In this installment, we’ll look at what went into resurrecting and restoring the Stack Knob Jazz bass owned by Walter “Uncle Bookie” Booker.
You may remember that the bass was painted with a brush, had all the wrong components, was unplayable, and required a full restoration. I purchased the bass in December 2009, and it took until September 2010 to finally complete the job. Any retailer who buys stock to sit on for 10 months before putting it up for sale is basically asking to go out of business. But, honestly, we did not buy the bass for that purpose. This was a labor of love, and we don’t think this bass is going anywhere anytime soon. We love it too much.
After I bought the bass, I had to decide what to do with it. Even after a thorough analysis that involved at least 50 professionals—including players, dealers, and folks who work in antique restoration, instrument preservation, and music history—we still couldn’t reach a decision. A conversation with my dad, a non-musician, finally put it all together. He said the bass was meant to be played, so make it play. This thought process took six weeks.
With that decision finally made, we then had to decide who would do the restoration work. I couldn’t choose just one person, so I used two. I asked Krishna Jain of the Guitar Garage in Boston to do the cosmetic restoration. The process took four-and-a-half months. The Pope did not rush Michelangelo. I could not rush Krishna.
While all this was going on, I scoured the globe for original parts. For this mission, I had two criteria: The parts had to be as correct as possible, yet buying them had to make fiscal sense.
In April of 2010, someone dropped off a shoebox at the shop with a note inside that read, “I think you may need these.” Lo and behold, the original pickups and bridge were inside. The pickups were blown, so I sent them to Jim Rolph to rewind and restore them to perfection.
I found ferrules for the tuners, a set of screws, and, of all things, an NOS sheet of plastic that was used to make pickguards in the ’60s! I found this in Italy as an 18" x 18" sheet that was warped up into a slight bowl shape. I had the plastic leveled and a guard expertly cut out of this material. The bevel is not as steep as I would have liked, it’s more of a mid-’60s bevel. I used the original neck plate and retained the decking screws as an homage to the good Uncle.
Because an original stack-knob assembly costs thousands of dollars, I decided to use a Fender reissue unit. Finally, in late June 2010, the newly painted bass returned to the shop. I was thrilled: The Olympic white paint looked like a factory job, as did the vintage tint neck. Most importantly, the neck felt like it had a factory finish.
For the assembly phase, I called my A-1 luthier supreme, Matt Brewster of 30th Street Guitars/Rust Guitars in New York City. So Matt could see what we were facing, I hauled in the bass and all the parts. After we laid the bass and parts out on the workbench, we noticed a clear mismatch between the body patina and the newer hardware. The new finish was not relic’d, but it was mellowed out, so we worked on the parts until the new and old hardware visually matched the mellowed finish. We replaced the nut because the original was shattered, and then assembled the bass and dressed the frets. Finally, the bass was ready to play for the first time in decades!
The feel is unmistakably early Stacker, though the tone is a little more focused and a little edgier than my ’61 Stacker. This is because the rewind is fresh and the pickups haven’t yet had time to mellow out. That said, by no means does it sound even slightly middy like a reissue Jazz bass. The pickups measure 7.65 kΩ at the tail and 7.33 kΩ at the neck. My ’61 reads 6.54 kΩ and 6.22 kΩ, respectively. Nonetheless, the bass is nuts. She oozes all the magic and mojo that an instrument of this stature should.
There’s another twist to this tale: When I originally picked the bass up at Jerry Barnes’ studio in December ’09, Artie Smith, who’s well known in NYC music circles, saw the basket case and had a “What happened to that instrument?” look on his face. The day I picked up the bass from 30th Street and walked out of the store’s work area with it, who’s in the store? Artie!
“Kev, that’s a cool bass,” he said. “What is it?”
“Artie,” I replied. “Remember the Bookie bass?”
A nod of approval from Artie, and I knew I’d done the right thing. This is a special bass that was owned by a special man. When I brought this bass to the Arlington Guitar Show, folks were just floored by it. And that was a mighty fine feeling.
Kevin Borden has been playing bass since 1975, and he is currently the principal and co-owner, with “Dr.” Ben Sopranzetti, of Kebo’s Bass Works (kebosbassworks.com). You can reach Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to call him KeBo.