10/07/2016

1959 King Mortone Upright Bass





King Mortone basses are very, very cool things. They're ply in construction like an old Kay or Epiphone (both delicious choices for road-ready old instruments) but have a longer scale length (this one is 43") which gives them a bit of a different vibe. Even with the light strings on this (Corelli 370Ms -- light tension in the realm of gut), it feels snappy and digs-in nicely.

This one dates from 1959 judging by its serial (3922) and was made by H. N. White. It's all original except, perhaps, for the old bridge and also features the somewhat rarer, and very hip "blonde" finish that gives it a distinct rockabilly (or small swing group) look.

I worked on this for a customer/friend of mine and he brought this bass in with the body more-or-less in good shape but the with the neck absolutely wrecked. It had giant bolts sticking out of it everywhere, bits of it were glued, bits of it weren't, and at the time I thought that I'd need to re-neck the instrument. It turned-out that after I removed the bolts and "hardware," much of the neck's cracks hadn't been glued and I had fresh gluing surfaces to put it back together. Hurray!

So, with a lot of effort, I was able to glue everything up, patch holes, and reinforce where it needed to be before resetting the neck with both a glued and bolted joint. The rest of the work was minor -- regluing a few seams on the body, adjusting the soundpost a hair, and installing adjusters in the old bridge.


These basses are somewhere between 3/4 and 7/8 size but don't feel larger in the body than a 3/4.


The tuners are good quality units and after bending-back the knobs to straight and lubing them, they were just fine. I made a new nut from maple just to be antagonistic.


After figuring out that the first position dot is in the "2" position and the second in the "4," it was easy enough to adapt my fingering to the longer scale length to try this out.




It's a handsome, Strad-shaped bass. For a ply top, the f-holes look great, too.




Don't you love the King decal?


The original tailpiece was split on its original "tailgut" mounting-holes, so I drilled a couple a bit more forward and it's now useful again.


The old/original bridge had been cut-down quite a bit and had deep string slots. I added new aluminum adjusters which let me jack it up to get proper action with the freshly-reset neck angle and also just cut a few new slots on the top of the bridge for the strings. It looks a little goofy but works a bit better than filling the old slots and having the tone get a hair brighter from the fill job.




Note all of the filled holes from old bolted "repairs."




The first layer of ply (the maple veneer) is damaged in this area because a past "fix" included a big wooden "heel extension" that was bolted and glued to this location. It was weird.


This has a bunch of splits and cracks and old bolt-fix holes but they're all, fortunately, fixed-up now. The two patches to the rear of the heel conceal bolts that make-up for a somewhat-damaged dovetail that only works so-so on its own.




The big tuner plates and machines are heavy-duty and good to go.