Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Axe Wives' Club - Molly

Way back in the day, (a wee bit farther back than I can remember, that is) I happened to come across a pretty affordable bass on eBay and figured I couldn't pass up the deal... mainly because it was a full scale bass with 24 frets and looked like an eligible candidate for a few good upgrades. As a rule of thumb, I never keep anything stock and always prefer to mod instruments (cheap ones in general, so as to not lose any intrinsic value) just as a way of making them my own. What can I say? It's my signature hobby, which I've decided to file under the category of The Axe Wives' Club, for memory's sake.

Stock Image Courtesy of the World Wide Web

At the time, I believe that these particular basses came in two different finishes, either black or this cherry walnut type of finish, which is the model I had. It had a satin finish on it, so the bass was very prone to dings rather than finish cracks if you weren't careful with it. Then again, I'm just your average clumsy would be musician, so things that like would eventually happen. This bass, however, I never really got the time to really get into (before I got out of it, that is!) and so it was sold faster than I had it in my possession to actually even miss ever owning it! While some wood lovers out there might appreciate the walnut finish on this instrument, I just didn't find anything remotely attractive about it.

Sure, I had a Worn Brown Epiphone SG later on, and that guitar was quite the beauty compared to this bass; for it sported a rather nasty looking reddish wood stain on it, which was; as they say... an acquired taste. The least the manufacturer could have done to make it better was to make it a fixed neck with a matching stain, however, they decided to go a different route and make it a 24 fret (yes, that's right... 24 fret!) bolt on neck with a raw satin finished neck... which in hindsight was a rather comfortable neck to play, however, I knew neck to nothing about fret leveling at the time, so the fret rattling against the frets made this bass even more of a turn off for me to play.

I was under the mistaken impression that the fret rattle was being caused by my decision to upgrade the bridge by swapping out the already seemingly upgraded bass bridge, which appeared to have a little more meat on it than your average four string bass chrome stock bridge. Little did I know that things like these are pretty much commonplace when it comes down to playing an instrument straight out of the box, regardless of whatever upgrade you do make to it in the long run. At any rate, it would be a few more years (from what I can recall) before I started investing more money into getting just the right amount of luthier tools to ensure a better playing instrument.

Around this time, I was beginning to get into fixing up guitars (and/or basses for that matter) on my own. I had already been burnt a few times by a guitar tech that would take liberties with my time and money. It seemed like every other mod job I took to him would come out wrong somehow, while at other times, everything worked perfectly. It wasn't 'til I learned how to do these kind of things on my own, that I realized just how wrong his work really was. One of these instances involved the set of Seymour Duncan JB2's that I had decided to upgrade (or swap out the stock pickups with). The specific pickup was the divided P bass pickup, which I regret no longer having a picture of... for it's one of those things that make you wonder just what the hell was this tech thinking or what really happened at his shop to bring this on?

Apparently my tech somehow managed to screw up the lower half (or maybe it was the upper half--- I can't remember) of the pickup (which is my best guesstimate... in short of just simply making off with half a pickup, that is!) and spliced the top half together with the bottom half of a regular stock pickup. To the untrained eye, one might have suspected that it was just the cover that had been misplaced, and the tech decided to improvise by using a cover that he had lying around... however, the pickup that he decided to fuse together with the Seymour Duncan had a much blockier looking appearance on it, and it appears as though the cover had been affixed to it and didn't actually have a removable type of cover on it! So it was bad enough that I wound up with half a pickup and no clue as to the whereabouts of the rest of it, but I didn't even have a semblance of a matching Tetris block looking pickup as a whole! It wasn't the first time this guy fucked me over on jobs like these, but it was certainly getting to be the last, I thought! It was bad enough that his shop was located in bum fucked Egypt, but my vehicle of choice at the time wasn't quite up to par with reliability, as it had a pretty touchy engine (i.e. touch and go, or drive and break down; take your pick!) as well as a leaky window that would flood the dashboard whenever it rained!

