“Only an Idiot Would Put Those Things on a Bass!”

Cheap chic: The Italia Maranello bass

I’ve got this weird Italia Maranello bass I picked up years ago when I was playing in the Eels. It looks like it’s from the ’60, but is, in fact, a modern instrument designed by Brit luthier Trev Wilkinson and built in Korea. The only “Italy” in “Italia” is the fact that their instruments look like the Brand X axes being made in Italy, Gemany, and Sweden nearly 50 years ago. It looks inexpensive, and is. But it’s cool if you like weird, trashy stuff.

I strung it up with flatwounds, figuring I’d try to use it as a pseudo-Hofner, something to use for melodic parts that didn’t demand massive low end. Given the instrument and the relatively dull-toned pickups, I didn’t expect anything massive-sounding. I got this:

Italia Neck Pickup

It didn’t sound bad, exactly, but I thought I hotter pickup might improve things. So I pawed through my box of Seymour Duncan pickups and found…

… nothing that would fit the Maranello, which is routed for a guitar-sized humbucker. I had my eye on a Custom Shop Hawkbucker, but I needed something Beatles-esque for a jingle session. So I did something really dumb and popped in a pair of Custom 5s. Installing a pickup made for six-string guitars into a 4-string bass isn’t recommended by Seymour Duncan, or for that matter, anyone with a lick of sense. Draw your own conclusions.

Italia Custom 5 Pickup

A pretty substantial upgrade, is it not? (Now, you know better than to evaluate bass tones through laptop speakers, right? Go get your headphones.)

The polepieces aren’t even positioned under the strings! Surely the levels between strings would be mismatched. Or would they? Here’s a four-note phrase played on each of the four strings:

Italia Balance Test

So I dived in a recorded a track with it, for a TV commercial cue that called for a bright, dopey ’60s bubblegum rock sound. The part jumps across all four strings, and I don’t hear any glaring volume discrepancies.

30-Second Bubblegum

Nope, it doesn’t sound like a Hofner. Hardly surprising, given that Hofners are hollowbodied, and I was playing a solidbody with guitar pickups. Yet it sounds shockingly decent, and it evokes the period, if not Paul. Close enough for TV!

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18 comments to “Only an Idiot Would Put Those Things on a Bass!”

  • Swen

    Hasn’t anyone told you, “You can’t do that!” What were you thinking? Always got to break the rules, don’t you?

  • Robert

    It would have been cooler if you stuck it in a six string bass, at least then there is the same amount of strings on it. =p

  • Doug Meyer

    The pickup would probably sound okay, except that the strings wouldn’t line up with the poles and sound might be uneven.

  • Why not? (R)Evolution doesn’t happen by sticking to the rules.

  • Willverine

    I’ve got an Epiphone Les Paul Bass that has had a Schaller/Schecter Hot Stuff and Dimarzio X2NB in it and now sports a pair of Lace Sensor Duallys that gets a decent Cream-era Jack Bruce sound.
    I need to find another set of P-rails to try out in this thing next.

  • El reclusa

    Didn’t the old Fender Musicmaster Bass have the exact same pickup as the MM guitar?

  • Outside of the esthetic issue of the pole pieces, I see no reason to be concerned. To avoid the pole piece issue, you could use a humbucker with a blade (won;t mention the other brands) or you could use an active such as a blackout where the poles are hidden by the covers.

    Unfortunately, there are countless guitar pickup options on the market to choose from and far less choices in the bass pickup market. I’d slap a tin can hooked to a wire if it helped me get the tone I was after.

    I’d like to hear some “Southern Culture on the Skids” bass licks with this pickup and bass configuration please!

  • el reclusa

    After consulting the always-accurate interwebs, it does seem that the MM Bass indeed had a six-pole guitar pickup! FWIW, the one I owned (now my daughter’s) and almost every other one I’ve ever seen or played all had the pickup replaced. I played in a band with a dude who had a P pickup in his and it was pretty righteous. The J-style in my kiddo’s isn’t bad, either…

    …but I digress. Wrongness is fun, and that Italia sounds pretty sweet to me. Maybe not an all-around, all-purpose kinda thang, but I like it!

  • DohminSemper

    Yeah, guitar pickups sound good on basses. Why shouldn’t they? :P I’m using my guitar to record bass (-1 octave) and It sounds decent. Btw do you know any good video on de-soldering and soldering a pickup? If not could you make one? What iron do you suggest/prefer? 40W or what?

    • joe

      I’ll be doing some posts along those lines, but in the meantime, check out ol’ Seymour doing his thing here:

      http://www.seymourduncan.com/support/choosing-installing/installing-pick/

      If you’ve been doing any of the DIY Club stuff, you’ll find that whatever iron you’ve been using will probably work fine for pickups. The one tricky part is when you need to attach a ground wire to the back of a pot. It can be difficult applying enough heat to that hunk of metal. If you have an iron with changeable tips (a good idea, in any case!), you may find that you use a thin, needle-type one for fine circuit work, and a chunkier one with more mass when working with larger components like pots.

  • I picked up a digital soldering station for Radio Shack a few years back. It allows you to adjust the temperature to suit your needs. It’s a pencil style iron and works for anything from soldering to a tremolo claw to soldering your cap.

  • DohminSemper

    It sounds about the same. So what’s conclusion I wonder. Tone depends on the guitar construction or the player hands?

    • joe

      Well, they sound pretty similar through a teensy computer speaker. But with headphones or decent speakers, I perceive quite strong differences between the two. With the replacement pickup, I hear lower lows, a more clearly defined fundamental, and a generally more attractive sound. Though it may be moot, because I just scored a set of SD Hawkbuckers, which I’ll pop in sometime this week. :)

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