New Project – Fender “57” Precision Bass 1996 MIJ. Upgrade and Refit.

As readers of this blog may know – my favourite bass is a 1993, G&L, Legacy LB-100. But my other bass is a 1996, MIJ Fender Precision Bass. My recent bass speaker enclosure project has reawoken a desire to experiment with a kind of 50’s/60’s Fender tone, and the old MIJ has been much underutilised lately. Looks to me like a promising refurb project..

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I bought this Precision Bass back in 1996, from a guitar shop, (Rock City Guitars?? – I forget the name now), in Camden Town, London – opposite the famous Stables and Market. It was actually the first bass I could properly call my own. The guitars I’d previously played were either, (in the early days), poor quality copies or, (later), borrowed from other players. In fact, prior to this purchase, and when I first began playing with the Citizens, I was actually getting quite comfortable with a borrowed, fretless, Precision bass. Sadly – that had to go back to its’ real owner, and I was left looking around for a replacement for a run of upcoming gigs and studio sessions. I liked the feel and sound of the Precision, and I first looked around for another fretless version. Playing finger-style, I liked the lack of clank and rattle – but a replacement, fretless bass just didn’t come to light.

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Back in ’96 – a lot of the Fender guitars available on the UK and European markets were made in Japan. Fender had started using a couple of Japanese production facilities after CBS took over and, I think, they still do, to this day. Up until 1997 – the guitars were Fender badged, as usual, but marked “Made in Japan”, and had their own numbering system, Sometime after 1997, the legend “Crafted in Japan” took over for a while – but I gather they’re back with “Made in Japan” again now. Build-wise – the Japanese production instruments were always regarded as proper, Fender quality instruments and, indeed, back in 1996 – if you wanted a Fender bass in the UK – there was a fair chance it was going to be a Japanese version.

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Bought in 1996, the bass was brand, spanking, new when I bought it, late in the year. The year of production is reflected in the “V” series number, and also by the presence of a celebratory, “Fender 50th Anniersary” badge on the back of the headstock. For it’s age – it’s in pretty good nick – although there are a couple of dings on the edges, and a little bit of buckle rash on the back. Considering that the bass got a fair bit of action over the next few years – including gigs and sessions – it’s kept a good deal of its’ new appearance, and a good clean up should set it off well. There are a few small splits here and there in the, (polyurethane?), finish, and a few of those dings that depress the varnish slightly – leaving a little, oval divot in the finish. In a couple of places – the entire paint and varnish finish has chipped off – leaving clean, bare wood below. On close inspection – there’s a little bit of evidence of the wood “lipping” slightly where the stock billets were joined to make up the (three?) piece body construction. This has resulted in a slight line, visible in the finish. It’s not a crack, rather a sort of fine crease – more than likely where the wood has shrunk slightly – taking the finish down with it.

I want to take a look at the extent of the damage once I strip the guitar down. I may well attempt a few drop-fills here and there to get rid of the worst of the damage – perhaps even a re-finish, if I think I can reduce the buckle rash, or polish out the evidence of lipping.

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Specification-wise, the bass is basic. Although the components are all genuine Fender production parts – they’re all ordinary, run-of-the-mill components. Nothing special, and certainly not in the “Custom Shop” class. There’s a lot of scope for upgrades. The neck is a fantastic piece of lumber though. A one piece maple neck with a 7.25″ radius, vintage style fingerboard. A joy to play, and solid. Pretty much everywhere else though – I could certainly make a few improvements.

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The 1957 Model of Fender Precision Bass is a classic of its’ kind. The first real modifications on the original, Telecaster style Precisions of the early ’50’s turned the electric bass into a much more futuristic looking instrument, (in its’ day, anyway). That said – they were still rare in the UK. Skiffle was still the music of the time, and all you really needed for bass duty there was a tea chest and the handle of your old Mum’s broom. I think it was probably Jet Harris from the Shadows, who first showed off one of the new style Precisions opn the UK scene, and even then – that was probably a few years later, in the early Sixties.

My Japanese version of the Precision was clearly inspired by, and based on the 1957 specification. Known as the P-57(US), in the catalogues of the time, my copy has a stripped down specification which completely ignores the usual, iniosyncratic, gold coloured, anodized aluminium pickguard, the chrome “ashtray” covers and even the black plastic thumb rest. By replacing these components – I should be able to bring out the ’57 stylings, and show the bass off to better effect.

Pickup-wise – I’ve got a yearning to own a set of Fender Custom Shop ’62 Vintage Precision pickups – long regarded as the best, and most authentic sounding Precision pickups on the market. I’ve mostly played a G&L LB-100, since purchasing it, (as an alternative to the Fender),  way back in 1997, and the G&L – itself, essentially an upgraded, Precision style bass – captures perfectly the punchy 80’s/90’s bass sound especially when played with a pick. The mid range frequencies cut through quite well, and provide a good deal of presence – there’s plenty of growl and snap if you want to dig in. The G&L also has a good deal of sustain. The thing is, though- sometimes I want to play around with the slightly darker, slightly more scooped characteristic a ’57 or ’62 bass might provide. I sometimes even hanker for a set of flatwound strings. Sometimes – all you need is the rythmic, rounder thud like you get with the Motown players. Sometimes – you’re just about there in the mix. Just doing your job. Holding your own and driving the groove in the boiler room. We can’t all be Peter Hook.

I have an idea to upgrade my MIJ Precision to an approximate 1957 specification – with a set of 1962 Custom Shop pickups, a 0.1mf capacitor in the circuit and a set of flatwound strings underneath the chrome ashtrays, which always should have been there. Maybe even a piece of foam under that bridge. Perhaps in doing that – I’ll have more of an excuse to get the MIJ out of its’ case more often.

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