Bass Guitar Modifications 101

Shaftesbury Bass broken pick-guardFeeling a little bored with your instrument? Is there a crack in your pick guard? Do your pick ups bring you down? Before you think about selling your bass, maybe a bass guitar mod is all you need - read on for the Bass Guitar Rocks primer on Bass modifications.

A bass modification (or bass mod) can range from replacing a pick guard to a complete bass guitar overhaul on the electronics and everything in between. If you're handy (or brave) you can take on a modification project yourself or you can pay to have a professional do it. Either way, if you're looking to change your bass from it's original state into something different - you're heading into the fabled land of bass guitar modifications.

Modify Bass Sound, Appearance or Feel

Bass mods come in what I call the ‘cosmetic’ and ‘functional’ varieties. Cosmetic mods change the look of the instrument (i.e. new finish) whereas functional mods affect the way a bass sounds or feels (i.e. neck or preamp replacement). Both kinds range in difficulty from ‘do it yourself’ to ‘better get a professional’ and are reflected in the cost. Keep in mind that even relatively simple bass guitar mods like replacing a pick guard on your old Fender bass will require breaking out the soldering iron.

Necessity is the mother of invention bass modification!

Many people enter the wonderful world of mods out of necessity; something either breaks, or an upcoming studio date or tour means that faulty input jack needs to be fixed now. This is particularly common on budget or ‘bang for the buck’ basses that are put through heavy use. I had to replace a nut on one bass and two input jacks and a preamp from another for this reason.

pickupsVoluntary pick-up replacement remains among the most popular bass guitar modding projects. Some players seek a different tone or hotter gain than their stock pickups provide and choose to upgrade to brand-name pick-ups instead. Many would rather upgrade the pick-ups on a budget instrument rather than shell out for a more expensive axe.

Regardless of the type you choose, never rush into a mod! There are pros and cons to almost any bass guitar modification project, and the results aren’t fully predictable.

Before you ask how to modify a bass guitar consider:

Why Modify Your Bass?
Are you replacing the hardware to make the bass studio or stage-ready? Are you upgrading your current bass because you can’t afford a new one? Are you bored and just want something to do? Are you fixing it up to sell? Whatever the answer, knowing the purpose and having a reasonable expectation of the outcome is necessary; otherwise you can easily lose sight of your goal and money!

Is your electric bass a 'keeper'?
If there’s a chance that you may eventually sell the bass, consider that modifications often hurt the resale value. Can you reverse the mod later if you choose to sell? Always keep the original parts, and get a professional to do the job.

Who’s going to work on your bass guitar?
Are you up to the task, or do you need a tech to do the work for you? Labour costs tend to outweigh material costs for most projects. Again, if you can’t do a professional job – pay someone who can.

Budget Accordingly
Unless you plan to be buried with the bass, keep the costs of the project in proportion to the cost of the instrument. When the mod costs approach the cost of your bass –warning lights should go off. It’s better to buy a $1,500 bass then a $100 bass with $1,400 worth of mods!

How long will it take?
How long will your bass be in ‘traction’ and not available for gigging or recording? Find out ahead of time and see if you can get a commitment on a return date. This is especially true if you’re dealing with an in-demand tech or luthier that has a waiting list a mile long.

Do you love the bass? Many times we want to modify an instrument if we’re unhappy with it. Throwing money at the problem (if the bass isn’t right for you) won’t make it better; each mod could lead to another and another thing that you want to ‘fix’. If you love the bass but it needs a tweak – great, but if you want to overhaul the entire electronics and get a new neck, consider getting a new bass.

Modify Bass Or Not?

Modifying a bass guitar could have permanent implications on the sound and feel of your bass - so again, please tread lightly here. Even changing the colour or type of finish on your bass has been said to significantly alter the sound of an instrument in some cases!

If money is tight and you’re still not convinced that modifying your bass is right for you, sit tight. I’ll tackle some modification alternatives in a future article. Thanks for reading bass modifications 101!

  • Nice post, even I feel bored of my basses but I'm afraid to make them getting worse after modified, I love them too much as they are.

    Peace!!

  • David Gentry says:

    I own a MIJ Steve Harris bass. I have already changed the pickups to his signature spb4 and added a hipshot detuner. I am thinking of replacing the pots and/or caps. I am going for a brighter tone.
    Any suggestions or recommendations is greatly appreciated.
    It already plays/sounds great, but I'm always looking for ways to improve the sound quality.

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