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SFW: My Jazz Bass has just had a sex change operation – (my longest TB post ever)!

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Fender32, Sep 19, 2010.

  1. Yes, I thought that title would get your attention :D. This is going to be a long, rambling post, BTW, so if there’s any chance that you’re the sort of person who is going to “want those 12 minutes of your life back”, reading this might not be for you ;).

    It's mostly about the steps that I went through to put my latest FrankenBass together and some of the 'tricks' that I used (Roger Sadowsky has nothing to fear from me, I promise :D), which have mostly been learned the hard way :crying:.

    Anyway, before that, there's a load of guff and waffle about what I was trying to achieve. So, on with the guff and waffle ...

    The obligatory ‘Before’ pic:

    So, what ‘sex’ is a Jazz Bass anyway!? I would have to say, female. Those gracious body curves (and saggy bottom :ninja:), slender neck and dual personality pickups, could scarcely be considered anything else could they!? But a Precision Bass … well, that’s altogether more masculine, IMO. The P Bass is a blunt instrument. It can’t multi-task and everything that it does (tone-wise) is controlled by one knob. Its body is strong and purposeful in design and, usually, it has a thick neck and man-sized fretboard.

    Well, I’ve been a long-term fan of the P Bass and had never really understood the Jazz Bass, until I finally got a good one a few years ago (by the way, I’m really talking about bass guitars again now, so you can forget all of the innuendo of the last paragraph ;)). Since then, I’ve kind of gravitated towards the Jazz, on account of its slimmer neck profile, which despite having very large hands, I really like. In fact, things had gotten to the point that I had somehow managed to sell off all of my Precision Basses and was running a stable with three (Tokai) Jazz Basses, a StingRay and nothing else :(!


    Even after selling one of the Jazzes a few months ago and looking around for ‘the perfect P Bass’, I somehow managed to get side-tracked and bought yet another Jazz Bass :rollno:, albeit a really good one (Geddy Lee signature model). Something had to be done …

    The thing was, I had owned a few really outstanding P Basses in the past, like these three Fender Custom shop models (a ’55, a ’61 and a ’59) …


    … but there was one thing, which they all had in common, that really made me want to put them down after 20 minutes – nitro cellulose neck lacquer :(! Now, I can see most of you who are reading this making a face like this … :eek: right now, but allow me to explain. For some reason, I have sweat/skin (?) which reacts quite badly with nitro lacquer and causes abrasion to either the lacquer, or to me (not sure which :D). This results in little bits of dead skin/lacquer forming little ‘sausage like’ deposits on the back of the neck, after a short amount of playing time. These things look a bit like the small, rubber ‘sausages’ that you get when you use an eraser to rub out pencil marks on paper (you know what I mean, I’m sure ;)). Whatever causes this, the net result is that the neck feels very ‘sticky’ indeed and distracts me so much that I lose concentration on the notes I’m searching for and start thinking about how to play everything in one hand position instead :meh:. It was this problem which lead me to sell off all of my vintage and Custom Shop basses and vow to never ever buy another instrument with nitro neck lacquer, ever again :scowl:. So far, I haven’t!

    The other thing that I’ve kind of gone off over the years is … spending thousands and thousands of Euros/Pounds/Dollars on bass guitars (which I only play at home these days anyway, as I’m not currently in a band). And this is where the Tokais came in :). I’ve written quite a lot about the brand on this and other forums, but for those who don’t know; the Tokai basses that I collect are from the mid-1980s period and were made (partly by hand) in Japan, using very similar components and construction techniques to the original (pre-CBS) Fenders. The key difference being that these Tokais were mostly finished in polyurethane (or was it polyester :meh:) lacquer. Whatever the finish was, it was hard wearing, smooth to the touch and …it wasn’t nitro :p! These Japanese Tokais are famed for their excellent tone and feel and are, currently, still (occasionally) to be had at bargain prices.

    So, coming back to the present, I was sitting looking at my three Jazz Basses and wondering which one I could do away with to make way for a new P Bass and also … where the hell was I going to find a P Bass with non-nitro lacquer, a comfortable neck and a true (‘60s) vintage P Bass ‘velvet fist’ punch!?

