Electric Bass Guitar Setup (& maintenance) Guide

(from www.tunemybass.com & other sources)

What Does It Mean to Setup a Bass Guitar? The point of setting up your bass guitar is to make it play well. That means it plays in tune, it sounds good, it feels comfortable to fret and pluck the strings, and it just suits your playing style in general. Before you begin setting up your bass, I want you to understand what makes your bass play the way it does. Follow each link to get a basic understanding of each concept before you follow the bass setup tutorials below. The same things apply to doing a standard 6-string guitar setup, too. There are 6 basic things you can adjust or do on your bass : 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. The straightness of the neck The height of the bass strings Intonation Pickup height bass String the bass Clean the strings Cleanning the bass Bass electronics

Printable Tools You'd be best off buying real, precise gauges from a guitar repair supply place. If you're impatient or broke, these'll do ok.



1. Bass Neck Relief
The The Straightness of the Bass Neck The straightness of the bass guitar's neck is commonly called relief. The neck bends upwards (called upbow), or it can be straight, or it can bend backwards (called back-bow). Two things cause the neck to bend: 1. the tension of the strings pulling the neck upward 2. the truss rod pulling the neck backward The bass strings put many pounds of tension on the neck of your bass guitar. Think of it like a bow as in bow and arrow. The truss rod is a metal rod inside the neck of your bass. The rod can be tightened or loosened. As it is tightened, it exerts more pressure on the neck forcing it to bend backward in the opposite direction of the string tension. When loosened, the truss rod relieves the pressure adding relief (up-bow). Always be careful making truss rod adjustments. If you over-tighten it, you can make it snap and ruin your bass neck! You can sight your neck by holding the body of your bass and looking from the bridge toward the nut. (See picture.) Sighting your neck will give you a quick idea of how much relief is in your neck.


Your neck needs at least a slight amount of relief so that the strings don’t buzz against the frets. Strings vibrate in an elliptical pattern. That is, they vibrate more widely in the center of their length. So, a little relief is needed for them to not hit the frets. If your neck is straight or back-bowed, the strings may rattle against the frets causing unpleasant fret buzz. Adjusting Bass Guitar Neck Relief First, choose the gauge of bass strings you plan to use. Different string gauges have different amounts of tension. When you change gauges, you may have to readjust your bass guitar. So find a gauge you like and stick with it. Make sure you’ve installed your strings correctly. Tune your bass strings accurately to your preferred tuning. You want the string tension to be the same as when you play. You’ll want to get your bass neck as straight as possible before the point where the strings start buzzing. This will depend on how hard you play the strings. There’s not one right answer. Find the truss rod nut. Typically, it will be a hexagonal nut on one end of your bass neck. It may be covered by a plate on the headstock. Or, it may be hidden by your pickguard. On some basses you may be required to remove the neck, adjust it, put it back on and then tune the strings up again. If it’s not right, you’ll have to do it all over again. (What a pain!)


You may find the strings to be in the way of turning the truss rod. detune/loosen them and move them out of the way while you turn the truss rod. first loosen it by turning it to the left (lefty-loosey). Don’t be surprised if it takes several days for your adjustments to settle in. start tightening the truss rod by turning it to the right (rightytighty). Fret the 1st fret and the 15th fret of your lowest string.Using a pencil. Now. make a mark on the truss rod nut so you know where you started and as a general reference point. It doesn’t take much turning of the truss rod to adjust the neck. You may have it perfect one day only to find it has moved the next day! 5 . Tune the string(s) back to pitch to check the straightness of the neck. You should be able to see how much relief is in your neck by checking the space between the bottom of the string and the tops of the frets. To avoid breaking the truss rod. Use the correct size hex key so you don’t strip the truss rod nut. you can use your bass strings as a straight edge. You’ll probably need just a tiny bit of relief. If they are. Never force anything! Expect to maybe do a quarter-turn or a half-turn. You can check the straightness with a straight edge of some sort. Your bass may have come with the hex key you need. Or.

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” String height. Unless you really know what you’re doing. or action. Fretboard Radius The shape of your fretboard has a slight arc to it. or fretboard radius. The radius gauge has a bunch of common radii used on basses and guitars. The height of the saddles should form an arc to match the curvature of the fretboard. This arc. can be adjusted in two places — at the nut. or you can eyeball it. When you set the string height. Hopefully the nut came cut correctly from the factory. or curve. and at the bridge. you can use a radius gauge (radius gauge PDF). 7 . (see last picture) Think of it as a small segment of a large circle. I say hopefully because it can be tricky to make any modifications to it. The radius of that large circle is measured in inches. At the bridge end you can raise or lower the string height of each string using the height screws on the saddle.2. Bass Guitar String Height String Height How high or low the strings are above the fretboard is called action. You may hear someone say. you should leave any nut adjustments or repairs to a guitar repair shop. is called fretboard radius. “My action is too high.

