Thursday, September 10, 2015

Squier / Fender :: A definitive guide to Squier Bass VI Modifications - Bridge Hack/ rattle Fix~!

============== The Squier VM Bass VI - Pro Custom.

=Breaking the illusions and misconceptions of the Bass VI:
Yes everyone this is a hybrid guitar/bass that is economically available for the first time, Yes you can finger it, slap it, and pick it, yes you can feed it into a high gain guitar amp and shred face. but much more to the point of this article- Yes it has some massive problems out of the Indonesian factory despite all you think you know about the product page and how decent your new special order is- i can and will tell you- yes! whoever made yours is a right cock in the mud but despite it all it is extremely fucking cool if you're smart enough or willing enough to put in the time to gut it and SET IT UP PROPERLY!

now this  journal entry is just showing some of the possibilities and pitfalls that Ive come to realize while working on one that I picked up last year. none of these concepts were easy to find nor perfect, not that im saying im perfect but mostly that ive gotten damn close to what i like, &  honestly i think there are some very standard things every bass VI player, and everyone who even thinks about looking at one deserves to know ahead of time.

this guitar style was drunkenly designed in the 50's... there is some anec dote out there about leo fender wanting to design a bass with more strings but set up like a guitar and reached into the wrong part of a bag of bolts to come up with the schematic.... then it was rereleased over several iterations to moderate success, the most renowned and iconic of which was the 64-74 models, where they were using premium parts and taking the concept of heavier rock tones seriously.... but you paid for the privilege, and you still can... but for those of us on a budget in piss poor everywhere, intelligence and scrutiny are our allies.

- here is a cheat sheet for the fundamentals version history

=Squier mp 350,  - Bare bones crap shoot, pick ups are better than expected for stock, Jack is shit, Caps are SHIT, bridge is shit,   wiring is Godawful shit, mine didint even come with a ground wire out... class do any of us know what happens when a guitar has a positive and no negative wire? but still has bridge ground? yes it dissipates into your body.... that is fucking ridiculous and yes i was slightly electrocuted which is what started me in all this crap aside from the piss poor sound output post rewire and cheap nickel parts EVERYWHERE, lastly those WRETCHED tuners they are all bent and torn up day 1 restring.

Positives, it has kind of awesome vibrato.... of all the parts i figured that one would be the cheapest, weird they would skimp on the tuners and not the tail... the neck is incredible, no joke its so well put together ive seen people buy it just for the neck and switch off to other bodies.  The body is basswood with white enamel and poly urethane finish.... its not horrible... but its not great either... no dent will ever come out of it... and you cant woodburn imperfections... most of us will probably find ourselves relic'ing the finish as fast as possible with a belt sander although- bass wood isnt the most tonally attractive sounding wood but it can be better than vacant oomph of a poly finish.

=Fender Pawnshop mp 700, not a real bass vi, but arguably a nice  jazz baritone none the less... neck plays nicely, the body feels good, higher quality parts, higher quality set up, but no by much... its a solid guitar out of the box, and it says fender on it... most people will stop there... and that is okay.  i have played this, and tonally speaking i was not impressed, i am not a jazz player, and i hate limited options like blade toggles. and while the instrument itself felt really solid, it didnt have the strangle circuit meaning they cut about 9 your tone options from the standard design which are mostly necessary to improve quality of sound for rock.. personally i dont see the real difference between this and a baritone jaguar special. and we dont talk about that here because it is set up for B, and will not handle playing in other tunings.the concept is fun but... but who wants to play in b.... sure i play in c... but im admittedly crazy. and i know what im doing

=MIJ Fender VI mp 1400,  awesome... its what the american fender should have released  a dozen years ago, its a clone of the old 90s build, which was a damn decent clone of the old 70's build... if i am remembering correctly it has 9s & 10s across the board, classic fender quality, Genuine fender parts, & it looks like someone gave a shit when you open it up, it sounds good, it plays great, price is premium.

all said and done i completely tricked out my squier and bought a hardshell for 975 is the current total not counting man hours & research... right now im under budget, but i expect to spend another 200-300 easy for better parts and more mods. so its up to you whether you want something superior quality stock fender , or something incredibly unique.