    I’ve been using the Geddy Lee Jazz as my ‘70s (Jazz)-Funk Machine and wouldn’t be without it at any cost. My black Tokai ‘Jazz Sound’ bass had been strung with LaBella F760M flatwounds and was doubling as a James Jamerson style ‘thump machine’ and providing some cleaner, Joe Osborne-like ‘clickety-clack’ noises, when required. This left me with my (very yellowed) Olympic White ‘Jazz Sound’, which had been my go-to bass for most of the year, but was starting to reveal itself as a bit of a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ kind of instrument :meh:. Don’t get me wrong, it still sounds like a good vintage Jazz Bass to me – it’s just that I don’t need that specific tone a lot and would usually rather have something a bit more ‘P’, a bit more ‘70s funk’, or a bit more … something else!? However, the neck on it really is one of, if not the, very best feeling neck I’ve ever had on a bass of any price. It virtually plays itself and despite being nearly 30 years old, is in great shape with almost new frets.

    A plan was hatching ….

    It occurred to me that if I could find a suitable P Bass body, I already had enough spare hardware around to take the neck from the Jazz Bass, bolt it to the P Bass body and make myself the perfect P Bass for my taste (and budget). This was going to be fun :D.

    Immediately, I knew where I was going to do my shopping for the necessary parts – WD Music. Disclaimer: This next bit will probably come across as one huge plug for their business, so let me assure you all that I have no affiliation to them, other than the fact that I have shopped there a lot over the years and have always received great service.

    WD Music offer fully finished, partially drilled bass guitar bodies, made from well seasoned, North American alder, in both Jazz and P designs and in a limited range of (thin) gloss finishes. That didn’t matter to me – I wanted black :D! What’s more, Ben Green in their Customer Service was kind enough to get out of his comfy chair, go down to the warehouse, weigh all of the (three) suitable P Bass bodies that they had in stock and agree to send me the lightest one (4.8lbs) :)! What a top bloke! Actually, he’s helped me out on a few other projects and I’ve seen others on TB praise WD for their good service, so it was no fluke!

    To go with my other black/rosewood Jazz Bass, I selected a WD Music tort p/g too. The ones, which they supply, are unusual in that they are actually made of real celluloid, just like the early Fender ones. This gives it a similar look and texture and, IMO, an air of class!

    The choice of bridge was another no-brainer - it had to be the standard, threaded barrel saddle, ‘vintage’ design. I’ve tried various different bridge designs on most of my P Basses and somehow, they always change the character of the tone in ways that I don’t really like and all of them ... rob the bass of ‘smoothness’ and ‘warmth’. Yeah, tone is very subjective – but I’ve experimented a lot in the past, and I now know what I like now :smug:.

    The pickup choice was actually pre-determined, as I had a Lindy Fralin ‘vintage’ pickup left over, which was one of two that I bought for my two Fender CS basses. In every bass I’d put it in, that pickup always managed to deliver my idea of the classic P Bass tone.

    The neck that I was planning to use from my Tokai Jazz had already been fitted with Hip-Shot (or ‘Slip-Shod’ as I’d taken to calling them, after experiencing some, now resolved, slippage issues in the past :eyebrow:) vintage tuners, to complete the package. Also, it was held on with a brand new chrome neck plate and screws, so the whole bass was going to look pretty ‘new’ when finished, apart from the vintage neck.

    The next part of this thread covers how I went about assembling the bass and whilst I am writing all of this for the pure pleasure of making the experience last that little bit longer :p, it may actually be of use to anyone who is planning to build/assemble their first bass project.

    “Building the Perfect (P) Beast”

    Step 1: Prepare the old neck.


    All I really did here was to remove the neck form the Jazz Bass, clean off the old bits of paint chips and compressed wood from around the heel of the neck (using a towel) and then polished the frets, using a Dremel Multi-Tool (small, electric drill type thing, with various buffing attachments). I also cleaned the fretboard with a quick wipe of mentholated spirits to remove the grease and dirt and then applied a thin smear of lemon oil and buffed the fretboard with a clean cloth.