Then you can set it on the fretboard without removing the strings. Once you know your fretboard radius. Make it feel right and balanced. Adjust the height of your lowest string so you don’t get any string buzz. Depending on your playing style. you can raise or lower each string’s height with their saddles. If you don’t want to remove your strings.Adjusting Bass Guitar String Height Once you’ve adjusted your neck relief. Check the open string and all the frets up and down the neck for buzz. set the radius gauge on top of your saddles and adjust the heights of the other strings to match the fretboard radius. 8 . Use a radius gauge (radius gauge PDF) to identify the radius of your fretboard. You can also attempt to just eyeball the radius. A little string buzz is normal. you may want the strings higher or lower. cut notches out of the radius gauge where your strings fall. Experiment.

To adjust the intonation of your guitar or bass. This is an instructional article on how to set your bass or guitar intonation. I'll also provide you with some common factors that may cause poor intonation. but the same chord played higher up the fret board have some notes that become out of tune. When a guitar or bass guitar has an inaccurate intonation setting. you may think that your instrument is out of tune. Accurate intonation is critical to sound quality. What Is Guitar Intonation? Intonation is the accuracy in which a guitar or bass guitar can produce a fretted note. If these notes aren't exactly the same. That is what this article will try to help you correct.anywhere on the neck. Intonation Intonation Set/Adjust Guitar or Bass Guitar Intonation One of the most common things that guitarists or bassists overlook about their instrument is the intonation.3. 9 . Setting the intonation is the act of adjusting the length of the strings (by moving the bridge saddles) to compensate for the stretching of a string due to pushing it down to the fret board to produce a note. you may notice that chords played at the bottom of the neck sound correct. I won't bore you with all the theory behind fretted instruments and such. An example is that you may play an open A on the 5th (or 3rd) string together with the same note on the 6th (or 4th) string to add depth. I'll provide you with a little background information. checking and adjusting your bass or guitar's intonation properly. I'm going to cover this topic here so you too can have your guitar or bass be in tune as much as possible . you move the bridge saddles toward or away from the fret board until the 12th fret octave and its harmonic are equal and the same open-string note is exactly one octave below those. so don't be afraid to read on. making the chords sound more like noise than music. but jump right to the methods you should use for setting.

The best tuners to use for this task are the ones with a meter readout rather than LEDs since it is much easier to see how much adjustment may need to be done. 10 . You must also be sure that your strings are new. be sure to explain it to the repair person (you may want to explain the problem before repairs are done as well). you must tune your guitar to your desired tuning. the frets on your instrument may be worn to the point where the string is not contacting the centers of the frets. which may unset your intonation. If particular frets are out of tune while others are in tune across each string. If the intonation starts out bad on the first few frets and gets progressively better going up to the 12th fret. If that is the case.even if you have to completely set the intonation right there! If the problem still exists. but you should check your intonation periodically just to be sure that it is correct. your strings' tension or height may change slightly. If they are the same and you still have intonation problems. With your instrument in the same position as you normally play (playing position). If you do have the nut replaced by a repair person. be sure to check their job thoroughly before leaving the shop . It is suggested that you have an instrument repair person replace the nut to ensure that it is in the correct position. be sure what they have done the best job possible . not lying on a table. This would throw the entire scale of your guitar or bass guitar off. check the open strings and the other fretted notes. especially if you have a digital tuner. First. you may need to grind and polish or replace the worn frets to cure this problem. your guitar may have a misplaced nut.before handing over your hard-earned cash. but if you are paying to have the nut replaced. This should be exactly equal to the tuning if you were to push the string down to the fret. Some cheaply made guitars may never be able to correct this problem. Each time you change strings or tunings.Check Your Guitar or Bass Intonation Checking intonation is easy. check the tuning of the natural harmonic at the 12th fret (gently touching the string above the 12th fret while picking).

