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Bass bridge and pickup replacement

Postby Ramirez » Mon Aug 19, 2019 4:52 pm

Regarding bridge upgrades, I've read all kind of opinions from "no difference at all" to "night and day". This is the place that I trust, however - does a high-mass bridge really make a difference on a typical Fender-style bass?

I want to fix up my very first bass without breaking the bank - I could either get a cheap bridge for around £20, or, if my Mexican-made Fender Jazz would benefit from a better bridge (Gotoh 201 probably, doesn't seem crazy expensive), the old bass could get the Fender's bridge.


Also wondering the same thing about bass pickups... apart from number of windings/type of magnet, what else is there? What differentiates the cheap stuff from the expensive?
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Re: Bass bridge and pickup replacement

Postby CS70 » Tue Aug 20, 2019 2:00 pm

Ramirez wrote:Also wondering the same thing about bass pickups... apart from number of windings/type of magnet, what else is there? What differentiates the cheap stuff from the expensive?

I suppose the same as for guitar pickups: predictability. That is, the materials used (does the plastic cracks over time or get yellow? How good and pure are the magnets and the generated fields? What of the wax or other noise-reducing material?) and, like all manufactured products, which level of consistency and construction tolerances are considered acceptable by the producer.
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Re: Bass bridge and pickup replacement

Postby Wonks » Tue Aug 20, 2019 2:24 pm

I had an ABS (the make, not the material) bridge fitted to a parts-caster P-Bass. That's a very solid and adjustable bridge. Whether it made a lot of difference, I don't know as I never fitted the standard bridge. But the bass (which found its way into Ivan's hands for a while) did have a very even string-to-string response, which is not always the case with P-basses. But I couldn't say whether that was the bridge, or the pickups (standard Mexican units), or a combination of both.

On pickups - the irony is that you'll get a more consistent quality/sound on the cheaper ones as they are machine wound (and invariably wax potted), whilst on some higher-end and certainly boutique pickups, you are partly paying for the fact that they are hand-wound, with the associated variations of that method imbuing them with extra 'mojo'.

For Fender-style pickups, you really want ones with Alnico magnet pole pieces. Very cheap pickups tend to have steel slug poles and a ceramic bar magnet underneath and whilst they make a noise, it's generally not a great noise.

But once you get to Alnico pole pieces (for standard Fender styles), it's a question of paying your money and taking your choice.

I fitted a set of Bare Knuckle '58 P-bass pickups into someone's Squier JV Precision, and whilst the sound was OK, it didn't strike me as anything special.

TBH, if you have a limited budget. I think you could do far worse than buy some low-cost pickups from Iron Gear or Tonerider.

I like Bartolini bass pickups. I fitted some j-style ones in a Yamaha bass and my used Lakland P-style bass came with Bartolinis in, and both sounded really nice and seemed to have that something 'extra' to the sound.

But sound and tone are different things to different people, so a £40 pickup may sound better than a £200 pickup to one person, and worse to another.
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Re: Bass bridge and pickup replacement

Postby Ramirez » Tue Aug 20, 2019 6:35 pm

Thanks both,
I'll leave the Fender (MIM Jazz) stock for now - I don't think the stock bridge is letting it down in any way, other than I seem to have to take the saddles quite low for a reasonable action. My main bass (MIA Precision) has the stock bridge with the saddles quite a bit higher for a similar action.

I've ordered a £10 bridge for the cheapo, just to see if I can get it to play half decent before thinking of spending more on it - it has a bit of a neck twist so I did a rather brutal de-fretting job on it years ago, but I think it could be playable. Because it was my very first bass, I'd rather spend a small amount and get something that does something rather than take it to the dump.


Re. pickups, I did install a couple of IronGear P90s in my Les Paul many moons ago, and they continue to do a great job. The cheap bass could well benefit from a pickup upgrade but what about the Mex Fender? Would Toneriders or similar likely be an upgrade there? It may also get a J-Tone active preamp some time down the line.
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Re: Bass bridge and pickup replacement

Postby Wonks » Tue Aug 20, 2019 6:54 pm

The Mexican Fenders have had various varieties of pickups fitted over the years, a complete mix of good, bad and ugly, so there's no easy answer there. Certainly in the past few years, the quality has been good, and I heard that the Mexican Standard Strats were being fitted with pickups made in the same factory where the Toneriders were made, so the bass pups probably currently have a very similar spec/sound to the Tonerider bass pups.

