Sunday, April 23, 2017


by Mark King for

I love deep, ballsy bass tone but I don't own a five-string bass because I just have not found one with the right features that seemed to justify the price. I like expensive equipment but I also really like cheap gear that plays and sounds expensive. This is a classic tale about just such a piece of equipment.
We had this Squire-Fender P-bass hanging around our warehouse, Mary bought it several years before we met in an attempt to learn to play bass. She found bass was not her thing so this one, with no case, flopped around closets and later our storage room for many years. The action was WAY high, the pickup sounded terrible, no highs, no lows, the pots were shot, no wonder it got no love. But when I saw it I saw a maple neck Fender P-Bass and I knew we could cure the tone problem if the body and neck were good.

Back in 2013 I had been thinking about B-E-A-D tuning so I loaded this bass with the bottom four strings from a 5-string set of D'Addario stainless bass strings. I did not have a nut file to properly do the job and the stock pickup sounded terrible so the bass went back to flopping around the warehouse but I liked the idea a lot.

When I say flopping around I mean full-on face dive on to the floor because someone accidentally knocked it over. During the course of moving 18,000 pounds of studio stuff from California to Florida I saw the bass take a hard face dive, made me cringe, that's some serious flopping. The bass was undamaged a testimony to Leo Fenders basic design, a thick solid stick of maple attached to a block of wood.

One of the first things we did after moving to Florida was to locate a great guitar repairman, we found "Jacobs Custom Guitars" in Merritt Island, Florida which is about 25 miles north of our studio in Melbourne.

The Squire-Fender bass had a lot of problems but it had a lot going for it. We both love maple necks on Fender style guitars and this bass had a very straight, good-looking neck. I've owned over a dozen Fender P-basses in my time, the neck on this one feels very similar to the best American P-basses I've had experience with. The body is painted an oyster-colored metal-flake finish that really looks great under lights. The tuners are surprisingly good and easy to tune. The bridge is fully adjustable on each string.

The volume and tone pots were cheap little things and they were noisy beyond belief. The pickup lacked real low frequency response, the overall tone was midrange mush and the action was too high to play comfortably. I decided to have our new guitar-repairman take a swing at this project and see if we could make this bass play and sound good with B-E-A-D tuning.


I love Seymour Duncan pickups, they're my first choice when I need to change the tone of an axe. I researched a lot of different models but I was really looking for something that would be relatively easy to install. I decided on a replacement P-Bass pickup set from Seymour Duncan and ordered it through Amazon.

For a five-string bass to sound right the lowest string needs some mass to it, more than my typical 4-string set of RotoSound bass strings would provide.

In order to get a balanced set of strings I ordered the RotoSound SM665 Stainless 5-string set from Amazon. On the Squire-Fender bass I only need the low four strings so I'll be accumulating G-40's until I find a way to buy them as singles.

After acquiring the strings and pickup I took the bass and the parts to Jacobs to have them sprinkle their magic onto this instrument. When I showed it to Tom Jacobs and told him what I wanted to do he smiled and said OK.

In less than a week my new bass was complete. They installed a new bone nut, new tone and volume pots, a new output jack and the new Seymour Duncan P-Bass pickup, then they tweaked and adjusted the bass so it plays like butter.
I've been playing four-string basses since the early 70's, I've owned dozens of different basses ever since but for some reason never bought myself a five-string. Now I don't need one because this four-string bass has adopted the tonal personality of a 5-string.

The tone is fantastic, the Seymour Duncan pickup made all the difference, it took this low priced Squire-Fender to a whole new level of sound quality, it's now fat and full of attitude.

Jacobs replaced the midget original potentiometers with full size high quality CTS pots. Tom had to route out the body a little bit to make them fit, now they are noiseless and work correctly. Nothing is worse for a guitarist in a recording situation than to have just cut the most amazing track ever, then reach down and turn your axe down at the end only to have the pot make a bunch of static and crackle and spoil the recording.

Thanks to the new bone nut Jacobs installed coupled with the great job on setting up the action, it now plays as good as the best P-Bass I've ever played. The action is low and fast but not too low, I'm amazed at how well they got this bass playing.

For tuning it's the bottom end of the five-string set, B on the low string, then E, A , and D, there is no G-string since it's only a four string. I'm very excited about trading that high-G for a low-B, it's bass and B is the ultimate in LOW frequency bottom end, I love it.
More important than having a low-B is having a low-D which is lower than the low E on a regular four-string bass. So many songs we write and record are in D, for me a typical four-string bass just does not have the balls in D because there is no real low D note unless I drop the low-E, but then it's not any sort of standard tuning, I find that more confusing. With B-E-A-D tuning I now have a standard low-D below the typical low-E sound.

B-E-A-D tuning feels completely natural for a guitarist to play in because the pitches from string to string are in exactly the same relationship as a six string guitar. Licks that I've played on guitar for years translate to this tuning perfectly.

In use I don't miss the high-G string at all, I still have plenty of higher notes to choose from if I need them and that low-D is getting used A LOT in our recordings. With the action and the intonation all tweaked to perfection I'm finding I'm a lot more inclined to play up high on this bass.

It does take a little bit of adjustment to your thinking for the B-E-A-D string layout to feel like home, especially if you're accustomed to looking at and working with standard four-string electric bass tuning like I have for over 40-years. I remind myself that what is normally the A-string is now E and all the higher strings are the same as usual (except no high G).

I don't always get right in to using the low-B string, instead I work things out on the top three strings like a standard four-string bass, then look for where the lower notes available on the B-string can make the most difference. That low-D which is at the third fret on the low string is getting hit a lot. In writing new material I'm enjoying using the low string as a special effect or for emphasis at a certain part of a song.

We have some other four-string basses in our collection that were much more expensive than this one but the Squire-Fender B-E-A-D bass has become my go-to bass for recording. Thanks to Jacobs Custom Guitars it plays great and sounds incredible.

I plug it into the RNDI and record direct-in to the DAW, then Reamp that track through our little Fender Rumble 25 bass amp and mic that with the MXL Revelation tube microphone for the final track. This combination yields a huge and powerful bass track with immense clarity and detail, very easily.  You can read my RNDI review here.

By recording the sound of the bass direct I have that clear direct-tone to use if I need more clarity when mixing. By using Reamp technology it lets me focus on the performance while tracking and then come back as an engineer and focus on making it sound like the tone I'm after, it's the best of both worlds. One extra Reamp step yields total control of the final recorded sound.

I'm so glad we had Jacobs Custom Guitars finally tweak up the B-E-A-D bass, it plays and sounds great plus it really enhances our original studio recordings.

Good music to all!