Adjust Your Guitar Or Bass Guitar Intonation Intonation Because adjustments such as action (the height of the strings from the fret board). Check the intonation every time you change your strings. Sometimes it may be as simple as the saddle needs to be turned around and re-slotted. as any extra pressure ("articulation") will disrupt the accuracy of the adjustment. adjustments must be performed as the last step in setting up your guitar or bass guitar. or even brands. If your bridge does not provide you with enough adjustment. With the aid of an electronic or digital tuner.the higher the action is. In some more extreme cases. adjustments should rarely take more than a few minutes. you may want to check factors such as your action. provided you stick with the same tuning. If you periodically check your intonation. string thickness or material and the magnetic pull of your pickups can effect an instrument's intonation. it may be necessary to have a repair person take a look. truss rod tightness. Use slight finger pressure. move the saddle toward the pickups and fret board. compare either the open string or the octave harmonic at the 12th fret with the fretted octave at the 12th fret. Factors Causing Inaccurate Or Poor Intonation On A Guitar Or Bass Guitar Guitar If your guitar or bass guitar has poor intonation. move the saddle away from the pickups and fret board. Even the slightest differences between sets of strings can make a noticeable difference. Adjusting an instrument's intonation consists of setting the bridge saddles to produce the note at the 12th fret exactly an octave higher than that of the open string. If the fretted note is sharp. the more the strings need to be stretched in order to 11 . action and string gauges. bridge saddles or worn frets. When you are checking the intonation of your instrument. it must be done in your normal playing position in order to correctly account for any neck flex which effects the string height (action). if it is flat. the entire bridge may need to be moved. gauges. especially if you are changing tunings. The action of your instrument may cause your intonation to be sharp .

and may cost just as much as a new mass-produced guitar by the time you buy all the pieces. “Her intonation is spectacular. of instruments. possibly causing your bridge saddles to run out of adjustment room. This can be said of singers. get a new instrument that can support what you want.fret a note. This can be said of singers. how accurately something hits the correct pitch. of instruments. That is. but may require you to raise your action to prevent fret buzz. After all. Guitars and bass guitars are made to handle a range of string thicknesses. If this is the case. She nailed every note!” Or. Before you consider moving the bridge. These string gauges can only produce a certain number of notes. you will also make your intonation sharper. In doing so. If this still doesn't work for you. you may (though it is not recommended) need to move your entire bridge away from the nut in order to gain the additional adjustment room required to set your intonation. homemade. spend the cash to get a 5string bass or a baritone or 7-string guitar if you have to. that may effect the action of your instrument as well as the shorten a string's life. It plays so out of tune even the drummer can tell!” Intonation is how in-tune something is. “I need to adjust my bass guitar’s intonation. It plays so out of tune even the drummer can tell!” 12 . “I need to adjust my bass guitar’s intonation. custom-built guitars don't always have an accurate scale. She nailed every note!” Or. One other factor that has come up much more often in the last few years involves low tunings. For instance. I know this from experience!) How to Intonate Intonation is how in-tune something is. try a thicker gauge string (I know many guitarists that use a bass string in place of their low string). That is. Lower notes will not only loosen the string. “Her intonation is spectacular. (Trust me. If your bridge saddles are worn or leaning. how accurately something hits the correct pitch.

where the notes occur on the string to where the frets are on the fretboard. to adjust your bass intonation you will move the saddle forward or backward. You do this by tightening or loosening the intonation screws at the back of the bridge. It should be the same note as the open string. Changing the string's length shifts where the notes fall on the string. or lining up.Notes occur at exact points up and down the string. If they are not lined up correctly. 13 . Setting Intonation To set the intonation of your bass guitar. Make sure you press the string straight down. you change the length of the string from the bridge to the nut. Setting your intonation means matching. Starting with your lowest string. By moving the saddle. tune all the open strings to their correct pitches. your bass guitar will play out of tune. fret the string at the 12th fret. you must lengthen or shorten the string by moving the string’s saddle backward or forward. You want this fretted note to be in tune. As it will seen below. How to Set Your Intonation: Using an electronic tuner. Check the electronic bass tuner to see if you are flat (too low) or sharp (too high).

If you’re interested in why. you need to shorten the string by moving the saddle forward. If you are sharp. This is normal. Fretted instruments have a natural flaw where they can’t be perfectly intonated. look up “equal temperament” or “just intonation” in a music dictionary. You can just get really close. double check the open string is still in tune. you need to add length to the string by moving the saddle backward. You will discover that it is impossible to get every single fret perfectly in tune. 14 . Do the same for each string. After you adjust the saddle.If you are flat.

magnetic poles under the strings. Setting Bass Pickup Height You can set the height of your bass pickups by tightening or loosening the screws around the outside of the pickup. On some basses you can raise or lower the pole pieces individually. 15 .4. the louder the output of your bass. The pole pieces are the round. the magnets may pull on your strings if the pickups get too close. Don’t set the pickups too low or else you won’t get enough volume out of your bass. Some brands of basses put foam underneath to push the pickups upward. You want to adjust your pickup height so that the strings don’t clack against them and that the output isn’t too hot (loud). If you want more output from the treble side. Setting Bass Pickup Height Pickup Height The higher your bass pickups are set. Also. you can put some springs under the pickup on the shaft of the screws to push them up instead. raise that side of the pickup. If the foam is breaking down. On some pickups they are exposed. They don’t have to be level. on others they are covered. Keep in mind you can set the pickups at an angle.

