Sunday, March 18, 2012

2012 Conversion Project: OLP Baritone Guitar

Peter Hook with Shergold Marathon 6
I've always been a fan of New Order's Peter Hook and his high-register 'solo bass' approach to playing, which meshes well with synth bass. Early in his career, Hook played an unusual six-string baritone intrument, the UK-made Shergold Marathon 6, before switching to the more conventional 4-string Yamaha BB1200.

Baritone guitars, originally popular in the mid-1960s as "tic-tac" basses for doubling country, surf and rockabilly guitar lines, made a comeback in the late 1990s-early 2000s with rock and metal players. With a lower B-B tuning, they're ideal to play crunchier chords in lower registers than regular 24 or 25"-scale guitars. Reissues from Danelectro were followed by baritone models from Fender, Paul Reed Smith, and others.

EBMM Silhouette Bass
One of the more interesting models came from Ernie Ball Music Man: The Silhouette Bass Guitar, essentially a baritone version of their sleek, compact Silhouette guitar series, a 29.5" scale instrument designed to be tuned B-B or optionally, E-E an octave below a regular guitar.

The Silhouette Bass has been played by Smashing Pumpkins' D'Arcy Wretzky as well as Dream Theater's John Petrucci (who now has his own JP signature baritone guitar model).

My OLP MM5 Baritone in Silver Sparkle
At the time, OLP held a license to produce lower-cost replicas of EBMM guitars in China, and they introduced a version of the Silhouette Bass called the MM5. I purchased one a few years ago - in an apparently rare silver sparkle finish - from the good people at The Twelfth Fret in Toronto. I used this in a couple of bands to do some Hooky-style lines but later realized, as he likely also did, that the string spacing of a regular bass is a bit easier to navigate when playing pickstyle.

12-string bass, Converted from OLP MM3
The MM5 sat in the closet for a while unplayed, until I came across a web posting of a project an Ottawa musician had done, converting an OLP MM3 5-string bass (a licensed copy of the Stingray 5) into a 12-string instrument. If that was possible, wouldn't it be relatively easy to convert a 6-string baritone into a 4-string short-scale bass?

I started planning and measuring. The existing tuner holes would need to be filled with dowels and new ones drilled in locations to ensure straight string pull. Smaller Gotoh-type tuners would be required to fit on the compact headstock. A strings-through-body bridge would help generate sustain and provide better string tension. A pair of Music Man style pickups would replace the stock guitar humbuckers, requiring new routing around the existing pickup cavities.

Montreal luthier Steven Balogh, who does sterling repair work in addition to custom original basses and guitars, took on the job. Here's the result:

OLP MM5 baritone guitar converted to 4-string short-scale bass

The original 4+2 tuners were replaced with 3+1 Hipshot Ultralite HB6Y machines with a 3/8" diameter.

Hipshot Ultralite 3+1 tuners

The bridge is a Hipshot Style A with .750 string spacing in satin aluminum finish, with rear-routed strings-through-body ferrules from Allparts. The pickups are a set of ND3 MM4 neodymium-magnet Music Man-sized humbuckers from SGD Lutherie; a narrow-aperture bridge pickup and a wide-aperture neck pickup to provide a combination of depth and bite.

Hipshot Style A bridge and SGD Lutherie MM4 ND3 pickups

They're wired passively for the moment, using the original 500k pots and 3-way switch, but as they have 4-conductor wiring I could in theory go for 5-way switching to provide more tonal options, as well as add an onboard preamp.

Right now it feels amazing - fast and remarkably responsive. There's a bit of string buzz from the original, low-profile guitar frets, which I'll have redone in the near future with something more like vintage bass fretwire, but other than that, it's everything I imagined it would be. Nice and ringy for Peter Hook-style lines, and soft and deep for Motown-style finger lines. We used silver paint to cover the dowelling on the headstock; a fancier modification would be to use thin wood veneer steamed and glued into place.

 It would be nice if Music Man would produce an official short-scale bass like this, but in the meantime, it's a relatively easy modification for Silhouette basses and OLP MM5s.