    Step 2: Prepare the new body.


    Here it is! Lovely, isn’t it? All shiny and new :D. In fact, so ‘new’ that it’s still full of dust and dried polish and cutting compound from the paint shop – that won’t do! As I’m planning to shield this bass against the evils of atmospheric hum, by putting adhesive shielding tape in the body cavities, I first cleaned them all out with meths and a rag.

    Step 3: Shielding the cavities.


    There’s a whole (and quite excellent) thread here on how to do this (http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showthread.php?t=159191), so I won’t go through it all again here. Basically, I’m using copper tape with conductive adhesive, which removes the need for tack soldering between the different layers of tape.

    Having shielded the control cavity, the pickup cavity and the tunnel leading from one to the other, I then ran some insulating tape around the inner edges of the pickup cavity and fitted some foam pads (made from a double layer of mouse mat foam ;)) into the pickup cavity. There are two reasons for this; firstly it removes the need for springs and other metal junk underneath the pickup to provide the means of height adjustment and secondly, being black, they will stop any copper foil from being visible through any gaps in the pickguard (which, as you will see later, wasn’t a problem in this case ;)).


    Step 4: Wiring and insulation.

    Again, no wiring diagrams here, you can Google those up easily enough if required. No, this is just a brief look at a couple of the lesser-known ‘tricks/bodges’ :D, which I’ve worked into my bass tinkering routine over the years.

    First off, ‘star grounding’. This is where all earth/ground wires run to a single common point, instead of being soldered to the back of pots and multiple of locations where ground loops can occur. It’s covered fully in the thread I linked to earlier.


    See the little washer (out of focus) in the foreground of the picture? That’s where all of my earth wires are going to, once they have all been fed through the body cavities. Eventually, this thing is simply just screwed directly into the side-wall of the control cavity, where it makes contact with the copper foil. That in turn is connected to the copper foil on the back of the pickguard (via a little ‘lip’ of foil, which hangs out over the top of the control cavity) and completes the grounding.

    Another thing that I have learnt, since starting to do shielding jobs on all of my basses a month ago, is that any contact by the casings of the metal pots, or the output jack, with the copper on the cavity walls/floor is disastrous for hum-cancellation and often results in a total loss of signal. So, I get around this by simply wrapping a little insulation tape around the pots and the output jack. This way, even if a stray piece of conductive material (wire, chrome plating flakes etc.) should find their way in there, there is less chance of them bridging between the cavity sides and a component. More importantly (and likely) than that though, is that if the pickguard is fitted in such a way that the pots or jack are pushed up against the sides of the cavity, you will still not get a short circuit if you have insulated them this way :).

    Step 5a: Fit the strap buttons.

    This might seem a little counter-intuitive, but actually there’s a good reason for it. I didn’t follow this step when building the bass in this thread and actually fitted them as the very last step. Because the neck was already on, I couldn’t get the angle that I needed with the electric drill to put the front strap button in the optimum position on the top horn. I ended up drilling into the horn at an angle almost parallel to the ground and realised afterward that all of my other basses had strap buttons which pointed down a little more, for extra security, one assumes!?

    Anyway, at whichever stage you decide to fit them, make sure that you do the following three things: Firstly, fit a little strip of insulation tape or masking tape to the surface of the body, in order to reduce the chance of the drill bit slipping sideways (which, on a curved top horn, it’s really going to want to do :D). Then, drill small pilot holes and finally, counter-sink them with a larger drill bit (I always do this part by hand) afterward. If you don’t countersink, you might well hear that gut-wrenching “CRACK”, as dime-size chunk of paint and lacquer fall to the floor :bawl:, leaving a lovely bare wood ‘window’ in your shiny new finish. Same applies to all holes drilled for large screws.

    Step 5b: Fit the neck.

    Again, you might be thinking to yourself; “Why fit the neck now, shouldn’t you finish the body first”?

