Sunday, March 24, 2013

The three little basses...Ruben, Little Maggie and Hoss

The workshop has been busy…busy.  Three projects at one time so here is the run down.

The 1941 Epiphone B-5 named Ruben is completed and being played weekly.  The bass has really come to life; his voice is loud and boomy.  Just what you would expect from an Epiphone.  The string combo of the Golden Spiral G&D and Spiro Med A&E are working well.  The Golden Spirals hold their own against a high quality gut string like a Gamut gut.  However, because the Golden Spirals are vintage and no longer made I won’t get too overly attached to them as who knows when I’ll ever find another new old stock pair of strings.  This Epiphone has so much character and charm it is a joy to play and look at.  As soon as our weather breaks and we can get good photos in natural light I will create a slide show and write the final chapter of Ruben's restoration.  He is a keeper and not being offered for sale at this time.

Next impromptu project on the workbench is a 1937 Kay M-4 named Little Maggie.  This is a very rare first year Kay bass and a sister bass to my “Polly Pretty Polly”, our other M-4 (do you sense a Ralph Stanley naming theme?).  Little Maggie has not hung around in the collection very long.  Before we could complete some cosmetic repairs she is already pre-sold and heading to California.  This Kay is in outstanding condition for a 1937 and required minimal edge repairs.  Kay M-4’s were the forerunner to 1940’s Kay S-9 blonde Swingmasters.  There were only 150 M-4’s made between 1937-1939 according to Roger Stowers Kay Bass website.  We have been lucky enough to see or play about six or seven Kay M-4’s so far in our travels.  We even did an on the spot sound post resetting at a festival last year for a gentleman that had a slight accident that caused the sound post to drop right before going on stage…YIKES!

One of  broken edges on Little Maggie before the repairs started

Mid-repair before sanding and color

All most finished.  The edge has been filled in, sanded and layers of matching color finish are being applied.
 As you can see by the photos Lonnie’s edge repairs on Little Maggie are coming along nicely.  The other minor improvement before she leaves our collection was a new end pin tip.  When we bought the bass it had no crutch tip on the end pin.  It had just the bare metal rod with a point.  For me that's an unacceptable problem, as soon as you stand the bass up it can scoot away on a hard floor like concrete much less the hole it will leave on a hardwood floor.  After some thinking and head scratching Lonnie had a eureka moment.  We have brand new ULSA end pins with the over size rubber tip that fit into a 10mm end pin rod…hummmmm.  We robbed the tip off a new uninstalled end pin and Lonnie re-threaded the bare metal tip with 10mm threads. 

Little Maggie's pointed 10 mm end pin rod with no threads.   It is a smooth shaft with a stop collar.

After Lonnie threaded the 10 mm metal tip to accept the new ULSA rubber  end pin tip

Completed and looking great.  The new ULSA rubber tip will last a long time and no scooting away while playing

Genius…the new end pin tip fits perfect on the 10mm end pin rod and is now completely replaceable.  Lonnie having a plethora of tools has the full tap and die set to re thread the metal rod.  Never again will we deal with a bare metal rod and a non-standard size rubber end pin tip.  Lonnie has the tooling to re thread just about any size metal rod of 8mm, 10mm and so on.  The end pin looks great with a fresh new tip and we can easily buy the ULSA replacement tips to keep on hand for future projects.  Sweet!

The third project is for a bluegrass jamming friend that owns a newer Engelhardt bass and wanted some upgrades installed.  Normally we don’t work on newer basses but in this case we made an exception.  Plus it was fun to have local visitors come to the workshop to see and play the collection of basses.  Murf fell in love with a 1937 American Standard we named Hoss’s.  He touched the American Standard bass and sighed with delight when he hit that big, round, PHAT booming E string…yep…that is the punch you get from a big ole vintage bass.  Sorry to tell him the Engel won’t sound like that American Standard bass, but we can sure try to make it sound better. 

The newer Engelhardt bass on left an EG-1 and Little Maggie the 1937 Kay M-4 on the right.  Kind of cool  in a weird  way
Yawl know I could go on a long rant about spending money (and more money) on a newer bass trying to get that vintage sound…it just does not happen.  As we discussed with Murf and Dancing Bear (Bill) vintage is vintage and demands a premium price for that sound.  Murf could care less what a bass looks like as long as it has that big fat sound…that is why he is a great musician...he has a great ear for tone. 

To quote Kent “Superman” Blanton the expert on American Standard basses and a former owner of Hoss’s, “A bass may be pretty but how does it sound…SON?”

Pretty don’t get it done…a bass needs to sound good.