I'll post audio clips soon!

Speaking of which, I'm looking for a black OLP MM5 with rosewood fingerboard for a 2nd conversion project. If you've got one for sale, let me know.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ibanez GSRM20 Mikro Bass

Ibanez' GIO line of basses are designed to provide maximum value-for-money. Recently, they've added an extra-short-scale instrument (28.6" scale) inspired by their mainstream Soundgear line with its ultra-comfortable, tapered curves. Compound radius neck, rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays, passive ceramic P/J pickups with individual volumes Available in Starlight Blue, Metallic Purple, Pearl White and Black (and depending where you live, may also be available in Candy Apple Red as shown). A left-handed version (GSRM20L) is available in black only. MSRP is $249.99, street price around $180. • GSRM20 Mikro Bass

Ibanez GARTB20 Gio Bass

Replacing Ibanez's older GIO dual-cutaway short-scale bass is the new, if inelegantly named, GARTB20, with styling inspired by the old Ibanez Musician guitars (with a hint of Gibson 1970s bass design as well). The single-cutaway basswood body has a contoured, beveled edge for comfort and to reduce weight; the bolt-on maple neck has a rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays. Two ceramic-magnet humbuckers, both described as having good midrange punch, feed a passive volume/volume/tone setup. The 30.3" scale instrument is available in metallic silver sunburst, black and transparent red. MSRP is $285.00 US, street price around $199. • GARTB20 Gio Bass

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gibson LP Junior DC Bass

This new 30.5"-scale entry from Gibson combines the classic slab profile of the dual-cutaway (hence, DC) Les Paul Junior guitar with the dual pickups of the EB-3. Solid mahogany body with set mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard with dot inlays, Grover keys and classic Gibson three-point bridge/tailpiece. TB Plus ceramic and TB Mini Alnico humbuckers feed individual volume and master tone knobs. This limited edition model is only available in Pelham Blue with an MSRP of $1,899.00 US and includes a hardshell case. • LP Junior DC Bass

Gretsch Professional Series Billy-Bo Thunderbird Bass

With the same 30.3" scale as Gretsch's other short-scale basses, the G6199B Billy-Bo Jupiter Thunderbird is the bass version of the Thunderbird guitar famously played by Bo Diddley. Features two TV Jones Thunder'Tron pickups, individual and master volume controls, master tone and 3-way pickup switching; a rosewood-base Space Control bridge and G-logo cutout tailpiece. It's pure Cadillac tailfin flash, and you can have it in gloss Firebird red at an MSRP of $3,600.00 US. • Billy-Bo Jupiter Thunderbird Bass

Gretsch Electromatic Junior Jet Basses

New entries into Gretsch's affordable Electromatic line are the G2202 Junior Jet Bass I and G2220 Junior Jet Bass II, both featuring an easy-to-play 30.3" scale and single or dual TV Jones pickups, respectively. Both have basswood bodies, bolt-on maple necks, rosewood fingerboards with dot inlays, and compensated tailpieces; the Junior Jet II also has a 3-way pickup switch.

Available in ebony burst or tobacco sunburst, with MSRPs of $400.00/$475.00 US, street prices around $250/330 respectively. • Junior Jet Bass I • Junior Jet Bass II

Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass SS

Also introduced this year, a new Vintage Modified short-scale version of the popular, offset-bodied Jaguar bass. Features an agathis body, Duncan Designed PJ pickups, volume and tone controls, and a 30" scale, 20-fret maple neck with rosewood fingerboard. Available in black with tortoiseshell pickguard, silver with black pickguard, or candy apple red with black pickguard. MSRP is $269.99 US, with street prices as low as $169.99 seen.

Vintage Modified Jaguar® Bass Special SS at

Squier Vintage Modified Mustang Bass

At this summer's NAMM show, Squier added a reissue Mustang Bass to their Vintage Modified line, with a Duncan Designed split Mustang pickup. Available in 3-tone sunburst or black, the VM Mustang Bass has a 30" scale, 19 frets, volume and tone controls, and vintage-style chrome hardware. MSRP is $479.99 US, with an expected street price of around $300 or so.

