Is your vintage bass crackling, popping, or just plain weak? Here are some common fixes to try.
A majority of the repairs my shop tends to
make involve electronic issues on vintage
basses. Every vintage bass consists of the fol-
lowing electronic components: pickups, wire,
solder, potentiometers, tone caps, and an
output jack. In the ‘70s, IC chips and circuit
cards were introduced in the form of onboard
preamps. This month, let’s explore some
common maladies and some easy solutions.
You will need screwdrivers, electronic component cleaner, thin-gauge solder, a multi-meter and a 30-watt soldering pencil for the following repairs.
Warning: A soldering gun or high-wattage pencil can destroy your components. If you are unsure of your repair skills, do not attempt anything you read in this article. This is not for the amateur. No one will be accountable for your errors except yourself.
Electronic maladies come in three common forms: the noisy, crackling signal, no signal at all, and bad, thin tone. These issues arise for common reasons: lack of maintenance, age, wear and tear, and “chicken juice.” Chicken juice is a mystery fluid that always seems to sink into or onto components. It could be years of sweat, beer, or burger grease, but we just call it chicken juice.
Crackle and Pop
There’s nothing worse than turning your knobs or jiggling your cable and getting that famous crackle not heard since the Sputnik missions. Fortunately this is probably the easiest repair of all. This is caused by dirt 99 percent of the time. Spray electronics cleaner on a Q-tip and wipe out of the inside of your output jack. Use the other end to dry and you should be good to go. I have also seen alcohol on a napkin and a rolled-up Stridex pad work at gigs.
For your pots, you need to get to them before you can do anything. If you have limit- ed experience and a valuable bass, leave this to a pro. You could tear wiring or damage your pickguard. Your pots should have a small gap behind the solder lugs. Spray cleaner in there and then turn your knobs back and forth. Repeat if needed.
This next step may start some arguments, as it is generally not advised, but sometimes you cannot clear up your pot with just cleaner. As a last resort before swapping out the pot, I have seen WD-40 used with good results. Remember to wipe up all fluid residue.
Thin and Unmanly Tone
Does your bass sound thin? Does it screech? Do you have low output? Is it unmanly? Son, we need to talk!
This first nugget applies to Rickenbackers only. I bet your tail pickup has all the above issues, even after changing the pickup. I also bet that your bass is a ‘70s-era production. Begin by removing your pickguard and looking for three caps. That is the problem. Two of the caps are responsible for making your tone pots work, while the third cap coming off the toggle is an output bleeder.
Now you have a decision to make: do you modify your bass, running a straight wire and removing this cap, or is it a heavily-valued bass that you’d prefer to leave stock? Removing the cap will open the bass tone and volume up, but leave this repair to a seasoned professional.
For most other basses, especially Fender basses from 1967 to 1975, there are a number of starting points for dealing with tonal problems. Remember that your wiring is only hair- width gauge that is either a single strand or braided. There are many reasons for the maladies—we just have to start at the beginning.
My first step is a visual inspection of all wiring. Are any wires disconnected? If so, there is the cause of your zero output. Look at every connection—could a strand of wire be touching something it shouldn’t? If the visual inspection doesn’t reveal any obvious problems, it’s time to break out the multi-meter. Ninety-nine percent of pickups typically read in the 5 to 16k-ohm range. As a quick rule of thumb, vintage Jazz bass pickups are about 5.5 to 8.2k, Precision pickups are about 8 to 12k and Gibson Mudbuckers are at the high end of the scale.
Using your multi-meter, take a reading at the leads where they come out of the bobbin. You will have one of three things happen: you will be in range, you will have no reading, or your meter will “spin” and never stop. If you are in range, you should proceed to the next step. No reading signifies a dead pickup, in most cases, and will require the inspection of a pro luthier. If your meter spins, you’re looking at an open coil, which will also necessitate a trip to the shop.
If you have a good reading at the bobbin, set your pots wide open and begin tracing the path of the suspected bad signal using your multi-meter. When you find your bad reading, odds are you will have either a cold solder joint, where all you have to do is heat it up, or a bad wire. Simply alligator clip a piece of wire to the offending section and see if the signal opens up—you may also find a funny pot or a dried out tone cap.
