The bass looks and feels nice and shiny and new. I might even have to do the setup using some cotton gloves! Mind you – I’ll be using the old strings to get just a little more wear out of them. Unlike some of the finer guitar strings – they’ll stand up to removal and re-use, just as long as care is taken not to cause any abrasion or kinking as they’re released and threaded through the bridge block. With the strings brought back up to concert pitch, I leave everything for a couple of hours – to let the neck settle back into bow. Before letting it settle, I back each neck screw off, approximately a quarter of a turn – to let the string tension pull the neck tight against the neck pocket. Once the neck has made the familiar clunk, the screws are re-tightened. All the advice I’m given says that the bolts on a G&L shouldn’t ever be be overtightened.
I’ve done as much research as I can to try and find standard G&L setup specifications – with a little luck here and there, but I’m still, mostly in the dark. For most of this setup – I’ll be sticking to standard Fender Precision Bass specifications. After all, the basic geometry is much the same. The first thing I check is the neck relief. With a capo at the first fret, I fret the low “E” string at the top fret and then check the clearance between the bottom of the string and the top of the 8th fret. Fender specifications for a 7.5″ radius, 34″ scale length neck like this, show a required neck action of 0.014″. I check the distance with feeler gauges. I thought so… the action is higher. Even with the saddles almost at the deck – I’ll have to adjust the truss rod.
I detune the bass and raise the saddles a little – just to leave some room for later adjustment. Then, it’s a matter of tightening the truss rod slightly – by turning the adjustment nut with the correctly sized hex lever. To reduce the bow, I need to increase the backbow slightly. Remember, righty, tighty – lefty loosey. A quarter of a turn is often enough to make a huge difference, so I work in increments of a quarter turn – retuning and letting the neck settle for a little while before checking the action again. The first quarter turn, (righty), isn’t quite enough, but a second quarter turn, (again, righty), is too much. It takes a while to get it spot on – but so much of the playability of a guitar is down to this simple adjustment of geometry. It’s worth taking time to get it right. Finally, I back off about an eighth of a turn, (loosey). The action is now at 0.012″ – slightly under the recommended, but I like a low action. I think it’ll be OK to set things a little under spec. to see how it goes.
Next I check the string heights at the 17th fret. Fender set the Precision string heights at 7/64″ (2.8mm) on the bass side, and 6/64″ (2.4mm) on the treble. My string gauge is very accurate. The desired string height is positioned over the 17th fret, and then the string height is changed by adjusting each individual string saddle at the bridge. In every case, the action for my strings is too high, (well – I did dial a little extra in to alow for adjustment, after all). I set the height of each string in turn – aiming for 2.6mm for the middle two strings, and the target 2.8mm and 2.4mm for the two outer strings. That should provide a slight curve to the line of the strings to follow the fingerboard radius. Once the strings are set at the correct height, a fine adjustment is made so that the strings follow an exact 7.5″ curve – this can be tested with a special template gauge.
In setting the strings, I note that the treble saddle, in particular, is virtually sat on the bridge. Fortunately, it’s not quite critical – but if anything ever moves, I may have to adjust the neck angle in the neck pocket – to provide an adjustment to compensate. Essentially – a shimming job – as with my Jaguar build. With the G&L however, an early neck-tilt adjustment has been incorporated in the design. Should it ever be required, a small screw in the neck pocket can be dialled up to act against a small metal plate embedded in the neck heel, (shown below). This can quickly add another 1/64″ at the neck pocket. A small adjustment which will give an even larger range of adjustment by the time the angle is traced back to the bridge. It’s good to know that this is an option – should I ever need it. Although, in such a case, I may prefer a proper, full-pocket shim in order to preserve the best wood-to-wood contact throughout.
With the strings set at the correct height, it’s time to check the string intonation under the new conditions. I’m sure to have changed the saddle placements – even though I made a note of their approximate positions before I disassembled it for cleaning. Each string is checked for tune by striking it when open, and checking with a chromatic tuner. Once the string is in tune, the note at the 12th fret is sounded, and checked with the tuner. It should be a perfect harmonic of the open note. Any adjustment required is made by moving the correct string saddle backwards or forwards, so that the 12th fret lies at exactly the halfway point along each string. With the large vibration provided by the bass strings – it’s easy for the tuner to get confused with other harmonics produced by any other open strings. It can be a problem on regular guitars as it is – but it’s something I really notice on basses. I sometimes find it helpful to stop off the other strings with bits of foam to prevent them sympathetically ringing out, but after years of hurried tunings in all sorts of cramped dressing rooms and backstage disarray – tuning a bass, (and especially this one), has become almost second nature.
With the intonation and tuning established, the saddle lock is engaged by tightening the little grub screw at the side of the bridge. This pulls the saddles together, and engages them with the sides of the bridge. Together with the fin under the bridge, which fits into the special rout carved into the top – this is all about sending as much of the string vibration into the wood of the body as possible. Part of the thing about playing the G&L is the noticeable vibration into your belly as you play. You can also feel the vibration in the neck under your left hand and the body under your right wrist. It’s a physical connection to the instrument.
The final adjustments to the pickup height restore the pickups to the standard range. That has the bass pickup at approximately 8/64″ (3.2mm), and the treble at 6/64, (2.4mm). The measurements need to be made between the top of the pickup poles and the bottom of the strings, when the strings are fretted at the last fret. The G&L pickups are supposed to be a bit more powerful than the usual Fender Precision pickups. They’re a specially developed variant using Alnico 5 poles, and are a G&L refinement – being overwound by 5% on the standard Fender specification. (10500 turns instead of 10000). I think these originals were made by Gotoh for G&L, but I’m told some early versions were provided by Kent Armstrong.
G&L advise the pickups should be adjusted so that the bass side is slightly further away than the treble side – but all these fine adjustments will have to be done with the bass through an amplifier. I’ve only got access to a small guitar practice amp at the moment – so I’ll save the fine tuning of the pickup positions until I can cut loose on a decent amp and cabinet. I’m picking up an Ashdown head in a few weeks and will be building my own, custom cabinet as one of this years’ upcoming projects. More of that in another post. It’s that time of year again. The weather’s turning. The workshop beckons. It won’t be long now until the weather warms up, and paint spraying is possible again. And so it goes.
It might not look too different – but the changes are subtle, and the bass feels much more like it used to. Of course – I won’t get the full benefit until I check it through an amp – but that familiar feel seems to be there again. It seems slicker to play and that just inspires more confidence in any player. I don’t need to make any further adjustments at the nut, because the action hasn’t apparently changed at all there. It’s super low already. The nut has been well cut. The frets too don’t seem to have any buzz and there’s not too much visible wear – so apparently I don’t need to look at fret levelling, or any specific fret filing. The frets always seemed really well finished. I think that, and the nut are a legacy of the quality of the original G&L build – rather than any specific modification or setup along the way. I think modern G&L’s have “Pleked” fingerboards. Basically, they’re fed through a computer aided check which sets fret height and radius according to the neck bow for that particular piece of wood and fret position. It’s highly tuned and highly accurate, and “Pleked” instruments always come at a premium above others. I believe you can retrospectively have your guitar adjusted with the Plek system – but that’s something even this gearhound finds a little bit too geeky. I don’t know if G&L used the system back in 1993 – or whether it even existed back then – but with the build quality of this G&L neck – it wouldn’t surprise me. I’m satisfied that, with a decent look at the setup, I’ve been able to realign the strings, body and bridge in order to work more efficiently. The bass finally feels much more like the old friend I used to know.