Vintage Modified Mustang® Bass at

Sunday, July 09, 2006

SX Bass Customization Project

The affordable SX short-scale basses are a popular platform for upgrades and modifications. To the left is my sunburst SX SJB-62 short-scale, which luthier Ted Stote of helped me upgrade. Ted was surprised at the quality of the SX for the price ($109 US) and agreed that minor upgrades would make it sing.

First off was the need to level and polish the frets. As many SX owners reported on, the wood is likely swollen from humidity at the factory in China, and when brought to our drier North American climate, the wood shrinks, exposing the rough ends of the frets - frankly mine was unplayable until Ted filed those down. Now it's as smooth as those on any higher-priced bass.

Next was replacing the hardware. I'd bought a Fender Urge through-body bridge off eBay, and I had tuners from a 1970s Fender Mustang kicking around from a previous upgrade project. Ted installed through-body ferrules - these went in very easily, although drilling for one of the ferrules caused a small chip in the clearcoat - unavoidable, and easily sealed with a little epoxy - I prefer functionality over aesthetics in this case. The slight extra string length adds tightness to the feel, and the through-body stringing helps add sustain.

The nickel-plated Fender tuners were also an easy install. They give the bass some vintage authenticity, and seem a bit more durable than the stock SX tuners, but in retrospect these aren't geared as well as brand-new ones would be.

After that, we replaced the stock single-coil pickups with a pair of humbucking Jazz Bass replacements. In the neck position is a Seymour Duncan STK stacked-coil humbucker with vintage response - much quieter than the noisy original. A similar stacked bridge pickup I bought from eBay turned out to be a dud, so Ted recommended a Lindy Fralin humbucker for the bridge. We replaced the stock pickup covers with white ones; it didn't fit the Duncan pickup perfectly, but really gives the instrument a bit of flash. (I'll eventually replace the pickguard with a tortoiseshell one, for a lovely vintage-modified look.)

As the Fralin has a pair of side-by-side coils (rather like a P-bass pickup in a J-bass housing) it can't be coil-tapped or split, but still sounds great. The electronics are wired volume-volume-tone; A series/parallel push-pull coil tap switch on the master tone control lets me get two different sounds out of the neck pickup, but bypasses the bridge pickup when split. The very small stock pots, designed to fit in the miniature control cavity, were replaced with similarly-sized ones of higher quality, along with new capacitors for the tone control and simple black line-pointer knobs.

All told, with labour and parts, the completed project, including the bass itself, cost about $450 - you certainly can't buy a new Fender short-scale with characteristics like this at that price.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Gretsch Short-Scale Basses

Gretsch, the classic country and rockabilly guitar company, returned to the scene recently with revived versions of vintage instruments, and neo-vintage instruments for today's players. Thankfully for us, three out of its four bass models are short scale.

The Gretsch Broadkaster bass is a hollowbody 30.3"-scale archtop made entirely from maple, with dual FilterTron pickups and separate bridge and tailpiece. Thumbnail position markers and a classy silver-plexi pickguard round out the appointments. Two colours are available, the classic Gretsch orange stain and a more subdued walnut.

The Electrotone Bass rocks up the Broadkaster template with louder TV Jones Thundertron pickups, sophisticated electronics including both individual and master volume controls, Sperzel locking tuners and Schaller strap locks. It's available in a burgundy stain finish.

Gretsch's short-scales are rounded out with a solid-body model, the Thunder Jet, which picks up its design references from the Duo Jet guitars, and it's made of mahogany rather than maple. It's got similar electronics to the Electrotone but a different control layout. The body is finished with a mahogany stain on the sides and back and solid black on the top. It also features Sperzel locking tuners and Schaller strap locks (plus classic knurled strap retainer knobs.

Epiphone Short-Scale Basses

Epiphone, Gibson's overseas-made line, has four short-scale models.

