Hotwire/Warmoth Custom 5

Hotwire/Warmoth Custom 5

Year: 2006/2017

Made In: Germany/USA

Specs: Ash body, maple neck, maple fretboard

Electronics: 2 x Q-Tuner BL-5 pickups, ACG/East EQ-02 preamp

Controls: Volume and blend stack, bass filter stack, treble filter stack

The long and troubled history of this bass is best left elsewhere. However, having gone the custom route and been unhappy with the execution while still believing in the concept, I’m happy to say this bass is a triumph of persistence.

An ash-bodied 5-string Jazz bass with a maple neck is nothing new, but it is a known quantity and I wanted a secure vehicle for a pair of Q-Tuner pickups paired with a sophisticated electronics circuit. After much work and multiple times where cutting my losses seemed the easiest path, there’s a feeling of vindication now that the instrument itself is worthy of the electronics.

The Q-Tuners are an articulate and extremely powerful pickup with very detailed high-end. That’s not to say they’re short of low end, there is plenty in there too, just that there is more upper-frequency information in there than I’ve heard in any pickup. The closest pickup I can think of, in terms of sound, is the G&L MFD, but the MFD doesn’t have anything like the high-end of the Q-Tuner.  It requires serious reining in to approach anything like a vintage tone, but that’s not what I wanted from this bass.

Replacing the neck has been an eye-opening experience. I’m not one who subscribes to the concept of particular woods meaning particular tonal characteristics, certainly not in electric instruments where the pickup plays such a substantial role in the voice of an instrument. The impact of replacing a maple/maple neck with a different maple/maple neck has been enlightening, however. Where one neck was muted and stifling, the other sings and I must praise the quality of Warmoth for their quality, while acknowledging that it is possible for a piece of similar wood to simply not work.

This bass is a traditional looking but elegantly voiced 5-string with extensive tonal capabilities. It took a lot of work to reach this point, but I feel it was worth the journey, both in terms of lessons learned and the supremely playable end result. It’s a unique sounding instrument in a traditional shell, the one I set out to achieve all those years ago.

 

Open Neck Surgery

Anyone who read my entry on my Hotwire Custom 5 will know that it was a pretty disappointing experience and I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to turn it into the kind of bass I was expecting when I ordered it. I’ve made it better over the years, tweaking and changing bits and pieces but have never been quite able to attain the standard of instrument I think it could be. Much of this this was documented in the original post but I continued to endeavour to get the best from it. I finally arrived at the conclusion that nothing will ever make the neck into something I can trust, so I ordered a new neck from Warmoth. Based on my experiences with their guitar necks, I was confident they would not disappoint. I ordered one of their Super Bass Deluxe 5 4+1 models in flamed maple with a flamed maple fretboard. I left the fretboard blank (as the original Hotwire neck was supposed to be) and specified small 6230 frets which I think feel just right on a bass.

Fitting the Warmoth would involve quite a bit of work. The original is a 21 fret neck and the body is designed to match. The Warmoth is a 22 fret neck. The truss rod nut of the Warmoth is at the heel, whereas the Hotwire had it at the nut. Also, the Hotwire has a 6-bolt neck pocket so it wouldn’t be a matter of just screwing it in. I ordered the new neck without pre-drilled mounting holes.

The heel of the neck didn’t match the curve of the pocket and that’s the kind of thing which would eat away at me if I left it as it was.

Thankfully, the truss rod nut was sunk a few mm into the neck which gave me some scope to re-profile the heel so, after some judicious sanding, I had something far less likely to aggravate any OCD tendencies. Once I was happy with the fit, I drilled the neck mounting holes.

Of course, given the extra fret, the nut would be approximately 1cm further away from the bridge. I decided to relocate the bridge to match this change, luckily the previous mounting holes remained covered.

When I ordered, I was considering oiling or waxing the neck but decided to go with a poly finish for two reasons; 1, to bulk up the heel a bit to make a tighter fit in the pocket and 2, two bring the flame out a touch and to avoid it getting dirty. I’m not a big fan of thick finishes, generally, so decided to spray additional coats on the heel and headstock than on the back of the neck or fretboard.