=Fender custom shop / Vintage Gear MP - consistently 3-4000  :: always choose vintage over new custom... its going to have more value at less quality but nothing beats the wear in. because typically the parts are relic'd which means everything has typically aged to tonal perfection, nitro finishes become porous, so it looks great while sounding great, ... it will hold its resale value or increase over time... that and i've heard a lot of dissapointing bitch bitch bitchers on the bvi forums about the "standards" of fender CS... sometimes people have gotten really truly great cuts of wood, extremely balanced guitars... and perfect high quality finishes across the board that is a welcome sight, but if you have zero creativity to begin with... its very difficult to produce something thats not just going to endure, but to conquer. Lately it seems people would rather go with warmoth than waste their time with new CS fender price guides and BS set ups. at least that was the trend i was noticing across 2008-13 before the advent of the squier. (yes i was very hipster bout the bvi... im a spooky kid)

Phase 1: Acquire Squier Bass VI

Once you have picked out your BVI there are going to be things you must do IMMEDIATELY before even thinking of playing it. Open the control cavity and make sure there is a ground out connected to the jack.... you dont want to get mildly electrocuted every time you touch the strings like i was, the only thing that saved my ass from this shit show, was the lack insulation between the control plate the vol pot ground and the barrel of the jack.... so at least some - was getting out... i wish i could say this is the only fender product ive seen this horrible oversight with but.... in my few years as a tech... its sad how many bad guitars get assembled and thrown on the supply line. while you are in there reinforce the crap quality jack and insulate the control plate fromt he pots with electrical tape, second, its worth noting do this before your restring, you need to test the signal first then put shims on the neck cavity and modify your bridge but more on that later, you want your components working flawlessly. for now as you plug into your amp you'll notice... there is barely any sound.... dont worry... that is as basically functional as the factory gets

The design we are working with is a parallel wired circuit which means independent switching at the cost of around 60% of loudness, low output wouldnt normally be a spectacular problem with... good quality parts, and is actually preferred for use with pedals &  good amps, but the stock jaguars w/ claw are rated at maybe 5/7/5 strat standard best case scenario, worst as is my expectation is that they are 4/6/4 which is idiotic... they are very low output and lack any real character... besides being stock. if you really dont want to drop 300 $ on a nice set of pups, i dont blame you but move on to step 2, test everything then decide if the quality just isnt up to par.

the first stop in reclaiming your volume is putting something with some guts in. so dismantle the bastard, rip the pick ups out replace them with something nice... my suggestions Duncan QP's work very similarly but they are between  9/7/9, and 12/9/12 that is much much more responsive...  and the quality / volume increase was about 15% it was a  night and day difference

optional notes, I wired for Bridge Neck Bridge, simply because i wanted to keep the parallel circuit, with  reverse polarity which allows for H & H, Humbucker or H, or Single & S configurations, with strangle on or off,  this allowed for a very unique sound, and quieted the 60c hum that is just everywhere inside of this build.

secondly, Hot rails or lace sensor alumitones would provide you with some decent tonal options, for those of you looking to play it more like a guitar, they carry a natural top end compression which is moderately decent in the chemistry of the build... i am also interested in single coil sized humbuckers because thath um is ungodly and the QP's im working right now are super bassy which works well with the strangle but... its not a strumming guitar... its no placebo tone.... so expriment and give me your feedback.

the only thing i would advise against would be putting anything in that breaks up on a moments notice, i would suggest keeping your tone as clean as possible and using a dist pedal to punch up your hard sounds, any of that in the guitar is just lost in the circuit schematic...

as for the J with claw's? resell them on ebay use the money for something useful... like more parts or better caps. pro tip, if you want, remove the pick ups from the claw, if you can,  try seating your new pick ups in those metal jaws you dont really need the plastic it gets in the way... but the reseatactually can enhance the sound and prevent horrible line level buzz in SS modes i would have tested the theory had i not ditched those so quickly, so take what you can get from the original build, that was not a bad idea.