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5. headstock On the headstock there are tuning posts around which you will wrap the strings. stay in tune and keep your bass guitar in good working order. Read through the entire string changing tutorial before you restring your bass. How to String a Bass Guitar Learn to string a bass guitar correctly! Although it is not that hard to string a bass. Step 1. 17 . there are some important things you need to get right in order to get a good sound.Know Thy Bass 1- The headstock is where most of the string changing action takes place.

Turning the key one way tightens the string (making the pitch go higher). 18 .Each tuning post has a little string hole in the center. You need to listen for which way is which. the end of the string is placed in the string hole. On some headstock designs string trees help hold the strings at the proper height. turning the key the other way loosens the string (making the pitch go lower). The direction depnds on your bass and how it is strung. As you will see. A tuning key is connected to each tuning post. They often look like a disc or button. Some string trees look more tree-like than the one pictured above.

On straight headstocks the string tree helps pull the strings tightly over the nut. There is the straight headstock found on Fenders. These headstocks go straight in line with the neck. There are a couple of common headstock designs.The nut is the part located between the headstock and the fretboard. The angle of the headstock helps pull the strings tightly over the nut. Then there is the angleback headstock found on most modern designs. The angleback headstock angles away from the straight line of the neck. Fender knock-offs and others. 19 . The nut holds the strings at the proper height over the fretboard and keeps the strings spaced correctly.

The string saddles hold the strings at the proper height and spacing on the other end of your bass. but I don’t recommend adjusting them unless you know what you are doing. For each string there is a saddle on which the string rides (yee-haw!). There’s a lot more to adjusting the height of the strings than you may realize at this point.The bridge is the metal plate that is bolted to the body of your bass. 20 . They are adjustable with screwdrivers and hex keys.

Bass Guitar String Winder – this is not necessary. Make sure you get one for bass tuning keys.Step 2. Electronic Bass Tuner – (optional) this will help you tune up your new strings to the correct pitch. but highly recommended! Basically it is a little crank used to turn the tuning key more quickly. It is a great timesaver. Actually. The bass winders fit over the larger tuning keys of the bass more easily. Soft Cloth – a cloth to use for cleaning.Tools and Supplies for Changing Your Bass Strings 2Several things are needed to help replace your bass strings. Don’t use your mom’s favorite pillow case! Mechanical Pencil – (optional) a pencil with a very thin graphite “lead”. Don’t use the best cutters you have. 21 . with lead being poisonous and all. Wire Cutters – You will need to cut the new bass strings. I recommend getting the combination bass string winder/clipper if you can find it (shown above). New Bass Strings – obviously you’ll be replacing the old bass strings with something. not guitar. All pencils use graphite now. Bass strings chew through them quite easily. It’s very handy. Any music store will have these.

22 . Each string should run in a straight line all the way from the bridge to the tuning post (green arrows good).Look Before You Leap 3Before you begin to string a bass. If your strings angle away from the nut. Notice how the strings are wrapped around each post. make the strings run straight when you put them on. look at how the bass strings are already installed on the bass. Don’t try to make all the keys turn the same way.Step 3. Pay attention! The most common mistake people make when stringing a bass is wrapping the bass string around the wrong side of the post. you may break your nut or cause tuning problems! So pay attention to which side of the post each string is wrapped. very bad). The string must not angle away from the nut (red arrows bad. It depends on the design of your headstock and where each post is. Keep in mind it is not necessarily the same for all the posts.

I'm a weirdo!) Finally. More wraps can’t hurt as long as they’re not on top of each other. The picture above shows three and a half wraps around the E-string post. examine how the bass strings are at the bridge end. but sometimes the strings go through the body from the back side of the body. Again it should be a straight line from one end of the string to the other. 23 . It should only wrap on the post. (I find getting many wraps evenly on the post oddly satisfying. You don’t want the string to wrap on top of other wraps. Most likely it is somewhere at the back of the bridge. This keeps the string from shifting around on the post which will cause tuning problems. You probably want at least two and a half wraps on each post. Look where the ball end of the string is held in place.Also notice how many wraps you can get on each post. the fewer wraps you can fit on to the post. The fatter the strings. Look at how each string sits in its saddle.

