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X-Bass project: 4 pickup Jazz bass chasing RIC tone.
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Guitars, Basses, Amps & FX  
Author X-Bass project: 4 pickup Jazz bass chasing RIC tone.
Rex Coil 7
NOTE: This is a technical thread, it's wordy and verbos. You've been warned!

For many years I've seen a lot of people attempting to create some sort of reasonable facsimile of that Rickenbacker rock bass tone from their other than Ricky basses. Piles of money spent on necks, bodies, vintage electronics and pickups. Some say it's the scale length, or the pickups, or the "Ric-O'Sound" circuitry.

Others say that it's the combination of construction and materials ... the maple body and neck grafted with a wenge fretboard.

Still others carry on about how multiple parallel processing channels involving compressors, bi-amped systems with multi-type cabs and vintage speaker cone paper made from the root of the Prog Rock tree. Not to mention sophisticated pickup wire routings and foot controlled sideband EQ-ing.

Still others insist it's some sort of undefinable mojo that only the magic gnomes within the Ric factory know how to apply using fairy dust and oxygen free copper clad potions cooked up in The Rock Bass Forest.

Utter crap. I say those are excuses for why people typically fail at this pursuit. As many times as I've seen effort after effort and dollar after dollar thrown at this, it rarely ever produces the desired result. And when it does, it often times involves a U-Haul truck full of ~stuff~ to make it go (amps, cabs, racks of stuff, et al.).

I was completely unsatisfied with every one of those explanations. So, I took a different approach. To me this seemed like the single most effective way to get the farthest with the least involved.....

Pickup placement:

Yup, that's it. One thing that I noticed that was most neglected in other's efforts to replicate that sound was focusing on placing pickups in the proper location relative to scale length.

I've owned a Ric 4001. I hated the bloody thing. It felt odd and chunky when I wore it. Sharp, annoying pointy spots that seemed to cause physical discomfort to me, body hitting my torso in all the wrong places, a SHITPILE of a bridge (which would need to be replaced anyhow if one was serious about obtaining the rock bass sound). It felt like I was wearing a garden rake. But ... there was this ghost of a sound within it's workings that produced a faint recollection of the prog bass tone that I wanted to achieve. It was in there ... I could clearly hear faint whispers of it ... but what was it produced by?

I took out my measuring tape and pencil and began observing certain dimensions. I was convinced it had something to do with where things were, rather than what things were.

I discovered that when the designers placed the pickups, the pickups were located at exact octave locations relative to scale length. The neck pickup was located right where the 24th fret would be (if it had a 24th fret). And the bridge pickup was located right where the 36th fret would be relative to scale length. No one that I'd seen chase this notion had ever addressed that. Unless of course all they did was build an uninspired copy of a Ric, inch for inch. I wanted more than just a Ric clone ... that is too easy. I wanted a bass that is multi faceted. One that would offer not only Ric tones, but also Jazz sounds, and other useful tones as well.

So, I set about testing this idea. I started out with a Squire Vintage Modified Jazz Bass that I picked up at my local music store for $350.00. It was a decent player, and with the maple body, neck, and fretboard high end clarity was available. I liked the sound of the stock pickups, too. Some sort of licensed pickups bearing a "Duncan Designed" logo.

I obtained a set of take-offs from someone, paid $20.00 shipped for both. And then began some layout and gonkulating. I had already converted the bass to "stereo" .. sortof .. by running each pickup out of it's own dedicated output jack (both could still be had out of one output jack through the use of switching jacks, it had mono output until a second cable was plugged in, then each pickup had it's own output jack). No tone controls, just two volume controls.

So that's where this thread begins, with the modded Modified Jazz. You'll also note that I had cut the pickguard and used a piece of angle aluminum as a thumbrest. I set the extra puckups in the 24/36 positions just to get an eye on things. That's what you're seeing here in this early mockup shot (which explains the two output jacks and the thumbrest) ..... The green pinstripe tape designated the 24th and 36th fret positions, relative to the J-bass' scale length. I needed to know if the added pickups would clear everything, like the control plate (which was pretty close).

Satisfied with the mechanicals involved, I stripped the eletronics out of it, and began to enlarge the pickup cavity. Without a router, I had to devise a method of enlarging the cavity with what I had on hand. So I took a forstner bit ..... this ....

.... masked off the body, and hogged out as much of the material as possible to give me a head start. Once I removed as much wood as possible ......

The two circles seen in the original pickup cavity were "kisses" I did with the drill press and the forstner bit to determine and set the depth lock on the drill press to assure I didn't punch a frikkin hole through the body, and also to help keep the enlarged cavity the same depth as the stock pickup routes. Once the depth was set on the drill press, I went to town.

After removing as much material as I dared with the forstner bit, and since I had no router, I used a wood chisel and a hammer to carve out the remainder of the body where the two additional pickups would go .......

