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.