Take Your Strings Off 4- You need to take off your old strings. Experiment with stringing through the body or stringing through the bridge holes. Unwind. No need to jolt your neck. This helps add sustain to your bass notes.If you have a hole for each string on the backside of your bass body.Relax. Think of it as a bow (as in bow and arrow) with the strings pulling hard from both ends. You need to remember there is a lot of tension placed on your neck by the strings. 24 . Do not cut your strings off! Unwind them. You may find your tone is different. Step 4. If you suddenly cut the strings off you are giving your bass neck a jolt by releasing all of that tension. the strings can run through the body out to the front.

. it may be necessary to cut off the coiled up end of the string to take it out of the bridge.Once the string is unwrapped from the post. you may want to keep your string uncut so you can estimate where to cut the new strings. With all of them off you have better access to clean. then they do the same for each string. Tip: Keep your old strings as spares in case you ever have a string break. Take off all your strings in the same way. This is only necessary if your strings run through a closed hole on your bridge rather than an open slot. Some people like to take one off and replace it.Clean Up Your Fretboard 5- After you have removed your bass strings it’s a good idea to wipe down your fretboard and your frets since you have easy access to them.. you may need to annoyingly try to straighten out the string and pull it out through the bridge hole if it doesn't have an open slot to remove the string. Step 5. Rub 25 . If this is your first time to string a bass. It's up to you. In that case.

26 . This will allow your string to glide up and down the slot smoothly and avoid some bass tuning issues. Using a graphite pencil. Put the E-string (or whatever your lowest string is) through the appropriate bridge hole or slot the same way the old one was. Just be careful to not weaken the string by bending it at too sharp of an angle anywhere. It can get pretty gross around the frets.First Strings First 6- When I string a bass I like to replace the bass strings from lowest to highest. Just keep track of which string is which. rub a little graphite around each string slot. The order in which you replace your bass strings doesn't really matter. Keep tension on the string as you put it on so it doesn’t slip out of the slot and stays in the groove of the saddle. Step 6. Slippery String Slots This is optional.the gunk off of each fret. Graphite is a very slippery substance. but I always like to do it when I string a bass. You can also dust off all the other usually inaccessible places.

you’ll be able to wrap more string around them. The worst thing you can do is cut the string too short! If you do. you will wind the strings on the post. Step 7. you’re heading back to the music store to get another string. 27 . match it to the length to your old string. Cut the string a couple of inches past the post to which the string will be wrapped.The string is longer than it needs to be and so needs to be cut. Skinnier posts don’t allow for as much string to be wrapped around them. If you are worried you will cut it too short. Always err on the side of cutting it too long. Leave a little more for wider posts and less for skinny posts.Getting Wound Up 7In this step of how to string a bass guitar. That way you will be sure of the length. If you have wide diameter tuning posts as on Fender models.

Bend the string at a right angle. Begin winding the bass string on to the post. Did I mention this already? 28 .Place the cut end of the bass string all the way straight down into the hole in the center of the tuning post. Make sure you are winding it on the correct side of the post! It shouldn’t angle off the nut. Keep tension on the string with one hand as you wind the string so you get tight wraps around the post and the string doesn’t slip out of the bridge.

Downward wraps pull the strings more tightly over the nut.Each successive wrap should go under the previous one. 29 . The only differences will be: Skinnier strings can be cut longer since they can wrap around the post more times. that is. Tip: Turn all the keys perpendicular to the headstock to keep them out of the way as you wind each string on to your bass. Wait to tune after all your strings are in place. This is important because the string/nut contact point is where some of your tone comes from. closer to the headstock. but don’t waste your time tuning it up yet.Just a Few More 8The rest of stringing a bass follows pretty much the same procedure. As you add more strings you will increase the tension placed on the neck which will change the pitch of the strings. Step 8. Wind the string tight enough to keep it in place on the bridge and nut.

This is something I've seen as a problem on Fender models.To string a bass correctly. Bass Guitar Tuning Notes Tune each string to its appropriate pitch. but you can help them along. No angles! Important if you have a straight-style headstock! straightBe sure to get enough wraps around each post that doesn't have a string tree for it. The bass string must run in a stright line from bridge to post. Step 9. Make sure to run the strings under any string trees under which they belong. 5-string basses are usually tuned B E A D G. this is extremely important: The side of the post to which you wind the string may be different. Without enough wraps to pull the string close to the headstock. the open A-string (and sometimes E-string) may sound dead or muffled because there is not enough string pressure against the nut. If you tighten the strings way too much they may snap. Make sure you run the strings straight under the string trees. After you string your bass. a 4-string bass is tuned E A D G.Tune Up 9This is where you want to be careful. From lowest pitch to highest. it may take a day or more for your new strings to stretch out. too. 30 .