Yea ..... fugly as fugly gets, and scary enough to make a freight train take a dirt road!! But, I'm a man of function, form follows. And many times function can actually dictate form. The better something works, the better it starts to look! That cavity is very level, smooth, and the depth is smack on with the factory pickup routes.

Since the whole thing was a total experiment, if it didn't work out I wanted to be able to put it back to stock. Simply replacing the stock pickguard that I had trimmed would completely cover the bathtub I had carved in to the body. That said, I was unwilling to modify the control plate in the event that I actually did go back to where I started with the stereo two pickup setup, I decided to rig up an output jack setup to be able to test things out. I mounted an angled aluminum piece that I'd drilled to accept a few 1/4" jacks, as well as a simple terminal strip so I didn't have to solder anything in place as I tested out my idea. I didn't even drill any more holes in the body to mount that stuff, I just used existing holes used for the pickguard to mount that stuff .......

I then set about mounting the pickups in the calculated locations ... two stayed in the stock Jazz bass locations, and the other two went in to their new "Ric stations".

After some early testing I discovered I was pretty pleased with the sonic results. "Pleased" is an understatement, to be honest. I could clearly hear "it" .... that sound ... it was clearly in there, without any doubt. So I removed the cobbled together output section, and decided to drill the control plate to accept four output jacks, each one wired to a relative pickup.

While I was at it, I replaced the stock stamped steel junk of a bridge with a Hipshot "Kickass" bridge. That bridge is very much like the "Badass" bridge but better. Massive, with a lot of adjustability ... string spacing, intonation, string height, and also has these really cool replaceable saddles. It comes with brass and aluminum saddles so you can really tweek each string's tone and sustain level. Here's a link .... bass-bridge

So I wired it all up, and this is the result.......

This thing is wonderful. I've owned at least two dozen bass guitars since I began playing bass in 1990. I love this toad! I am able to plug all four pickups in to a mixer and create any number of sounds so easily. Having individual outputs allows per-pickup processing as well. Individual levels of compression, drive, EQ ... wow ... it's SO versatile. It's like the modular synth of bass guitars.

So ..... does it do The Rick? Ah .. yes .. the BIG question, right? After all of this effort, did the quest pay off?

HELL YES IT DID! My suspicions were dead on. It's all about pickup placement. Simply placing the pickups in the correct locations gets you farther towards recreating that thick, bottom heavy, midrange ROAR that punches through the mix and sits excellently with the guitar tracks. It's very ... how shall I put this ... vocal? Especially with the right EQ curve applied and a few other manipulations of electrons, this thing drips with 2112, and exudes Tom Sawyer. Carry No Cross? Pfffft! No sweat. Danger Money is child's play. Miracles Out of Nowhere? No problem.

You get the drift.

Total cost was roughly $500.00 bucks ... the bass, the used pickups, and the Kickass bridge. Some labor, a few sleepless nights ("oh holy shit what have I done to this thing!!!" as the project progressed). In the end, I would not change a thing. The "Jazz" in it is still 100% intact as well.

Would I do it again?

In a second.

Interesting. I had an old 4001, and loved it to death, but I wasn't really a bass player so traded it away at some point. I've had a couple of precision basses since then, and can get a reasonably close ricky sound with one of those and rotosound strings. And I'm not the only one - quite a few of the prog rock classics that one might think was a rick was really done with a precision. That Danger Money you mentioned? Precision! John Wetton was almost all about his white precision.
Interesting. I've been wondering if the pickup placement isn't a bigger part of it than people think, and the trivia about having them exactly on octave positions is a big "ohhh, that makes sense" revelation. If I ever do get around to trying a custom build or from-scratch homebrew, I'll definitely have to keep that in mind.
Rex Coil 7
sduck wrote:
Interesting. I had an old 4001, and loved it to death, but I wasn't really a bass player so traded it away at some point. I've had a couple of precision basses since then, and can get a reasonably close ricky sound with one of those and rotosound strings. And I'm not the only one - quite a few of the prog rock classics that one might think was a rick was really done with a precision. That Danger Money you mentioned? Precision! John Wetton was almost all about his white precision.
Yup, and this hacked J covers them easily. That's why I mentioned all of those different songs/groups
/players. Even Geddy used a funky looking teardrop shaped P well before using the Rick. Dave Hope (Kansas) was a P player as well.
Rex Coil 7
I guess the point is that while ~yes~ a P bass has been used on many old fave progressive rock albums, it's pretty much a one trick pony. It's a P ... the end. There's only just so much that one can squeeze out of that one. The P I had was nice, a good player, sounded good (Quarter Pounders, Badass bridge, Rotosounds) ... but it was limited. While a J is a little more versatile it doesn't really have as much of the low end that is needed without some heavy processing, and then the midrange voice isn't as pronounced.

