Sunday, October 1, 2017


by Mark King for

Previously I detailed the first round of mods on our Squire Jaguar short scale bass, you can read that here.

That article mainly involved replacing the cheap sounding stock pickups with a bodacious pair of Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound models. This time we're going to work on tone from a more physical point of view, replacing the bridge and the nut.

The bridge on the inexpensive Squire Jaguar is not all that much more cheesy than the specification for the standard Fender Vintage bridge which ends up on A LOT of Fender bass models. I am sorry if I offend any hard core Fender bass users but I find these little bent metal affairs to be flimsy and difficult or impossible to adjust properly. Not only that, they can greatly reduce the sustain and tone of the instrument by interfering with the connection between the strings and the body.

After adjusting the neck on our bass to be straight I began tweaking the bridge for string height and intonation. I was barely able to get the bass to correctly intonate but the string height was another story, on the A-string one of the little height adjustment allen head screws was malformed and would not let the allen wrench in. Even after replacing the screw I could not get the string high enough to eliminate fret buzz. With the string height maxed out the intonation was starting to go awry as well, there were some obvious mechanical problems that needed to be addressed.

I used feeler gauges to determine a .044" fret height, a little more measuring revealed that the original nut had been cut too deep, this was causing the set up problem with the bridge height. I removed the original nut and found it to be super-light weight plastic with a stained finish to make it look more vintage or like bone. This project was going to be more difficult than I had originally planned (like so many of my projects :-)


I decided to go with an after market bridge replacement made by Hipshot, the model is called "Kickass Top Loader". I have a Leo Quan "Badass III" installed on my '51 P-bass reissue MIJ bass but those are no longer available.

The Hipshot model is trying to fill the market void left by the vanishing Leo Quan parts. I ordered the bridge from Amazon and saved quite a bit compared to the price was asking for the same part. Amazon delivered the bridge in two days too.
Hipshot Kickass bridge next to Leo Quan for size reference
The first step of this update was to swap out the bridge. The part itself feels very high quality and the screw holes in the Kickass bridge line up exactly with the stock Fender bridge mounting holes. The replacement bridge only uses the center and two outer screw holes for mounting. The Hipshot bridge comes with mounting screws but I used three of the screws that retained the original Fender Squire bridge so that I would not mangle the holes in the wood, it feels like a very solid mount.

The Hipshot bridge is a beefy cast metal part with hardened machine screws for adjustments. Each bridge saddle can be moved from side to side to adjust string spacing. A third allen head machine screw anchors each bridge saddle in the selected position. All the metalwork on the Hipshot feels very high quality and is brilliantly polished.

Replacing the stock Squire Jaguar bridge was literally a 15 minute job, remove five screws, install three screws, done! Next came 15 minutes of vigorously trying to adjust the bridge for best action and intonation, FAIL! As I worked through the adjustments one thing became increasingly clear, this bass needed a new nut. Fortunately I've been building up my inventory of tools with the intent of making replacement nuts, the time had arrived to see if I could do it.

Nut making vise

The nut making vise is heavy so it stays in place

I've never made a bone nut before but I've been studying the Dan Erlewine videos and he has a whole DVD devoted to making nuts. I already had a nut-making vise from Stewmac, this is a heavy table top vise with a precision set of jaws to grip the nut material while you file and saw on it. This vise played a critical part in the production process, I don't know how you could do a job like this without one.

I was planning to have my first nut-job be our Epiphone acoustic electric guitar which also has a nut that was cut too deep but this bass forced its way to the front of the line. The only bone nut blank material I had was Gibson size so I had to basically cut the blank in half. Fortunately I had a new Japanese bone saw which cuts bone very precisely. It's not fun slicing a chunk of bone lengthwise but after 15 minutes of very careful sawing I got the piece reduced to almost fit in the slot in the bass neck, lots of filing and sanding would be needed to make it snap in to the slot tightly.

I used another tool from Stewmac to determine the height the new nut needed to be and the depth of the slots that needed to be filed in to the blank for each string. With custom stacks of feeler gauges each height could be created and then drawn on to the nut blank with a pencil, then, back to the nut vise for gross filing.

Nut slot files
I used nut slot files from Stewmac to make the string slots. I did not have the exact size so I had to rock the file back and forth as I filed the slots. It takes longer this way but gets the job done.
String spacing ruler

Japanese bone saw
I used a string spacing ruler from Stewmac to get just the right spacing for the new string slots. This ruler eliminates guess work. Just make pencil marks where the new slots go, give it a stroke of the bone saw to make a permanent mark and then start filing.

Checking the fit as the job progressed

Pencil line is the new nut slot depth marker
I checked the nut often by snapping it in to the slot on the bass and then stringing it up to pitch. As I got very close the process of checking changes a bit. With the new nut in place I fretted the guitar at the second fret and used feeler gauges above the first fret to see precisely where the string was. As each string slot got closer to being correct the intonation changed for that string. It was almost like magic as I worked on filing the nut slots to their final depths, first low E, then G, then A and finally the D string, the playing action was approaching perfection for this instrument.
Original plastic nut shown above new bone nut in progress
The strings are now much lower to the fingerboard and there is zero string buzz. Overall the bass is much easier to play than it ever has been. The bridge pieces are still high but not maxed out in any of their adjustments.

The tone and sustain were greatly impacted by replacing the cheap bridge and plastic nut, a harmonic on the G string now rings for almost 30 seconds. The clarity from the notes is dramatically improved, the bass even tunes easier because the notes all ring so clearly. I spent another half hour filing the outer shape of the new nut to reduce sharp edges and be flush with the neck sides. A drop of Titebond adhesive is the finishing touch for mounting the new nut (until I decide to make another one :-)
New finished bone nut

This is the conclusion of this round of mods but it's not all for this Squire Jaguar bass. I'm putting all this effort in to this bass because I want to use it for recording. With the new pickups and hardware this instrument is competing with the performance of basses that cost much much more.

I love the top loading Hipshot bridge. My '51 P-bass MIJ reissue has strings through the body using a Leo Quan Badass bridge, this is much more difficult to work with when installing and uninstalling strings which I did quite often in this project.
Note "through the body" string mounting on Leo Quan
The new Kickass bridge from Hipshot has tons of sustain and really improved the tone this instrument produces. You can feel the bass notes in the body of the instrument against you when you're playing it, that's a sign of good rigidity which according to Ned Steinberger is the single most important variable to affect sustain.

The next modifications will be to the potentiometers and the output jack. I've got something very special in mind, I'm currently waiting on the special parts I ordered to arrive. I'll post another article as that next part comes together.

Good music to you!