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Safe to string/adjust '64 P-bass myself?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by matt11, Aug 28, 2007.

  1. matt11

    matt11 Supporting Member

    May 19, 2006
    A guitar-playing friend who's leaving town for a bit has loaned me the '64 p-bass he inherited from his uncle. It's a player--a bit beat-up, but sounds great, and until four years ago was being gigged regularly. Strings are worn though, and intonation's off. A buddy told me that if I change the strings I'll have to watch out for damage to the neck simply from changing the strings. Is this true? Can I safely change the strings, at least? How about a neck adjustment? Or should I just take it to a luthier and have them give it a set-up and intonation? Obviously, don't want to do any damage to my friend's bass. (He told me to go ahead and fix it up, but I figured I'd check first) Thanks for any input.
  2. permagrin


    May 1, 2003
    San Pedro, CA
    How comfortable you are with this bass is probably directly related to how much experience you have doing setups. But, we're only talking about a change of strings here. And while you certainly wouldn't want the bad mojo of screwing up a '64 P hanging over your head, it's not terribly delicate - as you say, it's been gigged regularly up until a few years ago.

    What kind of strings are on it, and what do you plan to install? If the new strings will have similar tension to what is currently on the bass, and assuming the bass plays well, frets are in decent shape, neck isn't warped, etc. then there should be no issues. To be really safe, consider changing one string at a time (vice taking all the strings off at once, and thus removing all tension from the neck). That would probably make your friend a bit more comfortable, too.

    BTW, where does one find a friend willing to loan out a vintage pre-CBS Fender?

    Anyway, let the new strings settle in for a few days before considering any truss rod adjustments. After settling in, hope that the bass plays fine. Again, assuming the neck is in good shape and the strings have about the same tension as the old, I wouldn't anticipate needing to tweak the relief.

    If the resulting relief is bad, you still have the option to change the strings again, to a set with more or less tension (as need may be). In other words, let string tension adjust the relief rather than the truss rod. In this way you can avoid any risk that may be involved with turning the truss rod - I don't believe you have to take off the neck to get at it, but still it may have "frozen" in place over time, or it may be at the limit of its excursion.

    With respect to intonation, the only thing I think you have to worry about is if corrosion has taken over on the adjustment screws and/or barrels. I have a '78 Stingray that had spent a decade or more in a closet on the salty east coast of Florida, and the bridge was badly corroded. I was able to take the pieces off and soak them in naval jelly to remove enough corrosion to be able to set the intonation, but if I wouldn't have been able to get the pieces off... hmmm, not sure how I would have proceeded. If you run into any trouble, post again and I'm sure you'll find help here.
  3. A friend, indeed! I'd do the nice thing for the guy and get a pro set-up. around here that's about $40. Money well spent.
  4. matt11

    matt11 Supporting Member

    May 19, 2006
    Thanks for the suggestions Permagrin and Josh. He is indeed a good pal, and he's off to Europe for a several months, and wanted to leave the bass somewhere safe, since he's giving up his apartment here. I told him that when he gets back he should get his '64 insured, but he says her value for him is mostly emotional because she belonged to his uncle, so he probably won't bother.... In the meantime, I plan to take extra special care of her, and play her every chance I get. Taking into account your advice, I think I'll just carefully change the strings for now and see if I can intonate without too much difficulty. I'll look into getting the bass a good pro setup in due course--can take a bit of time to find someone reliable.

    Thanks again, Matt
  5. Phalex

    Phalex Semper Gumby Supporting Member

    Oct 3, 2006
    G.R. MI
    If you're asking this question, take it to a professional. It's a whole lot cheaper than replacing an heirloom.

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