When I first got the bass back, I had a bit of a clean over – but nothing too deep. I really wanted to get the “Cash Converters” security label off, and I spent hours gradually soaking naptha under the plastic sticker to try and prise it off. Other than that, I was just pleased to get it back. I noticed a few marks on the neck, which looked like the guitar had been dropped at some point. I noticed a few dings in the finish, which I don’t think were there before – but I can’t be sure. I also noticed the buckle rash in the back. I know that was probably my own doing.
But the main thing I noticed was that the action was quite a bit higher than I remember. And yet the saddles at the bridge were absolutely decked. I think someone must have tried to mess with the action at some point, and had tried to adjust the truss rod. It seems all they’ve managed to do is ruin the action, and make the guitar harder to play. Time to see if I can run through my setup procedure, and try to restore a factory setup. With it, I hope to restore some of the playability – which made me such a fan of this particular bass.
Obviously – while I’m at it – it’s a good opportunity to strip the guitar down a bit, and to try and clean out years of grime and gunk. In undertaking the deep cleaning of my old friend, I hope to erase any sign of the theft, and to properly reclaim the bass as mine. It’s probably long overdue.
First off are the strings. I’ve always used Bass Centre, Stadium Elite strings. 100 bottoms, (0.040″, 0.060″, 0.080″, 0.100″ gauges). The Elites have always given a bright, clear twang, and were usually a decent price. The Bass Centre in London was always a pretty cool place to go and lose yourself for an afternoon, and you could always splash out on just a set of strings, to overcome the irrational urge to splurge. Much cheaper in the long run. I think these strings are probably the ones I fitted way back in 2006. Whilst I’d like to bring the guitar “back to new”, as it were – there’s something about a set of old strings which sounds authentic on a Precision. A new set will cost somewhere around £20.00, and they’ll sure shine like new – but they’ll also have a sound, not unlike the bass strings on a piano. The clarity of new Elite strings always had that kind of character to my ear, and it always took a few weeks to start to wear off a bit of the brightness. I’m going to re-use these original strings for now. The bass has been stored for a while, and there’s no real sign of corrosion. Just a promising dullness.
With the strings off – I can remove the pickguard, and really get a look at what differentiates the G&L from a Fender Precision. Now I don’t know if G&L had a thing about putting one extra long pickguard screw in each set – but someone did. Another unique feature? I note where the extra long screw is located – just so i can return it to the correct place, without stripping out another hole.
The Precision, like the Stratocaster, has all the pickup and control circuitry attached to the scratchplate – apart from the pickups themselves, which are unscrewed from the body and laid aside with the pickguard. An earthing wire leads through towards the bridge – so the bridge is unscrewed to allow the earthing wire to be withdrawn back to the main cavity. The pickguard can then be fully removed.
While unscrewing the bridge – it’s apparent that the head of one of the two main screws is quite corroded. I take care to make sure I’m using exactly the right screwdriver, and take it really easy – to make sure that the screw turns, albeit slowly. I don’t want to strip the screw head. Fortunately, I’m able to slowly remove the screw, and with it, the entire bridge assembly.
There’s not really much to a bass guitar, when you start taking it apart. The last main bit of dis-assembly is the removal of the neck. The three main screws are carefully removed, and laid aside with the plate. I’ve had the neck off before – so I know it’s possible to remove it without damaging the body finish – but even so, it’s always worth taking it easy. With the neck off, I’ve basically got four main cleaning jobs to look at. The neck, the body, the pickguard assembly and the bridge assembly. I’ll run through each one in turn, and see what I can do.
With the pickups out – it’s interesting to see how G&L evolved the usual neoprene springs, found under Fender Precision pickups – to pairs of actual springs. Each spring sat in a hole drilled into the body. There’s no perished rubber to clean up – just some springs to dust down. Apart from that – there’s nothing much to see on the body, other than to take note of the unique marks scribed during the manufacturing process. The main pickup cavity shows a handwritten “LEG”, (Legacy), in black marker pen. The pickup cavity, shown here, has “SB 427”, (Sunburst?), and the neck pocket has an “R” in red marker pen, together with a couple of pencil signatures and a, library style, stamped date of manufacture – SEP. 20 1993.
With the bridge off, the only last bits of hardware to remove from the body, are the two strap buttons. Once I’m down to just a piece of finished wood, I can more easily clean the body and then polish it up again. I could take a look at the various dints and buckle rash – try to drop fill them or polish out the lighter marks, but I’m not entirely sure what kind of finish this is. I don’t want to do anything which might compromise the original finish in any way. If I find out more about it in the future, I can always come back and revisit. For now, once I’ve checked there’s nothing which might degrade unless it’s urgently looked at now – a deep clean and polish is enough to stabilise things and bring the finish back towards looking new again.