With this abomination, I easily get the progressive rock tones (many flavors, depending on what is preferred), but it also produces so many more tones.

Once I began using a decent mixer to put it all together, that thing REALLY showed it's capability. Clever setup of FX, compression, gain levels, and footswitch controlled pickup selector, there's so much it's capable of.

Of course this whole thing could be refined, instead of four outputs perhaps coming up with pickup selector toggles on board would make it more stage friendly. Or any other nuanced refinements that would suit whatever needs a person has.

Something to note about the P, notice it's pickup location ... it's sortof ~centered~ between the two Rick pickup locations. That probably has a LOT to do with how/why it can be made to produce Rick-Like sounds.

I have some good notes I took when I was working out all of this pickup position comparison stuff, I'll try to dig them up and share them just to provide some insight on how pickup placement affects tone.

Anyone that tells me that it doesn't really matter where they go, I usually figure that they really haven't tried any controlled experiments with the notion. At this point in the game, I know better. It's not difficult to hear what various places in the scale sound like, just play your bass in different spots along the strings and listen to how much it changes the tone. It's profoundly different when plucking/picking ten inches away from the bridge than it does four inches from the bridge. Your ears hear it, and so do the pickups. The closer to the neck you play the more boomy and low endy things become, the closer to the bridge you play the thinner and brighter the tone is. So there's all of these tones spread across the string scale.

It's all a matter of getting pickups along that length to gain access to those sounds.

Guinness ftw!
Rex Coil 7
I FOUND MUH NOTES!! applause I generated these notes in 2012 when I was working out all of this in my teensy tiny high school educated charcoal brickette of a brain. lol lol lol

I am a prolific "documenter". I tend to take scores of notes, both written and typed. I do this because I typically will put away a given hobby for a while, sometimes months, even years. So heavy notes is what I fall back on to resume progress (as well as preventing going through the same exercises twice).

So (see pic below) here's the page with observations taken from my own basses. All pickup locations and measurements were taken from the bridge saddles. You'll see the word "roughly" and "+/-" periodically since there's no real defined ~line~ on the bridge saddles to start from (after all, they are adjustable). Yes, I could (should?) have taken the pickup measurements from the nut, or the 12th fret to obtain more accurate numbers, but to be honest we're not building the space shuttle here. That said, these are the figures we have to work with ... the end.

(RE; the group of words located above the Rick dimensions near the top of the page was relevant at the time because I was considering the use of three pickups ... before I decided to go all in and installed four pickups. Please don't allow that section to confuse you, it's not relevant.)

Scale divisions were started with determining what the 12th fret's measurement (dividing the scale by 2) was and then mathematically extrapolating the remaining divisions by dividing each position by two, relative to the previous number. (Let's say the 12th fret comes to 10.0 inches, that means the hypothetical 24th fret would be 5.0 inches, 36th fret would be 2.5", and so on). I hand wrote in the actual pickup locations next to the scale divisions to provide me with clarity.

Sorry that it's tough to see, it's a photograph that I took in my living room of a typed page. But it will do. cool Also, numbers are expressed in decimal points rather than fractions, it's very messy to type fractions and still make things easy on the eyes when reading. It's not that I took measurements down to the ten-thousanths, those numbers are simply fractional conversions.

What these notes show is a comparison between the actual scale divisions on a particular bass, vs the actual pickup locations that were observed. I used the center of each pickup's design as the measurement point.

The takeaway here is notice - first off - where the Rick pickups are positioned relative to the Rick's scale .. they land right on the 24th and 36th "fret" positions. Everything else in these notes are then compared to that. This was an effort to see if pickup location of various basses had anything to do with tone.

It's been observed by member sduck (see post above) that many progressive bass players used Precision basses, and that those P-basses sound very close to the "holy grail" of prog bass, the venerable Rick (I agree, btw). That said, notice how the location of the P-bass's pickup set sits square-ass in the middle of the two Rick pickups (average). And yet, a P has nothing else in common with a Rick other than where the pickups are picking up the strings' tone!

That alone was too much of a coincidence for me to ignore.
Also, notice how the Jazz bass NECK pickup is also located smack in the middle between the 24th and 36th "frets" (same location as the P's pickup set) ... this averages out to the center of the Rick's pickups.

However .......

None of the basses, other than the Rick, have pickups at the 2nd octave (24th fret). When you pluck/pick a string over this imaginary 24th fret location, note how boomy and bass-y it becomes (while also providing a rather soft attack, to the point of actually becoming sort of mushy). This is KEY to producing "that sound". Why? It fills in the bottom end, while the bridge pickup, placed right at the 36th fret (3rd octave) produces a tighter attack, and far more highs. Put the two together and it produces that killer rock bass sound. The Rick is the only bass in this comparison that actually places the pickups over those scale divisions.

