As much as I like my recent vintage Fender American Standard Jazz Bass, I’ve always wanted to get some different tones out of it. The stock pickups are OK but I figured that some after-market units might do the trick. I didn’t want to go through the trouble of adding active pickups, what with the need for batteries and all*, so I picked up a set of DiMarzio Ultra Jazz pickups and set to work modifying the bass.
While DiMarzio includes instructions for a standard replacement, they also include info on adding some switches to alter the wiring for more tonal possibilities. As the Jazz doesn’t have a lot of room under the control plate (and I had no desire to take a router to my bass), I opted for a couple of push-pull switch-pots. A switch-pot is a normal rotary pot piggybacked to a DPDT switch which is activated by pulling the control knob away from (or toward) the body of the bass. Two switch pots yields four possible combinations.
The one thing I can say about most guitars is how antiquated the electronics tend to be. The standard electric guitar or bass still uses the same point-to-point wiring scheme used in the 1950s. Unless you have a nice active guitar/bass, working on these things is like taking a trip in a time machine. And now that my eyes are no longer so good at close-up work, well, it wasn’t a joy to redo this. It took over two hours to pull it all apart, replace the pickups, rewire the pots/switches, and put it all back together. In spite of a magnifying “solder helper” clamp, the squinting slowed my work to a crawl. In any case, the updated bass now has a new vocabulary and I like it. I have included two photos to show the before and after of the control plate.
There are also two mp3s of the bass, one before and one after. Both were recorded direct to my digital multi-track without EQ, compression, amp/speaker modeling, or any other sort of alteration. The tone control on the bass is set to max. The first mp3, JazzBass1, is the stock unit and consists of three short segments of about 15 seconds each: First it’s both pickups max, then neck-only, and finally bridge-only. The second mp3, JazzBass2, shows the new pickups and it adds two more segments, each taking advantage of the switches. There are many more tonal variations available, but just to give a taste these last two segments are both pickups at max with first the neck-only and then the bridge-only switches engaged (pulled out).
My overall impression is that the Ultra Jazz pickups have a bit more high end and a modestly nicer bottom, not to mention lower noise. (Note, the reduction in noise my not be so apparent on the mp3s, but it was very apparent in my headphones while I was recording.) Overall, it’s a nice upgrade. I picked up the Ultra Jazz pair for about $100 and DiMarzio sells the pots for about $14 each (a little pricey, but at least you know they’ll fit).
* The problem with the batteries is not so much replacing them, but in finding space for them and the electronics. I also have a Music Man Sterling 5 string, which has active pickups and I really like it. But that unit was factory-designed as an active system and there is a very convenient little pop-open compartment for the battery on the back side of the instrument.