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Silk Purses and Sows' Ears

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Flatwound, Feb 27, 2001.


  1. Flatwound

    Flatwound Supporting Member

    Sep 9, 2000
    San Diego
    They say you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, which I think is generally true, but aren't leather purses OK, too? I have a MIJ Fender Precision, which in my book is closer to the silk purse end of the scale, but I have a couple of other basses, too, that I'm trying to make something worthwhile out of. The better of the two is an old Washburn c.1990, that is actually not too bad, but suffers a bit from poor quality control. I recently repaired a cracked neck heel in this bass, and it sounds pretty good now. I couldn't see spending fifty or a hundred bucks at the repairman for a bass that's worth maybe a hundred dollars or so. So I got some advice here and fixed it myself. At the same time, I cleaned up the neck pocket a little, as I feel that having high spots bearing unduly on the neck could have a bad effect on tone. I've also replaced the pickup with one I got free. So now I have an acceptable, even giggable bass, with very little investment.

    I also have an old Orlando (talk about your sows' ears!) that I de-fretted because the frets were toast. This bass was owned by a local high school for some years, and had some hard use. I'm still working on leveling the fingerboard, but I've strung it up, and it sounds pretty good. I wax-potted the pickup off the above-mentioned Washburn, and even though it's a little weak, I get a nice URB-ish tone from this thing with medium-heavy flats. Kind of like that Dave Holland/Bitches' Brew kind of sound. I've also re-wired both of these basses and changed the pots and caps to Fender parts.

    So what's my point? I dunno, except maybe that boutique basses, nice as they are, aren't everything. I expect to get a lot more miles out of these klunkers, and without spending a fortune. At this point, all my extra cash goes into trying to build a business, but with a little elbow grease and research, I'm having some fun with these instruments.
     
  2. My sows ear was a Tobias Pro 6, made in Korea by Cort. To some they are a sows ear, but I looked beyond the bass and realised it had a pretty damn good neck and body. The neck was very straight, no humps or kicks, and the body shape is so comfortable. I replaced the tuners and bridge with top model Gotohs, very expensive. The preamp was replaced with a Duncan 3band. A luthier did a lovely fret dress and replaced the side markers with larger ones that can be more easily seen on a dark stage. Then my other 6, a custom built one, suffered a painful accident, so I pulled the remaining Alembic pickup and preamp, and stuck them in the Tobias. With only one pickup now, I put it in the "sweet" spot, which necessitated making a pickguard out of very thin modellers 5ply Birch to cover the old pickup holes. The sound is great, the feel and playability is great, the low B string is as good as any I've ever played. Many players have said how much they like this bass, and ask if I'd sell it to them. No thanks, I love it!
     
  3. Flatwound

    Flatwound Supporting Member

    Sep 9, 2000
    San Diego
    Sounds good. I'm still working on leveling the fingerboard on my Orlando. Someone apparently seated the frets with a sledge hammer, so there are dents a-plenty. I had it strung up and working, but it was a little too buzzy.
     
  4. I have scattered posts about my Epiphone, I will not get rid of it, but I have no problem trying to make it sound better.....I want to defret it but I don't know how exactly any advice......
     
  5. Flatwound

    Flatwound Supporting Member

    Sep 9, 2000
    San Diego
    I'm not a de-fretting expert, but there are some on-line resources. Maybe someone will post a link. I just pulled the frets out with various tools and filled the slots with wood putty. I discovered that this was not really adequate in terms of smoothness, partly because the fingerboard had absorbed considerable abuse, and partly because the wood putty was too thick to fill all the irregularities and dents. So I have now filled a lot of the remaining irregularities in with super glue, sanded it smooth, and sprayed it with polyurethane. It looks good so far, but I'm waiting for the finish to dry so I can try it.
     
  6. HeavyDuty

    HeavyDuty Supporting Curmudgeon Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Jun 26, 2000
    Suburban Chicago, IL
    Some of the oddball stuff is actually very nice. I have a DeArmond Starfire that is every bit as nice and playable as my friend's Guild Starfire, and mine cost $300 on blowout from MF compared to his costing $1200 used. Who got the better deal???

    My next project is stuffing new active EMGs into a MusicYo Steinberger Spirit bass. This should be good - the pickups and active circiutry should cost about the same as the bass!
     
  7. I have defretted three times, the first by pulling frets and filling the slots, but I dont like this method, it's too easy to damage the edges of the slots. The next two I did were much better, I went and bought a new large flat file and a flat stone, used for sharpening chisels. Two hours of hard graft with the file got the frets almost down to the wood, then finished off with the stone, which is perfectly flat. The stone will not damage the wood, and most stones have a course side and a fine side. The end result is an undamaged fretboard with perfectly straight brass lines. The bonus here is that the brass lines protect the wood from "snail trails", also retain a brightness, good if you like the Jaco sound.