanted to test the 'tone wood' theory myself a while back. I installed the same p'ups/pots/bridges/strings in six basses having Maple,Ash,Oak,Blk.Limba(korina),Alder,and Mahogany bodies. They were all Jazz basses,and each had it's own like components so they could all be compared at the same time..

    What I found was...Plugged in,they were all so close as to be indistinguishable. The only one that was somewhat different was the Oak body,sounding a bit 'brighter' or 'snappy-er'. Unplugged,they had more pronounced differences,but when would one ever do an unplugged set with an electric bass..

    It's been my experience that I can find my tones in any bass equipped with my favorite p'ups,the tone wood theory applies more to acoustic instruments...I'm sure there will be those who argue my findings,but hey..this is just my two cents about what I've noticed.
  3. bigdave13


    Mar 21, 2012
    Wow... Lol., I was hoping for someone to just chime in with a note or two of experience. But first reply, I get a scientific comparison with constants and control! Thanks so much for sharing! I make no claim to have a great ear, so I am sure the differences would be imperceptible to me, as well... To be honest, I figured as much... I am trying to organize p'ups options now, to find that which would suit my needs... Full, distinct, etc., vintage-esque. I keep going back to the rio grandes, but I fear I am getting sucked into Texas Blues marketing... Thanks again for your reply...
  4. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru.......... Supporting Member

    I'd start by using your amp's EQ and maybe different speaker cabinets, really.
  5. Mickey Mao

    Mickey Mao

    Jun 7, 2011
    SF Bay Area
    While I agree that pickups matter more for the sound than the wood, I would start even simpler---with the strings. What kind of strings are you using now? If you're using roundwounds, a change to pressurewound or flatwounds might give you the tone you're looking for.
  6. bigdave13


    Mar 21, 2012
    Thanks guys. I do indeed use flats. I'm happy with them. Overall, I am not totally disgruntled with the sound. It is just, how can I say this, "forgettable." I was hoping to reignite a thicker, fuller, un-muddy sound. Gear wise, I've been using a Trace Elliot head and a 15" cabinet. I can also run a pair of 10" speakers, but is isn't a bi-amp situation. Just more speakers...
  7. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru.......... Supporting Member

    With this information in hand I say try a different amp/speaker setup.
  8. funkingroovin

    funkingroovin Conquering A-D-D,and all the other notes as well!

    Apr 19, 2009
    As Mickey said,strings would be the easiest and cheapest route to a different sound. I'd suggest trying pressurewounds. They feel like flats,but offer a clarity more akin to rounds..not as bright in the highs as rounds,and not as muddy as flats,if that makes any sense.
  9. bigdave13


    Mar 21, 2012
    It does make sense... Eliminate the obvious/cheapest thing first... I've never tried pressure wounds, but I'll give them a shot first... Thanks for the advice, guys... Maybe I'll bring the bass into guitar center and try the various amp/combos they have... If things are drastically different, I can lean that route, as was suggested as well...
  10. Bongolation


    Nov 9, 2001
    No Bogus Endorsements
    If you're already using flats, I don't think a pickup swap is going to make the slightest practical difference. My own A/B DI test recordings of before & after were virtually indistinguishable.

    I think more thoughtful use of the amp's EQ, gain and available volume will do a lot, as will a change in strings -- even between different brands of flats there can be a huge difference in sound.

    I think most of the complaints like yours I've read over the years boiled down to the amp being the problem, not the bass -- usually not enough amp and/or not enough understanding of its native tone to effectively work the EQ. A lot of amps have really screwy tone stacks.

    If all else fails, get a Precision. It seems the lemmings are running back in that direction these days.

    My own use of Js has always been limited to the bridge pickup being turned off and some treble cut off the neck pickup -- in other words trying to get it to sound as much like a P as possible.
  11. JTE


    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    P{lay the bass without an amp and listen closely to how the strings interact with the neck/body/bridge, etc. If the parts of the sound you don't like are there in the inherent sound of the strings on that body, then it's the wood. If not, go for pickups. I've had instruments that worked both ways. The two I wasted the most money on were ones that when played unamplified had the same characteristics that I didn't like when amplified.