After initial coats with the playing area taped off to add bulk, I sprayed a couple of thin coats onto the back of the neck and fretboard as well as that which had already been coated. After that, a light fret level, dress and polish was needed, then I mounted the tuners, string retainer bar and reused the nut from the Hotwire neck, reshaping and filing to fit. I like the action at the nut to play like a zero fret, so I spent a bit of time fine-tuning to get the height of the nut just right. I also routed a small access channel in the body to allow access to the truss rod though, based on previous Warmoth necks, they’re generally stable enough to seldom require tweaking.

Then the moment of truth, to bolt it all together and string it up and see if it worked.

It certainly looked the part.

And, yes, it felt the part too.

In the eleven years since this bass was delivered, it has never felt, sounded or played like I wanted it to. Starting life with a Badass bridge, Noll preamp and ebony fretboard with incorrectly placed nut, it was a real disappointment.

Installing an ABM bridge, ACG/East filter preamp and having the fretboard replaced made it better, but still nowhere near as good as it should have been.

It is early into this evolution, but I think this might be it. It set up superbly and I’m finally finding myself playing it a lot and getting to know these wonderful Q-Tuner pickups well at last. The Warmoth neck is very comfortable, straight as an arrow and it facilitates a really low action. The sustain is absurd and I have yet to find anything approaching a dead spot. Excuse me if I get a little emotional at this point.

Part of me wonders what this would sound like with a passive circuit like that on a G&L L1000 would sound like. The Q-Tuners are quite similar in terms of output (i.e. ludicrously powerful) but with a much enhanced high-end and that G&L circuit could be very interesting in tandem with them. For now, the ACG/East filters are going a fine job and I’m spending a lot of time playing and exploring what this thing is finally capable of. I have yet to find its limitations, so more playing is required. Lots more playing is required.

Jackson Kip Winger Professional

Jackson Kip Winger Professional

Year: 1991

Made In: Japan

Specs: Lacewood neck-though with lacewood wings, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: Reflex P & J active pickups

Controls: Volume, blend, tone

This is an interesting one, a Kip Winger signature model. Made in Japan, it’s rare even within the scope of the volume of Kip Winger basses made by Jackson during the short production run.

Based on the neck-through Futura XL model made by Jackson at that time, it has a lacewood neck and body wings where the XL had a maple neck and maple or lacewood body wings. The XL also featured an ebony fretboard whereas here I’m looking at a nice slab of rosewood. It’s a comfortable and compact shape which sits nicely on the body and the neck is tastefully slim front to back with a Precision width nut. It’s similar to my Charvel JP from the same year and sets up just as nicely. The knobs are tastefully recessed into the body and build quality is high throughout.

Information on these basses has proven hard to come by. There were a few different versions during the production run featuring a mix of Jackson and EMG pickups, others came with a Jackson bridge like this one while others had a large Kahler unit. This one deviates even more, however.

I’m speculating and open to correction – actually, if anyone does know, please get in touch – but I think this must be one of a small number of basses intended for the UK market. Why? Well, this one features Reflex pickups, active pickups made in the UK which featured on quite a few Jacksons and Charvels sold at this time. More significantly though, is that it features just three control knobs, where every other Kip Winger model I’ve been able to find has four, apart from a handful like this which all reside in the UK. Again, if anyone has any more information on this, I’d love to hear from you.

As with the Charvel JP, I’m not really sold on the Reflex pickups, though I am quite enamoured by the bass itself. They are very heavy on mids and, while I’m trying to give them some time, I can’t promise I won’t swap them out at some point in the future. The bass is a really nice player, very resonant unplugged, and I’m just not getting that coming out of the amp. I think it deserves pickups which will let the real character of this bass come through.

This bass, as with so many others, languished for sale at a very reasonable price for quite some time before I intervened. It’s clearly a fine looking instrument but it has genuine quality too. Maybe the pointed headstock puts people off these days but I’m of an age where I can recall when such features were desirable. Perhaps the association with Kip put people off but do the young people even know of his bare chested ways? Whatever the cause was, a fine, fine bass was left overlooked. This is a rare gem for sure and, with better pickups, could be a most worthy addition.

