How to Install the Victor Wooten Retrofit Combo
Best Bass Gear tech Max is back with another video guide. This time he takes us through the installation of the Victor Wooten Retrofit into an Ibanez Sound Gear bass.
The Victor Wooten Retrofit is comprised of EMG LJVX and PAX pickups and the Michael Pope Designs Flexcore Preamp, which is available exclusively at Best Bass Gear.
In preparation for the install we’ve already removed the existing pickups and preamp, and copper shielded the control cavity as well as the back of the control cavity cover. For guidance on how to copper shield your control cavity check out this previous video from Max.
Now we are ready to start the installation.
What you'll need
- Michael Pope Designs Flexcore Preamp
- Pickup Foam
- Screw drivers
- Wire cutter
- Soldering iron and solder (only if wiring a differnt output jack)
Step 1: Wiring the Output Jack
The first part of our install is wiring the output jack. The Flexcore comes with a standard switchcraft output jack. Like many basses, our Ibanez uses a different kind of output jack called a deep barrel threaded jack.
So what we need to do is cut off the Flexcore output jack and wire our basses output jack to the pigtail. But in order to do that, we have to understand the pin out on the barrel jack.
We take our multi-meter and set it to conductivity. This should make the meter beep when the two probes are in contact with each other. Next we take a tip ring sleeve plug which we’ll insert into the jack so we can look for conductivity. We’ll put one probe on the tabs that we know on the plug, and then use the multi-meter to find the corresponding tabs on the other side of the jack.
So to find the ground we put one probe on the plug’s ground, and then test each tab on the jack until we hear a beep.
Now we are going to connect our wires. First thing we want to do is tin all the wires by giving them a coating of solder. Then we just solder each one to its corresponding tab and our barrel jack is wired and ready to go.
Step 2: Assembling the Micahel Pope Flexcore 3 Band Preamp
Now it’s time to assemble our Michael Pope Designs Flexcore preamp. Our install on this Ibanez is a 3-band control, which is the most common install for a Flexcore.
We have the volume and blend controls on the passive side. On the active side we have the active EQ components - are the EQ board itself, which has a bass control mounted on it, the mid-range control, in this case the high-mid control, and the treble control.
The Flexcore is 4-band capable, so you could also have a high and a low mid-range control.
Look at our cables we have a single 5-conductor cable, a single 3-conductor cable, and three 4-conductor cables, along with the power assembly, and two tiny jumper blocks.
We use the jumper blocks on the balance board to match the impedance of our EMG pickups. This is the first thing we want to do.
Down in the corner of the balancer board are three spots for jumpers. For these EMGs we will use the two that are closest to the corner.
Now we can start assembling the other components.
First we take one of our 4-conductor cables and connect it to the white socket in the top corner of our balancer board. The other side of the cable we connect to the white socket on our volume push/pull board.
Next we take our single 3-conductor and connect it to the only white 3-conduct socket on the blend board. The other side of the cable connects to the single white 3-conductor socket on the volume board.
Then we can plug in the power connector, which plugins into the red 4-conductor that is on the middle of the blender board.
Now we move over to the EQ side.
First we’ll plug in the mid-range control using a 4-conductor cable. There are two yellow 4-conductor sockets on the EQ board, but it doesn’t matter which one we use. They are both the same jack. It’s actually the component on the mid-range that determines the midrange value, not which one you plug into. So just choose one.
The other side of that cable plugs into the yellow 4-conductor on the mid-board.
Next we take our remaining 4-conductor cable and plug it into the Purple socket in the corner of the EQ board. The other end of the cable we plug into 4-conductor socket on the treble board.
And now that our 3 band EQ is assembled, we just need to join the two sections with our 5-conductor cable. Plug one end into the white socket on the balancer board and the other end into the white socket on the EQ board.
Step 3: Assembling the EMG PAX + LJVX Victor Wooten Signature Pickup Set
There is just a little bit of assembly with our EMG PAX and LJVX pickup set.
There are a lot of components because these pickups come with everything that you need for a standard installation, but we don’t need all of those. All we need for this installation is the pigtail for each pickup.
The PAX pickup has a unique pigtail with a double-sized connector and a jumper cable to go between the two pickup halves. One of the two halves has the double side connector, so we just slide on the connector making sure that we are going arrow-side up. Be mindful of this because it is possible to connect this reverse.
And then the short cable on that pigtail is the one that connects the two halves. It goes to the two connector conductor on the other PAX pickup.
Now we connect up the LJVX pickup the same way with the other pigtail, making sure we slide it on with the arrow side up.
Now we are ready to take our equipment to the bass.
Step 4: Installing Pickup Foam and Pickup Set
Before we install the pickups in the body of the bass we need to add some pickup foam to the pickup cavities.
For the two P pickups we’ll start with one piece across the center of the two. This will give them a little bit of a lift in the center. Then we put down an individual piece for each half.
For the J pickup we put down just one piece of foam, but it still feels a little floppy so we’re going to throw another piece under it. You want it so that when you rest your thumb on the edge of it it has a nice sturdy feel to it. It shouldn’t feel like it’s swimming around in there.
It may seem like a lot of foam, but it’ll all compress down. It’s one of those things you have to experiment with to get it right.