First up is the Epiphone EB-0. Like its Gibson counterpart, this 30.5"-scale bass has a mahogany SG-style body, set-in mahogany neck and rosewood fingerboard, vintage-style hardware and a single large neck pickup. It lists for around $250 street as part of a starter's pack.

Epiphone also briefly made an accurate 30.5" EB-3 reproduction through its "Elitist" high-end series. It's currently listed as discontinued, but some retailers may still have them in stock (or you can check eBay). I believe this retailed for something closer to $750 US; I've seen them going used for about $500.

The Allen Woody RumbleKat model is a semi-hollow-body bass with a chambered mahogany body and 30.5" scale, set-in neck. It features neck and middle-position mini humbuckers and a volume/volume/tone control configuration. True to its name, it excels at deep, rumbly tones. It has an MSRP of about $800.

Finally, Epiphone rounds out its line of Beatles guitars (such as the John Lennon Casino 330-style guitar and Paul McCartney Texan acoustic) with its Viola Bass, their take on the good old Hofner Violin Bass. It retails for around $400 US.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Rickenbacker 3000

There's not much known about the Rickenbacker 3000; introduced as a budget model during the recession-hit 1970s, it was supposedly designed by a former Fender employee, which might explain its vague resemblance to the Starcaster. Uncharacteristically for Rickenbacker, this instrument had a slab solidbody, bolt-on neck and a single pickup; all the electronics were mounted to the pickguard. A long-scale version, the 3001, was also introduced. Very rare today, its most famous player is Gary 'Mani' Mounfield of the Stone Roses.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Gibson EB Series Short-Scale Basses

Gibson's first-ever electric bass, the EB-1 (left), was a solidbody "viola bass" produced from 1953-1958, within two years of Fender's introduction of the its Precision Bass. It could be strapped on, guitar-style, or played standing up with the help of a long telescopic spike. The EB-1 enjoyed a brief revival as a two-pickup model during the Norlin period from 1970-73.

Gibson EB-0 bass. Image courtesy
GIbson EB-0. Image courtesy
This model was replaced in 1959 by the EB-0 (right), which went through several drastic changes over its lifespan. For the first two years of its production, it was a single-pickup model styled after the double-cutaway Les Paul Junior, with odd banjo-style tuners; it remains highly collectible today.

This original design is quite nice, actually; I'm surprised this has never been officially reissued (or has it?); meanwhile, other makers seem to have taken it as inspiration, such as Hamer.

In 1961, the body style was changed to the slender, highly contoured SG shape (left).
A two-pickup model was introduced as the high end of the range, the EB-3 (below right) favoured by Jack Bruce of Cream, among others. It featured the usual Gibson setup of dual volume, dual tone controls plus a five-way "varitone" switch. Over the years, both the EB-0 and EB-3 underwent simultaneous model changes - the most significant of which under the Norlin administration of the early 70s, with the neck pickup moved towards the bridge, the neck changed to a 3-piece maple one with a volute.
Gibson EB-3. Photo courtesy
A low-cost model called simply the "EB" also came out, which was essentially an EB-0 with cost-saving front-routing only and a plain finish, the electronics being attached to a larger, unified pickguard. A scan of a catalog page is shown here at left.

The EB series was rounded out by a semi-hollow instrument, the EB-2, which was produced fairly continuously from 1958 to 1972 with a brief production hiatus between 1961 and 1964; from 1959 on it had an interesting "baritone" switch feature, and from 1966 on a 2-pickup model, the EB-2D, was available.

An interesting side note to the EB series was the EB-6, a 6-string, 30.5" baritone guitar tuned E-E. Introduced in 1960, this model originally had the same ES-335 style body as the EB-2, but switched to an SG-style solidbody the following year. It remained in production until 1966.

Gibson hasn't officially revived any of its EB-series short-scale basses, although their current lineup includes the "SG Reissue Bass," essentially an EB-3 but with only a single tone control.

Images and information courtesy, Vintage Guitars Info,, Vintage Guitars of Stockholm, and the Vintage Guitars Gallery of the Physics of Electronic Musical Instruments course site, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.