    Well, in this case, I’m using parts from many different sources and there’s a very high chance that some parts are simply not going to fit well with each other (as it turned out, this wasn’t a big issue with this particular build – thank God)! Also, I had checked the fit of the neck with body and frankly, it was so tight that not only did I almost have to hammer it in (I didn’t, BTW – bad idea ;)), there was absolutely zero room to move it to the left or right. This meant that neck alignment was not a variable in the neck/body/pickguard/bridge equation (not necessarily a good thing).

    So, I screwed the neck on and was relived to see that, even though I couldn’t alter the angle of it if I’d wanted to, it was running nicely parallel to the edge of the neck pocket …


    (N.B. The eagle-eyed amongst you may notice that the last three frets are shorter than the others. This is because the fretboard had shrunk over the last 27 years and those three were protruding with jagged edges. I did a bit of a hatchet job and filed quite a lot off, as I was getting cut fingers when doing the plucking part of slapping and plucking :bawl:).

    Step 6: Fit the pickguard.


    “Why not the pickups, or even the bridge”?, I hear you cry :D. Well, as I’m using a new body, there are no holes for either the pickups, the pickguard or the bridge. The pickguard is, in this case, the most limiting factor, as it has to fit the neck pocket shape, the edges of the body and totally cover the control cavity (which it almost didn’t do on this bass).

    Having wrestled it into a position where I was able to fulfil all of the above criteria, I carefully drilled small, shallow pilot holes and put in each screw as I went along, to remove the possibility of the plate slipping whilst I was making the holes. The downside of this is that I wasn’t bothering to countersink any of them and so there was a certain amount of splintering of the finish around the screw holes. A better way to do this, especially if you are working on a bass which might one day sport a clear pickguard, is to drill a small hole and then countersink it by hand with a slightly drill bit, before threading the screw in. I was too lazy for that :D.

    ... Sorry, I've run out of characters. Will post part. 2 right away :ninja: ...
  2. Step 7: Fit the pickups.

    Actually, this part was a doddle! Whilst I was fitting the pickguard, the pickups (which were already wired into the bass) had been fed through the hole in the pickguard and just resting on top of it. When I wanted to fit them, I simply unscrewed the pickguard (and cleaned out all of the sawdust from underneath it), then arranged the pickups in the cavity so that the wires would not be fouled by any screws. Next, I put the covers on the pickups and slotted the pickguard back over them. The first set of pickups covers that I tried to use (which I think were the Lindy Fralin ones, but I’m really not sure :meh:) were actually just a little too big for the very tight cut-out in the pickguard and would not have gone through without me filing out the pickguard a little. Fortunately, I had another set of P Bass covers lying around (I think that they came with a pair of Nordstrand NP4s, but I couldn’t be totally sure) which fitted exactly into the holes with no gaps around them whatsoever!

    I put the pickguard assembly back on top of the bass, with the pickups sitting comfortably on their little foam cushions in their snug little cavity and then preceded to do something a little risky. I had deliberately not made any pilot holes for the pickup screws to go into, as I didn’t have a clue where to drill them, until the pickups were actually in place :meh:. I knew that if I tried to screw the pickup mounting screws directly into the body, without drilling any pilot holes for them first, there was a chance that they could snap off in the hole (it’s happened to me before), but I decided that I would just turn them slowly and see how much resistance there was. If there was too much, I could just use the screws to mark the holes, disassemble the bass, drill the pilot holes and then put the bass back together again. As luck would have it, the screws went quite smoothly into the alder body and, because I didn’t turn them very fast and overheat them, all four went in nicely without the use of a drill.

    As you can see, the pickups and pickguard look as though they were made to go together …


    The butchered mouse-mat, which is underneath these pickups, makes a superb platform to mount them on and provides a lot of upward pressure. As a result, the pickups have no 'wobble' to them whatsoever and make a very sturdy platform to rest your thumb on. I can also adjust them up and down with great ease and smoothness. Win :smug:!

    Step 8: Fit the strings – yes, really!

    Now, those of you who have read this far are probably almost asleep by now, but just in case there is a super-being out there who has followed all of this :D, he/she might be asking him/herself, “Fit the strings? TO WHAT!?” :confused:.

