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SX SPB-57 Overhaul Story

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by smoothdave, Aug 7, 2012.

  1. smoothdave


    May 24, 2009
    A little over three years ago I purchased an SX SPB-57. It's been so long that I can't remember why I bought it, but I think my intent was to get a P-Bass sound for a nominal amount of coin. On that count, I succeeded. It really proved to be a very nice sounding instrument, but all was not well. More than a few of the fret wires had jagged edges that caught my hand as I moved up and down the neck, and so I decided to fix that.

    Of course, any bass player worth his salt knows that anything worth doing to a bass is worth overdoing which is why most of us have(or aspire to) too many basses and over sized rigs. I decided to fix the fret wires, roll the fret board, and strip and finish the neck.

    And then I figured that if I was going to do all of that, I might as well put in all new electronics as well. This is the story of how it all went down.

    The first thing one might wonder is why this effort took over three years to complete. The answer is that once I decided to do it, I didn't have the confidence that I could do it well. As a result, I decided that the best thing to do was to order another SPB neck from RondoMusic so that if I botched the neck, I would have a replacement immediately available. I didn't want to ruin an SPB neck and have to put something else on there. Unfortunately, it was roughly 8-10 months before Kurt finally got some necks in and I was able to order one.

    The neck that I finally did get was truly awesome. Everything about it was well done from finish to fretwork, and I had half a mind to scrape the project and just go with the new neck, but something about that didn't feel right, so I decided to continue the project. Unfortunately, it was another year before I finally felt that I had the time. As a result, I didn't begin the project until this summer.

    I was most apprehensive about fixing the fret wire ends. I ordered a three sided fret end dressing file from StewMac, removed the neck from the bass and started filing. I used blue painter's tape to protect the edges of the fret board from any filing mistakes.


    After about 8 hours of work, I finished the job, and while my fret ends don't look nearly as neat as uniformly machined fret ends on thousand dollar basses, they actually feel as smooth as any thousand dollar bass that I have played.


    The next step was to remove the orange tint from the neck and to refinish it. Special thanks to stingray69 and his thread on how to use Citristrip. It pretty much went exactly the way he described it in http://www.talkbass.com/forum/f18/citristrip-vs-essex-vintage-neck-tint-553831/ I had to reapply in a few places, but overall it worked well and the neck came out looking like the picture you see above.

    My next plan was to roll the fretboard edges. Once again, this was an aspect of the job that I was particularly apprehensive about. Once you've ripped into a fretboard with an orbital sander, you've ripped into a fretboard with an orbital sander. Several people told me that it was a bad idea, but I couldn't come up with a better one. I used 400 grit paper and ran the sander down each edge several times. It cuts fast, so you have to be careful, but it wasn't so fast that I felt like I over did it. The result was a very nicely rolled board, and it feels infinitely better than it did before I started.

    The second picture is a bit blurred, but you can see the difference after rolling the edges in these pictures.



    Once the edges were rolled, I used a 320 grit sanding sponge to sand the entire neck. Several resources said that using sandpaper on the neck was a bad idea, but the sponge worked very well. Sanding was followed by three coats of Minwax Clear Satin Wipe-on Poly, and after each coat, I used #0000 steel wool on the entire neck and fretboard. The results from this effort were fantastic. The back of this neck feels better than any bass neck I have ever touched. Smooth, silky, and every other word you can come up with for an awesome neck. This picture shows the back of the neck contrasted with the old finish which I left on to ensure a good fit in the pocket.


    The next step was a new nut. The stock SX nut on this bass was made from a light plastic, and I wanted to replace it with a tusq nut, but there wasn't anything that was a good match, so I was going to have to make my own nut from a blank, and I didn't want to try that with tusq since I don't have appropriate nut making tools. Instead, I opted for a bone blank, and that went well. I used wood blocks to match the blank with the old nut and then used a drill to create the grooves for each string. In the first picture below I also used a drill bit to keep the nuts lined up once I had the first hole. I then started sanding from the top of the nut down until the string holes opened up.



    Here's the finished neck.


    The next step was to replace the electronics. I truly had no objection to the stock SX pickups. Side by side with a Fender P, I had trouble telling the difference, although my ear may not be very good. Nonetheless, I was going for a vintage P sound, and so I decided to put in a set of Fender Original Precision Bass pickups. These vintage pickups proved to be noticeably different from what I had.

    Here's a shot of the stock SX electronics before I began. Not very pretty in there. :)


    And here it is with everything lined with copper foil and the new pickups installed.


    These next few pictures require a little bit of background. About a year ago I modified another bass with Dark Horse's excellent varitone control, and the results were awesome. (http://www.talkbass.com/forum/f38/simple-varitone-circuit-your-bass-596256/) However, I also found that I generally used the .1 and .047 caps with that bass. I also found that I really wanted to do the same thing with this bass, but I didn't want to give up my tone knob. The solution was to use a push-pull pot to switch back and forth between the two capacitors that I use the most.

