If you ever have the need to fit new pickups on a bass, you will need to be proficient to some degree with the art of soldering. If you have little or no experience of this, then practise on some old cables first and you will surprise yourself how quickly you pick it up. A steady hand is the key thing here, so I don’t advise tackling this job the morning after a night on the beer. If you really don’t feel comfortable doing this, then take it to someone who is, but it will be all the more satisfying if you do complete the job yourself. [Legal notice from editor: Please don’t attempt to solder without proper training or equipment, OK?]
Most pickups will come with a good clear wiring diagram, as mine did, but my advice would be to take some pictures of your current wiring setup before you start to disconnect anything. Don’t just rely on your memory to put it all back together… I learnt this the hard way. My choice of replacement pickups are the Seymour Duncan upgrades for Rickenbacker 4001/3 basses. Physically they are the same shape and size, so they just popped right into the same cavity as the old ones. This was perfect, as the one thing that I was adamant about was avoiding cutting into the body of the bass. It never looks good, no matter how neat the job is.
I found out that there is a .0047 MFD capacitor in these old basses that is connected to the bridge pickup. It strips out a lot of the bottom end, which is why these old Rickys have that distinctive thin tone – in other words, that unique Rickenbacker sound. Now you can take this out or bypass it very easily, but I want to retain some of the old Rick characteristics on my bass, so I am leaving it be.
Good tone comes primarily from good technique, and your pickup will only enhance what is coming from your hands. Having said that, it is important to get the right pickup for the task. After all, trying to replicate the sound that you want to match the sound that is actually coming out of your amp has been the eternal quest for us bassists ever since that first electric bass rolled off the production line. The pickup fitting was a little fiddly, but very worthwhile, and they make a huge difference to my sound and the aesthetic of the bass. My bass is really starting to feel and look like a professional, giggable instrument again and for the first time I am beginning to hear all my hard work starting to pay off. I still have a long way to go to finish this modern classic, though… COSTS THIS MONTH: £180. TOTAL COSTS SO FAR: £1400.