    Yep, you’re right, I haven’t fitted the bridge yet :smug:. Still, I’m not going to be fitting the bridge … until I’ve figured out where to make the holes. This is where the strings come in ;).

    Before this stage, I had put masking tape over the area where the bridge was to go and had measured the distance from the end of the neck of my other Tokai Jazz Bass, to the point where the base-plate of the bridge began. That distance was 250mm, but given that the intonation screws always seem to be screwed a long way back on that bass, I opted for a distance of 253mm on the new one :).

    Because the pickguard was already screwed on, I was able to draw a line parallel to the straight edge at the rear of the guard, but 253cm away from the neck pocket. This only left the left/right alignment to sort out. I had been dreading this part :( ….

    It wasn’t easy to do (without an assistant), but by putting an old set of strings thought the bridge, then attaching them to the tuners and increasing the string tension whilst pulling down hard on the bridge (the bass was on a stand, BTW), I was able to determine the best position for the bridge in order for the strings to be an equal distance form either side of the edge of the fretboard. Just to be totally sure, I initially marked out just the inner two of the five bridge screw holes, drilled them (countersinking them afterward to avoid shattering the finish ;)) and fitted the bridge. Once the strings were up to almost full tension, I could see that the bridge position was fine. If it had have been too far off to either left or right, I would still have had the option to fill those two holes with wooden dowel and re-drill new ones, without any marks being visible around the bridge.

    Once I was happy with the bridge position, I drilled the other three holes and srewed the bridge on …


    Step 9: Re-string and set up.

    The moment of truth! How would these pattern parts, form all corners of the known universe :D behave when bolted together. As luck would have it – pretty darned well!

    I’ve ‘built’ a few basses from parts in the past and, sometimes, there are major issues with playability. This can be caused by a multitude of things (misaligned bridge, pickups, neck. Neck pocket too deep/shallow etc.) and usually there are ways to remedy these problems, but it’s much nicer if you don’t have to face any of them to begin with.

    And so it was with this build :). Everything matched, was tight and once the action and intonation were set, the new, masculine P Bass played as smoothly as it had done in it’s former life a (female :D) Jazz Bass. Up until this stage, I hadn’t actually plugged it in and listened to it though.


    Step 10: “The Magic Moment”.

    Anyone who’s ever assembled a bass from parts, or even heavily modified an existing bass, will know the sense of anticipation/dread that comes with hearing the first few notes after the job is done :meh:. Personally, I hate it! Too many times in the past I’ve been disappointed with the results (I’m very, very picky BTW) and so these days I tend to just plug it straight in and start noodling around without being too analytical.

    For the first time in a long time, I got exactly what I was expecting and exactly what I’d been hoping for. This Jazz-necked P Bass has exactly the tone that all of my Fender P Basses had (with the Fralin pickup installed) and yet it has the easy playability of my favourite Jazz Basses.

    So, whilst the bass hasn’t undergone a complete ‘sex change’ (actually, it’s sort of a ‘lady-boy :D), it has now filled a P Bass-shaped void in my life and is certain to become my go-to bass for a very long time to some :smug:.

    Here are some more pictures, of the finished article …









    And with it’s twin sister :D …



    Thanks a million to anyone who manages to make it to the end of this mammoth thread. I took me as long to write this as it did to build the bass (all afternoon), but I enjoyed it nearly as much ;).


    Andy :bassist:
  3. johnk_10

    johnk_10 vintage bass nut Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 16, 2008
    Washington, Utah
    John K Custom Basses
    i have a suggestion. if you don't solder all of the copper shielding pieces to each other, the shielding won't do much good. they will not conduct ground to each other as the adhesive insulates each piece from the other.
  4. You cannot get a significant ground loop in a bass. Star grounding is total nonsense and a waste of time.

    "Disastrous for hum cancellation?"
    With all due respect, that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.:rollno:
  5. Hi John.

    Actually, the copper tape has conductive adhesive on it, which means that it does maintain conductivity, even without soldering.

