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P Bass Tone Variables . . .

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by medgeking, Dec 27, 2013.

  1. I played an awesome American Special P bass at Guitar Center a couple of days back and I was smitten. It was the ltd. ed. one with a hand rubbed honeyburst lacquer finish. Basic specs are alder body w/ lacquer finish, all maple neck and just the single Precision bass pickup.

    I've got at home a wonderful P bass that I built from Warmoth parts and it's got a nitro finished swamp ash body, PJ pickups and a maple/rosewood neck. I love the sound, but there's something magic about the sound of the American Special . . .

    Here are the things I'm thinking might be making the difference:

    Alder body (instead of the ash)
    Not Having the J Pickup (less magnetic pull on the strings?)
    All maple neck (instead of rosewood/maple)

    What do you guys think about how these variables affect the sound of a P bass?
  2. G00D+~VIBES


    Nov 21, 2008
    Kansas City
    Different pup's can make a world of difference
  3. gregmon79

    gregmon79 I did it for the muff... Supporting Member

    Dec 20, 2012
    Chicago IL
    Pups again, make a huge difference. The pots an caps can make a difference too. A maple fretboard to a rosewood fretboard is big IMO. Some dont seem to think so, I do. There's a huge difference when I jam with a band. The maple is brighter and cuts through better. Rosewood seems to sit in the mix.
  4. mpdd

    mpdd neoconceptualist

    Mar 24, 2010
    i gotta admit, the specials i played have been pretty nice
  5. A-Step-Towards

    A-Step-Towards Supporting Member

    Nov 16, 2009
    Los Angeles California
    I would say the string difference would probably be the biggest thing going between the 2. Maybe yours has old strings and the GC bass has newer ones, or its actually probably the other way around.
  6. OK, so when you say pups make a huge difference, are you talking about the variation going from say one P pickup design to another (Duncan Vintage Vs Quarter Pound, etc)? Or, are you saying that it makes a difference having the J pickup installed as well.

    I'm asking because despite logic, I have this crazy notion that just having the J pickup installed may be affecting the tone of the bass (even when I'm only playing through the P pickup).

    I really like Rumpelstiltskin pickups, so when I built the Warmoth, I asked Aaron to wind me a killer PJ set. For the P pickup, I asked him to reference a bunch of Blue Oyster Cult records (Fire of Unknown Origin specifically). Then, I asked for that kind of burpy 70's midrange type of J bridge pickup. He did a great job.
  7. tangentmusic

    tangentmusic A figment of our exaggeration

    Aug 17, 2007
    I love the hand rubbed Honeyburst finish on those. I think you gotta have it in your arsenal. Very nice P all the way around. I tried one out recently too. These are MIA quality at an affordable price.
    I've seen the Strat version also. Sweeet!
    I'm waiting 'till they put out a Jazz version, then I'm jumping on one!
  8. gregmon79

    gregmon79 I did it for the muff... Supporting Member

    Dec 20, 2012
    Chicago IL

    I'm mainly stating that pup to pup is different. I recently was trying to find a different P pup for my P and tried fender reissues 60's, Seymour Duncan antiquity 2's and EMG's. I went back up EMG's. All those pups had a lot of tonal variations. The SD's and the 60's were a lot alike in most ways. The EMG's just kicked their butts. I'm an active guy. But I think having a J pup in there as well changes the tone a LITTLE.
  9. I was about to create a thread on this very same topic! I have an American Special PBass (Olympic white) that my local music store fiendishly let me bring home for a few days to check out. I've been comparing it to my heavily upgraded VM P Bass (Hipshot bridge, new electronics, Fender '62 pickup, bone nut) and while it does sound good and is my current gigging bass (along with a VM Jazz similarly done up) it doesn't come close to the thumpaliciousness of the Special. It just has this ridiculously sexy thing that the other basses just don't come close to.