Anyways, before I get sidetracked into reminiscing about my old defunct rides and whatnot, let's get back to my old Red Walnut Arbor Bass; as it was the first instrument that I actually ever took the plunge into the wonderful world of soldering with. Did I learn a thing or two about soldering? Well... not exactly! What I did learn was that I was a lot better off saving up to buy a soldering station than resorting to working with a cheap 60 watt soldering iron. And what was worse was that the long shaft pots I decided to install on the bass were the type of pots that have opened case enclosures at the base of the pot (the ones in the picture here are the same exact pots in question, by the way, in case anyone's wondering), which makes the soldering process just a wee bit more difficult; since the ability of the flowing solder to adhere to the metal depends on just how scuffed up the surface is (which was yet another urban myth in and of itself as well). And because these are open back pots, the surface is pretty narrow and you always run the risk of accidentally flowing the solder onto the base of the shaft, which has this plastic looking wafer on it that's visible if you're looking right at the bottom of the pot.

One thing I learned here was to never, ever use these type of pots again... for they are quite the proverbial bitch to work with! The other mods that I made to this bass were very minimal, to say the least. A thumb rest was added to the flat top just above the P bass pickup (which I wound up having to replace since the fraken-pickup that my tech worked on was pretty FUBAR just to look at... the damn wires didn't even match for crying out loud! The only other hardware upgrade made to this bass (outside of the electronics, that is) consisted of a set of Waverly die cast tuners. It wasn't much of an improvement over the original stock tuning gears, mind you... since they weren't anything special, like say a locking set of tuning gears or perhaps even the EZ-LOKing style tuners which feature a pair of string holes for quicker tuning. As far as I can tell, the only difference between this set and the one that came stock on it was the etched W (Waverly) logo on the back of the gears themselves. I also suspected that there must have been some sort of repair job done to the neck just a little passed the point where the titled headstock ends and the straight part of the back of the neck begins. It was either very poor factory craftsmanship or perhaps a glue repair job that one could easily feel with their hands when thumping the bass at the lower registers.

Another thing that wasn't exactly up to scratch with my noodling around with circuitry in the early days was the whole copper shielding process. While I did understand that copper tape was needed to be basically upholstered (or affixed, if you want to get technical) onto each and every cavity, the one important thing that I overlooked was grounding the cavities together in order to ensure a strong continuity. Perhaps the funnest part when it comes to shielding involves placing strips of copper tape directly underneath the bridge plate and either placing the main ground wire in its original dugged out trench on the body, after shielding this area of course, or simply soldering a portion of the wire to this shielded area and simply letting the metal of the bridge make contact with it all in order to create a proper Faraday Cage for the circuit.

And speaking of circuits, here is the wiring diagram that was used for the upgrades to this bass, courtesy of Seymour Duncan. While a far stretch for the more complex mods that I would eventually get the knack for putting together, this Standard PJ Bass Wiring Diagram was a good starting steps, in other words. Click on the image below for a direct link to the online PDF file from the online Seymour Duncan Wiring Diagram Support section.

And mind you, I didn't exactly manage to complete the wiring on my own, until several months later... that was, after realizing that using a cheap soldering iron just wasn't cutting it, and swapping out the open back pots for a pair of regular closed back long shaft 500K ones. Yes, that's right... if you want to get something done right, you have to do it yourself! And this particular bass was no exception. I believe I wound up striping the bass of its pickups and sold it as a project body, if memory serves. Either way, it's history, and part of my history as a modder... for if I never got the hang of soldering at this point, I might not have continued tinkering around with guitar electronics, and this web blog might have never even come to be. This has been the highly reminiscent Dr. Gonzo XXVII (or the sometimes effervescent P.S. Elliott) reporting for the disassociated blog that is The Gnoyze Guitar Mods & More Web Blog.

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