Thursday, April 25, 2013

Funster classic sunburst Precision bass

Building basses is a crapshoot, like any work of art. I never know how they will turn out until they are done. I get better at the craft of assembling basses, mostly because as I get older I have gotten more patient; I am willing to spend months thinking about the build and accumulating just the right parts, then take my time assembling. If money was no object (a hilarious phrase, since money is ALWAYS an object), I could probably accumulate the parts much faster, although the idea that spending more guarantees better quality is not always true (only sometimes, like with Allparts necks). But whether or not the body resonates properly, the neck plays well (the one thing I still don't trust doing myself is fretwork, so I am at the mercy of whomever built and finished the neck before I receive it), and the two play nice together is only something I will discover once the bass is assembled.

In wanting to build a classic 57-early 60's passive precision-style bass, I wanted to experiment with body weight. It seems to me Jazz-style basses don't need as much body mass to get that mid-rangey tone, but the Precisions I have built in the past, although sometimes playing great, always seem to be missing something at the very bottom. I still have an unfinished, custom-made slab-style Precision body waiting to paint in the shop, to go for John Entwistle's famous Frankenbass with the non-contoured slab body and overwound pickups. That bass is still to be made, and all of the parts are ready, once I build up the courage and find the time to paint it (cans of Guitar ReRanch nitro are standing at the ready). But I found a dealer on eBay with a VERY heavy, pre-finished 2-tone sunburst Precision body (I think it's a Mighty Mite - like their bodies, but have not had luck with their necks). Even though it's a poly finish, the weight intrigued me, and the finish enticed me, so I ordered the body. I also ordered a set of custom scatter-wound pickups (totally vintage spec) from Mark Lariccia, a pickup maker in the Los Angeles area (his eBay user name is mcm_guitarworks). This is the first set I tried from him, as well as the first bass set he has ever made, so that was a total shot in the dark, but I got a good impression from his other listings and email communication.

I scavenged a maple neck from an older sunburst Precision I built and played regularly with a Who tribute band (and plan on trying that body with a maple fretless neck I have in the ready to recreate John Paul Jones' fretless Precision). I remember that although the bass lacked some bottom, it had a great-playing vintage finish Eden neck (a Chinese neck supplier I have had good results with) and top-shelf Hipshot tuners with a D-tuner on the E string, so very versitile. The fret ends were never finished well (I filed them after I assembled the bass), but it always felt great at all positions. All I had to do was apply a newer FUNSTER JOEL BASS decal, with lots of clear coats on the headstock. A nice heavy bridge with brass saddles, a brass nut, a tortoise pickguard and a 1mil orange cap with 500k pots finished the parts list (along with a new set of La Bella flats, my favorite flatwounds), and here you go:

It's certainly a beauty, and I already knew it would play well from previous use of the neck. It is certainly the heaviest Fender-style bass I have played, coming in at over 10lbs (I think my custom Fenderbird may be slightly heavier - I'll feature that one soon)! Mark's pickups did not disappoint: they are full and warm, and I have gotten great compliments from sound engineers who ran the bass direct at live gigs with no need for addition EQing (I now have 2 more sets of Mark's pickups waiting for use in a Jaguar bass and a passive sunburst Jazz bass build). But the extra weight (with a very wide strap, thank you very much) seemed to do the trick - this thing has amazing bottom end, so much so that I spent a few gigs going back and forth with pickup height adjustments to find the right balance (I actually backed them off a bit more than normal to keep a real clean tone). The dynamics are wonderful - I can play light, then really pull a louder and slightly edgier tone out of it, while still maintaining a clean sound up and down the neck.

I can't exactly remember where I got the bridge, but it's a high-mass monster with gorgeous brass saddles, something like a Wilkinson, but most probably Chinese-made (aka Wilkinson, etc). Everyone seems to want high-mass and string-thru bridges for more sustain these days, but if I am going for a vintage tone, they all had the lighter, thinner bridges and LESS sustain, so I split the difference here.
I am becoming more and more of a passive fan in my old age, after decades of active EMGs, but it probably has just as much to do with the classic rock music I have been leaning towards these days aa much as a newer appreciation for flat tone (and flatwounds) without bass and treble tone controls. A truly great bass for classic 60s-70s stuff (I've used it for Eagles and Zeppelin so far) - this one scores a win, and I look forward to using it for years to come (I'll just try to carry it in a single bass bag, thank you very much).

The Funster JOEL BASS logo decal is something I designed and had made just for my basses; no one ever figures out it does not say Fender unless I make a big deal out of it (which I TRY not to do, sometimes succeeding).

NOTE: I build these basses for myself, not for resale (generally), but I love sharing build ideas with other makers and players.

No comments:

Post a Comment