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.

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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.

Ibanez SR800LE

Ibanez SR800LE

Year: 1989

Made In: Japan

Specs: Basswood body, three-piece maple neck, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: Ibanez Lo-Z P+J pickups, YE262 EQBII preamp

Controls: Volume, blend, bass cut & boost, treble cut & boost,

The SR1300 didn’t really work out for me. I’ve long been a fan of the SR series but the one I always wanted was the SR800LE. This probably goes back to the late 80’s when they were wielded by the likes of Roger Patterson and Tony Choy on some of my all-time favourite albums. I do like the basic 2-band EQ too, though, and there’s just a purity to the design of the SR800 which appeals to me.

Having lusted after one for years, I finally encountered one in good enough condition and made the deal, this one coming from the Fujigen plant in 1989, the year I started playing bass. It’s a different beast to later SRs but, for me at least, it’s closer to what I want than what the SR range has developed into. I do like the new ones but this is the one I was always after.

The biggest difference is the neck. It’s a meatier neck than the too-skinny wenge neck on the mid-90’s SR1300 I had. It’s thin, for sure, but it’s much more rounded. There’s more wood under hand which works for me. I couldn’t really get on with the 1300 neck, proving just too thin for my hands. It’s the kind of neck which doesn’t cause fatigue in your hands. It’s quick and balances well.

I much prefer the red logo’d Lo-Z pickups to the AFRs which came afterwards. Again, it might be because of the sound of the Lo-Z pickups on some of my favourite albums, but this is the sound I like. In fact, it’s not too far away from a Warwick, tonally. There’s a lot of modern growl in there but it’s easily tamed by the simple onboard EQ.

While the outline of the body shape is the same, the contouring is vastly different to latter day models. There’s a pronounced forearm contour and the body is more of a slab than the refined and continually rounded bodies Ibanez make now. It’s very lightweight though, combined with Gotoh tuners and the robust Omni-Adjust bridge, is sturdy enough for any occasion.

It’s hard to believe this is a 26 year old bass. In some ways, the ideas employed on this bass are still far ahead of what other manufacturers are doing in 2015. Then again, this 26 year old design is the one which speaks to me moreso than their contemporary offerings. This is the SR I’ve been after all that time.

Fender Geddy Lee Jazz Bass

Fender Geddy Lee Jazz Bass

Year: 2004

Made In: Japan

Specs: Alder body, maple neck & fretboard

Electronics: Fender single-coil J pickups, passive circuit

Controls: Volume, volume, tone

The Geddy Lee Jazz Bass is generally highly regarded and, when offered this one in a trade, I was quite interested to try it out. Indeed, it’s a very nice take on the classic design, the slim neck is particularly noteworthy. As ever with Fender Japan, the build quality was excellent and the whole package works very well. If you were to have only one Jazz bass, then this one would be a sterling candidate for the position.

For me, the ESP is the King of Jazz Mountain and I suspect that the Geddy would be with me for a short time and that’s the way it turned out. It’s a very nice bass but just wasn’t the #1 Jazz so I eased it out the door in another trade a few months later.

Ibanez Roadster RS924

Ibanez Roadster RS924

Year: 1980

Made In: Japan

Specs: Ash body, three-piece maple neck & fretboard

Electronics: Ibanez Super P4, Super J4

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

It’s hard to believe this bass is already over 35 years old, dating to January 1980. The singer in my band practically insisted I give this one a home. I could hardly say no. This was among the first original designs offered by Ibanez and has many high end features arguably long ahead of their time, such as separate active and passive circuits, high mass bridge, machine bolts in the neck and more.

Somewhat typical of the era, though, the body is a hefty slab of heavy ash. This might add to the feeling of solidity, as this bass has an air of indestructibility. The neck is nicely rounded and substantial. A forearm contour would have been nice, but it’s a familiar and comfortable design in hand.

The pickups are clearly modelled on DiMarzios and both are humbucking. This one came with a superflouous mini-switch which wasn’t wired up, so I wired  a serial/parallel option for bridge pickup. Some modifications had been poorly made to the wiring over the years so I brought it all back to the original configuration, aside from the bridge mini-switch. The Ibanez clones do sound quite like the pickups they were designed after and the bass has a smooth meatiness. The separate passive and active circuits are both very usable and it’s a very versatile machine.

This is a high end instrument, make no mistake. It’s easy to understand why Japanese instruments really made such an impression in the 80’s. There really is no comparison, in terms of quality, between the likes of these and the stuff Fender was putting out at the same time, but current prices don’t reflect this at all, with an example like this often costing less than a quarter of a US made peer of the same year. It beggars belief.

Bacchus Duke Master

Bacchus Duke Master

Year: 2007

Made In: Japan

Specs: Mahogany body & neck, maple top, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: Bacchus STP-1 P90 pickups

Controls: Volume x 2, tone x 2, three-way switch

Another import from Japan, you either really like the brown oil finish or you really don’t. I picked up this Duke Master new after having my appetite for P90s whetted by PRS. The PRS didn’t stay long after the Duke arrived.

A much darker sounding guitar than the PRS, the Duke doesn’t have the ear-grating brightness of its predecessor, instead it’s a mean sounding hound-dog growl with that characteristic P90 twang. It’s equally at home clean or smothered in dirt.

It’s chunky from head to toe. The body is thick and deep, the neck is exceptionally chunky. When you pick it up, you know it’s 100% serious business. Despite the size, it’s not overly heavy, though it is a substantial piece of equipment. The big neck still accommodates a nice low action with Bacchus’ usual exemplary standard of fretwork.

This one is built for comfort, built to last.