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Every once in awhile, I come up with an inexpensive and rewarding bass project. Usually these projects come about when I stumble upon a bass at a great price, or when I have an idea I’d like to try out but don’t want to spend big bucks buying a new axe off the rack.
This time, I ended up building a nice sounding, great playing Stingray clone for about $200. What fun!
A False Start…But A Great Pickup
A couple of months ago, I wanted to try a semi-hollow bass project and got an interesting Samick Royale that used one Music Man-style pickup. I tried a few different mods with it but couldn’t quite get the sound I was after. It played great, though, so I gave it one last shot with a different pickup. Looking around on talkbass.com, I found a Bartolini Stingray model that somebody had pulled from a Lakland.
In the bass world, Bart pickups are known for their warm, hi-fi character and moderate output, and that’s not what most players are after in a Stingray. But back in the late-seventies, I put a set of Barts in my ’74 Jazz. You’re thinking…replacement pickups in a vintage instrument? (Hey, who knew about rewinding pickups in the seventies?) That was the era of the replacement pickup and a small local shop talked me into trying the Barts, which weren’t considered vintage at that time.
So, I bought the Bart Stingray pickup ($50 shipped) and put it into the Samick bass, but that still wasn’t what I was looking for. Plus, I wasn’t able to shield the pickup in that semi-hollow axe and it had a bit more hum that I like. I’m pretty particular about keeping my basses quiet and hum-free. I ended up selling the bass and putting the original pickup back in.
There I was…a nice Stingray pickup in hand, but no axe to put it in!
Let me take another diversion here. I’ve always been a fan of Leo Fender-designed basses. The ’74 Jazz was my first real bass, the one that replaced my first Sears axe. The Sears bass was an “Oops!” moment, because when I bought it around 1970, my bass teacher told me shortly afterward that he’d found me a Fender bass for $100. Like a total idiot, I didn’t buy it, hanging onto the Sears instead. And for the last few decades, I’ve wondered what kind of vintage axe I missed out on.
Another reason I’m fond of Leo Basses is because I grew up in Fullerton, California, an easy bike ride from the Fender factory. I’ll always remember the time I rode over to the Fender factory in my early-teens and peered through the chain-linked fence at a dumpster full of rejected necks and bodies. (Yes, in the sixties!)
Besides playing Leo’s Jazz and Precision basses, I’ve played an early G&L L-1000 (with the famous OMG mode) and now, a G&L L-2500, but never a Stingray. What defines a Stingray the most is its big humbucking pickup located in a sweet spot a little closer to the bridge than a typical single pickup instrument, which gives it a little extra zing. The L-2500, in contrast, has one pickup a bit closer to the bridge and one closer to the neck. The Stingray pickup lands somewhere in between those two.
All right, let’s get back on track…
Finding A Body Donor
There I was with a nice Bartolini Stingray pickup just waiting for a bass. Yes, I know that’s backwards. First you’re supposed to buy the bass, then replace the pickup. To keep the project cheap, I posted a want ad on talkbass.com for an OLP (Officially Licensed Product) Stingray.
There are plenty of these OLP clones out there, they’re decent instruments for the price, and they’re cheap. I had a couple of offers and picked one up for $150. Now I was at the total cost of $200 for the key parts I needed. I already had some copper shielding tape left over from another project. And, of course, I had a set of needle files from the hardware store and all the soldering tools.
I decided to keep the cost and effort down by going without a preamp which Stingrays usually come with. I didn’t want to route the body to fit in a preamp and battery. But that left me with three pots and the need for just two. OLP wires their pickups in parallel, with a separate pot for each coil. That makes it sort of like a Jazz bass with the coils really close together.
Bartolini recommends wiring their Stingray pickup in series instead, which doesn’t work as well for separating the coils. As the Bartolini tech document explained, parallel wiring with this pickup produces about half the output of series and the tone isn’t as full.
A Switch Switchero
My solution – I put a series/parallel switch in place of the extra volume knob for a bit more versatility. Music Man Sterling basses and G&L basses use this kind of switch, and several websites show how to wire a pickup that way. It can be done with an inexpensive double pole-double throw switch. At this point, I’d broken the $200 barrier by about five bucks.
My first step was to wire up the bass to see if I could get a sound I liked. And as I expected, the Bartolini pickup sounded great. Full, tight bottom, clear top, good output, nice detailed sound (at least in series mode). The parallel mode had notably less output and punch, but hey, having a switch on your axe is always fun! So I ended up leaving the bass wired with the switch, even though I’m not likely to play it that way very much.