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.