Just before we were sent into our houses for the foreseeable (big shoutout to those key workers who are out making the world go round), I bought myself a Squier Classic Vibe 70s Precision bass. I had sold a Squier Chris Aiken bass last year that I had modified with EMG GZR pickups and really regretted it, so it was time for another.
I wanted a P bass that I could leave in the back of a van or not worry so much if it gets knocked or, to a lesser degree, nicked. I've got some great basses but it's hard to relax when you've got a couple of grand on a stage in a dodgy venue! I needed a 'cheap' bass. So here she is...
£339 from A Strings in South Wales. They had two in stock, this and a brown one. The brown one looked cooler on the Internet but the black looked better in real life and this one played better.
I also wanted a bit of a project - I enjoy taking guitars apart and wanted my new bass to be different to everyone else's. So I decided to set myself a bit of a challenge, Top Gear style (but without the laughs and million pound budgets). A cheap bass challenge it was then.
I gave myself the challenge of spending 10% of what I paid for the bass on each upgrade - maximum of £34 per modification. I'd been looking at P bass pickups and the prices you can pay are crazy - you can easily spend 50% of what I paid for this bass on fancy pickups alone, so I thought I'd try a few budget conscious options out.
First to go was the bridge. The bass played very well to begin with, but I've always had a problem with the thin, bent metal bridge that Fender supplies on its poverty instruments. I find they wobble a bit in the saddles and don't feel secure. So I ordered a Fender High Mass bridge from here -> https://mickleburgh.co.uk/shop/fender-jazz-bass-p-bass-brass-bridge-assembly/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMItePq_P7q6AIVQbTtCh08ZgWEEAQYAyABEgISgPD_BwE for £34.
I wanted to see if the age old forum rumour was true - does a bridge increase sustain and improve tone? To find out, I recorded myself before changing the bridge and after. (Soundcloud link at the end, and no it doesn't!)
The new bridge made the bass feel a lot tighter, and better screwed together, weirdly. It also added some weight to the very light body and helped it sit a bit more nicely on a fabric strap. It's a quality item, with well machined parts and no sharp bits. Intonation was easy to sort and it required very little saddle adjustment to get the bass playing nicely again. I'd recommend Fender's Hi Mass bridge. In terms of sound, I didn't hear any difference. See for yourself in the Soundcloud link below. The notes don't sustain for years like people say and the tone of the bass remained the same. I never understood why someone would want a bass that sustained for ages, I've certainly never found any use for 2 minute long sustained notes... yet.
Happy with the bridge, I decided to try some new pickups. The pickups that came with the bass were a pleasant surprise - they had character and a nice output. The tone control was useful and helped tame some top end but it could also let the bass 'bite' when you wanted it to. I decided to change them just because I had some free time and I was curious.
I had acquired a set of Seymour Duncan SDP-1 pickups courtesy of @shoulderpet. They arrived really quickly and I set about carving up my bass to try them out. They needed a little soldering, but I fancied a challenge. Unfortunately, I was only getting sound out of the E and A strings. Upon going through everything with a fine tooth comb (and a magnifying glass), I had realised that in trying to solder a connection from one half of the pickup to the other, I had lost the end of the winding. I had probably lost it when I put some heat on the solder point and it had slipped out of it's hole and gone missing. Bugger. I shelved those for now and I ordered a set of Entwistle PBXN pickups to see what the fuss was about.
Whilst I was waiting for them to arrive, I decided to shield the insides as per @la bam's awesome thread on his John Deacon bass. I had noticed a bit of noise when I wasn't touching the strings previously so thought why not. I got some aluminium tape and went to work on the gizzards. It's a surprisingly therapeutic thing, putting foil tape in the pickup cavity, but my attempt did look a bit like a 5 year old had finished it off. I put some on the back of the pick guard and we were done. This was the tape I used, a whole £4.09 - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fixman-190288-Silver-Aluminium-Adhesive/dp/B00FHXA7TE/ref=pd_nav_hcs_rp_2/258-0320931-5931511?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B00FHXA7TE&pd_rd_r=abbd6043-4e0b-4aae-9843-e48fde7dfe81&pd_rd_w=LHmq1&pd_rd_wg=TIXYi&pf_rd_p=12e82a50-703f-4e6f-ae56-e22f8e18f1f0&pf_rd_r=M0X9MJ3HJM004AQ0HFH7&psc=1&refRID=M0X9MJ3HJM004AQ0HFH7
The new pickups arrived from Pickupsplusmore on eBay (https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Entwistle-PBXN-pickup-for-bass-guitar-neodymium-designed-by-Alan-Entwistle/233364897542?ssPageName=STRK%3AMEBIDX%3AIT&_trksid=p2057872.m2749.l2649). First thing's first, these pickups are DEEP. The screws that go through the pickup go pretty much the entire height of the pickup again underneath. I had to cut the foam that kept the original pickups secure in half and put them either side of the screws that hang down. After a quick test with a tap from a screwdriver and happy that they worked, I tried to refit the pick guard, but as is well documented on here, the 'ears' of the Entwistle pickup cover are bigger than the originals.
Luckily, I had the Seymour Duncan pickups here which I salvaged the pickup covers from. Popped the Entwistle ones off, put these on, and the pick guard fit. Voila.
I'm not a badge snob by any means (in fact I'm a bit gutted not to be representing a British guitar legend), but the Seymour Duncan covers look cool and the Entwistle pickups are superb. Using neodymium magnets obviously gives these pickups an increased output, but they can sound aggressive and menacing or they can chill out but keep a fat, smooth sound. There's more of everything - every frequency seems to have been turned up by 4 or 5 notches. Playing with these pickups reminds me of the first time I plugged my old MiM Jazz into my friends Fender Bassman 135; it made my bass sound higher in quality compared to playing through the shitboxes I usually went through. There were deep, rich overtones and each note left my bass beautifully. I feel like that is what these pickups have done to this bass. I'd be impressed if they were £130, but they aren't. They're barely £30. Honestly, a brilliant buy.
I recorded this bass throughout the (admittedly limited!) mods. I've uploaded them to Soundcloud with a fingerstyle, a slap line and a picked blues tune to give a bit of a range. The fingerstyle pieces were played with the tone at 50% but the rest had the tone fully open. There is no compression, no touching up (oh matron...) or do-overs, or even a backing sound. Just the raw sound of the bass with all of my mistakes after each mod.
So in all, this bass has cost me:
£339 - bass
£34 - Fender Hi Mass Bridge
£29.49 - Entwistle PBXN
£10 - Seymour Duncans (that I ruined, sorry!)
£4.09 - Aluminium Tape
Total = £416.58
I'm really pleased with everything, and all upgrades cost no more than 10% of the bass. I've spent around 23% of the bass' new value modifying it. God, lockdown is fun, isn't it?