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When a piece of musical equipment stops working it starts a puzzling quest to find out what is causing the issue.
Sometimes it can be something very simple, sometimes it might require some technical knowledge, and sometimes you might just have to accept it can’t be fixed.
This is true for an electric bass guitar. If it suddenly stops working how are you supposed to know what is wrong?
In this article, I will try and help by firstly giving you a few examples of common issues. Which I hope will solve your problem quickly. Followed by the method I use to decipher what is wrong.
You can, of course, carry out these steps in any order, but this is the most logical order I could think of for figuring out why your bass is broken.
Some of the later steps are a bit more advanced. And so if you don’t have experience with electronics, I would take the bass to a professional to get it fixed.
1) Check all the volumes
Ok, this one is pretty basic, but even I have made this mistake.
Before you go through all the other steps just check that you don’t have the volume knob on either the amp or the bass itself turned all the way down.
If you are using pedals many of these also have volume controls so check these too. But to make sure it isn’t the pedals causing a problem you are best to plug straight into the amp to test.
2) Check your cables
Another common cause of bad sound or no sound is an issue with your cables.
This can occur over time through wear and tear. Test out some different cables if you have them and you could have an easy fix.
Bear in mind, because bass (and guitar) cables are unbalanced, they will pick up noise disturbance from other electrical equipment. This will cause an annoying hum/ buzz.
The best solution for this is to buy a higher quality cable with better shielding, or to reduce the cable length if you can.
If you are looking for a recommendation of a good quality cable then check these ones out from GLS audio.
They are top quality with good shielding to minimize any noise, and the tweed cloth jacket means they should last a long time even when gigging regularly.
3) Check the amp
If you have the luxury of owning more than one bass guitar then you can try plugging that one into the amp instead. This will make sure it isn’t actually the amp that is broken.
If like most people you only have one bass. Plug in the cable, turn the amp on and touch the end with your fingertip whilst the amp volume is turned up.
If the amp is working you should hear an intense buzzing noise. If you don’t hear any noise then it could be that you have an amplifier issue.
This could be one of many things and it is up to you if you try and fix it yourself. If you are uncertain then simply take it to a music store and a technician should be able to fix it for you.
4) Check the battery
You may or may not realise that if your bass is an active bass, rather than a passive bass, then it will have one (or maybe more) batteries.
This battery is needed to power a pre-amp which gives the signal a boost, ensuring a more consistent sound. The battery also allows you to shape the sound from your bass much more.
So a sure sign that your bass is active, and therefore has a battery inside, is if you have more than 3 knobs on the front of the guitar.
As the battery starts to run out of power the sound quality will start to deteriorate. You might notice it is not as strong or maybe it crackles or starts cutting in or out. These are all signs that you might need a new battery.
If your bass stopped working more suddenly, the battery is less likely to be the cause. That is unless it is a rechargeable battery which discharges energy in a different way and can cause the bass to stop working very quickly
This common problem is, of course, a simple fix. Simply locate the battery compartment on your bass. This will usually be a small panel on the rear which will need to be unscrewed. Unscrew this panel take out the old battery and insert a new one.
You may have multiple panels on the back in which case it will probably be the smaller panel that holds the battery.
Test it out and hopefully, it will sound good as new. If it doesn’t then you may have another issue on this list.
5) Check the output jack connection
The output jack connection (where you plug the lead into the bass) is notorious for coming loose.
This could mean you hear nothing or you may occasionally hear something but it keeps cutting in and out.
Whilst the cable is plugged in and the amp is on. Try moving the cable jack around inside the guitar. If you notice the signal cut in and out. This is a sure sign that this is the issue.
To fix this it is important to take the small plate around the jack off first BEFORE trying to turn the nut to tighten it up.
If you don’t take off the plate first and try and turn it then you will end up simply twisting the internal wires around and around. This is not a good idea as you will end up with snapped wires.
So unscrew the two screws and then grab hold of the output jack below the plate. Get yourself a small wrench or some pliers and tighten the nut. This should mean you no longer have a loose connection.
The video below shows this visually if you are struggling to imagine what to do.
6) Check the wiring related to the output jack
Some bass models seem to be prone to wiring issues within the bass itself. This seems to be particularly common in the popular Fender p-bass.
This is a simple fix if you have a soldering iron and want to attempt it yourself.
Take off what is known as the ‘oil guard’. You may need to remove the strings to do this if you just have one large pickguard.
There you will see the wires within the bass. You may notice that one of the wires is loose, or it may not be immediately obvious. Either way, now it is open, you can make sure the connections are all secure by applying a small amount of solder.
If you don’t own a soldering iron, or simply don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself. Take it to your nearest music store where a technician will usually be able to do it for you for a pretty low price.
The video below does a good job of showing this in more detail.
7) Is the circuit shorting?
If you still aren’t getting a clean sound out of your bass then it could be that the circuit is shorting.
Fixing this is a bit more of an advanced technique and if you don’t have any experience with electronics I would recommend taking it to a professional to fix it.
The below video shows you how to fix this if you are interested but I would proceed with caution if you don’t have experience. The video is for an electric guitar but the same principles apply for the bass.
8) Could it be a pickup?
A more unlikely cause but not an impossible one is that there is an issue with one of the bass pickups.
If you are able to switch between pickups on the guitar then you have an advantage in trying to decipher which one. If you aren’t sure this is usually a switch on the body of the bass that allows you to select one, another or multiple of the pickups.
If you figure out it is the pickup causing the issue you may need a new one or it could once again be a problem with the wiring.
9) Grime in the connection
If your bass guitar is particularly old there is a chance that you could have dirt and grime building up in connections on the guitar or amplifier. This can cause connection issues and lead to sound cutting out.
Buy some electric cleaner such as this one and spray around any connections and knobs to get rid of unwanted dirt.
Twiddle the knobs back and forth to make sure the cleaning fluid gets all the way in and around.
I ordered these steps in order of easiest to hardest. Hopefully, you figured out the issue with the first few steps.
The last few steps are a bit more advanced. If you aren’t comfortable with fixing electronics I would always advise you to take your bass to a professional. A Guitar Center or similar will be able to fix the problem and it won’t cost you very much money I’m sure.