Monday, August 26, 2013

Washburn Lyon Bass - Boys of Summer

Nobody on the road
Nobody on the beach
I feel it in the air
The summer's out of reach

No disrespect to Don Henley, but I'm looking forward to some cooler, fall weather.  This past weekend brought some mild, drier air to my part of North Carolina.  It was great timing, as a coworker had asked me to check out his Washburn Lyon bass guitar and let him know what it needed to make it playable.  He told me about how the output jack had fallen behind the pickguard, and that it might need some work on the electronics as well.

It's hard to tell from this picture, but the jack was still in there.  I also noticed that one of the pickguard screws was missing.

Other than a few scales, and the opening riff from the Barney Miller Theme Song, I don't know much about playing the bass guitar.  But, I do know that 1/4-inch action at the 17th fret on the two outer strings makes a 4-string bass guitar unplayable.  According to online Fender Owners Manual, this should be less than half that much, just 3/32-inch, on their P-Bass model.  Even at the 5th fret, the high action on this Washburn Lyon resulted in enough intonation to make it impossible to properly play a scale in first position.  A quick check of the relief action indicated a very bowed neck, adding to the high action and intonation issues.

Next, I assessed the electronics.  My attempts to fish the jack through the pickguard got me nowhere, so I removed a few screws from the pickguard.

I reinsert the jack, reattached things with some spare washers and a nut, and added a replacement for the missing pickguard screw.  Although the tone and volume control both worked, the volume control was very scratchy, and the jack contacts were in need of a good cleaning to provide a more stable patch cord connection.  Removing the pickguard to work on the electronics would involve either removing the strings or detaching the bridge from the body.  Before doing either of those, I opted to check the truss rod.

The nut was in good condition.  It turned smoothly, and was just barely engaging the neck in tension.  After a few partial turns with an Allen wrench on the rod nut, the neck started to flatten , indicating all here was in good working condition and just in need of an adjustment.  That was some welcome good news, since things at the bridge weren't looking so good.

As the bridge was already adjusted close to as low as it could be, it was clear it would take a neck angle reset with some shimming in the neck pocket to adjust the 17-th fret action back into the playable range.  With a half hour already into this assessment, I pushed forward by removing the bridge and pickguard.

As with most mass-produced instruments, you can usually find something that was overlooked during manufacturing, and something on the verge of needing repair.  With this one, there was no connection from the bridge to the ground wire, and the short, thin pickup leads broke off when I removed the pickguard from the body.

Thanks to the internet, a wiring diagram for this P-Bass style axe was just a few keystrokes away.  It took almost as long to warm up my soldering iron as it did to make the wiring repairs.


With the pickguard back in place, I made a little shim for the neck pocket.  After three iterations of trimming the thickness of the shim and reinstalling the neck, I had the action so low that the saddles could once again be adjusted up away from the bridge to make this bass guitar playable.

At 3/32-inch, even I could play some scales on this bass.  I gave this Washburn Lyon back to its owner, and he was very pleased at the way it plays again.  Other than a possible return to replace the old, scratchy volume control, this one is done.