King Billy

King Billy

Year: 2015

Made In: Ireland

Specs: One piece ash body, one-piece maple neck

Electronics: EMG J-P-J pickups, EMG BTS preamp

Controls: Volume, blend, bass cut & boost, treble cut & boost, 3-way switch

On the theme of D.I.Y. jobs, building basses is fun too. I started accumulating pieces for this about ten years ago and it’s taken until this year to finally arrive at a bass I’m really chuffed about. I have named it King Billy, for obvious reasons.

Billy started with a Mighty Mite neck, shortly followed by a one-piece ash Jazz body. It features 70’s pickup spacing, meaning the bridge pickup is closer to the bridge than normal and didn’t have the P routing. I sanded the edges and contours of the body down and it really sits well on a beer belly. I also spent a good bit of time on the neck, rounding off the edges and getting the frets well levelled and, again, rounding out the edges so the neck feels more played in than it actually is. I slowly added parts and arrived at a working bass about six or seven years ago.

At the time, it had DiMarzio Ultra Jazz pickups with a Vol-Vol-Tone setup with a pair of mini switches to run each pickup in series or parallel. That didn’t really do it for me, though. It played well, but the sound wasn’t really cutting the mustard. I wanted something which would be different from the ESP, I don’t see a point in having two bog-standard Jazz basses. The ESP will always win that battle. I think I had painted the body white at this stage.

The next configuration was a pair of Jess Loureiro J pickups into an ACG/East EQ-02 filter preamp. This showed promise but the single coil high end was uncontrollable. I also crudely painted the body high-vis orange, which really catches the eye. I lived with that configuration for a little while but wasn’t using it so much, so I decided to try the DiMarzios with the ACG. It was better, but still not quite right. I used one of the Loureiro J’s in the Charvel JP covered elsewhere in the blog.

One day, while messing around with an EMG P pickup, I noticed it would comfortably fit between the two J pickups and struck upon an idea. I didn’t have another bass with EMGs and a J-P-J setup would differentiate it from a standard Jazz. I had an EMG BTS system and ordered a set of EMG J pickups to finish it off.

After much deliberation I routed a reverse P shape into the body to get some extra growl from the low side being closer to the bridge. I decided to run the neck J and P into a mini three-way switch and run the output of that into the blend pot, meaning I could have any combination of all three pickups with the ability to finely adjust how much of the extra nasal bridge pickup into the sound. It actually works very well. I made a mess of the orange paintwork while routing and considered a change but, once I put it all back together to test the new electronics, quite liked the battered orange funk so I left it for the time being. Billy wouldn’t be Billy without the orange.

Overall, this bass is a lot better than it has any right to be. The neck has a 20″ radius, it’s really flat but it feels great and the action can be set very low. It’s lightweight and balances well. There’s nothing magic about a one-piece body though, nothing here you don’t get from a body made from multiple pieces. They do the job equally well, I reckon. The J-P-J setup offers almost too many tonal variations but it’s still easy to get your basic Fenderish sounds with a minimum of fuss. Sometimes it pays to try something stupid.

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