As I mentioned in “Why Do You Need This Many Guitars?”, “Brenda,” my oldest and longest-suffering bass guitar, has finally undergone a substantial refurbishment. Brenda is a Precision Bass copy that my father and I bolted together from a kit about 12 years ago. Said kit was bought from Brandoni Guitars, who I gather are still going, and over the course of about a week, we assembled her and attempted to French-polish her, until she looked a bit like this: (on the left)
This is not the first time I’ve tinkered with her. A couple of years ago, I replaced the stock volume and tone pots with some supposedly better-quality ones. The original pots, however, had metric shafts, and the new ones had imperial shafts, which meant buying a new set of knobs as well. So even if you couldn’t hear the difference in the sound, at least I thought the black knobs looked better against the white scratchplate than the original chrome ones.
Brenda was in the region of 10 years old when the above photos were taken. Unfortunately, having put her together with no idea of how set up a bass guitar, she’d spent all this time with minimal adjustments and a ridiculously high action, which had led to the neck bowing quite severely. It wasn’t long after this that I took the strings off to let the neck rest and, hopefully, straighten out a bit.
Last summer I decided to sand down what remained of the battered old shellac finish and give her a new coat. It broke my heart to destroy the original finish, but I had to tell myself it was for the best. Even when she looked like this:
Having managed to successfully French polish Aradia, I was reasonably confident of being able to repeat this feat. I also bought a new pickup – a Fender ’62 Reissue – from a nice fellow on Basschat so I could upgrade the old one. I also decided she deserved better than the slightly cheap-looking white scratchplate, and looked into getting a new one.
In the end, the process took several months, though, truth be told, this had more to do with trying to find the time to squeeze in another polishing session. One cold December weekend I decided that the polishing was finished, and it was time to put all the hardware back on and see how she sounded.
I reached a bit of a hiccup at this stage, as I realised the new pickup didn’t quite fit into the existing cavity! This fancy Fender pickup had a copper shielding plate attached to the bottom, so whilst the pickup itself was the same size, I would have to widen the pickup cavity to accomodate the copper plate. Not the end of the world, I thought, I had to take a chisel to Aradia’s pickup cavity to make it deeper. Of course, when I chiselled away part of Aradia’s body, I hadn’t already put in several man-hours of French polishing!
Fortunately, I didn’t have to cut away too much wood to make room for the copper plate. Better still, the relatively light, soft wood was nice and easy to work. Despite my trepidation about driving a chisel into my shellac finish, it didn’t pose any further problems – I’d been worried I might start creating cracks further into the finish, but luckily it was proved no more difficult than cutting into the bare wood. And, of course, the benefit of a scratchplate is that it can cover any multitude of woodworking sins that you might wish to hide under it!
Still, the cavity was successfully gouged, and some new screwholes were drilled in a couple of spots where the ones on the new scratchplate didn’t line up with old one. Oh, and I had to widen the holes on the new scratchplate so the pots would fit through them, but I got there in the end. And I’m really rather pleased with the result.
A bit of work with a nut slotting file has done wonders for the action as well; I’m rather hoping this will stop the neck from bowing the way it was previously. I did attempt to record a little comparison of the two pickups, so if I can make that sound worthwhile I might upload it here for you to listen to. If not, you’ll just have to come to a gig and hear Brenda in action. Or stalk me, whichever’s easier.