*(the above is mostly right... honestly there is better ways to do it... but... if you want to be a basic bitch... might as well knock it out in one go)

2. Gut the control Cavities:: Its just god damn irresponsible that Squier would even ship it with such horrible parts.... they used shitty 5cent Pots, caps, and wires across the board, for compenents

for some clarity  on why i am pissed i got fried... any poorly trained monkey knows better than to fuck up a power in and out jack...- i mostly rip wires out of old computers and mobo's and only buy quality vintage caps, and while there isnt a load of electricity running through the guitar its god damn dangerous.- it's laughable they charged money for this shit show instead of admitting failure and selling it as a kit...

 anyways -keep the switches you will need a good 45 w soldering iron, & silver electrical solder, both can be picked up at radio shack w replacement nibs for 20 $, spend some time ont he net and get yourself a general understanding of how electricity flows through a guitar... dont buy the cheap stuff to replace the cheap stuff... it makes a huge sound difference. I would say i got another 20% quality uptick in just replacing initial parts

Initial Installation ::
Pots :: 2 Cts 500 k alpha pots ( 12$)
Tone: 0.43 sprague orange drop (4$)
Strangle: stock red cap

the cts pots were impressive quality. slow and thick rotation, i think i chose linear for volume and taper for tone, but... i cant remember, in this original build i was coming off of the terrible 1m ohm pot that was provided, while that sounded extremely open and almost bright, the 500k value brought us back into rock territory, it was an impressive change.  i didnt like the orange drop, it was particularly shrill and the red cap was garbage... not horrible garbage... but basic garbage.

Second Installation::
Vol Pot: Bourne 500 K push pull (12$ Decent)
Tone Pot: Cts 500k alpha
Tone Cap::  1969 160p Black Beauty .42 400 v (12$)
Strangle:: 1968 160p Black Beauty .33 600v
(rare 14$)

sick of the lack of volume i researched how to get around it...I basically decided to wire a blower switch into my set up... its a bit top secret for my own tone purposes, but what i can tell you is that, while a bass vi has a strangle circuit which by design sucks 75% of the volume out of the guitar... if you make your main a hybrid blower / strangle circuit, you restore the sound lost this way, and you can switch on or off your pick ups like a boost effect... its pretty incredible my happy accident was so damn cool a result.

i would say that the pups restored 15% volume, the rewire restored 15%, this new wiring design restored another 20% by itself, its never going to be perfect but... it can get interesting. so im really only missing that last 25%  while i have around 20 + unique tone signatures to play with.

lastly the difference after switching the 160p black beauty caps was not only noticeable it was so damn welcome by this point. i cant speak highly enough of them. they are in ALL of my guitar stock now.

 3. Shield Everything::
the insulation paint they use inside the body is useless.....  get some conductive spray adhesive and blow that crap all over some tinfoil, next step tack the pieces of tinfoil in the interior of the guitar, and create a Faraday cage, I personally like to then do another layer of electrical tape on top of it... to insulate the actual components from the grounding shield.... its a little effort but it prevents short circuits... all of this process allows you to prevent 90% of exterior electromagnetic sources from interfering with your pick ups... and it is an absolutely IMPERATIVE non negotiable mod, the 60 cycle hum is finally gone... GONE... i cant tell you the 100% difference i just experienced after holding off on the idea for a year... i hate myself for not doing it sooner.
4 - remove the neck and put business cards cut to size in the pocket. 1 for guitar set up 2 for bass set up (more on that later)  or about the same mm size shim you can find or make. its another non negotiable mod - so much so even the custom shop models going out today have been reported to have a shims or wedges or one guy even found an actual matchbook in this socket he was freaking about poor build quality... it was funny. regardless  ... there is just something about the millimeter buffer that just pushes the neck into the sweet spot. before i did this the neck would fret buzz an insane amount unless the action was impossible to play high. as the neck is actually one of the best features of the squier... you gotta treat it right and get it playable.