Now to install the pickup we just feed the cabling in to the cavity. It wouldn’t matter which half of the P pickup went where, but you want to be mindful of the cable length when choosing.
With everything in place we can now screw the pickups in. On this install we are just reusing the screws that the bass already had on it because they fit well onto the holes that are already there.
We had one particular screw that is turning harder then we like so we are going to put a little soap on it as thread dressing so that it’s easier to adjust pickup heights in the future(see more about using soap as a screw lubricant).
Now with the pickup mounted we can put the strings on it, flip it over, and get ready to install the preamp.
Step 5: Installing the preamp
Now looking in the control cavity, we have the wires from the neck and bridge pickups, as well as the bridge ground wire.
The white wires are the signal as it comes from the pickups, and the red wires are for power supply.
Even though both the Flexcore preamp and the EMG pickup set are a completely module and solderless systems, they don’t actually interconnect together. It would be great if they did, but unfortunately there just is not an industry standard for these types of connectors.
The pickup connects to the Flexcore with a terminal strip that screws down to lock the connection. That means we’ll need bare wires.
The easy remedy is just to cut the EMG plastic connector in half so you’ll have the crimp on connections to slip into the Flexcore terminals.
Supplying power to the EMGs with the Flexcore is done through the auxiliary power on the Flexcore board. There is just one from the Flexcore, but we have 2 power wires to attach. We could just use the summing block that EMG provided, but Max decided to go with a solder connection instead.
So we cut down the two wires to the same length, and strip a little off each end. Then we twist them together with one of the pieces of wire we cut off, so our two wires become one. We solder the connection, and slip on a piece of heat shrink tubing to protect the connection and prevent it from possible touching our other components.
With all of our wires prepped, we don’t want to have excess wire, so we trim down any that are too long.
The first component we want to install is the output jack that we wired back in the first step. Insert it into the output jack hole in the cavity, and twist the retaining nut and screw that in to hold it in place. We tighten it with our 14mm wrench because we don’t want that to be loose.
We’re going to start off by making all the connections at the terminal strip.
The blender pot has a little green block on the board. This is the terminal strip. It’s a whole set of connections for all the various things you might need to connect in your Flexcore system. We aren’t going to use all of them in this installation, but we’re going to use a good deal of them.
And it’s easier to make these connections before it gets into the bass. So I’m going to start making these connections now.
Our first set of pickup connections are the bridge pickups, white wire. And the first connection is the bridge ground on the EMG, which is the black connector. And we skip a connector. That connector is for a coil-tap, but there is no coil tapping on EMGs.
The next connection should be the white wire from our bridge pickup. As we insert these wires we are tightening the connection with our little screw driver.
And then the next connector will be the ground from the neck pickup. Then we skip the next one. It’s the coil-tap wire for the neck, which we do not need.
The very last spot on the board is the accessory 9 volt output, and that is where our red wire goes.
Now our pickups and preamps are completely wired and it is time to mechanically install these potentiometers into the bass.
Step 6: Installing the potentiometers
To start with we are going to insert the blend control. We attach it with a washer and control nut on the front of the bass. It’s important to hold the component inside the cavity to prevent it from spinning and getting tangled up. And we aren’t tightening these all the way yet. We’re just getting it on. We just want to get the parts situated before we tighten everything.
Try to situate the circuit board in the cavity so that they are not at risk of coming in contact with the copper shieling. You could have an issue in the future if those started touching.
From there we repeat the process with the bass control, the mid-range board, and the treble control.
Then we just install the batteries. I’ve wrapped the batteries in black electrical tape that way there is no risk the metal casing could short-out any of the parts in here.
There is just enough room to sneak each of them in. We probably could have put an 18 volt battery box somewhere on this bass but we wanted to see if we could accomplish it without doing it. And it looks like they are just barely going to fit in-between these components and under the height of our cover.
One of our connectors is sticking out a little too much. The Flexcore components do have some depth to them, which is one of the reason you need an 1 ¼” cavity. And since we have conductive coil on the back of the cover, we really can’t have that making contact our pickup connections. I really don’t want it touching any pickup connections. It may cause a problem in the future, so we just take care of it right now by trimming it.
Now that we have everything in the control cavity and situated correctly, we can tighten all of our potentiometers. Once again we are holding the components to make sure they don’t turn.
Before we put the cover back on we are just going to do a quicik sound test to make sure everything is working properly.
Everything is working properly and secure so we can close up the cavity with the control cover.
Step 7: Installing knobs, adjusting pickup height, and final testing
Now we just go ahead and put on our knobs back on. For this install we are just making use of the original Ibanez knobs, which are 3 mini-domes for the EQs and a full-sized for the volume and blend.
Since we installed new pickups we are going to check the pickup heights to make sure everything is correct.
What you’re looking to do is hold down the string on the very last fret.
Tighten or loosen the screws a little bit at a time so you can get a nice uniform height. For these EMG’s we are going to put them nice and close because they have a fairly low magnetic pull, so we can get them right at about 1/16” and they’ll sound great.
And that’s it. Plug it in, and see how you new Victor Wooten EMG PAX + LJVX pickup set and Michael Pope Designs Flexcore preamp sound.