Tips to Customize Your Bass Guitar

Written by matt mckay
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Tips to Customize Your Bass Guitar
You can do many bass guitar modifications yourself. (Bass Guitar image by JMS from

Customising your bass guitar is a popular way to personalise your bass and upgrade components. By following a few tips to customise your bass guitar, you will be learn the most popular and cost-effective modifications, and what you can do (and shouldn't do) yourself. Most customisation jobs involve replacing stock components with upgraded replacement parts, and require basic handyperson skills. Other customising jobs require a repair shop to do them correctly.

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Electronics such as pickups, switches, wiring and potentiometers (volume and tone controls) are a common customisation for basses. Upgrading electronics can make an inexpensive bass sound better, and may increase its resale value. Direct replacement electronics are available for most basses, and are easily installed without modification to the instrument with a soldering iron and common hand tools. Electronic parts usually come with detailed installation instructions, but they may be installed by a repair person if you are inexperienced with soldering and basic wiring.

Bass guitars have one of two types of pickups: active or passive. Active pickups are on the expensive-side, and require a battery-powered preamp to be installed in the bass. Active pickups tend to produce less unwanted noise and provide higher output than passive pickups, but will probably require routing of the bass body's electronics cavity to accommodate the pre-amp--a task best left to professionals. Passive pickups are much easier to install, and only require a screwdriver and soldering iron to replace your stock pickups.

Choose pickups and electronics that will fit into your bass without expensive modifications to the body, and follow all manufacturer instructions for proper wiring.


Hardware is also a popular customisation for basses. An inexpensive bass can greatly benefit from upgraded tuning machines. And the addition of a heavier bridge can add more sustain because of the increased metal mass.

Machine heads are fairly standard in string-shaft size, but several professional quality machine heads are held in place by bushings screwed into the top of the string shaft--which may require widening the hole. The bottom mounting-screws can also vary in pattern, but you can adjust them by drilling new holes and filling the old ones with toothpicks or wood filler (the holes and screws are small).

Bridges come in a number of varieties, with some as direct replacements for popular basses, and others requiring drilling new holes in the top of the bass. Bridges are not difficult to remove or replace, but it is very important that the bridge string saddles are in the right position. This requires knowledge of bass string-scale length (which will vary from model to model), and an intonation adjustment will be required after the bridge is installed.

Unless the hardware is a direct replacement fit for the stock hardware on your bass, it is best to consult with a professional repair shop for advice. Repair shops can often install hardware correctly, quickly and inexpensively if you choose not to do it yourself.


Repainting your bass is the most involved customisation process. Unless you have experience and knowledge in painting and choosing the right kind of paint, it is a job best left to professionals. Special paint is used on musical instruments that is designed not to clog wood pores or dampen the wood's resonant qualities. If you've ever spray-painted, you know how difficult is it to get an even coat that looks professionally done. Bass painting requires disassembly of parts, removing the old paint, properly sanding and preparing the wood surface, and applying several thin, even coats of paint.

If the paint job doesn't appear to be professionally done, your bass will drastically drop in value. Some compromise in the wood's resonant qualities may also occur, which may affect the sound of your bass.

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