This way the bass tuner is less likely to loosen on its own and go out of tune. Hopefully you've avoided causing any major injuries to you or your loved ones throughout the bass string changing process.Once you are tuned to pitch. If you’ve followed everything in this how to string a bass tutorial. Usually it doesn’t need to be done more than twice on each string. A couple other bass string tips: Always tune up to the right pitch. Then tune it up again. hold each string around the 12th fret and gently pull on it to stretch it out some. 31 . To add life to your strings try wiping them down after each time you play. your bass strings should be on correctly and will stay in tune pretty well. You can also clean your bass strings periodically.

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You don’t want to put water on your bass strings some strings may rust as a result. use or store it near any heat source – cigarettes. Over time they will wear out from frets chewing into them. You will be amazed at how well cleaning your bass strings this way works. water heaters. CAUTION! Let me stress that denatured alcohol is poisonous! DO NOT DRINK DENATURED ALCOHOL!!! Denatured basically means poisoned. etc. wipe them off and they’re like new. They add poison to pure wood alcohol so they don’t have to pay hefty liquor taxes and it can be sold at hardware stores. Use some rubber gloves and protective goggles. Just use denatured alcohol from your local hardware/home improvement store. Use it in a well-ventilated area or outside because the fumes stink and can be irritating. Each time they are like new. has water mixed in it. fireplaces. Also avoid skin and eye contact with it. you will also wear 33 . How To Clean Your Bass Guitar Strings Just soak your bass strings for 12-24 hours in the denatured alcohol. It can be found next to the paint thinner products. don’t use rubbing alcohol as a substitute. In some parts of the world denatured alcohol is called methylated spirits. but it is also very flammable Don’t flammable. Rubbing alcohol. You can clean them as often as you like. It’s not dangerous to use if you follow simple safety precautions. How to Clean Bass Strings Cleaning Bass String Cleaning Solution By far the best method to clean bass strings is to soak them in denatured alcohol. as from a drugstore. has no water in it. So. keep your drummer away from it. So. If you do a lot of popping. Don’t be scared to use it. They're hard enough to find! Not only is this stuff poisonous. Clean Don't Substitute Anything Else to Clean Your Bass Strings Denatured alcohol. or methylated spirits.6.

com 2004-2008 All Rights Reserved. 2004© www.out/weaken your bass strings more quickly. 34 .TuneMyBass. On a fretless bass you can use the same set of bass strings seemingly forever.

The tuning heads. The body and neck Cleaning the body of your bass is just like cleaning your favorite antique furniture: You need to do it very carefully. Guitar polish gets dust and dirt off your instrument and leaves your bass looking well cared for. Rubbing the hardware down with a dust cloth helps keep it shiny. really! The finish on the wood and hardware shows every fingerprint. You can polish the finish with a cloth (such as an old sweatshirt). The pickups When it comes to cleaning your bass. Make sure that the polish isn't abrasive and that it doesn't get onto the wood. with the exception of the frets and pickups. Keep the polish away from the strings and the fingerboard. So the least you should do is keep those fingerprints clean The next few sections walk you through cleaning the various parts of your bass. Cleanning Your Bass Cleaning your bass guitar is the most basic of maintenance jobs. bridge. and the first step is to wash your hands. Then rub your bass down — work on the body (front and back) and the back of the neck. but use guitar polish (available in a spray bottle at any music store) instead of furniture polish. and strap pins are all considered hardware. A lot of dust accumulates where the wood meets the metal of the pickups. If too much dirt builds up on the hardware. the pickups are in a category all by themselves. Your bass will love it. because it will mar the wood. though. 35 . No. The hardware The hardware consists of all the brass and metal parts attached to the wood. you can use a mild brass polish from the supermarket to clean the metal.7. Apply a squirt or two of the polish to the cloth and work it into the fabric. one by one.

use cotton swabs to clean the area where your pickups meet the wood. The frets You can use a jewelry polishing cloth that has polish already soaked into it (available in any supermarket) to polish the frets. Apply oil to the wood every other time you change the strings. Let the oil dry thoroughly before rubbing down the fingerboard again to remove any excess oil. Otherwise. don't use any liquids. and your frets will sparkle with joy (maybe not as bright as diamonds. The fingerboard The fingerboard consists of two major parts: • • The long wooden strip on the front of the neck The metal frets embedded in the long wooden strip These two parts are made of very different materials.Whatever you do. 36 . it's prone to drying out. and they can't deal with liquid. When polishing the frets. and then place a few drops (no more than five or so) of fingerboard oil (which you can get from your local music store) on a clean cotton cloth and work it into the wood. To restore the wood to its original luster. You can clean them only after removing your old strings and before restringing. and each needs to be cleaned in its own special way. The cloth is inexpensive. That stuff is rough on the wood of the fingerboard. use a dry cloth to get rid of the dirt. The wood Because the wood on your fingerboard is normally exposed. but you never know). Pickups are magnetic. making it necessary to replace them. Of course. don't use an abrasive jewelry polish that you have to pour out of a bottle. getting new pickups every four weeks is one way to keep them clean. The wood absorbs fingerboard oil easily. The liquid can cause them to short out.

