For all its’ size – the Precision Bass is quite a basic piece of equipment, and stripping it down hardly takes an hour of my time. But it’s time well spent – for assessing the possibilities, and for working out when a “clean” becomes a “refinish”. Or when a “repair” is warranted, rather than an “upgrade”.
The strings are first off – then the four neck screws and neck plate are removed, and the neck is released. It’s in pretty good condition, although it’s marked with the usual “road grime” residue you’d expect from honest use, in live and studio situations. It’s mostly fingermarks and grime – although that might be beer on there – who knows? Importantly – there aren’t too many dings or serious scratches. The very end of the headstock has a bit of wear like it’s been walked into a wall, but it’s nothing too serious.
The back of the neck displays a “Made in Japan” legend, and a “V” series serial number, which gives the date of manufacture as 1996. Apart from the gold “Celebrating 50 Years of Fender” badge on the back of the headstock – the only other bit of information on the heel of the neck is revealed on removal. A stamped code “PB-57DEX2”. The PB-57 confirms the original Japanese model designation and the ’57 reproduction stylings, but I can’t find any information on the “DEX2” part. I have heard of PB-57’s marked as PB-557, and PB-567 – and was expecting to be able to identify the guitar from that. There’s a theory that the guitars were sold on the Japanese market for 50,000 Yen, (557), or 60,000 Yen (567) – the 60,000 Yen version, presumably having a more expensive finish or specification. All I can deduce though, is that this example was made in Japan, presumably for export to the European market. With no official specification to work to – I’ll have to make all my assessments on a purely visual basis.
Neck and tuners
It’s a nice, solid all maple neck, with a sort of period correct looking Fender logo, and a vintage, 7.25″ radius fingerboard. The frets are a little worn in places, but I don’t want to completely refinish the frets without a proper radius block. Some might say this is a candidate for a complete re-fret – but there are only a couple of heavily worn frets. I’m minded to save a re-fret for further down the line, and instead opt for a complete strip down and clean. If there does turn out to be a particularly noticeable flat spot on any of the frets – I’ll consider a bit of localised fret levelling and polishing, as needs be.
The headstock looks tidy, with all tuners fully operable, and in good visual condition. A couple of tweaks with a screwdriver tightens up the central post screws, but removing the string holder, tuners and ferrules means I can give them all a good clean with some light machine oil. Looking at the tuners off the guitar – it’s likely that they’re not quite as good quality as USA spec tuners – but they’ll do for now. When I replace them on the guitar, I’ll change the screws for stainless steel alternatives.
The nut looks to be what Fender tend to call, “synthetic bone”. I’d like to swap it out for a superior bone nut – but I don’t have a set of nut files for the job. The long sides of the nut also seem to be discoloured by an overcoating of whatever they’ve used to finish the neck, (looks like a polyester / urethane type finish). I’ll keep the nut as-is, and clean it up with a light rub over with fine grit paper. There’s no need to mess with the nut action. The bass always played sweet enough, and I can’t recall ever having intonation problems. In fact, the bass probably had a Pro setup at Andy’s on Denmark street back in the 90’s. I’ve already taken string height and neck action measurements before the strip-down, and so I’ll be working to restore the geometry of the refitted guitar, working with those dimensions.
With the neck reduced to basics – I can now mask off the fretboard, so that I can give the frets a light clean over. I take some fine, 800 grit wet and dry paper, and wrap it around my fingers, so that I can slide my hand up and down the fingerboard, giving the frets a light clean as I go. I don’t want to go too heavy, or concentrate on just one spot – but a few light passes soon begins to make the frets shine again, without removing too much material, (which might result in frets which are flattened on the crown). After a light clean with 800, I repeat with 1000 grit, and then clean each fret along it’s length using the same 1000 grit. After the 1000 grit, I repeat – lightly cleaning each fret with 1200 and then 1500 grit papers. This helps to polish out any fine scratches which may have been left during the lateral cleaning. Finally, after wiping the neck clean, I polish each fret by running over them with four, progressively finer, grades of fret rubber.
After removing the protective masking tape – the neck is now ready for a proper clean and polish. I use a proprietary guitar cleaner made by Fender. The solution is rubbed into the finish, and allowed to dry – leaving a dull residue. This is then wiped off – leaving a clean finish, which is then ready for a proper protective polish. An application of Meguiar’s Carnauba Wax polish is allowed to dry over the entire neck, fingerboard and headstock. A good buffing with a polishing wheel soon restores a bright shine – almost as impressive as the brand new, Mexican made Fender neck I recently fitted to the Ash Strat.