5 - Strings, Bridge &  Nut Mods
picture this you spend hours carefully constructing your perfect bvi, its finally in your hands, and you attempt to set it up. but suddenly you realize... this thing plays fucking horribly and nothing you do changes this.... even after all of the parts you just changed out in the above steps.. well never fear... I have finally conquered this... nearly once and for all... I dare you to find a better method with stock parts.

A) pick out your perfect strings, I use daddario half wounds from 2 different sets, 1 guitar 1 bass and i just pick the best string sizes i want to set up for,  but know this before buying - you have to commit to either playing it like a guitar or like a bass it wont do both well...

its okay to do something weird... its a weird instrument, and manufacturers just dont get that we need a weird individualized answer nothing as cookie cutter... as daddario, or fender would supply. - labella is cool... but they just make custom strings.... and i would say they are much better quality than the fender or daddario standard for bvi's i would also say i hate normal strings.... especially when there is already so much static the noise of your fingers moving around the fretboard is raking.

 Guitar Players -
I chose a labella custom set of -  80 64 54 46 36 24 or 22, to set up for E.

20 bucks and 2 weeks later i got my strings, but being the perfectionist i am i decided to grind them down and shine them ever so slightly like halfwounds - i was not dissapointed for my efforts. if you really want to bitch about tension differences and uneven grind etc etc, understand how the saddles work on your bridge and raise and lower them to perfect tension, as for the latter read up on how to use a metal file to even the score...

long story short, it  was open, modest and experimental, but I was annoyed with the way it played... it felt too thin and desperate...
but if you like that kind of thing yeah it had a rather decent sound, you can strum it, without the low E being too floppy, and you can get decent rhythm, however it will never sound 100% like a guitar, nor 100% like a bass, i think this build is that perfect lead instrument territory. If only there was some thin and desperate sounding artist out there that i could maybe point to... someone who has been into the BVI since the beginning... hmmm... nothing comes to mind...

Bass players -
the second time i set everything up for C - I purchased daddario
half rounds 100 80 65 56 46 36 or 30

I had to drill out the bottom tail piece on the vibrato for the strings to fit, then file the bridge saddle, and the nut to ensure maximum support and reduce slipping/sliding/rattling

the sound i got was much more responsive, the whole tone was MUCH less fragile, and the thicker gauges  allowed me to really get in there and start digging in with picks / fingers to great results... I play rhythm guitar in C, so setting up a bass in C is quite amazing to me... for a variety of recording reasons...

now for the hardest but most rewarding part::
This Bridge  was the bane of my BVI's existence it is the biggest problem with the entire instrument.... it's what caused it to never intonate correctly... i cant tell you how much this fucked me over... but after pulling this mod off - i havent seen a cleaner solution to this problem with stock parts yet.

Short of buying a mastery bridge, which is ... 180$ of amazing... you MUST do this mod to even think about playing without crap buzzing or rattling in the background mucking up EVERY take.  start by Drilling out the opposite sides of your bridge on the lower 3 (ead)  and rotate the saddles around, and adjust the preliminary height to something resembling an archtop (think upright bass bridge, that subtle offset... do that). since they each have l/r adjusters you want these to be bunching together in 3's so that they dont rattle around... to accomplish this leave the sides higher on the 1-L & 3-r 4-L & 6-r, the theory is, as you play if the saddle does slide it only slides one direction, INTO the other saddles. you'll know what im talking about as you play with it.

