9/08/2016

1980s Fender Musicmaster Electric Bass





Update March 2017: I used this bass all the way through my last recording -- a short, surf-y instrumental bit you can listen to here. You can hear it "in context" throughout that.

The earliest this bass could've been made is around 1978, though I think it dates to the very early 80s. The serial number is scratched-out and the neck and neck-pocket numbers are meaningless (for dating) as far as I can tell. It had an original plastic-bobbin Strat-style pickup in it to begin with and the "trans red" color is something I think of from 1979-onwards Fenders.

Anyhow, I bought this bass for myself because -- holy moly -- I was out of a bass yet again. Someone bought my mandobass (it's in a good home, by the way) and I'm not yet anywhere near building mandobass #2 or starting banjo bass #6 (or is it #7?) and I feel naked when the jam comes along and there's not a house bass around to pump out some low-end.

A few years ago I had a Japanese-made Mustang bass which I adored, though I didn't want to spend the big bucks for an original 60s/70s Mustang. Musicmaster basses are plentiful, funky, and fun and share the same short 30" scale and feel of a Mustang bass -- though, unless you're into new-age or punk-y sounds (where it's perfect -- or, for that matter, perfect on a guitar), the guitar-style pickup used on a Musicmaster often doesn't cut the mustard. My other complaint with them is the one-piece plastic pickguard/control plate. They always break near the jack. And my third complaint? Two-saddle bridges. Unless you're going fretless, they can be frustrating intonation-wise.

So -- I was in the market for a Musicmaster that was ready for modding. This is it!


My "renovation" of the bass included cutting the pickguard to put in a Mustang-style chromed-metal control plate (the original pickguard, as usual, had a split at the jack area anyway), modding the bridge to take 4 adjustable saddles, a new wiring harness, and a Lace Alumitone "single" pickup to replace the original Fender unit.

The Alumitone pickups are hot, quiet, and have expanded frequency response -- more highs and very deep lows -- which turned-out to be perfect for this application. I can get that Mustang bass "thump" by dialing-down my tone control, I can get a Motown "mwah" with it set in the middle, and I can get an aggressive tone that sounds great for flatpicking with it dialed all the way open.

If you're listening to the soundclip -- yes, there are a fresh set of LaBella flats on it.



The neck is perfectly straight (in fact, I should probably add a bit of relief) and the frets were in good-enough shape to escape a fret level/dress when it came in. The nut width is the full 1 11/16" like on a P-bass.


If you look carefully, you can see the "dish-out" for truss-rod access at the butt of the neck. I deepened it a little from what a previous owner had added, blackened it, and then put some finish so it matches the rest of the guard a bit better.


The Alumitone is certainly stylish, huh? I like the look. It's absurdly lightweight, too.


To get the control plate to fit, I actually had to add a bit of wood back into the control cavity to get a grip for that last mounting screw near the jack. It was a little tricky, but I'm so very glad to have some metal on here. I hate it when a plastic jack-plate breaks on you that one time you're not careful with the cable. Ew.


The new saddles are slightly oversize for the original bridge, though they work perfectly well. I had thoughts of just installing a Mustang bridge, but I like the smaller footprint of the original Musicmaster one.



The trans-red looks darn good on the ash (?) body.


Decades of use have also worn the original tuners into a smooth-operating state.



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