Granted, there are countless possibilities when it comes to tonal problems, but 99 percent of tonal issues can be found through these steps. On occasion, I still need an extra set of hands and will bring my repair to my local guru. I just had an instance where a ‘73 Jazz bass had a perfect reading at the pickup, and yet the pickup was bad and needed a rewind. Remember that there’s no shame in respecting your grade level.
All in all, a little common sense and patience will yield a great result. I hope this article saved you a few sheckles and grey hairs. Until next time, drop the gig bag and bring the canolis.
Kevin Borden has been a bass player since 1975 and is currently the principle and co-owner, with “Dr.” Ben Sopranzetti, of Kebo’s Bass Works: kebosbassworks.com. He can be reached at: Kebobass@yahoo.com. Feel free to call him KeBo.
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We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Looking for a compact, “noiseless” way to plug in and play guitar? Check out the brand-new Gibson Digital Amp, available only in the Gibson App.
The new Gibson App simplifies the learning process and brings guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way. The Gibson App is the place to take your guitar playing to the next level. New to the Gibson App is the Gibson Digital Amp, the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediate players and pros to get their sound anywhere. The Gibson Digital Amp is an accessible amplifier for both acoustic and electric guitars, and is currently available for Apple/iOS users--an Android version will debut next year.
Use the Gibson Digital Amp’s jamming guide to get started and transform your sound with built-in effects and pedals, jam to backing tracks, or use it in lessons and songs. The Gibson Digital Amp only requires your phone, and wired headphones for the best playing experience, no cables are needed. The amp features 3 acoustic mic presets, 4 electric amp presets, and 6 effects pedals.
The Gibson Digital Amp is the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediates and pros.
The Gibson App uses a unique two-way, interactive platform to teach guitar students how to do everything from playing their first note to shredding loads of songs. The Gibson App features interactive lessons with thousands of lessons and songs. Learn the songs step-by-step with video tutorials from superstar artists and pro guitarists in the “Gibson App Guide.” The Gibson App also includes the new Digital Amp, a built-in tuner, a metronome, Gibson TV, and new songs are added every week. New Gibson App Guides are added regularly and include Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer’s favorite iconic KISS guitar solos, Richie Faulkner’s (Judas Priest) “Guide to Metal,” Jared James Nichols’ “Guide to Blues,” CELISSE’s “Guide to Songwriting,” and more.
The Gibson App uses “audio augmented reality” to provide dynamic feedback to students as they learn and play. As you pluck a note or strum a chord, the Gibson App listens to your guitar and gives you real-time feedback on your playing. It also gives students a more contextual learning experience: Instead of learning chords and scales in a vacuum, you’re able to practice on a scrolling tablature that lets you hear how you sound with the backing of a virtual band. That means you can load up “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Girl" by Tom Petty, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Where is My Mind" by Pixies, “Country Roads” by John Denver, “I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett, “Heaven” by Kane Brown, “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran, “Killer Queen” by Queen,“ Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns ‘N Roses, “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Roxanne” by The Police, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, and “Don't Look Back In Anger” by Oasis and hundreds more songs in a wide range of genres, to see how your play matches up with such seminal tracks.
As you’re playing, the Gibson App gives you feedback on timing and tone, ensuring that students are getting active input on how their play is developing. The Gibson App appeals to players of all levels, it’s not just for beginners looking to learn a few chords; the app can assist seasoned guitarists who are working their way through difficult riffs, want to learn their favorite songs, or polish their advanced techniques.
Players can also challenge themselves by speeding up or slowing the tabs. Like having a full-time guitar teacher, the Gibson App keeps track of all your progress and adjusts lesson plans accordingly. The Gibson App released a “backing track mode” which supports both lesson and song playback without headphones, so users can self-select what works best for their current environment. And that’s not all: the Gibson App also packs in a fully-featured digital tuner for guitar first-timers, there’s even a detailed lesson on how to tune your instrument, a multi-function metronome, players can connect to free one-on-one consultations with Gibson’s Virtual Guitar Tech team, and to direct links to the Gibson, Epiphone, and Kramer online stores for easy shopping for guitars, gear, apparel, and accessories.
