Fender Squier Bass VI – Fixing Tone, Tuning and Intonation





Introduction: Fender Squier Bass VI – Fixing Tone, Tuning and Intonation

About: I'm just a compulsive DIYer that plays guitar and tries to fix just about everything around the house and garage. Sometimes I even succeed!

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.
  • A trem is fairly useless on a bass.
  • The neck pitch was slightly off. This isn’t a big issue, but I notice if you adjust this, the strings seem to seat better in the saddles and will not be as likely to slip out. This seems to be common with these offset guitars.

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!



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23 Discussions

Got it! Shim inserted, bass set up, issue solved. :-)

I have the sleeves on order, and they'll be here Wednesday. Went ahead and decided to set the bass up anyway without the sleeves, and I noticed that at the bottom of the "bridge holes", it's not flat; there's a divot where the bridge set screw "points" go into, and if you can get them to stay in the divots with the strings up to pitch, then the bridge rocks back and forth with use of the tremolo arm. It gives it a nice gentle bend when you play spaghetti western guitar licks. :-)

Having said that, I'm looking forward to the tonal difference that the brass sleeves will give me. Do you use the tremolo at all with your current setup?

1 reply

Great to hear you got it going!!!! I labored for mine so long, I never thought it was going to be playable... as far as the trem is concerned, I don't really use it. I have trems on several of my other guitars I use all the time. But I've never felt the need on this thing. But I've heard others use the trem on these and it sounds pretty cool.

Just got a Squier VI. I am having issues with the low E; it seems that if I want to get the intonation right, I have to back the saddle up so much that the protruding intonation adjustment screw gets in the way of the vibrating string. Did you notice this as an issue? I figure I will just grind it down at some point, but it seems like a fairly large oversight...

3 replies

Exactly. I did the same thing. I mention it near the beginning of this Instructable, but I don't have any pictures: you need to adjust the neck pitch. If you haven't done this before, it really is easy. I used a short piece of a flat brass rod. It was 1mm thick, 8mm wide and about 35mm long. The key is to angle the neck back a little - and that in turn forces you to raise the bridge saddles and that's what keeps the strings from hitting the edge of the bridge. You could grind it, but because of the shallow string break angle, you still run the risk of the strings slipping out of the saddles while you play. If you study that first page of this Instructable, it goes over all of this.

Let me know how it turns out or if you figured out another way or if you have any other questions. Thanks and good luck!

Thanks for the fast reply! But I'm still concerned about that low E - because I have to pull the saddle so far back to gain proper intonation, it forces the end of that screw up in the air, like a cannon getting ready to fire, and it hits the vibrating string and makes a BZZZK sound. Maybe I'll just grind the one, and shim the neck as you suggested...?

That's exactly that same problem I had. If you do the neck shim/etc, it takes care of all that. I fought with my Bass VI for a long time before I was able to figure out the many steps I needed to take of these same issues.

This article is fantastic! I mean literally if you do all these thinks it *will* be better.
Sure there are reservations like the wobbling bridge supports the trem, but then do you want an almost imperceptibly better trem or do you want to feel in touch with your instrument? your call, then chose whether to make the mod.
Similar with the string change, the strings are chosen to straddle the bass world & the guitar world with some precision. if you add heavier strings it will sound and feel more bass like which is great for bassists. if you leave the strings as they are or go for baritone stings & tune little higher you will have a more guitary experience. I know this because I already pay both & always did. All I'm achiving here is to add more to the decision in what was a spectacularly helpful article I really appreciate existing.

1 reply

Excellent comments. There are a TON of choices to make when doing any kind of mod and, like you note, it really depends on what you want your end product to be. I think that's a great point to make in any of these mod articles.

PS. if anyone has bought this for extreme downtuned metal and is disappointed by the bridge pick up output. I have fitted the Warman Twin Loco Hot Rail Humbucking pickup for just £18 in the uk. it fits the footprint of the stock singe coils but feels like twice the output coupled with the mods in the OP it has doubled the sustain time. Glorious!
once you've done that no specific harm in moving the original bridge pick up ( which is the loudest) to the neck position meaning you have upped your power everywhere that matters in stock configuration. probably best to be using a compressor in your effects chain after those sorts of mods though :-)

Would you mind giving me (us) the specific name of the brass sleeves you used? I can't seem to find the right ones, even with the specific sizes you kindly provided. Could they be called something else? Thanks! :)

4 replies

hi great article and really well done! just a heads up on why the bridge posts are smaller and the bridge wobbles! -this was done instead of making roller saddles -it is to accommodate the trem so when you operate the trem the rocking bridge assists the strings to move back and forth.
If you intend to use the trem a lot the brass shims and resulting bridge stiffness may impede the smooth action of the trem

Thanks so much for replying! And for finding them elsewhere too! Greatly appreciated, sir. :)

I read the "horrible dissonant harmonics" are in part due to the dragon teeth on the pickups needing to be rotated 180 deg so the shorter teeth are under the low E string. He said the original 1961 Fender VI was set up this way. He also recommended lowering the pickups significantly. I lowered my PUs and it helped. I'm still trying to set mine up I have trouble with the stock high E string rolling off the edge of the frets from 1 to 5 . Looks like the factory filed these off a little short :(. I may try a new bone nut and move the high E inward a few thousandths. Thanks for the tips on the neck and bridge shims Great Idea. I ordered a set of LaBella flat wound strings specifically made for the Fender VI. Spendy at $45 a set.

Does anyone have a link to the shim? I'm having a hard time finding them.

1 reply

You can use just about anything as a shim - some people even use part of a business card. If you're totally into precision, you can get a metal feeler gauge at an auto parts store and cut off feeler with the thickness you want (you can stack them also). In fact, that's what I've used on several guitars. I think the feeler gauge I bought at Autozone was like $7 and has 18 feelers. Here's the link:


Still waiting on my Circle K strings-getting the same 1.02 gauge as they are all wound. They do ship slowly. Thank you for that tip, too! Will be doing a little fret leveling and a corian nut.

My Bass VI is black and WD has replacement pickguards in stock for this exact bass. I ordered Black/White/black for mine. The fit is perfect.

Next Step for my VI: put the 'strangle switch' on the tone knob as a
push/pull pot and use the old switch to do Series/Parallel pickup

1 reply

I'm curious how the series/parallel trick will turn out. I like your plans for the electronics, along with the other mods.