    So I'm thinking it's just got to be the woods, because that's all I haven't changed on the VM's.
  10. StuartV

    StuartV Finally figuring out what I really like Supporting Member

    Jul 27, 2006
    Manassas, VA
    Don't the Am Spec P basses have the Greasebucket tone circuit, instead of the regular P bass tone circuit?
  11. StuartV

    StuartV Finally figuring out what I really like Supporting Member

    Jul 27, 2006
    Manassas, VA
    Also, for the OP, unless you compare them at the same time, in the same room, through the same rig, you really shouldn't draw too many conclusions about how the sound of 2 basses compare.

    And if you take your bass to GC and compare it directly to that Am Spec, back to back through the same rig, even then you have to remember that any difference you hear is probably more to do with the strings than any other single factor.
  12. Yep
  13. Lo-E


    Dec 19, 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    different p'ups, greasebucket tone circuit, maple board, different body wood, graphite reinforced neck (in the Am Special), lightweight hardware, different strings...

    Well, it weems to me you have two different basses and that's why they sound different! ;)

    All kidding aside, all of the above will contribute to the tone of a bass. How much does each contribute? That's all very hotly contested, so I'll leave that to the 'experts'.

    My personal experience with the Am Special is that I like the way it plays very much, but I'm not all that nuts about the p'up or the greasebucket tone control. To each their own. I'll probably end up swapping those out on mine. Still, it's a very nice bass.
  14. Mtnman


    Jun 5, 2012
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Here's mine. I agree with the above poster that the Greasebucket had to go so I pulled the electronics and re-wired it to early '60s specs with a 0.047 orange drop cap. I also put in '62 pickups.

    Other mods include a BAII bridge, black PG and Dunlap strap locks. I know the subject of modding is a pretty polarizing subject around here, but my bass is modded to satisfy my taste...

    Oh yeah. One thing that nobody has mentioned about this model is the neck. It is thinner (front to back) than other P-Basses.

    This bass has been a joy to play. It weighs in at just 8.1lbs.

    Also I like the satin finish. It never shows any fingerprints :smug:

  15. Dragan


    Oct 5, 2009
    I like that bass, mtnman!!!
  16. chinmullet


    Jun 22, 2013
    Love my honeyburst special P. It's the first bass I can say I will never sell.

    I let the talk on here about pickups convince me to buy a Bill Lawrence P-46 pup, but it's just sitting in a drawer. There's nothing wrong with the stock pup. Maybe I will buy another P and install it.
  17. Jim C

    Jim C Spector#496:More curves than Sophia + better sound Supporting Member

    Nov 29, 2008
    I had an ESP Surveyor bass that was a PJ.
    At one point had the J pup removed and I heard no difference compared to the J pup mounted but off.
    I've come to the realization that it is the sum of the parts that creates the tone and feel of a bass and not just one thing.
    IMO the biggest variables for non active basses are pups and strings followed by the neck. OTOH, if you played 6 of the same brand new basses at GC I suspect that 1 might "sound or feel" better and 1 might not be as desirable.
  18. I have one of these. I was smitten too so I brought her home. I think the Maple neck and pickups are the primary culprits. The thing I love about mine is where the mids lie in the mix. It allows this P to cut thru a little more than others I have played while still having that trademark P fatness. Also....the Greasebucket Tone Circuit is likely a factor here. I already swapped out the pickup once, and the stock pup went back in! I think the stock pup is a Fender 62'? Am I wrong?
    P.S. The neck profile on these is the bees knees IMO.
  19. pbassnut

    pbassnut Supporting Member

    Sep 27, 2004
    Falls Church, VA
    I think that the loading effect of the addition of the J pickup to the circuit degrades the P only sound compared to a Precision with just the P pickup. I'm no expert on exactly what is happening behind the curtains in a passive P/J circuit, but I have (twice now) switched out P pickups that were part of a P/J setup that I was unhappy with the sound of and put the same pickups into a P only basses and was amazed at how much better they sounded by themselves. I'm actually considering pulling the J pickup out of the circuit on one of my P/J basses because of this ... possibly add an second output jack for the J pickup alone for use as a stereo bass or more likely, as a spare pickup.