    One was a ca. 1973 Precision with the heavy ash body- it was all attack and sustain, no bloom or blossom to the notes, and no warmth. I tried a bunch of different PUPs (the relatively new DiMarzio Model P, three stock Fenders from various years, and the factory pickup which I had Seymour Duncan rewind (just before he started selling pickups to retail stores). It also had a couple of bridges, and literally every string I could get my hands on as the manager of a guitar store. It always sounded like "London's Burning", but never like "My Girl" or "Soul Man".

    The other was the MIJ Jazz Bass Special Fretless I got in late '88. All nasal midrange honk, just like Duff McKagan (a sound I never liked), not good defined midrange- again several PUPs, different bridges, guts, strings, etc. When I replaced the factory rosewood board with a thick slab of ebony, it helped a little, but it only really got good when I ditched the basswood body and replaced it with one made of koa.

    I've had other instruments that sounded good amplified but not exactly what I wanted. But they had the essential character I wanted unamplified so I knew it was only getting the right pickups to translate the string vibrations to the amp. My Lakland Deluxe 4-94 was one with the Duncan/Basslines pickups which were a bit too aggressive for me, but the Barts I replace them with made it perfect for me. My Strat is a MIM Classic series that sounded exactly like a ringing Strat should unamplified- the stock PUPs were pretty close but the Duncan Pro-II set I put in made it again the perfect guitar for me.

    So, listen carefully to what it is you don't like about that bass's sound to determine if it's inherent in the bass or just a poor translation of the strings' interaction with the wood and metal.

  12. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    Good answer, JTE.

    That's pretty much my approach, too.
    As I've said before, I believe that a better set of pickups for your bass is analogous to a better microphone for your singer.
    Some vocalists require a mic with more midrange "hump", some sound better with a tubey-compressed treatment, some just need a "flatter" response mic.

    I choose bass pickups the same way, to compliment or accent (or sometimes, DE-accentuate) what is going on with the bass in the first place, apparent even unamplified. My walnut body/rosewood neck Precision was too harsh with several of the pickup sets I had in it, but 62 RI Fenders were really civilized and well-balanced. And, no the bass does NOT sound like a vintage alder bodied/maple neck/rosewood fingerboard Precision. It's super-articulate, but the 62 P pickups sorta rounded-off the harsh edges.

    And as to the strings...I believe that EVERY bass can be optimized to its BEST sound if you can just find the right type/tension/guage bass strings for it. I've had several basses that sounded very good with one kind of string, for example... my vintage P LOVES LaBalla halfrounds, but it sounded and felt like complete garbage with DR Sunbeams... which I put on a different bass and they sounded very good. But they weren't the right MATCH for that particular piece o' wood. Unfortunately, MOST bassists stick with one type/set/brand of strings through their continued succession of basses, and sometimes they match, but many times they come to the conclusion that "that bass SUCKS" bacause it didn't sound as good as all my other basses strung with the same sets of Rotos or flats. Too bad, it MIGHT not be the bass, LOL!! You just didn't try enough different strings!!

    Also,too many times, discussions on TB center around what has the MOST or LEAST influence on a bass' sound, and tomewood is always thrown to the top or the bottom of the list. But I think it's a mis-interpretation of the question... the body/neck woods give a bass it's natural "timbre" and no pickups alone will completely erase that. It's inherent and overriding. However, pickups and strings are the EASIEST things to swap out, (especially strings) to get the biggest change to your overall sound.

    It's all in how you think you're answering the question, whether you're ranking the components that are the most easily change-able (bang for the buck), or the structural components (body, neck, and to some extent, hardware) that are going to be constant and not refutable in their effects on the vibrations of the strings?
  13. Chef

    Chef Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    May 23, 2004
    Columbia MO
    Staff Reviewer; Bass Gear Magazine
    great, well thought out, well spoken answer.
  14. bigdave13


    Mar 21, 2012
    Thanks for the thoughtful responses, guys. Certainly says a lot about this board when I see how much time people take to respond. I'll let everyone know where this quest takes me...
  15. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009

    i vote for a second identical 15 cab; that should give you on stage all the fullness you'd need.