as well. 37 . the strings need to be cleaned. But using a couple drops of rubbing alcohol (available in any pharmacy) on a cotton cloth is even better. Then put a moist section of the cloth between your index finger and thumb and pinch one string at a time. You can simply wipe the strings with a dry cotton cloth after you're done playing. rubbing the cloth up and down along the string's length. Check out Figure 1 for the proper method for cleaning bass strings. Copyright © 2008 & Trademark by Wiley Publishing. Figure 1: Cleaning the strings.The strings Yes. it'll dry it out. Inc. they take the most abuse. After all. Don't get any of the alcohol on the wood. All rights reserved. Let the alcohol sink into the cloth for a few seconds.

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you can always drop some new. Passive Pickups The first pickups to be used in bass guitars were passive.8. Bass Guitar Electronics The term electronics refers to the pickups and general electronic circuitry used in a bass guitar. good-quality pickups in for under $200. The way the pickups are designed to translate the sound of your bass is the final say in how your bass is going to sound. Each type has its own sound and advantages/disadvantages. The pickups are probably the most influential part on a bass guitar’s tone. An electronic signal is produced when bass string vibrations disturb that magnetic field. As long as you buy a wellconstructed bass. That electronic signal is then sent to a bass amp and translated into sound. These magnets pickup the vibrations of the metal bass strings. Passive 39 . What are Bass Guitar Pickups? Bass guitar pickups are the rectangular black boxes you see on the bass guitar body beneath the strings. When you listen to classic recordings such as Motown hits with James Jamerson. pickups The difference between passive pickups and active pickups is active ones are battery-powered while passive pickups are not. The good news is pickups are fairly easy to exchange. and Cream. you are hearing passive pickups. Active and Passive Bass Pickups Types of Bass Guitar Pickups of Pickups can be split into two categories: passive pickups and active pickups. The Beatles. The pickup magnets create a magnetic field around the bass strings. Inside the pickups are magnets. Electronics are needed to transmit the sound of the bass guitar to the bass guitar amp.

A good active pickup may sound warmer than a poor passive 40 . batteries may last from 6 weeks to a year. Always remember to unplug active basses when not in use to avoid draining the battery. Active pickups have a hotter (louder) output than passive pickups. full. If the battery dies. Active pickups use smaller magnets and pickup less external noise and interference. There is less signal loss on the way to the bass amp. That’s not necessarily bad. But. punchy tone is their appeal. Passive pickups use larger magnets and can pick up more noise and interference than active pickups.pickups tend to have a warm. dynamic tone. Depending on the bass and how much you play. Passive pickups do not give you much control over their tone. many active pickup systems will stop working. You just have fewer options for shaping the tone of passive pickups. clear and snappy sounding. Their fat. The pre-amp allows you to both cut and boost frequencies. Some pre-amps simply have a bass and treble control while others have mid-range controls and other extras. You may hear a lot of hiss. On passive pickups you can only turn down (cut) these bass and treble frequencies. The pre-amp is powered by a 9-volt battery (or sometimes 2 – an 18-volt system). Active Pickups Active pickups use a pre-amplifier. You will need to remember to carry spares and put in fresh batteries before those important gigs. Active pickups tend to be bright. or pre-amp. This gives you more control over the tone coming out of your bass. That means you can only take away treble or bass from the tone of the pickups. How much control you have will depend on the features of the pre-amp. round. some pre-amps can be noisy especially when you boost the treble. Basses have bass and treble controls much like your stereo system. It’s hard to generalize the sonic differences between active and passive pickups.

let’s look at different types of pickups that can fall into either the active or passive category. Single-coil pickups are often bright and clear sounding. 41 . On cheaper basses. There are two prominent pickup designs based on the number of coils used in a pickup’s construction – single-coil and double-coil. Pickups consist of a magnet around which a copper wire is coiled. SingleSingle-Coil Pickups SingleSingle-coil pickups have one coil wrapped around the pickup’s magnet. If you just use one of the pickups.pickup. A drawback is they can pickup external noise and give off a humming sound. the noise will get cancelled out. the quality of the electronics is usually not that great anyway. Types of Bass Guitar Pickups Now that we’ve established the difference between active and passive pickups. If you are buying your first bass. These fluctuations are then transmitted to the bass amp. you may pickup some noise. When the vibrations of a bass string disturb the magnetic field of the magnet. you can easily replace them if you like the rest of the bass. and florescent lighting can all cause this humming/buzzing. If two single-coil pickups are used (as on a Fender Jazz bass) and the pickup volumes are set equally. But. amplified and translated into sound. Radio waves. You will need to hear and experience the difference and try many basses and pickup systems. you will probably be fine choosing either passive or active pickups. computer monitors. small voltage fluctuations in the copper coil are produced.

