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Overhauling a bass: Fun and functional

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by rojo412, Jun 2, 2005.

  1. rojo412

    rojo412 Sit down, Danny... Supporting Member

    Feb 26, 2000
    Cleveland, OH.
    I recently bought a bass, the 4th in my current collection. I bought it because it was a nice bass, but I also felt that I needed something to have and try some techniques on. You know, refinishing, dismantling, upgrading, the stuff you would never do to your "A" or "B" bass. The things you say "I'd never do that to my own bass, but I'd like to try it." If you have an opportunity to try it, I'd highly recommend it.

    The bass I bought was a wonderful candidate for such a project: A 1993 Fender Jazz Plus. The bass was quite advanced for its day. It had an Active/Passive setup, a preamp inspired/designed by Phil Kubicki, and was a sleek looking bass with a nice feel. Well, it did before whoever owned it beat on it, then sold it to a Guitar Center.
    I got it from ebay and when I made the decision, I knew this would be a "player's" piece (aka, it works, but isn't pretty). The pics looked bad, the description wasn't much either. When it showed up, I was actually surprised how good it looked, but was no show piece.
    When I sat down and played it, a few things struck me. Dead battery, first. Yeah, it worked, but it was in passive. When I stuck a new battery in, I was very happy that the preamp worked. It sounded really nice too. Scratchy pots, but nothing major.
    The neck had seen better days. It was nicked and dented all over. It was loose. The neck tilt was all whacked out. With some adjustments, it worked, but felt icky. The headstock had a minor, non-structural crack in it.
    The body had normal wear from thumbnails and mic stands and the like. The edges were dented a bit. The pickups were gouged nice and deep, there was no logo left.
    So, I ripped it apart.

    I started with the neck. I took it off and sanded off the back playing surface as well as the sides of the board. Took some elbow grease, some masking tape, sweat and tears, but I got the neck stripped. It looked much better immediately, showing more grain and figuring than it had with the poly finish. I knew I couldn't leave it bare, as the necks are prone to going out of whack at the drop of a hat. With guidance from the "Luthier's Corner," I found out what I needed to do. I found an oil finish that was easy to do and produced results, so I did it. Took a lot of coats, patience, and time, but it looks and feels better than any Fender factory finished neck I've ever played. Still working on a few other projects with it, may get it refretted while I'm at it, but it's gone great so far.

    Earlier tonight, I got a bug up my butt to rip the body components off. I wanted to do something with the body while waiting for the neck to cure and parts to come in. The pickups didn't sit well anyway, the bridge looked bad, so I just did it. Cut the preamp out, jack out, pickups out, bridge off, everything on the table. I looked at the bare body and the wear that was near or under the other parts looked bad, but fixable. I almost stripped it of its paint, but figured that could wait. I may have run into a nasty bodywood selection, so I just decided to try a few things.
    First, I tried some aluminum polish on the thumb wear. (If you don't know, it's awsome stuff, cheap, easy to use, and read on). It didn't do much, as the wear was pretty deep for a mild abrasive. So I looked on Talkbass again and saw that wet sanding was the way to go.
    If you haven't done it, it's basically wetting the clearcoat with a few drops of water, then sanding it using fine paper. I used 1200 grit. It also took effort, but was easy. I smoothed out the clear coat, satinizing it essentially, then made sure it looked even. Once it did, I took the polish I had used before and started to polish it to a fine gloss.
    It looks amazing now. Like a mirror finish, smooth as glass (well, other than the dings). I really only took a tiny bit off of the top, but it looks so good. It's exponentially better than before.

    The pickups, well, I just sanded them flush to the gouges. I put sandpaper on the bench (coarser grain), then shaved down the top until it was flush. The logo is gone, but who cares? They are flat again. I used finer and finer paper and a little polish and they look great.

    There is more to do, and I'll post a pic when I'm done, but I wanted to share this experience with those who may be thinking about doing something like this on their own some day.
    The electric bass, as nice as it can get, is still a fairly simple object. If you think only professionals have the ability to do something like this, you are wrong. It takes patience, practice, and a desire to get it right, but so does playing the bass.
    The resources on this site alone can tell you how to do almost anything. If you have been looking at a cheap, used bass and wished it just played better for you to buy it, then haggle and get it for a project. You can use it to teach yourself how to do setups, refinishing, refretting, defretting, active electronics, painting, or whatever you can dream up. If done right, you have something that looks great, feels great and most importantly is that way because you did it.

    Anyone else done this? Maybe all the time? I wanted to share my experience and would love to hear from others who've done this.
  2. BRAVO!! You are a genius because you figured it out just like I did a few years ago. You can do what you did with a beater or a $125 Essex. I bet you didn't spend much more on the J+ did you? ;)

    My first real project like this was a Kramer Stryker P/J style that I refurbed and sold. And of course I had to do it in black :rolleyes: and that taught me a bunch about that color and it's application. The buyer thought it was an absolute gem.

    If you want to have some fun with your body and learning how to fill dings, you can use super glue and teach yourself how to fill a ding, and sand it smooth and buff it out without having to refinish the surrounding area :eyebrow: Doing a hidden repair will come in very handy someday. Now is a good time to learn to cut a nut, level frets, do neck inserts, round fret ends - all sorts of things. It's a lot of fun and could be profitable if you get really good at it.
  3. Well done!

    I started doing this a few years ago, because I wanted to get experience before overhauling my Yamaha, with a real cheapy Samic that I found at a pawn shop for $50.
    I sanded the body down to bare wood and found a beautiful grain under the paint so I ended up finishing it in tung oil. I even reshaped the headstock for a one-off look. A bass player friend offered me $400 when it wasd finished, so I used that money towards refinishing my Yamaha BB400s.
    The Yammy didn't have a spectacular grain, so I resprayed it white, with a pearl purple & green effect over the top (bass changes from white to green to purple depending on the angle you look at it!) I had already fitted Dimarzio Will Power neck and middle pick ups, so I took them to a place which specialises in refinishing car components & had them apply a chrome like finish to the pickups. I am really happy with the results & get heaps of comments on the Yamaha.
    This has lead to lots of people asking me to mod their Basses & guitars, and knowing that I'll charge a good price helps as well! I am not a luthier (oh God how I wish I was!) but the next best thing must be taking something and adding your own mark to it.

    My next project for myself, is an SX to turn into a Yamaha Attitude II clone! I already have the bass, paint, pick ups, but for a twist I am going to attempt to install L.E.D's into the fret markers!



    note: all of the above prices are in Australian dollars!
  4. rojo412

    rojo412 Sit down, Danny... Supporting Member

    Feb 26, 2000
    Cleveland, OH.
    Well, I can say I didn't pay much for the bass, but it really wasn't a steal. I do, however, look forward to finding some kind of hidden gem (like with a split body or something) for pennies on the dollar.

    I want so bad to know how to level frets, refret, do binding, LEDs, and all of that stuff, but am not quite ready to devote the time and capital at this moment.
    I have been drawing up plans for a custom bass, you know, to be prepared for when I do have the time, tools, and skill.

    That also reminds me of the concept that hit me the other day as well. If you have the skills to do a body, which are much easier (it seems) than necks (by similar comparison), you could find a nasty bass cheap, but with a good neck. Take the neck, build a new body for it and stock it with newer, better stuff, and have a custom bass for practically nothing. A body blank is all of $50-100. You could turn a bass like a Mexican J DLX into a really nice, custom countoured, custom colored, custom pickup'd, etc. bass, then sell the old parts to recoup costs and end up with something that could really turn heads.

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