Cleaning the body is done with a Fender Custom Shop brand proprietary guitar cleaner, “specifically formulated for Fenders”. With the body cavities dusted out, and with the body carefully cleaned – (making sure none of the cleaning liquid gets to soak into the bare wood down any of the drilled holes), – it’s now just a matter of bringing back the shine.
I’ve had great results on my Jaguar build using Meguiar’s Swirl X, followed by Carnauba Wax Polish – so I’m going to try a gentle, hand application of Swirl X, at first. It goes on easily and quckly dries to a kind of chalky coating. As you polish this away, you can hear a kind of squeak which is the extremely fine abrasive cutting. This quickly appears to polish out some of the fine surface defects – but it’s not too harsh, and doesn’t entirely remove the signs of age and use. I’m not trying to completely restore the instrument to new here – just to clean it up. Some signs of it’s age are to be expected, and there’s quite a bit of crud around the outline of the bridge unit. The swirl remover seems to do quite a good job of gently dissolving and removing this.
I apply the Carnauba Wax polish with an electric, hand held buffer. With care, and by keeping the polishing head moving – it’s possible to develop a deep, lustrous shine without too much effort. There won’t be too many opportunities to strip the guitar down to this extent – so it makes sense to get the best polish I can manage, while I can easily get into all the nooks and crannies. A few minutes with the buffer, and I’m back to a deep, liquid shine. There are signs of age if you look closely enough – but the shine starts to make it look like the bass is cared for again.
The next part to look at is the neck. At the headstock, the metal hardware shows signs of age and some tarnish. The tuning posts and bezel surrounds are actually lightweight aluminium – a feature of G&L guitars. The special, leightweight Schaller tuners are rock solid without adding too much weight to the head of the guitar – but aluminium does have a tendency to dull as it oxidises. Again, I don’t want to be too aggressive with the cleaning, but a light rub over with metal polish does restore a little brightness. For the tuner keys themselves, and for the mechanical housings on the back of the headstock – a good, but careful application of metal polish brings the chrome up to an, as-new, shine. The wood of the headstock is cleaned carefully with the same, proprietary, Fender Custom Shop cleaner, and a light protective polish applied by hand. The wood finish on the neck is actually what you might call “satin”, rather than highly polished. Any polish here should be protective, rather than the base for a high shine.
As my attention turns from the headstock to the rest of the maple on the neck, I take stock of the damage marks from the suspected drop. I know that wasn’t me – so I’d love to get rid of them, but I’m not entirely sure how deep the marks go.
The marks are on the underside of the neck – roughly from the third to the fifth fret. It looks like someone has stood the guitar up and knocked it over. The marks are black, with a slight indentation detectable with my fingertips. They’re not too deep – almost surface imperfections. I’d suspect that the black marks might be from tolex or some such material – that the guitar might have gone over, and hit against an amp or something. Maybe I can clean them off?
I try with a little naptha at first, and they lighten – but they’re stubborn and the wood is definitely discoloured into the surface a little. There’s no sign that the damage has cracked or misaligned the neck at all – I think it’s entirely cosmetic. I’m sure they will sand and polish out – but again, I’m reluctant at this stage to get into the business of removing too much of the original polish and finish – not exactly knowing what it is. Since the back of the neck is a lovely, smooth satin finish, I opt to clean the neck the best I can, to add a layer of polish and then to gently smooth everything back with a grey Scotchbrite pad. It doesn’t take too long to restore the silky neck feel I remember. There’s no sticky residue on the back of the cleaned neck, and all signs of the “badge of shame” – the Cash Converters label – are well and truly gone. The drop marks remain – for the time being – although they are a little bit lighter than they were. If I discover more about the original finish, I may try and definitively sand them out and repolish at a later date. That’s a solid hunk of maple. More than a match for a few surface marks.
I don’t think the rosewood fingerboard has ever had a really good clean. There are signs of wear all over, and some deep down dirt that needs coaxing out – especially along the bottom of each fret. Ugh. I’m reminded that the neck radius that felt so comfortable to me before is, infact, 7.5″. The same as the Jaguar project which again, I immediately felt at home with.
Before cleaning and conditioning the fingerboard, I give the frets a quick going over with a set of polishing rubbers. I know I could get better results with a dremel and metal polish – but that always seems way too agressive. A fret shield helps protect the neck, while a gentle rub over with each sucessive grade of rubber, gradually brings a nice shine back. After that, I use Crimson Guitar’s fingerboard cleaner to get the worst of the gunk off. It seems to penetrate fairly well, and does what it says it’s supposed to do. I also feel it’s an appropriate level of clean. It’s not stripping absolutely everything away. Again, I want to restore the guitar without removing some of the more subtle signs of age. A bit of attention to the sides of the frets however, sees the worst of a few decades of dirt and grime off.