the pickups are split in two — each under one pair of strings.Humbuckers Just as two single-coil pickups can be put together to cancel hum. These pickups are often called humbuckers or humbucking pickups for their humreducing qualities. a double-coil pickup can be created to cancel the hum within one pickup. Humbuckers tend to roll off some of the tonal highs when they cancel the hum and they usually have more output than single-coils. SplitSplit-Coil Pickups SplitSplit-coil pickups are basically double coil pickups split apart. Instead of one doublecoil underneath all 4 strings.DoubleDouble-Coil . 42 . This is what you see on Fender Precision basses.

Optical Pickups The newest kind of pickup available is the optical pickup. but you may run into them. without the right kind of pre-amp. Since piezos don’t rely on magnets it is possible to use non-metal strings such as nylon strings. An MM-style pickup refers to pickups created by and used on MMMusicMan basses. Other Pickup Terminology: Soapbar pickups refers to the shape of the pickup housing. They look like bars of black soap. 43 . A piezo pickup senses the actual vibration of the string through contact with the string at the bridge contact point. but may catch on.and 6-string bass guitars. Often found on 5. These are often found in acoustic bass guitars. can sound brittle and thin. Piezos. Optical pickups use light to sense the vibrations of the strings instead of magnets.Piezo Pickups Piezo pickups are less common on electric basses. These are still very uncommon.

The neck pickup gives off fatter. Many bass guitars have two pickups. If you don’t want a P-J setup. The tone put out by each pickup depends a lot on where the pickup is located beneath the bass strings. This way you get a wide variety of tones and you can get an idea of the sonic qualities of each type of pickup. As you get closer to the bridge. at least be sure to get something with two pickups. There are knobs for volume and tone – bass. thinner sound.Bass Pickup Placement Where the pickup is located along the length of the string plays an important role in the tonal characteristics of the pickup. the tone is fuller and warmer. a string’s sound is thinner and brighter. the pickup nearest the neck is called the neck pickup and the one nearest the bridge is called the bridge pickup. With two pickups. treble and sometimes mid. Knobs and Switches The controls on a bass are much like that of a stereo system. I would suggest getting a P-J pickup configuration. warmer tones while the bridge pickup has a brighter. As you near the neck. 44 . Bass Pickup Summary If you are buying your first bass. You want the tonal variety that will give you. like the Fender Precision bass. This means one humbucking P-bass (Precision bass) style pickup near the neck and one J-bass (Jazz bass) style pickup near the bridge. Number of Pickups Some basses. have only one pickup. You can emphasize or de-emphasize either pickup to get a wide range of tones.

Having one volume knob. but don’t forget you can do a lot with the EQ settings on the bass amp. two volume knobs. And. A 2-band EQ would mean just bass and treble. Three-band means bass. Active bass guitars have more tone knobs. the amp’s electronics generally sound better. and treble. This allows you to adjust the amount of bass or treble frequencies output by the bass. These will allow you to both cut and boost the treble and bass frequencies. Passive basses often have just one tone knob that cuts the treble frequencies.Volume Knobs Bass guitars either have a master volume for all pickups. A few basses may have a pickup selector switch. or the neck pickup on. You may come across terms like 3-band EQ. With the knobs it’s nice to be able to adjust 45 . Some basses feature a sweepable mid-range. A master volume is a little easier to control and set. Tone Knobs All basses have at least one tone knob. the bridge pickup on. This allows you to choose from a spectrum of mid-range frequencies you wish to cut or boost. mid. With a master volume knob there is a separate knob that blends or balances the two pickups. Some basses will have a mid-range knob. Otherwise the frequency is set for you as it is on the bass and treble knobs. or a switch basically give you all the same options. Having more knobs is convenient. This allows you to cut or boost those frequencies that fall between the bass and treble knobs’ frequencies. A 3-way pickup selector switch has 3 settings: both pickups on. Each frequency is a band. An active bass will have at least a treble knob and a bass knob. or two separate volume knobs – one for each pickup.

Or. you can shape your tone a bit more.your tone right on your bass. if you record your bass directly rather than through a bass amp. 46 .

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