Our new friend Mike brought in his prized 1960’s Gibson EB-O Bass for a total overhaul. The original pickup was falling apart, the electronics were shot, and the neck fingerboard was, well… completely disgusting. Over the past 50 years or so, Mike had put a lot of himself into his bass (quite literally), and it was high time it was cleaned up.
The first order of business was to get the funk off the neck and body. We were up against a THICK layer of dirt, oil, and dead skin cells (eww!), so we decided to go after it with a chisel! We very carefully removed all the funk from the fretboard, keeping the chisel flat against the board and cutting against the grain – we didn’t want to dig into the rosewood underneath. Once we took off most of the crud, we used some fine steel wool to scrape the rest of the fingerboard and polish all the corrosion off the frets, again going against the grain so we wouldn’t scratch the fingerboard. After the board has been completely cleaned and the frets polished, we use a penetrating fretboard oil to condition the wood, which helps prevent an overly dry board from cracking and makes it feel smooth to the touch.
Next we tackled the body, which was also in desperate need of a cleaning. This was a fairly straightforward procedure, but still requires some finesse and quite a bit of elbow grease. This is an old nitrocellulose finish, which can be fragile, so one has to be careful when working on vintage instruments like this. We removed all the hardware, cleaned off all the loose dust with an untreated micro-fiber cloth, then used a non-abrasive polishing agent to remove the caked on dirt and film. We then buffed the finish with our rotary buffer, being extra careful to not burn through the heat sensitive finish.
Now comes the fun part: the electronics. Sadly, the original pickup had completely disintegrated, and Mike decided he didn’t want to salvage it. Instead, he decided to replace the pickup with a Darkstar DS-1, which is a faithful recreation of the old Hagstrom pickups used in early Guild basses, and sounds damn good. The original pickup route looked like it had been reworked with a butter knife, so we had to clean it up with a router to fit the new pickup in. The control cavity was stuffed with some of the strangest electronics we have ever seen: the non-original pots looked like they came off a 1950’s television set, and the shielding consisted of thick strips of copper that were being held in by thumb tacks.
We pulled all of the wiring and “shielding”, and got to work fixing up the electronics. We painted the control cavity with conductive shielding paint, covered the control plate with copper foil tape, and grounded the entire cage – this process will help keep unwanted interference and noise from leaking into the electronics. Then we installed new high quality pots and an output jack , and wired everything to the Darkstar pickup. We use heat shrink tubing on all the connections, reinforcing all the connections to ensure against any possible breakage. The sound? HUGE!
There were just a few more final touches to put on Mike’s bass: routing the pickguard to fit around the Darkstar pickup, string it up, and give it a full 15 point setup. This bass came in looking super funky, but left with some major mojo. Success!
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Impressive! So: how much time, level of difficulty, and an idea of the cost?
The frets were still good?
No question of pulling the frets, buffing off the fretboard and refretting?
(Fixing what ain’t broke?)