A liberal application of Crimson Guitar’s fretboard conditioner follows. Rubbing the oil in with a finger, and leaving enough surplus to soak into the wood for a while, gives the best chance for the oil to penetrate into the wood. Make sure the sides of the fingerboard get a treatment also – but be aware the oil does tend to run over the sides of the neck. Make sure there’s not too much oil to cause runs down onto the back of the neck, and clean up any that does as you go. Once the oil has been left to sit and soak in, I remove any excess with a paper towel and then leave everything to dry a little while longer. Gradually, I remove all of the excess surface oil, leaving a well lubricated and cleaned fingerboard. The colour of the wood has a new glow about it. I usually like to give fingerboards a good oiling every time I change strings. With basses – that’s not that often, and this is long overdue for the G&L.
The bridge is a solid hunk of chrome, and it’ll clean up nicely with metal polish. In order to get right into the corners, it’s necessary to take the saddles out. First, small grub screw at the side is removed and lubricated. This is the screw which “locks” the saddles and gives the bridge it’s “saddle lock”name. Inside the grub screw hole, is a tiny, silicon(?) plug which, presumably, acts as a buffer – the grub screw pushing this against the first saddle. It’s important to make sure this isn’t lost or pushed out of position.
Having freed the saddles, they can be removed and cleaned separately. Each consists of a saddle, an adjustment screw and a spring. Each saddle has two small grub screws to facilitate height adjustment. The grub screws are removed, cleaned and lubricated. The saddles are removed from their individual attachment screws, and cleaned with metal polish. It’s important to note that the pair of saddles on the bass side have slightly shorter screws and springs. The usual intonation adjustment will naturally position these two saddles towards the base of the bridge unit. Having less spring and screw here actually increases the adjustment range. It’s not a huge addition – but it’s a nice refinement, and indicative of how much G&L was about refining and building upon concepts Leo Fender had laid down with the original Precision design.
With the saddles cleaned, polished and re-lubricated, and with the bridge piece polished and buffed up to a shine, it’s time to re-assemble the bridge as it was. There is a slight pitting visible here and there, but that’s down to age. It’s “authentic”. There’s a little corrosion visible around the screw hole where the corroded screw was removed – but that cleans up easily back to the original chrome. The corroded screw itself takes quite a bit of WD40 on the head, and a fair bit of polishing, to remove all of the rust. The head is still duller – but the metal that remains is solid enough, and the screw head is still functional. A bit of oil now and again will help protect it further.
The pickguard and plastic pickup covers are easily cleaned with the Fender cleaner. Although the plastic has, visibly aged and discoloured slightly, it’s in pretty good condition and cleans up nicely. There are a few scratches around the jack plug socket, one particularly visible, which might even be a crack – and a fair amount of visible wear under the strings. It looks like the thieving felon may have been a plectrum user. I tend to play with my fingers and thumb only, but there are a fair few plectrum marks in the scratchplate both above and below the strings. I suppose it’s nothing you wouldn’t expect to see on your average, 25-year old guitar though.
On the back side of the plate, there’s a bit of discolouration where some moisture has managed to seep in under the plate. Looks almost like a coffee stain. Might be sweat. I’ve no idea what it might be. Ugh again. However – it’s easily removed with a little cleaner and a bit of elbow grease. I take a look at the electrical components. The metal has oxidised and everything looks like it should on a 25 year old guitar – but so long as it’s working as it should, it’s staying authentic.
The knurled, black pot knobs are removed and cleaned. With a last wipe of metal polish for the strap buttons, the process of re-assembly can begin.
The pickups are reseated and screwed down into position, followed by the scratchplate. The wires are eased into position – making sure they stay clear of the pickup springs. The grounding wire is threaded through to the bridge rout, and is positioned so that it comes into contact when the bridge is screwed down. All the screws going into the body are lightly waxed, and care is taken not to overtighten anything. I replace the original, worn looking fingerplate screws with some Callaham, stainless steel replacements. (Although the wierd, extra-long scratchplate screw goes back into it’s own, dedicated hole). The neck is reattached again, with a little wax on each screw to help lubricate the threads. Finally, the strap buttons are reattached, and the knurled control knobs fitted with their small grub screws. I always slip a business card under each knob, in turn, when tightening the grub screws on control pots. This helps keep a consistent, workable distance for the knobs to sit off the scratchplate. Too close and they can foul on the surface and not turn properly.
The guitar now has something of a showroom shine again. Having taken it apart and reassembled it, I now have the knowledge that everything is as it should be on the guitar. The damage I’ve noted can, at a stretch, be tackled at a later date if I feel the need. Now I need to look at the setup, and I’m hoping that will see the full restoration of my favourite bass, to the way I remember it. That’s a job for tomorrow.