Sunday, 23 June 2013

Bass 6

Some time ago I stumbled across this thread on the TalkBass forum, one of a few on that site and others dedicated to the creation of Bass VI-type instruments from the parts of cheap short-scale 4-string basses such as the Fender Bronco. This was my inspiration to turn a tired old Gibson EB-3 copy into a rough approximation of one of these:

A stupidly rare 1962 Gibson EB-6 (see for more pictures).

The Donor

My EB-3 copy was I believe made in the Ibanez factory in Japan at some point in the '70s, and would have been branded Avon, Kingfisher or Columbus. I found it in a very sad state in a shed on a dairy farm about 10 years ago, and fixed it up. The body had been half stripped of its original cherry finish and the electronics and hardware had been cannibalised, with the exception of the pickups, which were horrible microphonic single-coils hiding under humbucker-sized metal covers. I sanded off the remainder of the finish, found machineheads, made a bridge assembly and built the circuit. 

My then girlfriend (now wife) played it for a bit before moving on to a 1978 Fender Musicmaster. The EB copy languished in a wardrobe for several years before being dug out for the conversion project.

The Conversion

From the top:

The machine-heads are a set of 5 GuitarTechs I had left over from a repair I did to a friend's Epiphone Joe Pass a few years ago. The 6th tuner is the low E, left in place from the guitar's 4-string incarnation. One day I might treat it to a complete matching set.

The nut is a 6-string replacement bought from my local family-run music shop. I filed out the slots to accommodate the fatter strings.

The pickups are mini-humbuckers from Warman Guitars. The pickguard and pickup surrounds are oversize to cover all the existing routing and holes.

The circuit features 2 volumes, 2 tones and a 3-way switch in a Les Paul-type configuration, but with three additional microswitches. The two on the pickguard are coil tap and phase reversal for the neck humbucker, and the one next to the pickup selector is a strangle switch (bass cut).

The bridge is a tune-o-matic copy with a stop tailpiece. I had to dowel the holes from the old bridge assembly and drill new ones. Getting the locations of these right was more down to luck than judgement. The press-fittings for the bridge and tailpiece were squashed into undersized holes using a G-clamp to apply pressure. Being a laminate body I wasn't too concerned about this splitting the wood along the grain, which I might have been were it solid timber.

How it turned out

Surprisingly well. It's very playable, and I found that I adapted to the string spacing very quickly. Going back to a normal guitar or bass afterwards is very odd though. 
The pickups are quite widely spaced which means the neck pickup is considerably louder than the bridge as the string vibration has greater amplitude as you move toward the mid point. Consequently the bridge pickup is jacked right up and the neck backed off in order to achieve a close balance between the two. This means that some bassiness is sacrificed, but stops chordal playing from becoming too muddy. I've found that if I want to use it as a bass guitar rather than as a rhythm / lead instrument I need to use an EQ pedal to fatten the bottom end up.

The pickup selector, coil tap and phase switches give a lot if useful tonal variations, ranging from full-bodied and fat to something almost clavinet-like. Run it through chorus and delay and it does Cure-type noises high up, or through reverb and tremolo you're in Twin Peaks. I find myself playing the solo from "Wichita Lineman" a lot.

The strangle switch doesn't do anything useful currently, but I will experiment with some different capacitor values until it does, or think of something else to do with the switch.

It's not a work of luthiery by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a very usable instrument in spite of its low budget origins and many rough edges. It has also served as a very useful prototype for possible future projects. There are some good EB3 copies on the market that could form the basis of a mkII, and occasionally genuine EB3 bodies / necks come up on Ebay. I'd be particularly interested in creating a medium (32") or long scale (34") version of this type of instrument as I find that 30" scale basses always seem to suffer from floppiness of the low E string.
Watch this space...

1 comment:

  1. I'm loving this post, man! I have a Squier Bass VI in my possession. I do love it, but I have considered designing a version of the Bass IV with a bridge setup like yours. That probably be better than the Jazzmaster bridge the regular ol' Bass VI has now.