Simply averaging it (P-bass) by putting one pickup in the middle of the 2nd and 3rd octave splits is a compromise, but it can be made to work. However, I'll point out that everything depends on picking up sound either using those scale locations, or attempting to get an average by placing a pickup in the center of those two scale divisions (2nd and 3rd).

So, this is some of the research I put in to deciding to take a chainsaw to my Jazz bass and installing two more pickups. I also felt that keeping all of the tone coloring electronic circuitry, as well as pickup mixing circuitry outboard allowed for FAR more options, rather than being fenced in by whatever methods I used inboard. Mic preamps, compressors, EQs, gain boosters, et al. ... there's so many options available when using outboard gear.

Yes, it's not a very practical bass. So what. It's a development project, and a studio instrument. I can get in to the outboard processing in a bit. The foot controlled pickup selector (nearly all made from Dot Com modules btw) is fun to check out on it's own. So that, plus more. Later on.

thumbs up

OH! ... and one other thing ... "no", the added pickups did not reduce sustain due to extra magnetic pull on the strings from the added pickups. Bass strings have a lot more mass than guitar strings do, so while "too many pickups" can have a negative affect on guitar string sustain, I have not noticed any problem with that in this application. If it has produced a problem, the Hipshot Kickass bridge completely negated any induced sustain issues. In fact, I have much more sustain now than it did with the stock bridge, 4-pickups notwithstanding.

This is all some very cool observations and experiments. And is making my brain turn around - now I want to get a nice bass body and neck from warmoth with no pickup routs and put some pickups in the "correct" places. Hmmm....

One of my other favorite bass sounds is a Gibson EB-3 with that gigantic pickup by the neck - I wonder if using one of those in combination with a properly placed 3-octave pickup would make the world explode?
Rex Coil 7
sduck wrote:
This is all some very cool observations and experiments. And is making my brain turn around - now I want to get a nice bass body and neck from warmoth with no pickup routs and put some pickups in the "correct" places. Hmmm....

One of my other favorite bass sounds is a Gibson EB-3 with that gigantic pickup by the neck - I wonder if using one of those in combination with a properly placed 3-octave pickup would make the world explode?
dunno, but there's a good chance the internet would break. SACRILEGE!! FETCH THE PITCHFORKS!! LIGHT THE TORCHES!! CLEANSE THE SICKNESS AMONG US!!

Kidding. Actually, I think what you've just described is almost that Billy Sheehan Yamaha Attitude bass ... sans the 2 channel output. Unless, that is, you decide ot go with the 2ch setup. If you use a switching jack you are given the option of going jack-per-pickup ..... or standard mono output with the pickups mix piped out there. If you need help with that, I have diagrams of how I did that same thing with this Jazz before I did the four pickup trip.

That Yamaha uses a really "woofy" humbucker near (right at?) the 2nd octave and a P-bass duo at 3rd octave. Perhaps check some You Toobs, you may be able to get a decent idea of what that combination could provide.

I know when the "woofy" pickup is run solo, it's nice and ... well ... woofy. (just shoot me ... haahaa .. I can't come up with another word for it).

And of course the P-bass duo at the 3rd octave provides what you'd expect .... P-bass. (CORRECTION: IT WILL BE BRIGHTER THAN A STD P-BASS .. AS MY NOTES SHOW THE STD. P-BASS LOCATION IS BETWEEN 2nd and 3rd OCTAVE ... WOOPS!). When the two are used together, THAT'S when the magic happens. The brightness of the 3rd octave pickup combined with the hefty hefty low end of the 2nd octave pickup is the foundation of the classic Prog bass sound. Salt and pepper to taste with outboard processing.

AND ...AND ...AND ... (just remembered this thing) ... install one of these multi-capacitor tone controls ... I installed one of those in my brother's shortscale P-bass ... the difference is UNREAL ... there's four decades of sound choices in that one tone control, I shit you not. It's a bit tricky to wire in, but once you wrap your brain around it, it's not tough to figure out how to adapt it to your own wiring scheme. Link to Stellartone "Bass Ten" ...

Back to the Yamaha, just try to locate a video or audio example that doesn't include Billy's penchant for the massive ... MASSIVE ... midrange hump. He sets his tones up with a highly pronounced ~frown~ shape with nearly nothing at the low-low end.

Dunno ... just a thought.
Rex Coil 7

Another episode of ... I FOUND (more of) MUH NOTES!!

I little digging on my hard drive yielded this.

A few pics .....



thumbs up
Yes, my old rick had a 2 jack out wired like that - it was super handy to really get "that" sound. Neck pickup into an ampeg svt, neck into leslie - heaven! Only problem, everyone in the band hates you.
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