Next up -  the problem with this guitar is not nor has it ever been the tremolo... its fine.... in fact its part of that weird unique solution that is the BVI, take the trem away and you take an entire strange component away.... and it loses charm. instead MODIFY the trem... to perfection.

according to some source on the internet, the original and custom shop american BVI's 1960 + use smaller bushings or thicker posts in their schematic, this thickness provides the higher end models with more metal on metal contact in the feet, as well as provides a thicker higher quality metal to hold tension and resonate in the body of the guitar.  your goal is going to be to replicate that.

get a flat metal file, and just evenly rub the bottoms off of the two feet screws until you take the points off and it feels rounded, the problem is that if they are ground to a point, they are sitting like tacks on glass this adds to bridge instability and lowers resonance, you want more like a rounded edge on metal... because it has more surface area and less tension connecting the two which can make it arguably both more and less responsive, regardless it is less likely to fuck the careful balance that is everything this guitar is. this design is more inline with what it was supposed to be there in the first place. a rocking system that allows you to achieve a very decent mellow tremolo sustain...

Finally - cut 2 2inch pieces of electrical tape.... or more strips if you are a an overachiever.... and individually wrap them around the leg poles. this creates a buffer between the posts and the bushings... for some reason this little alteration combined with the grinding of the feet, made everything just absolutely perfect tonally... the vibrato works, no rattle .... just an enjoyable experience...

finally reexamine everything and after youre sure it looks damn spot on, put it all back together.

6 - General Tweaks :: as seen above  i have upped the ante with some options, pearlescent 4 ply insulated pick guard, better screws, quality wires, damn good strings, and i took off the plates to sand them down. fake chrome is polished nickel and it is as cheap as it is malleable - so it scratches horribly easy... sand that shit 220, 600, 1000, 1500 finish with 2500 grit and it will look like finely brushed metal... a very nice result. New pot covers for coolness factor,  also do not underestimate the importance of a quality jack, put a washer on it - i learned the hard way that this particular design is flawed in that if your wire gets pulled it will just rip out the jack and take wires with it screwing everything up inside... thats hours of work you dont get back. So to further reinforce that plate I added some stability by putting a larger washer under each of the control pots to reinforce everything...

another note- many BVI players dont push in their trem arm completely, they leave it loose, you gotta push that shit all the way in it will feel difficult then it will lock into place. dont be stupid about it.

7 - okay so.... last step is to perform a great set up with your new fully put together Squire BVI - Pro Custom....

Start from flat on body, notice the position of the neck, it should have a very low action. and be almost straight.

Adjust the bridge Height and center it evenly floating in the center of the bushings, afterward finish adjusting the saddle heights.

tune the bastard in this sequence -  E, e, b, A, D, G

retune test for fret buzz and rattle, readjust accordingly. if you cant get it how you like it adjust the truss to have a very slight backbow

pull on the trem a bit, retune, then put a capo on the 12, then, pull on the trem a bit, and check if it fell out of tune, if it has, retune and try again. if you are consistently having problems, and you can adjust the truss forward for some releif,

if everything is kosher from the get go, you are lucky like i am and you can move forward with leaving the capo at 12 then tightening or loosening the saddle screws to achieve perfect intonation at this octave...  

what this set up does is prevent the guitar from constantly falling out of tune... it ensures the notes and harmonics you play happen where you play them, and maintains the quality sweet spot across the neck and body
last word

and thats really it... its a huge learning curve... but this guide should have you knowing  pretty much everything i wish i knew going into the subject....  all in all i hope you at least get an idea of all the bullshit necessary to own one of these bad girls... its a very versatile instrument, but you gotta treat her with love.

I'll certainly be back on here to add more modifications i've made... i need to fix the body from a dent that occurred when my tri stand fell, but that requires a complete refinish.  Id also like to do  the carving veneering and refinishing with mother of pearl in the area's where the black tape is...

I ABSOLUTELY need to changed the tuners out... i'm upset ive left them alone this long but its going to be 80$ for quality heads and 80$ for strings... and  when I do that, i probably will sand off the gloss on the neck and hit it with white paint/stain then finish switch to some sort of gun oil or stock lacquer like the waxy ernie ball necks... so thats going to be a really heavy and costly job.... though worth it for looking cool.
Anyways.. i have the schematics i designed and I have researched the shit out of this instrument... if you have any questions feel free to ask and i will try to get back to you when im not too busy. sorry if i repeated myself or rambled but... Ive been awake for 30 hours.... so... fuck it.