I can then reinstall all of the ferrules and tuners, leaving the reconditioned neck with a new lease of life. A few scratches and marks here and there – but nothing that wouldn’t be expected on a well kept, 25 year old bass. This means that the nearly new look of the restored guitar won’t jar too much with the bright, “brand new” look of the replacement pickguard and chrome covers. I had wondered whether I’d need to lightly age the new parts to match better with the old – but it looks like the whole guitar can be restored to an “as new” condition, with little more than a good, deep clean and polish.
Body and hardware
As far as the body goes – there are three main components to consider. Body, bridge and pickguard. The bridge is easily removed, and an inspection reveals that, like the tuners, this probably isn’t quite as good quality as you might expect on a USA Precision bass. Although I intend to install ashtray covers on the refurbed bass, and will therefore be covering it up, I’m of the opinion that the bridge has a good deal to do with the eventual tone of the bass, so I’m going to replace this one with a Fender “Pure Vintage” replacement part. The whole “Pure Vintage” bridge assembly seems heavier, the chrome coating looks somehow thicker, and those threaded saddles add an authentic, period correct, vintage look. Here’s hoping the sound follows the visual lead.
In removing the bridge, I locate the end of the grounding wire, which runs from just under the bridge, back to the main control cavity. It’s a thin, plastic shielded wire, which I want to strip out and replace with a better quality, cloth covered replacement. Once I’ve removed all the scratchplate screws, and removed the plate, I can pull the grounding wire out from the control side. Removing the plate also leaves the pickups in place, but exposed. The black and white leads from the pickups can be desoldered from the circuit, and this allows the scratchplate to be completely removed. The pickups are then unscrewed from the body and are removed, together with the copper plate which sits just underneath. Finish-wise, the pickups aren’t in the same league as the replacement Fender Custom Shop ’62’s, I’ve chosen for the rebuild, but they might come in handy for another project.
With the strap buttons removed – just the body blank is left. It’s a ’57 vintage correct, two colour sunburst. I always thought the finish looked greenish and a bit insipid – but once the dirty white pickguard comes off – there’s actually quite a nice tobacco burst there. The Japanese catalogues show that the tonewood is Basswood, but it may be Alder. The two have similar qualities – in fact they might even be the same actual wood – just with different names. Apart from a handwritten “3” in the pickup cavity, there’s nothing else to go on.
The body is actually in pretty good condition – although there’s a lot of dirt and grime from good, honest use. There are a couple of dings here and there, and some light buckle rash on the back but, on consideration, I don’t think it’s worth getting into drop-filling or refinishing it. I manage to remove a few of the lighter, but nevertheless noticeable, scratches using some Meguiar’s SwirlX 2.0, and then give the whole body a good clean over with some Fender proprietary cleaner. The effect is quite amazing, and even some of the dings appear harder to spot. A final application of Carnauba Wax Polish and a good buffing with the car polisher restores a shine to match the neck. The heavier dints and scratches remain as “badges of honour”, but there’s a showroom finish under the grime as well.
The scratchplate is a single-ply, basic, white example. Although its’ age gives it a sort of authenticity, I think that single-ply scratchplates can sometimes be improved upon. The “classic” ’57 precision sports a gold coloured, anodized aluminium example – so this tired old single ply is destined for the spare parts shelf. The electronics on the back are similarly underwhelming. The pots are quite cheap looking, and I can’t think why I never noticed the mis-match between the mini volume pot and the larger tone pot before. Now that I know, I can actually feel the difference in operation. The Precision circuit is about as basic as they come – so I’d like to think the basics will be improved with better quality parts and cloth covered wire. The “green chiclet” style capacitor might be useful for another project – but I want to put a period correct looking, Luxe, “Red Dime” cap in its’ place. I’ll take the whole plate off, and rebuild from scratch.
Seems the old PB-57 wasn’t a bad bass – just probably let down a bit by its’ specification. Hopefully, this rebuild will put some of that to rights. The body and neck build is solid enough. The neck is a fantastic chunk of maple, and the body is light to wield. I’m hopeful that this project isn’t just about dressing up a basic build – but that the improved specification might further bring out some of the real character that has, until now, been sadly untapped.