Yamaha BB1100S

Yamaha BB1100S

Year: 1985

Made In: Japan

Specs: Ash body, Maple neck, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: Yamaha alnico P+J pickups, Yamaha preamp

Controls: Volume, passive tone, active bass, mid & treble cut & boost, two way switch for active/passive circuit, three-way pickup selection switch

Yamaha BBs are basses I’ve been meaning to get into for a long, long time but the right opportunity at the right time had never really presented itself. I’ve admired the recent BB2024X model from afar but, aside from a few quick tryouts in the early 90’s, had never really gotten my hands on a good BB in any meaningful way. Fast forward to 2015 and a slightly battered BB1100S appeared on a local sale site which piqued my interest, but the unexplained mix of tuners meant I was never serious about making a bid and the ad disappeared after an extended period of little interest.

After a while, the same bass appeared from the same seller but with a new Schaller bridge and tuners but missing knobs and at a lower price. It sat there for around a year before curiosity got the better of me and I decided to pick it up.

What the seller had left out of the description and, disguised by the poor pictures, was that there had been a significant impact to the body, resulting in a not-inconsiderable crack around the controls and he then told me that the passive circuit no longer worked – also excluded from the ad text. Given the crack seemed to spring from the active/passive switch, I guessed that’s where the impact was and the switch was damaged as a result. If you’ve seen my Stingray, you’ll know I’m not overly precious about condition once the wood is in good shape and I had made too far a journey to go home empty handed without a really good reason. I spend a couple of minutes checking the integrity of the body and neck and, satisfied it was stable, completed the transaction. This is a picture taken post-repair which shows the crack.

The impact was enough to shear two of the switch lugs off at the root, which explains why the passive circuit didn’t work. Thankfully, the other switch and pots were ok after cleaning.

When buying any used instrument, I always factor in the prospect of having to undo however many years of neglect, stupidity or abuse into the price I’m prepared to pay. With this Yamaha, aside from replacing the damaged switch, a fret level and dress, a little work on the nut and a considerable clean were required to bring it up to scratch. I enjoy this work anyway (aside from the unpleasant chore of cleaning out some utterly disgusting bio-matter – how can people let their instruments get so filthy?) and I feel I get a better understanding of the instrument by stripping it down and rebuilding. It feels good to take an instrument in the condition this was in and restore it into something which sings and responds as a good bass should.

So, with all that in consideration, let’s move onto the bass itself. I can sum it up pretty quickly, actually. If you were to have just one bass for all occasions, a workhorse, then a BB1100S would be an ideal candidate. It set up really well with a low action. The neck offers no unpleasant surprises and it feels solid and reliable. If anything, it’s all unspectacular. It’s a bass which feels comfortable and familiar straight away. The active circuit is smooth and flexible, without being mind-blowing. The passive circuit offers a slightly rawer sound, a bit more grit from the polish of the active. The pickups sound as good as you’d hope for. Actually, I must single out the bridge pickup for praise, it’s one of the most usable bridge pickups I’ve encountered, it sounds great soloed and combines well with the P.

The Schaller bridge and tuners are as good as you’d expect. How much they differ from the stock bridge and tuners I’ll never know. In the end, what I’ve got here is a bass which I would have total and utter confidence in for any circumstance. It’s not the most glamorous or dynamic bass out there, but I don’t believe it was ever intended to be. For the price these generally sell for, they are a bargain. It does everything well in a an unspectacular way and I like that. I like that a lot. Now, to find a BB2024X.

Coming Soon

The quest to salvage neglected and abused 80’s and 90’s MIJ gold is never-ending and, to that end, I’ll soon add entries for this pair – an abused 1985 Yamaha BB1100S and an unwanted 1991 Jackson Kip Winger/Futura – once I have finished working on them. The Winger needs just a little TLC while the BB1100S needed some serious repairs (and an industrial clean-up operation to remove years of human biocrud). These are serious quality basses which have been hanging around local sales sites for around a year and, despite genuine effort, I was no longer able to resist and felt I had to put an end to the neglect.

There are a lot of great instruments out there looking for new homes at prices which just don’t come close to reflecting the quality of the instrument itself. While that is a shameful indictment of the brand-obsessed times we live in, it does present the opportunist with means to harvest some real bargains of rare and interesting gear.

More to come.