Reader Rick correctly pointed out in comments the other day that Scott French’s TM-featured workspace seems oriented entirely toward working with electric guitars. And that reminded me of my first (and only) attempt an such work: my first bass.
I played the trumpet in high school and college, but stopped for a while when my favorite instrument (a Bach 25th anniversary Stradivarius) was stolen at a gig. For years I had a Steinberger (think oar) knockoff laying around my apartment, but after a few beers one night I traded it to a friend for a chromatic harmonica. (Doh.) So later when I wanted to pick up the electric bass to help out some friends in a band whose bassist had quit, I tried to reverse the trade.
No luck, of course. But in a fit of feeling sorry for my poor drunken trade skills, the fake Steinberger’s new owner gave me the bass you see pictured above. It was a total POS when he came by it at a pawn shop, and it remained a POS even after he’d refinished it badly about four or five times. What you see here was his last effort involving a lot of power-sanding, some stain, and poly.
I still remember my first “gig” playing it. I was pretty sure it was in tune when I started, but over the whole 30-minute show it just got flatter and flatter. I thought I must be doing something wrong, but it turns out the neck was loose. Having no cash, I made my first “mod:” a seriously-overkill neck re-mount.
A few months later it started crackling and popping randomly during rehearsals and performances. I took it apart and discovered that the wiring had suffered more than a little during the previous owner’s refinishing attempts, and the pots were really, really dirty. I tried cleaning them, but they still made tons of noise. So I headed down to Radio Shack, bought about $10 worth of parts, and re-wired it, adding additional shielding pieced together from left over material a friend bought to mod his guitar. You can still see the cheap-ass pots.
Then the real trouble started. I’d begun taking lessons, which led to the desire/need to play above the 12th fret. Sadly, the neck was so bowed that it I could choose either above or below the 12th, but not both. Attempts to adjust it made no difference, so finally I pulled the neck and the fretboard to discover that the adjuster rod had dug into the soft neck wood.
I figured I could fix it by routing out a slot near the bottom of the neck and creating a hard walnut insert. (There was some walnut scrap lying around my dad’s shop at the time.) All went swimmingly — even re-attaching the fretboard — until I put the first turn on the adjuster rod. CRACK! The neck split in two.
At this point it was pretty much a loss. My dad loaned me some cash and I bought a Mexican Fender J-bass, which I played for a number of years until I graduated to a Modulus. One thing’s certain: lessons were a hell of a lot easier when the neck was adjusted properly.
And hey — at least I had some clue what was inside of a bass. And how to adjust it. I guess what I’m getting at is that even though this is totally a story of epic fail — the bass is now completely useless — I did manage to eke out another year of play from it, and I learned a lot about how to care for my future instruments.
Lesson: there’s something to be said from making an effort to reclaim property instead of just discarding it for something new, even if your efforts eventually end in failure.