    These two shots show the switch all wired up.



    Unfortunately, this part of my plan didn't go quite as expected. The other bass uses Bassline Quarter Pounders, and there is a large and noticeable difference between the .1 and .047 caps. However, these Fender pickups are so bright that the difference between the caps is there, but marginal. My plan is to replace the .1 with something higher to try to cut more of that brightness.

    Here it is all wired up.


    And put back together.


    I'm happy with the results. After three separate attempts at setup, I finally got it right. Between the setup, the new electronics, and the buttery smooth neck. This is an awesome bass. My problem now is that any time I pick up a Fender P, I miss the rolled edges, but I'm not sure I have the cheese to tear into a $1200 Fender with an orbital sander. Still...

    Finally, I would like to thank Chunger for his extensive thread on rebuilding SX's. I learned a great deal there. I would also like to thank everyone who posted their mods to the SX threads which proved to be a tremendous help.

    Smooth Dave
  2. ih8law


    Aug 8, 2009
    Houston, TX
    Nice work!
  3. bumperbass

    bumperbass Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2012
    Nice job, smoothdave! Nice story, too! I shielded my Fender P a few months ago. I did mine a little differently, though. When I put the foil on the cavity, I had mine come out a bit over the top to touch the pickguard and create a kind of continuous sealed cavity. I also placed a couple of 1/8"-1/4" strips of foil from the cavities (pickup and control plate) and ran them to the pickguard screw holes to complete the ground.
    I, too bought a '62 original pickup and I'm happy with it.
    Mine's a 2000 MIM but with a good setup and new controls, it's all I need for now, even though I think I'll own a MIA before I die!
    Thanks for sharing.
  4. gunlak


    Nov 24, 2009
    yeah. SX's rule!
  5. smoothdave


    May 24, 2009
    Thanks, dudes.

    That's a good idea about overlapping the shielding a bit on the edge. Next time I have it apart for the capacitor fix, I'll add a couple of strips.
  6. bumperbass

    bumperbass Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2012
    Put a dab of solder on the strips that go down into the cavities. The copper takes solder very easily. Just a slight touch of the soldering iron with a dab of solder sticks very nicely. I don't trust the adhesive to transfer the connection.
  7. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    It's worth noting that a number of techs have found that the conductivity of the adhesive breaks down over time. It's pretty easy to ensure good contact for an extended period with a little dab of solder. Highly recommended.
  8. chunger


    Jan 10, 2006
    Albany, CA
    Chunger basses by Studio 939
    Nice work! Glad the thread has been of some help. Keep tinkering and taking chances.
  9. smoothdave


    May 24, 2009
    A shout-out from the master of SX mods! Best day ever!

    By the way, the new consolidated studio939 blog with the SX build is very, very well done. Looks good.
  10. Keyser Soze

    Keyser Soze Supporting Member

    Looks great, Dave! Props to you.
  11. Hansabass


    Oct 9, 2012
    Hi Smoothdave! I've been reading your stuff about your SX and Citristrip and am currently doing my spb57 neck with it. One question though: can you tell me how long the Citristrip took with your bass neck to start working? Mine is on now for four hours and is doing absolutely nothing!?! I've slathered it on, as I've read several times you should do and the heating is working like crazy, because I've also read that Citristrip likes it warm...! Hope you or anyone else can help me. Yours turned out really fine b.t.w Cheers, Hansabass
  12. JPMacJones


    Aug 9, 2011
    In order for Citristrip to work at it's best it needs to stay damp. I usually cover up whatever I'm stripping with a some plastic shopping bags. Some ink may bleed on to it but it will come right off when you start sanding.

    I've also found when stripping stuff it's best to do it early in the morning before you leave for work. Less chance you'll start rushing and screw things up.
  13. JPMacJones


    Aug 9, 2011
    Awesome job on the SX! I've been threatening to buy one for awhile now and mod the heck out of it.
  14. Rip Topaz

    Rip Topaz

    Aug 12, 2005
    Willow Street, PA
    Beta tester for Positive Grid
    I'm really interested in the push/pull tone knob. I may have to try that one.
  15. Hansabass


    Oct 9, 2012
    Thanks JPMacJones! After 20 hours... I wrapped it in foil two hours ago this morning. It still isn't doing anything. I'll give it another two and then buy some stronger stuff I guess. It would be a shame of the decals though. Thanks again!
  16. Hansabass


    Oct 9, 2012
    Well, if you EVER want your house being painted for the REST of your ENTIRE life?!? And preferably orange? Ask the guys at SX: it will NEVER EVER come off again! :-(
    I guess the good old days of stripping the SX necks easily are (probably) over, at least with my new spb57. I'm preparing for a couple of days scraping and sanding... All for the good course ofcourse, but still... :-/

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