I recently had the privilege of doing some work on two vintage Fender basses belonging to Howard Bates. Howard was the original bassist in Slaughter and the Dogs formed in Wythenshawe, Manchester, in 1975, one of the first wave of punk bands to sign with a major label. They supported the Sex Pistols on their legendary gig at Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall in July 1976. This concert, more than any other single event, spawned Manchester's punk scene.
One Stephen Patrick Morrissey was briefly a member of the band, prior to later forming the Smiths with Johnny Marr. Billy Duffy (later of The Cult) was also a band member for a period in an incarnation of the band known as The Studio Sweethearts.
Anyhow, both basses had seen plenty of action, in particular the 62 Precision. Both had very worn frets and needed complete re-frets and new bone nuts. Whilst taking the instruments apart I took the opportunity of checking the parts for originality.
First up, the 1971 Fender Jazz bass ...
Neck plate "F" stamped and serial number indicating 1971. The neck is faintly stamped with a 7 and A..... Many Fenders of this era have incomplete codes, or are missing altogether. There is nothing to suggest the neck is not 100% original to the guitar. The headstock sports the 1970's solid black logo.
The frets are pretty worn ... generally frets which are less than around 30/1000th inch high cannot be fret dressed any further as there is not sufficient metal left to be crowned. The worn frets are heated (to minimise chipping to the fretboard) and removed. In this case most frets came out very cleanly, except for a couple of minor chips at one end of the neck. These odd chips are repaired, and the rough edges to the fret slots made level and smooth.
The slots are slightly bevelled and cleaned of any debris. The depth of the slots is checked to make sure the new frets will seat down fully when installed.
The fretboard is now fully prepped and ready to re-fret. The new frets have been radiused, cut to length, and placed in a wooden block in order. As this is a bound fretboard, the frets have to be measured carefully and cut to fit within the binding.
The new frets installed and the ends bevelled before fret dressing. The worn bone nut needs to be removed without disturbing the neck binding, which it was!
The neck is mounted on the neck jig for fret dressing - levelling, crowning , sanding and polishing the new frets. I've cut a new bone blank to match the 7.25" radius of the neck, and carefully measured so it fits snugly between the neck binding. The nut slots are then cut to the correct spacing and depth, and the nut lowered, shaped and polished.
The finished nut, which looks rather nice I think...I used unbleached bone (which is not bright white) to give a vintage look.
The neck pickup was stiff and difficult to adjust as it was being pinched by the celluloid pick guard which had slightly shrunk. The pick guard was removed to make some minor adjustments, revealing that somebody had at some time in the past, routed the body for another pickup and then filled the hole left behind. The pots were original, dated 23rd week of 1967 (Fender had purchased a large stock of pots then so it's not unusual to find instruments made in the early 70's with these earlier dated pots).
The new frets after fret dressing....
Here's the 1962 Fender Precision, which has had the original finish stripped back to bare wood, probably in the early 70's. Despite this, the bass sounds wonderful, just as you would expect a pre CBS Fender to sound.
The frets are very worn and flat, with insufficient metal remaining to carry out any more fret dresses. These are not the original frets - there was evidence of many chips and gouges on the fretboard from where the last re-fret was done, unfortunately not very expertly. The bone nut is also very worn and will be replaced.
Taking the neck off, it's apparent the bass was refinished green at some point, but through the layers of paint there's an indication that the original finish was probably Fiesta Red. The neck plate L19xxx indicates the bass was made in 1962, and the neck is dated in pencil 10 or 12/61 so October or December 1961.
Once the frets were removed it was easier to see the chips and file marks made during the previous re-fret. The worst areas are repaired as best as possible prior to re-fretting. It is usual to level the fingerboard prior to re-fretting however this is not particularly advisable on vintage fretboards, especially old Fender Brazilian rosewood fingerboards like this one which can be quite thin.
In this case the old frets looked like they were nearly through to the maple neck underneath, luckily once the old frets were removed it could be seen there was sufficient wood left for installation of the new frets. It helped that this was a slab board neck, used on Fenders up to mid 1962. These were subsequently replaced by thinner veneer like rosewood boards in 1963.
The frets installed and bevelled, prior to dressing.
The original celluloid pick guard has shrunken pulling screws inward, cracking the celluloid in places and gripping the neck in the neck pocket. Some adjustments were required to ensure the neck could be aligned properly. The non original screws were replaced with vintage correct aged nickel cross head screws. When I removed the old screws one corner of the pick guard just fell away... a spot of super glue solved the problem.
The pots are not original, one dates from 1977, the other unknown. Otherwise pickups and electrics are original.
The set up is completed ....
As a luthier, and also a vintage guitar enthusiast, I'll be posting articles about guitar repair, guitar construction, and also vintage instruments