I'd first have a look at the pickups and see if they have magnets stuck underneath, or whether they have Alnico pole pieces. If stuck-on magnets, then the Toneriders would be a good choice. If Alnico rods, then you may be replacing like for like unless you go for a set that are deliberately voiced differently.
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Re: Bass bridge and pickup replacement

Postby Sam Spoons » Wed Aug 21, 2019 6:21 pm

Ramirez wrote:Thanks both,
I'll leave the Fender (MIM Jazz) stock for now - I don't think the stock bridge is letting it down in any way, other than I seem to have to take the saddles quite low for a reasonable action. My main bass (MIA Precision) has the stock bridge with the saddles quite a bit higher for a similar action.

The neck angle on bolt ons is what will be causing the very low saddles (probably teaching my granny here, I'm sure you know this but somebody else without the knowledge may find the thread). Unbolting and placing shims under the deck in the neck pocket is the standard way of adjusting the neck set angle (unless you have a 'micro tilt' equipped instrument).
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Re: Bass bridge and pickup replacement

Postby Ramirez » Thu Aug 22, 2019 2:19 pm

Thanks Sam,

Yes, I've suspected the Jazz needs a shim for a while now. I tried one last night with a business card folded in half, and I it's slightly too far the other way now, so a single thickness should do the trick.

I cancelled the order for the cheap bridge. Instead I'm going to try a Fender Hi-Mass (not that expensive anyway) on the MIM Jazz and put the stock MIM bridge on the cheap first bass. I'm not expecting much improvement, but we'll see.

The pickup on the cheap bass was indeed a magnetic bar with iron poles, so if I can get it playing OK, a Tonerider will probably be on the way. To be honest I'm happy with how the MIM Jazz sounds, so I'll leave the pickups as-is for now. There is also the annoyance that it is a late 90s one, where the bridge and neck pickup are the same size, so standard replacements won't fit in the bridge anyway.

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Re: Bass bridge and pickup replacement

Postby CS70 » Thu Aug 22, 2019 2:48 pm

About the neck, one of my basses was a little too vintage and the neck had an angle problem. I’d thought about shims but the luthier I brought it to noticed it was a neck issue, not a pocket issue, and proceeded to steam the neck under clamps for a couple days. Since then it’s been as good as new and very playable.

That bass was 30+ years old and had obviously been kept very dry before O acquired it - probably for a more recent MIM shims are the way to go, but could be worth to bring to a good master luthier to have a look.
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Re: Bass bridge and pickup replacement

Postby Ramirez » Thu Aug 22, 2019 3:29 pm

CS70 wrote:About the neck, one of my basses was a little too vintage and the neck had an angle problem. I’d thought about shims but the luthier I brought it to noticed it was a neck issue, not a pocket issue, and proceeded to steam the neck under clamps for a couple days. Since then it’s been as good as new and very playable.

That bass was 30+ years old and had obviously been kept very dry before O acquired it - probably for a more recent MIM shims are the way to go, but could be worth to bring to a good master luthier to have a look.

I hope the lesser shim will so it - it was almost great before, and almost great after, so I have high hopes for the in-between! Either way, its very playable.
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Re: Bass bridge and pickup replacement

Postby Wonks » Thu Aug 22, 2019 4:59 pm

A shim at the body end of the neck pocket has roughly a 5:1 effect on the height at the bridge, so a 1mm thick shim moves the strings up by about 5mm at the bridge position.

A piece of thin wood veneer is typically between 0.6mmand 0.8mm thick, so makes a good shim. A bag of marquetry veneers can be found on eBay or Amazon for not a lot of money (£5 upwards). I use them a lot for shims and filling-in gaps on kit guitars.
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