    I tested it at every stage with a meter and there was 0 ohms resistance between the furthest points. The bass is dead silent anyway, so it clearly worked :).

    OK :meh:. Try this wording then.

    "When certain parts of the wiring/hardware come into contact with the copper shielding of the cavity, it can (and has, IME) result in a loud humming sound and total loss of audio signal".

    That's what I was refrring to.

    I'm not an electrical engineer, but I did make a point of posting a link to a thread by someone who is. He seems to think that there are benefits to star-grounding on guitars and it worked for me.

    Sorry that you seemed to find the whole thing so annoying :meh:.
  6. Darkstrike

    Darkstrike Return Of The King!

    Sep 14, 2007
    Beautiful job!

    Shame it's not a maple fretboard..... ;)

    Seriously though, just perfect.
  7. steamthief


    Jan 25, 2006
    Mentone Beach
    Great read, and congratulations on a very nice job. Good pics, too. Sound clips?
  8. Thanks DS ;).

    Yes, a B'n'M P Bass is always a thing of great beauty, but I was immediatley handicapped by having a rosewood boarded neck as the starting point.

    Next time though :D ...
  9. No, I haven't recorded any and to be honest ... I probably won't.

    It just sounds like a good P Bass - not much more to say about it really :meh:. Glad that you enjoyed the read anyway, steamthief ;).
  10. I don't remember who it was that said this about a week ago, but I liked the quote.

    Anytime you hear someone talking about ground loops in a bass, you should just stop listening to them entirely.
  11. recreate.me


    Apr 2, 2010
    Dont listen to Darkstrike, rosewood is way better then maple on a black body!

    The odd thing here is that you did exactly what i did. I have always played jazz basses, even though i started on Precisions i always ended up with a jazz, and last year i wanted a Precision that was as much fun as the jazz basses i own...

    In the end, i built the same bass you did, minus the Tokai neck, mines just a fender jazz neck.
    Same colour, black and red tort, except i put on a bridge cover for that old school look.

    You'll love it! Jazz precision basses are the best, especially that colour combo!
  12. Buchada Azeda

    Buchada Azeda

    Mar 25, 2009
    Oh, that's just plain classy.
  13. :p No point in me replying to that post then, since you won't be listening to me.

    Seriously though, all I know about instrument electrics has come from reading Internet threads and a lot of trial and error. I'm not an expert, am not pretending to be and might (inadvertently) have used an incorrect term for something. Notwithstanding that, the methods which I used for shielding this bass, worked and worked well on the other five basses which I've given the same treatment to in the past 3 weeks.

    The point of the thread though was to document the steps (and some of the thought processes), which I went through to assemble this particular bass project. In a lot of other cases, the steps would be different and some of the ideas might not work :meh:. I just know that I learned a lot from threads like this in the past and now that I have something to share too, I'm doing so.

    Mind you, I don't mind being criticised either, provided that it's valid. That way, everyone gets to have their say and the whole thread benefits from it :).
  14. skwee


    Apr 2, 2010
    One day I'd like to have a J-neck on a P-body. (I'd go pre-drilled personally, due to lack of tools but) glad the build went good for you.
  15. Sounds great :)! Do you have any pictures that you could post here? It's not such a common colourscheme on P Basses any more :crying:.
  16. nagarjuna


    Dec 10, 2006
    The Gunks, NY
    Nice bass! Very classy.
  17. Engine207

    Engine207 Losing faith in humanity...one call at a time.

    Jul 10, 2008
    Higley, AZ

    I'm not huge on black basses (other than when black is actually JetGlo :D) or tort guards...but both of those basses are simply stunning. Period.

    Oh...and great photography, too. Nice use of depth-of-field throughout.
  18. Classy! Black should always have tort. Very clean job on everything. Now you have to find a neck for that poor beautiful neckless jazz! Thanks for the write up.

  19. Looks great man

    Your shoreline gold P bass inspired mine own creation
    at one time
  20. LiamR


    Aug 15, 2010
    Wow. Bloody lovely basses.

    Am i alright to nick the colour scheme for my Jazz bass? :p
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Feb 27, 2021

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