Keeping my hands busy in the cold…

It’s cold outside, and I’m inside reprocessing video for e-learning lessons. This is what I do when I’m not traveling to cities to complain about. Creating the same training that I do live for web based delivery.

Editing video to do this is insanely boring. More so in this case, Since I’m having to rework lessons that I thought were complete. We have a product, dubbed internally a “Unified Linux Platform”. This product is repackaged under other brands and hardware platforms. In this case, both versions that this partner manufacturer sells are essentially the same, except for the logo and the name. What’s different is the hardware. One is PC based, one is not.

So what I thought was a great idea- bundle them together since they are nearly identical was deemed too confusing to the technicians. This means the task on hand for this week is going through about thirty or so videos changing logos and rubbing out anytime I say the name of the unwelcome sister product.

The logo more or less is dealt with when I convert the video to flash. So what’s left is listening to my recorded self, making sure I don’t mention the offending system, and keeping an eye on the screen to make sure when I recorded it I didn’t jump out to a different screen. This makes my logo appear where it shouldn’t when processed.

So I have time on my hands and figured I’d blog about something other than travel.

While I’m halfway paying attention to the screen I’m also waiting for a buddy to show up to pick up his Jazz bass that I repaired for his grandson’s Christmas.

For some time I’ve been picking up damaged instruments and fixing them. Some I keep, some I sell. So far I’ve managed to make a few bucks. This all started when I was showing my son how easy it was to buy guitars on Ebay. In a nutshell – make sure it’s genuine (what they claim it is), and plop down a price that is in your comfort zone. If you get it, you get it. If not? move on. IN this case, I wound up with a reasonably rare 5-string Fender Jazz bass that needed a little TLC for around $200.

I’ve since rebuilt nearly the whole thing, and it’s the one I play every Sunday. Turned out to be the deal of the century. Nothing sounds or plays like it. Matter of fact, this Bass I’m delivering today is only four strings and it’s tougher than my 5-string on my hands.

I’ve found that guitars (and basses) are a lot like motorcycles. People buy them with the thought that it’s cool and they’ll learn to play it (or ride it). After awhile the novelty wears off and the thing sits. or better yet, they did something stupid and broke it. After a period of time they unload it. I have an outstanding six string acoustic that I picked up for $60. It probably was in the neighborhood of $300 new. Had two tuners falling off, a problem fixed for nothing. I’ve been playing that one every Sunday as well and I’m thinking that one is a keeper.

In this case, it’s a Mexican Fender Jazz Bass my friend picked up for a little over $200. I’ve never bought into the American vs. Mexican vs. Chinese/Japanese Fenders. I have a squire telecaster that is essentially identical to the American version. The neck is the difference – mine is ash as opposed to maple with rosewood fretboard. It has all new electronics, and now there is nothing that sounds like it. Typically a four string, Mexican Jazz Bass runs anywhere from $500 to maybe $750. So, $200 isn’t bad. And as I said, It’s tough to tell the difference. I build, repair, and play the things so I know from whence I speak. [Update: Squires are, in fact, not a fender product per se. The difference, other than the cheap hardware, is the scale is slightly shorter, making it impossible to use Fender parts, like a neck or bridge (for a telecaster)]

This bass had a screwed up nut. The nut is where the strings rest on the top of the neck, before they hit the tuners. Fenders have a thin (1/8″) nut, recessed into the fretboard. They also have really thin necks at the first fret – less than 2″. His bass had what looked like a nut from another type of bass – one that typically is seen at the end of a fretboard. And, since it was three times wider, they did a really bad job of fitting it. Looked like they cut the recess too wide then added tons of glue, using the strings to clamp it in place.Since the strings move, So did it before the glue set. One tap of my chisel, and not only did the nut break loose, but so did a chunk of rosewood next to it. DOH!


The repaired Nut
The new bridge and cover plates. New electronics hides under them.

It was at that point I was cursing myself for offering to do this. Turns out, it was easier to cut all that wood off and replace it with a new chunk of rosewood. Add another $1.50 to the cost.

It had a bridge (the part at the bottom that holds the strings) that looked like it was made out of threaded rods from home depot. This defies explanation, since the last thing you want under tensioned strings is hardened steel with ridges cutting perpendicular to the windings on the strings.

I love trying to figure out why someone would do something so stupid. Fenders are such a popular brand that there are parts all over the place for them, cheap. In all likelihood, the person that owned this broke the nut while re-stringing it (My daughter did the same thing to hers, it’s pretty easy to do on a Fender if you aren’t careful). Then they either tried to fix it themselves or brought it to a doofus to repair. The actual replacement nut was like $7. And this one is graphite composite. Very cool.

When I disassembled it, I found the guy that was responsible for this mess had used his business card to shim the neck. Something he probably found he had to do when he screwed up the nut. And, just when I thought I was done, I found it had two identical pickups (Jazz basses have two pickups that are different – one is wound backwards from the other to cancel noise). So I had a fearsome buzz to deal with. I wound up replacing the POTS (volume and tone) and rewiring it to kill the hum. All these bad repairs probably made it sound bad and miserable to play.

Why is any of this important? Because for maybe $40 cost and about six hours of my time, and the original $200, my friend has a classic bass that plays beautifully. And, with the dings his grandson won’t look like a noob when he plays in public.

Repairing these lost children instruments is fun and challenging. Takes a good deal more precision than normal woodworking, and understanding analog electronics is sort of a lost art. My one regret with this project is that I didn’t think to take a series of pictures before I started. I have two other projects queued up – a 1980’s ovation balladeer that is teetering on basket-case status and a custom stratocaster for my daughter.The body where I’m starting this one is pictured here – swamp ash, very cool. Even more so with an oil finish. She has a squire fender now, made in indonesia. The body is cheap, probably fiberglass since it’s light. However, it’s sporting a rock maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard. I won’t have the dough – or permission to spend the dough, on new pickups so this one will be done on the cheap.

I’ll make sure to document it. Maybe, on video.