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Squier

Vintage Modified Bass VI
$449 street, fender.com

The Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI is a killer, lower-priced recreation of an old personal favorite—the Bass VI that Fender debuted in 1961. Taking the feel of an electric guitar, putting it at a 30"scale, and stringing it up a whole octave down can offer new inspiration that neither a bass nor a guitar alone provides. These things are fun. Out of the box, this one played like you’d expect for this price range: not terrible, but with plenty to be desired, too. The build quality was very good: The nut and tuners were functional, and the bound rosewood fretboard and block inlays don’t just look cool—they’re nice features you typically find on models with a much higher price tag. That said, right off the bat I could tell the VI was going to need more than a standard setup. In addition, the pickups were okay, but nothing to write home about. And, as with all Fender offsets, I knew I had to address the lack of stability in the stock bridge.

Given that the original Bass VI is believed to have been Fender’s response to Danelectro’s 6-string bass from the mid ’50s, we thought the Squier would sound killer with a trio of Seymour Duncan Lipstick Tube pickups with specs similar to those used in the early Danos. Unfortunately, once I removed the original Jaguar-style pickups, the Duncans didn’t quite fit into the VI’s existing cavities. The width was fine, but the routes were too shallow (Photo 12).


Photo 12 — The new Seymour Duncan “lipstick tube” pickups were taller than the Bass VI’s original pickup routes, so the cavities needed to be deepened.

To remedy this, I removed the neck (to make it easier to work with the body for the coming jobs), measured to find the centerline of the guitar (to make sure the pickups were centered correctly), and used masking tape to mark both the centerline and lines indicating where to center the new holes I needed to drill for the pickups. (Like original Danelectro lipsticks, the new Duncans are installed using screws that go through brackets on the underside of the pickup and on through holes in the back of the guitar.) Then I used a drill press and a 7/8"Forstner bit (again marked with masking tape to ensure I didn’t drill too deep) to achieve the proper cavity depth (Photo 13).

Caution:Before increasing the depth of body routes, be sure to measure the thickness of your guitar to make sure you don’t inadvertently create a weak section that could easily break. A fraction of an inch can ruin your day—and your instrument!


Photo 13 — I used a 7/8" Forstner bit (marked with masking tape to avoid drilling too deep) to increase the depth of all three pickup cavities.

With the cavities at the proper depth, I proceeded to mark the exact location of the pickup mounting holes. Using the previously drawn centerline, I put the pickup in, aligned it with the centerline, and marked the holes for drilling. Using a 1/16"drill bit, I drilled all six mounting holes all the way through the body of the guitar (Photo 14).


Photo 14 — The pickup routes after being expanded with the Forstner drill bit, as well as drilled out with holes that go all the way through the back of the guitar.

Then I flipped the guitar onto its face in order to widen the screw holes from the back of the guitar with a 1/8"bit—and the drill again set to reverse to avoid cracking the finish. It was then time to mount the pickups. Because the new pickups didn’t come with any springs, I used the original springs from the stock pickups and some foam from the Duncan pickup packaging as a cushion (Photo 15).


Photo 15 — To prevent potentially vibrations from the pickup housings from possibly becoming audible, I lined the bottom of the cavities with foam pillaged from the new pickups’ packaging.

After installing the pickups, it was on to the electronics! The Bass VI has a panel of four slider switches like those found on a Fender Jaguar. The stock setup is an on-off switch for each pickup, plus a “strangle” bass-cut switch. I opted to turn the bass-cut switch into a phase-reversal switch for the middle pickup, which would then allow the guitar to get those classic out-of-phase tones (Photo 16).


Photo 16 — To expand the Bass VI’s palette of tones in a way I felt better complemented its core voice, I modded the “strangle” bass-cut slider to act as a phase-reversal switch for the middle pickup.

To beef up the somewhat thin sound of the lipstick pickups, I wired series-parallel switches to two push-pull pots (in lieu of the original pots): one for the bridge and middle pickups, and one for the middle and neck pickups (Photo 17). (Again, SeymourDuncan.com and Mod Garageare great resources for specifics on these operations.) This mod greatly multiplied the guitar’s sonic possibilities. I finished it off with the staple Switchcraft mono jack for peace of mind. Even though the electronic mods on this guitar were a little more involved, I knew it would be worth it in the end.


Photo 17 — To broaden the VI’s tonal options even further, I replaced the original volume and tone pots with push-pull units wired up with series-parallel switching.

Okay, let’s move on to hardware. Fender’s traditional “offset”-model bridges (i.e., those on Jaguars, Jazzmasters, and others with similar hardware) are often a sticking point for some players. Some love the classic “rocking” bridge and have no issues with strings popping out of the saddles.


Photo 18 — Among the reasons many players insist on upgrading the stock Fender “offset” bridge (right) to a Mastery (left) are the fact that 1) they are made of thick, high-quality solid brass with chrome plating, and 2) their wider posts eliminate unwanted rocking when installed in the body-mounted thimble receptacles.

Others flat-out insist on an upgrade. Many in the latter crowd consider a Mastery Bridge swap-out the pinnacle of perfection due to the fact that it keeps strings seated in the saddles, and its tight fit keeps intonation stable (Photo 18). This is my favorite upgrade to any offset. With this particular Squier, the standard Mastery M1 drops directly into the existing thimbles on the guitar. Install done. Upgrade achieved.

Post-Mod Thoughts
As mentioned in the intro to this mod, I knew I was in for some solid fretwork as soon as I pulled this guitar out of the box. I've come to expect a few loose “teeth” and a little bit of kick-up past the 12th fret on a lot of guitars in this price range. Once the frets were level, I had no issue getting the intonation perfect with the new Mastery Bridge. Tuning stability while using the vibrato was also noticeably better, as was sustain. The lipstick pickups’ classic, jangly tone was a perfect counterbalance to the low-end frequencies produced by the Bass VI’s long scale and lower tuning. With the addition of the series-parallel and phase switching, it really is incredible how many great tones you can find for all sorts of applications live or in the studio. After all is said and done, I’m truly bummed that this instrument is going back to be given away instead of going into my personal arsenal!

Watch a before-and-after demo of the Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI: