Ibanez ATK (300 Series) Bass: Pickup Selector Switch Mod
Activating The Idle Bridge (Single-) Coil Sound

last update: Mar. 29, 2020

Copyright 2020 by H. Gragger. All Rights Reserved. All information provided herein is destined for educational and D.I.Y. purposes only. Commercial re-sale, distribution or usage of artwork and inventions without explicit written permission of the author is strictly prohibited. The original units  with their associated  trade-names are subject to the copyright of the individual copyright owner. The Author is by no means affiliated with any of those companies. References to trade names are made for educational purposes only. By reading the information provided here you agree to the Terms of Use.
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Index


A Short Review
Expanding Source Selection Capabilities
Sound Samples
Reference


Folks. We gotta stick together in times like these. God bless us.
  This is a gift to you fellow musicians. Enjoy.

But I have a concern. Let me know if you like this or find this useful.
I´m starting to believe I write these things for nobody.




A Short Review

ATK600
Ibanez ATK 600:
(click on the picture to load larger image)
 
I recently obtained an ATK 600 like new.
The instrument was built in the Hoshino Gakki factory in Japan, probably 1995 or 1996.
Instruments from this era are sought of, they are commonly very well built and eminently playable.

It has a maple body and a flamed maple top. Neck is maple too with a rosewood fingerboard.
This is a premium version of an ATK 300, but  otherwise said to be equivalent to the 300 series.

The ATK is rumored to be a serious competitor for the MM Stingray, even a Stingray killer. Lets look... (for the price tag alone it wins hands down).

The piece of black stained wood next to the pickup is not stock. It is rather a self-made ramp, best known from its inventor, Gary Willis
[1], mounted with double sided tape.


When I received it, the instrument was in perfect shape cosmetically and technically, except the string grounding was no longer functioning. This is a very common thing. Some use stranded wire spread apart, but this one uses a rigid wire under the bridge. After so many years, it lost its contact to the bridge plate by working itself into the wood. A piece of copper foil wrapped around this wire that spreads under the metal now assures solid contact to the bridge.

After adjusting neck relief and action the pickup appeared slightly low, but would not come out after releasing the screws.
The pickup happens to be supported by two large stripes of foam along the long sides which, even after more than 20 years, were functioning, but reluctant to expand due to the  compressed position they have been in for so long. I replaced them with fresh ones.

The pickup cavity is meticulously screened with conductive paint and well grounded, which is not common even with top notch guitars. So is the electronics compartment.
Guitars should always be screened, regardless whether their pickups are hum-bucking or not. There is more interference than just hum. I found that out the hard way with my L-2000.
It uses a barrel jack which, despite their inherent fragility, works flawless. The jack also points rather to the side than downwards, which helps to get the plug out of the way in a seated playing position.

The preamp uses two TL062 amps, which should amount to a current draw of below a milliampere. That is the low-current version of the TL0xx series and not exactly the one with lowest noise. So when treble is fully boosted, some slight hiss is audible, but this is a setting that does not sound natural anyway and thus won´t be used very often.

The Ibanez ATK is said to be a "Stingray Killer". It was probably Ibanez´ answer to Musicman´s introduction of the Stingray bass. While I don´t think it means any danger to the ´Ray, it gets into its territory alright. It has a class of its own and it´s certainly more flexible than the ´Ray, which is a one-trick pony.

L2000 vs ATK
L-2000 and ATK: Similarities and differences.
(click on the picture to load larger image)

When you look at  the guitar´s body, standing in a rack side by side with a G&L L-2000, you would swear they come out of the same factory, letting the neck aside for the moment (although the ATK is quite a bit heavier...)

However, the pickup positions are vastly different. Where the L-2000 has its two pickups mounted, the ATK has one right halfway in between. Incidentally, right where the Stingray has it. This certainly will help towards a Stingray-ish tone.

The guitar has a proprietary pickup consisting of two single coils and a dummy (core-less) coil in between (hence the name triple coil). They chose to use the neck side coil for a single coil-ish tone and a parallel mode for what must have been their take at the ´Ray. All positions are hum-free. The third switch position (lever leftmost, "traditional")  is the very same single coil slightly damped. I personally found this setting useless, nothing that could not be had with a tweak of the treble knob. Otherwise the pickup sounds great. I see entirely no single reason why it should be replaced, as some do.

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Expanding Source Selection Capabilities

After having played with it for a while and after having gained some experience with my pickup switching games I thought that it was a shame that they had wasted the other single coil tone. From my past experience I knew that singles, even in the same package, do sound different.
Likely more useful than their  "traditional" position anyways.

There is a schematic by Cadfael
[2] that I used for reference. The way he drew it suggested that the lost position could be used hum-free too, but it was not 100% clear. Like always, there was a chance that the whole effort would end in a failure. But I was fairly positive and it did work out a treat.

Is this mod a must-have? No.
Is it worth while? Yes.
Is it easy? Yes.

The newly gained sound is subtly different with more growl.
A shame to ignore that option.

Original switch assenblyinside
                                  the electronics compartment.
Original switch: (click on the picture to load larger image)

the picture is slightly unfocussed, too much going on for the camera.


There is an orange wire that goes to the main board´s signal input (soldered below rightmost) and a blue wire that connects ground to the sleeve contact of the barrel jack (leftmost below). Several black wires and screen all go to the ground pad, including the thin black wire that obviously is a wire to the pickup.

Remember the original wiring, so you can restore the original condition in a matter of minutes. Look up the schematic to see the original wiring in the reference section.
Note: with our new switching scheme ground changes between white and black and both dependent on the lever position.


The switch needs to be replaced by a 4 pole on-on-on switch (the original one was a 2 pole on-off-on switch).
Luckily, the switch is not mounted to the main PCB, but has its own little PCB.
The new assembly fits into the cavity nicely.
Note: you may not be able to get hold of the exact model switch specified, plus there is some caveats regarding those switches. I have written a special document dealing with that.
picture of design documents
Design documents: (click on the picture to download)

Complete design documents for making your own PCB. Level: beginner.


The PCB made is tailored for the Knitter Switch and thus takes normal solder lugs, but printable versions may be available from the others. Also different bushing lengths. Basically all of them should work technically, but you´d have to adapt the layoutt dependent on what you can get.

Use the printout that best suits your manufacturing method. They are available mirrored and non mirrored.

Since I liked the tone the rightmost switch position generates (parallel mode), I wanted to retain that, which requires a small voicing cap in parallel (2n2). I tried other caps with my cap switching rig, but this seemed optimum anyways.

The single positions do not exhibit that exaggerated resonance peak of the parallel position, which stems from the voicing cap. It makes this position sound overly bright, which adds nicely to the Stingray flavor. In fact, omitting the parallel voicing cap brings the three available tones dramatically closer together, so this center position really benefits from a cap.
A parallel cap will generate a peak with a certain Q, sometimes too big because which can be perceived stinging, like a wah pedal. This can be tamed with a parallel resistor, like they did in the "traditional" position. However, the singles did not sound better to my ears with a voicing cap. Voicing is a matter of taste, and one might decide that the single positions benefit from a cap, too. Now this can be most easily accomplished by using one of the ground switches, which do not even interfere with the center position tone.
So, the center position was decided to need a voicing cap. Unfortunately, no pull-to-ground position was left empty on the switch in parallel mode that could accommodate this dynamic switching function. But wait, there are two unused pins (7&12) that pull down to ground potential when one of the singles is activated and float otherwise, and not when both coils are activated simultaneously. Now this sounds suspiciously like digital stuff and asks for a pull-up resistor and a transistor inverter.

A low signal is generated by any one of those two positions called (/SGL). In parallel mode, the resistor pulls it high and activates the transistor. Now, although it would probably work, this is not a normal transistor, but rather a specialized "mute" transistor[3]. Those have been given special properties that make them particularly well suited for shunting signals to ground,  or, as in this case, shunting a capacitor to ground. This works great, I have us
ed it before, even in tube amps.
The specialty about this type of transistor is that they can handle negative signals. If driven strongly, those transistors can achieve on-values of a few ohms. Even with the fairly weak drive I chose as a compromise between battery life and function, 25 Ohms are achieved, which is plenty for bringing the voicing cap into play. The added circuitry will pull 400µA of current from the battery worst case, which, at average, is about as much as one of the op-amps do. Overall current draw will be below one mA.
Any mute transistor will work in this position, and I have indeed seen standard transistors used for similar purposes
due to the small signals involved.
For all practical purposes, the coil(s)  then "see" a parallel cap and form a resonant circuit - like the original does. The additional components around are there to minimize audible noises caused by switching transients and prevent signal corrosion by dirt on the driving voltage.

The new switch assembly,
                                  bottom view.
New switch assembly, mounting side view
 
(click on the picture to load larger image)
The new switch assembly,
                                          side view.
New switch assembly, soldering side view
 
(click on the picture to load larger image)
New switch assembly
                                          installed
New switch assembly inside the compartment
 
(click on the picture to load larger image)

The completed circuit fits nicely into the cavity and replaces the existing switch assembly completely. You can use the existing wiring and solder it onto the new PCB from atop, as it is with the original.

Tapping the main board´s supply
                                  power
Power for the switch assembly: (click on the picture to load larger image)

The only thing that is needed on top of the existing wiring is a wire to the main board´s supply to power the transistor.

Right where the red lead from the battery clip is soldered onto the main PCB there is a wire bridge (the PCB is a single layer PCB as was customary and cheap at the time of manufacturing. You can see through it and identify the tracks).

Solder a red wire to this wire bridge (arrow) to supply the switch assembly. No power is drawn when the jack is unplugged.


Phew. The assembly worked right away.
All positions are hum free and work as before. The new position is different and eminently useful. As one would expect from a position close to the bridge - it has growl. J-Bass friends will like this.
The change was easy enough to justify the effort.

A
s half expected (from the Cadfae
l[2] drawing), the original single coil is the neck position. By mounting the switch as depicted, Neck is selected when the lever points towards the neck, and, you guessed it, Bridge the other way. Center is parallel, what used to be the rightmost lever position in the original. Both original tones are retained exactly, and a new one is gained cheaply.

Let me know if you find any of this useful. Commercial exploitation only with my written consent.


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Sound Samples
 
The subsequent recordings have been performed using the following setup and no further processing:
  • ATK modified as above, pickups as specified, all controls center (notched). EB cobalt flat strings.
  • Warwick Pro-Tube IV, direct out
  • Recording device: Focusrite PC interface into DAW
(Names may be copyrighted by the associated copyright holder, no association with any of them)

Use quality speakers or headphones or you won´t hear any difference.

Neck side single coil PU: this setting is equivalent to the original "center" position of the pickup switch (now: towards neck). Sounds a bit scooped compared to the bridge.
 


Bridge side single coil PU: this is the new setting not available on the original (now: toggle towards the bridge)
A woodier, more in-the-face tone than the neck tone.
 


(New) center position (parallel): this setting is equivalent to the original "right" position of the pickup switch (now: center).
Some treble emphasis and more mid scoop. Presumably their take at the ´Ray.

 


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Reference

[1]
Gary Willis on bass ramps: https://bassmusicianmagazine.com/2014/03/the-evolution-of-bass-ramps/
[2] Cadfael´s (no longer so) small collection of e-bass schematics, V4.27 (p.291):
    
http://www.ak-line.com/medium/Bassschaltungen.pdf
[3]Jim Keith: Muting Transistor Attenuator Circuits and the 2SC2878,
    https://www.electroschematics.com/muting-transistor-attenuator-circuits-2sc2878/

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Update History
  • Mar 29, 2020: first release
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