A while back I started getting tired of asking to borrow friend’s basses to record demos with. I’m sure they got tired of me asking, too. It made sense, given the fact that I was recording more, that a bass would be a good investment to have around the house. I originally set out to find an adequate used bass to fill the job, but that didn’t seem to be possible with the price range I wanted to stay within. Anything I found was either too expensive, didn’t have the right pickup combo, or would need extensive, expensive hardware changes. Once again, building seemed to be the best option. Hey, it’s worked for all my guitars, why not for a bass, right? There was only a slight chance it could go horribly, horribly wrong. I had a pretty general idea what I wanted: A Precision Bass body with a P/J pickup configuration. Beyond that hadn’t given it a ton of thought. I knew I didn’t want my first foray into bass building to include more than four strings. I’m not really tuning lower than C# at the moment anyway. So a standard P/J configured body it was.
After mulling over my options for a few, I went with a KnE ”San D Bass” model, essentially a Charvel/Jackson Concert-Bass style body in Alder, rear-routed for a P/J pickup combo, and with a dual battery compartment should I decide to get crazy with the electronics. The compartment fit the standard two-battery box offered by StewMac.com. It’s drilled for the five-screw OEM four-string bridge, so no worries there. And of course it’s the standard Fender 34″ scale, so I could use a variety of Fender replacement necks. So what to do in that department? A good friend and respected, well-known drummer -who knows his bass players – suggested I try a Jazz Bass spec neck instead of the wider P Bass version despite my ginormous hands. To paraphrase, “Think Jaco” he said. Okay! I decided to go with his advice. I looked around at a few standard offerings, but nothing caught my eye. I didn’t really want a Maple fretboard, but I despise most Rosewood. I know, it’s a quirk. Just not my thing.
I’d poked around on Warmoth’s in-stock list, and found a few J Bass necks with Ebony fingerboards, but they were all 21-fretters, and I wanted 22 minimum. I started thinking, what the heck, let’s just order a custom-built neck from scratch from them. I’ve custom-ordered three of their guitar necks over the years, and they’ve never failed me before. I went with their “Superbass” spec, that comes standard with steel stiffening rods installed in the length of the neck – under the fretboard alongside the truss rod, for added stability. This puppy ain’t movin’. I went with the standard J Bass 6230 fretwire and a “slim taper” back profile. I ordered it reamed for the classic elephant ear-tuners because I love those. I also discovered I had the option of ordering it with a pre-installed, pre-slotted Tusq nut in black, which I did! One less thing to worry about.
One thing I definitely wanted a square fretboard end in keeping with the Charvel vibe of the build. I discovered it was an up-charge on a 22 fret neck, but was standard on the 24-fret version. No brainer. So 24 it was. The site specifies four to five weeks build-time – it barely took four, and and was absolutely floored when I opened the package. They nailed it. I couldn’t have been more pleased. It’s beyond solid, and once assembled it was clear there were no dead spots anywhere on the neck. The huge fretboard extension looks odd, but it definitely looks like it means business. And I never thought I’d be shocked at the amount of sustain a bass had, but Nigel Tufnel would be proud. “Look at the pictures, can you hear it?” Okay, you can’t…but you COULD, if…
For pickups, OF COURSE I knew I was going to use Seymour Duncans! A Quarter Pound P/J set, to be precise. I want this bass to sound powerful when recorded, so I figured the Quarter Pound versions of Seymour’s incarnation of the Precision and Jazz bridge pickups would be just what the doctor ordered (it was). I mean, they had me at “fat, full, and punchy.” Then another bassist friend mentioned he was about to put a Duncan STC-3P active tone circuit in his bass, and had I considered checking that out? No, hadn’t – but suddenly I was, especially when upon doing a little research I discovered Dug Pinnick, Chris Chaney and Ty Zamora, all guys who get bass tones I love, used them. Hey, I already have a battery compartment! Done. Wow, bass-building is easier than I thought! I ordered a black Gotoh SB 210 bridge, a set of black Schaller BML tuners, and as a last-minute impulse add-on – a black Hipshot BT2 Bass Extender Key. This would allow me to drop to the aforementioned C# when tuned to E flat at the flip of a lever. Okay, that – was just piling on. What was supposed to be a bass “just to keep around the house” had quickly evolved into its own specialized project. The idea was that the end result would be extremely versatile, with a range of available tones, since it’s going to be the only bass around. As it turns out, I’m convinced I achieved that goal! As soon as I had it assembled and strung it with some .45-105s, I knew I was on to something. Upon wiring it, my positive suspicions were confirmed. I should have done this years ago.
It bears mentioning I may have gone a bit overboard wiring the STC-3P at 18 volts. Found a schematic for the mod online and went for it. Might not have needed to! This thing is LOUD! I had to seriously lower my input gain on my recording interface the first time I plugged in to my recording interface. The signal was way hotter than all my guitars.
Once I had the gain level stabilized, I was rewarded with huge, gorgeous bass tones. The SPB-3 pickup instantly sounds like the fattest, most authoritative P-bass sound around, big and robust. Great for laying down the bottom end of heavier tunes I’m working on. The SJB-3 pickup is powerful as well, but with more emphasis on articulation and clarity as you’d expect. It will lend itself well to any of the silly unison lines with guitar parts I’ve imagined and will now attempt! It’s easy to see why this pickup combo is so popular, it’s extremely versatile. Especially when augmented by the STC-3P. The blend control allows one to dial in subtle shades of each pickup into the main voice of the other, something a mere either-or-both selector switch would not afford. The treble/bass/mid tone controls are very useful, providing a wide range of tones. The ‘slap’ switch – which adds a preset EQ curve via a push-pull pot in the master volume control, is quite useful adding a little more punch (in the standard configuration; when wired at 18v, it’s like giving a young Mike Tyson as set of brass knuckles!).
Wiring the circuit wasn’t as daunting a task as I’d imagined; a few connections from the pre-wired control harness (two of which are plug-in) onto the circuit board, connect the pickups to the harness, solder the ground, battery and output connections from the board and controls to the supplied jack and you’re go to go.
Running a DI track into my Avid Mbox II and adding PODfarm and Head Case emulations with a touch of compression I was able to get a huge, growly tone for a piece I’m goofing around with… I’m no bass player by any stretch of the imagination; I want to learn to play with my fingers and do it right, though – so this was my first attempt at fingerstyle bass. I almost like the way it turned out playing-wise, but I love the bass tone!
It’s a mix of tones suggested by a both a producer friend and a few online tutorials I’ve seen whereby you mix a regular ol’ SVT-type bass tone with a hint of the tone from the bass run through a distorted guitar amp underneath. Cool effect! It really seems to add some “oomph” to the distorted guitar tracks, too.
I haven’t decided what color to paint this beast yet, I’m currently mulling over solid color or potentially silly graphic options…not going to go too wild on a bass that’s just for home recording, but I still want it to look cool. One thing is certain: I know whatever it ends up being, I’ve got a great-sounding, versatile bass that is a joy to play. Calling it a success.