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January 3, 2006

Filed under: music»tools»bass

Cort Curbow

Single pickup, active three-channel EQ preamp with slap switch, 34" scale length. Built largely out of synthetic materials that won't react to the weather. Comes in white, blue, red (faster), and black (louder). Twenty-five frets on the G string. Twenty-seven frets on the E. Beautiful access to the upper part of the neck.

So now we know where my freelance pay is going.

December 22, 2005

Filed under: music»tools»bass

Rebuild or resell?

After spending $300 on a "new" instrument, it's hard to put it aside. The Hohner B2B bass that I acquired from eBay has some genuinely nice features: the upper fret access is really phenomenal, and the weight/portability factor is a lot better than the All-Star's relative bulk. With all that said (and even after I've done my best setup on it) the pickups are still microphonic, the intonation is still a little wonky, and nobody carries double-ball strings. Some of these problems can be solved easily. There are several vendors I could visit online for strings, and the intonation/action issues will only improve as I continue to work on it. The pickups are not a cheap fix. I'd have to find a decent pair that will drop in with a minimum of drilling/routing, and I'll probably want to replace the rest of the electronics while I'm at it. And there's a question of how much the tone can possibly improve: the headless construction of the bass is supposed to eliminate dead spots, but it also has a very strange resonance across the entire instrument when played acoustically.

So at this point, I face a dilemma: should I drop the cash to try to turn this dud into a dynamo? Or should I leave it and save my money for another instrument? It's not the first time I've had this debate with myself. When I first started playing bass, I found myself torn between the idea that I could upgrade (and bass upgrades can be very tempting) and the danger of destroying a fairly expensive piece of equipment. Now that I'm more skilled at the process, I don't think I'd hesitate with even a more expensive axe than the All-Star. Customizing an instrument is a way to make it uniquely yours, and that's important in an age of mass-production. I don't think the Hohner is worth the extra dough, but it'll be a good travel bass and might get me a trade-in discount when I finally find something I like.

Why do I even need another bass? Good question, hard to answer. Musicians call the need for better, prettier instruments G.A.S., or Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Some of it genuinely has to do with trying to find a new sound, or to get closer to the sound I hear in my head. Some is due to a need for physical improvements--better high-fret access, or easier pickup blend controls. The rest is simple lust: did you see the quilted maple top on that Fender? Or the gorgeous natural endangered rainforest woods used to make this Warwick Infinity?

On a semi-related note, I've decided I will be playing Dremo's tomorrow night. A four-song license to Rock will start around 9pm.

August 26, 2005

Filed under: music»tools»bass

Playing Close to the Vester

You can't see all the new wiring in that Vester guitar, but it's there. I know it's there, because I put it in this weekend. When the acoustic proved too noisy for the Nerdlet's needs, we picked up this electric guitar for around $75--the only thing wrong with it was a disconnected audio jack, which was an easy fix. But when we got it home and I went to pull the tone knob off the potentiometer shaft, a big chunk of the assembly came with it. Clearly, this was a sign that I needed to learn to solder.

My first attempt was, to put it bluntly, not good. The guitar worked, but only intermittently, and the soldering was very messy (my mistake was that instead of heating the joint and adding solder, I heated the solder and tried to stick it to the metal. This does not work at all, kids.). So I took all the old wiring out, bought new pots and switches, and reworked the whole thing. I even took the pickups out and ran new wires to them, because the old ones annoyed me. The diagram I got from Seymour Duncan didn't look anything like the original wiring, but it worked flawlessly the first time and is apparently still working. So! The Nerdlet now has a 2-humbucker guitar with fully-functioning electronics, a beautiful pearlescent purple finish, and a brand new Fender Telecaster neck (complete with black hardware--none more black, really).

As a result, I'm considering applying this newly-acquired arcane knowledge toward my own instruments. Not the All-Star, of course, because that bass has had everything but the bass replaced, and I don't want to risk putting any more holes in it. It will have to be a new instrument, and that means either building it from parts, or hacking a production model up inside. The former is not nearly as formidable as it sounds. Companies like Warmoth and Stewart Mac will sell you all the bits and pieces to your specifications. So say I wanted to put together a Beast-style bass with one single-coil pickup wired directly to the output, I could do that. It turns out to run about $600, which is a good price for a bass made of decent parts assembled exactly how I want them.

But the downside is that I would have to assemble it myself, including drilling holes for the neck, and that gives me the willies. It's not so much that I'm incompetent--I've done my share of woodworking--but a slip of the hand on either the neck or the body, and I could be out a couple hundred bucks. I get a little nervous just thinking about it. So I think the second option, subverting an already-constructed bass, is the best way to go. I can replace the wiring and pickups to get a great sound with little investment as long as the instrument itself is well-constructed. Luckily, there's a company called Rondo that specializes in just that--well-made basses for cheap that just need a little electronic work to be truly excellent (they do this, apparently, by paying their workers a decent wage, and not offering any different colors or customizations). I'm looking at the SX-SJB75. The wood is alder, a good strong choice, with a natural finish that I really like. It has a bridge cover that would conceal the removed/disconnected bridge pickup, and the controls could easily be removed and the holes soldered shut, for my perfectly streamlined instrument. Plus I dig the block inlays.

I mean, who doesn't like block inlays?

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