The Fender Pawn Shop Bass VI and its sister the Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI are truly a unique design. As a guitar player, it’s great to be able to pick up this 6 string bass guitar and be at home right off the bat. The shorter scale is more guitar player friendly as well (but maybe not as authentic as a P-bass or something). The style of this guitar falls under the “offset” category.
This is one of those guitars I should have done a little more research on before I bought it. I didn’t realize how much of an issue these (and all “offset” guitars apparently) have with tuning, intonation and bizarre overtones. There’s a laundry list of issues with this that will keep it off the mainstream for most people:
- They ship with really light strings (.084 low E) and do not have the bottom end girth that you might be expecting.
- The bridge is a masterpiece of "What were they thinking" - as you will see in this Instructable:
- The bridge posts are much smaller than the receiver slots and the bridge can move all over the place. So the bridge ends up in the wrong position (leaning toward the nut end) and the geometry doesn’t allow you to set the intonation properly.
- Because the posts are sort of floating around, they never make very good contact with the body (that might have contributed to some of the weird overtone things I kept hearing).
- It’s not very obvious that the bridge height is adjustable – I didn’t find out that there was a screw in the bridge posts until I took the bridge out to work on this thing. So many people (ok, maybe just me) try to adjust string height with just the saddle adjustments.
So what’s the fix? Actually it turned out to be fairly easy and affordable.
Note: Aside from changing the strings, all the mods in this Instructable can be done without removing the strings entirely. Just loosen them and you will be able to get through all off this if you don’t want to buy new strings.
Step 1: Adjust the Neck Pitch With a Shim
Unfortunately, I did not take any pictures of this operation. This is a somewhat routine procedure – so there are plenty of resources on the web for this. But here is the general process I used:
1. Loosen the strings.
2. Unscrew the neck screws and remove the neck.
3. Place a shim between the neck and the back of the neck pocket nearest the body.
4. Put everything back together.
I used a small piece of brass stock from a hobby store - 1mm thick, 8mm wide and about 35mm long.
Even by adding that small piece of metal, you could visually see a difference in the string break-angle between the tailpiece and the bridge. This will help keep the strings from coming out of the saddles somewhat (although I personally did not have an issue with this).
FYI - This will also effectively lengthen the overall string length due to the change in geometry.
Step 2: Replace the Strings
There are plenty of string vendors out there. I went with one of the recommended sites for custom sets, Kalium Strings.com. I liked that all six strings were wound on their sets. Some of the vendors had unwound strings for the B and high E.
I will recommend the strings from these guys – they were packed very well, labeled clearly, the correct strings were sent, and the strings appeared to have a quality build. But they need some help in getting their shipping figured out. For whatever reason, it takes them several days to get their orders to the post office. So the shipping took longer than I would have expected. Their strings get a B+ or an A, shipping gets a C.
The Squier VI has vintage tuners – I’m not sure why all guitars don’t have vintage tuners. They are the easiest tuners in the world to work with. Since they seem to be uncommon, I recommend you do a quick search on how to use them if you haven’t used them before.
Note about the nut: The nut material is unfortunately very soft, which is, fortunately, easy to file out a little. You can either just run your wound string back and forth to open up the slot or CAREFULLY use a small file (Harbor Freight has a set of little files that work well). The key is to only widen the sides – DO NOT MAKE THE SLOT ANY DEEPER. It didn't take much work to get all the new, bigger strings to fit.
2nd note about the nut: Because of the cheap material they use, it’s a prime candidate for replacement when you have more time and money.
Step 3: Fix the Bridge
As you can see in the pictures, the bridge posts are nowhere near thick enough to fill up the receiver holes. Take a look at my drawing to see how this affects the contact points between the bridge and guitar.
1. I measured the posts and the receivers to get an idea of what I needed. It turned out the measurements were about ¼” for the post OD and 5/16” for the receiver ID. If I could find something to take up that space, I’d be set.
2. A trip to Ace Hardware - They had brass sleeves that where 1/4” ID x 5/16” OD! UPDATE 5/7/15: I just found that you can get these at Grainger.com http://www.grainger.com/product/DAYTON-Bearing-2X3...
3. So I simply slid the sleeves into the opening and reinserted the bridge. The sleeves were ¾” long which also happened to be the perfect length for the receiver as well.
4. At this point it’s just a matter of making routine intonation adjustments.
All this for $6.50. The sleeves are pricy for what they are, but that’s a super cheap fix when compared to something like the $75+ for a replacement bridge.
As soon as I added the sleeves, I could immediately tell how much of an improvement it made in the tone. It actually sounded like a regular bass guitar with a regular bridge! And that was even without plugging it in.
Step 4: Do a Set-up and Have Fun!
I did a normal set-up after all of this and was blown away by the quality of the sound, solid bass punch and tight tuning. To fully appreciate the Bass VI, be sure to have a real bass amp. These work with a regular guitar amp, but you really need a bass amp for a bass guitar. Plus you might blow the speakers on your guitar amp!
The pickup selector is a cool idea. The neck pickup alone or neck/middle combo seem to have the best bass sound – but that’s just a personal choice.
I struggled with this guitar off and on for several months. I normally play electric at church. But I like playing bass, so I volunteered to play bass guitar for an upcoming service and figured that would be a good time sink or swim with this.
After the neck shim, string change, bridge mod and final setup, I think most of the issues on this Bass VI have been solved. The trem is still weird. But I most likely won’t use it on this guitar, so that’s a non-issue for me.
Now go out and enjoy your Bass VI!
If you have any comments, questions, corrections or suggestions, feel free to let me know!