Learn Guitar With The Gibson App
The Gibson App is more than a pocket-sized guitar teacher, it’s loaded with an archive of exclusive content and original programming from its premium and accessible award-winning online network, Gibson TV, featuring music icons telling their best guitar stories, with more episodes and installments added regularly. Users can watch Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi share insights and tales from his decades-long career on the series “Icons,” dive into Joe Bonamassa’s assortment of legendary Les Paul guitars on “The Collection,” or see how Gibson’s iconic instruments are made in their Nashville factory from body to binding on “The Process.” There’s even a series called “The Scene” that focuses on backstage stories from hallowed music venues from coast to coast like The Troubadour and Grand Ole Opry.
The Gibson App free version features a few lessons a day; the premium version of the Gibson App offers full access and a 14-day free trial, then costs $19.99/£16.49 monthly or $119.99/£98.99 yearly.
For more information, please visit gibson.com.
This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
Belltone Guitars, as part of their Custom-Select System curated offering of pickups, has partnered McNelly pickups to create a one-of-a-kind retro-vibe P-90 pickup in the standard Filtertron size format. This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl, and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
The McNelly P-90 Foil-Coil comes housed in a ‘raw’ nickel outer casing with a dull nickel foil face with metal mount screw gromets to complete the ‘new-vintage’ aesthetic, making it a perfect choice for your signature Belltone custom build. Available exclusively through Belltone Guitars.
Check out the Custom-Select System belltoneguitars.com to preview the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons and all our standard and selectable components available to create your own signature Belltone. Then visit the Dream Lab on our website and select either model B-Classic ONE with its top binding or B-Classic TWO with its arm and body contours select your body color from our wide range of offerings, select your neck profile of either standard ‘C’ or thicker ’59 Round Back and either Maple or Rosewood fingerboard followed by your tuners, pickguard, and strings. Finally, review our curated custom-designed, and unique pickup selection to locate the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons to complete your signature build.
Builds start at just over $2,300.00 with a custom case and shipping included.
For more information, please visit belltoneguitars.com.
McNelly P 90 Foil Tron video Sep27
Belltone P-90 Foil-Tron Pickup
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses.
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the release of the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses. The new Relentless P and Relentless J series pickups feature the Relentless cover designed in collaboration with Billy Sheehan.
As with the Relentless pickups, we removed all the hard edges from the standard P Bass and standard J Basspickups, and added an arch to the top of the pickups to bring the sensing coils and pole pieces closer to the strings. These improvements increase the dynamic range and make active circuitry unnecessary.
The Relentless P and Relentless J pickups incorporate Neodymium magnets and produce 70 percent more output than traditional passive pickups, and they’re dead quiet due to the incorporation of metal covers and foil-shielded cables. To dial in (or fine-tune) the individual string output, the Relentless P and Relentless J include eight adjustable pole pieces. These pickups also have a broad magnetic field so you can even bend notes without volume dropout.
DiMarzio’s extra shielding makes the Relentless P and Relentless J better for both recording and stage performances. We’ve mounted them onto robust .09375” thick circuit board base plates to eliminate the annoying protruding mounting screws — ultimately creating a more comfortable and consistent foundation to rest your fingers on.
The new Relentless P steps beyond the traditional P-Bass sound and can only be described as massive. It has more of everything: more volume, beefier lows, a growling midrange, and crispy highs with better individual string definition.
The Relentless J incorporates a new invention, (patent pending) parallelogram-shaped coils, offering an expanded mid-range punch, snappy highs, precise lows, and a new dimension to the sound of the Relentless series pickups.
Relentless P and Relentless J pickups will breathe new life into any bass, increase playability, and work well for any style of music from Motown to metal.
DiMarzio’s Relentless P, Relentless J Bridge, Relentless J Neck, and Relentless J pair are made in the U.S.A. and may now be ordered for immediate delivery.
Suggested List Price for the Relentless P is $169.00 (MAP $119.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Bridge and Relentless J neck is $155.00 (MAP $109.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Pair is $296.00 (MAP 209.99).
For more information, please visit our website at dimarzio.com.