Saturday, May 27, 2017

James Jamerson's 1961 Fender Precision Bass Auction

1961 P Bass


A bass guitar owned and played by Motown legend James Jamerson will be up for auction later this month. This is the instrument was not the original that Jamerson played during his years with Motown’s Funk Brothers, as the label’s go-to session bass player. It is apparently a second bass that he owned. It is a 1961 Fender Precision Bass.

'57 Black Beauty


Jamerson’s first electric bass was a 1957 Precision Bass, refinished in black, with a gold-anodized pickguard and maple fretboard, which he nicknamed "Black Beauty". That bass was a gift from his fellow bass player Horace "Chili" Ruth. It was eventually stolen.





Jamerson with '62 Funk Machine
His most famous bass guitar was the 1962 Fender Precision Bass which was he dubbed "The Funk Machine." This Fender bass had a three-tone sunburst finish, a tortoiseshell pickguard, rosewood fretboard and chrome pickup and bridge covers. The bridge cover contained a piece of foam used to dampen sustain and some overtones, which was standard to the models of that era.

Jamerson with 1962 Fender P Bass

Jamerson had carved the word “Funk” on the the heel of the instrument. He typically set its volume and tone knobs on full. Sadly this bass was also stolen sometime in 1983 at a time when he was in the hospital and dying.


1961 Fender P Bass
Jamerson had lent his second 1961 bass to his aforementioned friend, Horace “Chili” Ruth sometime in 1967 or 1968  at a time when Ruth needed a bass. Jamerson never asked him to return it, so it has been in his procession ever since.

Jamerson left Detroit and moved to Los Angeles when Motown Records moved their headquarters to California. Apparently the bass was forgotten by Jamerson.

This bass is being offered by Heritage Auctions, with bidding starting on May 29th. The official dates are June 17th and 18th. There is a $12,000 premium. Click the link to register.

The bass is completely original. Only one of the La Bella strings has been replaced.

Jamerson is one of the best known and most influential electric bass players of all time. He was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. His playing can be heard on at least 30 Number 1 hit recordings and more than 70 R&B hit recordings.

Jamerson's bass



Jamerson started his career by playing in Detroit clubs and later found session work with the Motown Record Company. He began by playing string bass, but switched to electric bass during the 1960’s.





Funk Brothers, Jamerson  in the back

As mentioned before, James Jamerson was part of a core group of Motown Session player that came to be known as The Funk Brothers. In addition to session work, he sometimes toured with the artists. Though the musicians did not receive credit on the singles or albums for their work until sometime in the 1970’s,

Jamerson with Marvin Gaye

Jamerson’s playing can be found on such hits as Just Like Romeo and Juliet, You Can’t Hurry Love, My Girl, Shotgun, For Once In My Life, I Was Made To Love Her.



Jamerson in the studio

That is him playing the bass lines on  Going to a Go-Go, Dancing In The Street, I Heard It Through The Grapevine, What’s Going On, Reach Out, I’ll Be There, and Bernadette. When Motown ended in 1973, Jamerson performed on such songs as Neither One Of Us, Boogie Down, Boogie Fever, You Don’t Have To Be A Star, and Heaven Must Have Sent You.



Jamerson's Obituary
James Jamerson played on albums by Robert Palmer, Dennis Cofey, Al Wilson, Smokey Robinson, Ben E. King and many others. When bass styles changed, Jamerson, who was a pioneer, found himself out of work. His 1983 death was attributed to liver failure, resultant from alcoholism.

Jamerson with '62 Funk Machine
On his Fender Precision bass, Jamerson favored La Bella heavy-guage flatwound strings (.052 - .110). He never replaced these strings unless they broke. He did not take particularly good care of his instruments. In fact he once said, “The gunk keeps the funk.” He believed this improved the quality of the tone.

It was suggested to Jamerson that he switch to brighter sounding roundwound strings, but he declined.

Jamerson with Funk Machine

In an interesting 2015 article from the Talkbass forum titled, James Jamerson's Funk Machine - Wrong Year, the editor of Bass Magazine and a reader discuss the fact that the famous Funk Machine may not be a 1962 Fender Precision bass, but rather a model created between 1964 and 1967, based on the transition logo decal, created in 1964, and the pearloid dot fret markers.


Bridge Cover Foam Mute
Another indicator that it may be a bass made later than 1962 is the foam mute pad under the bridge cover. These were not introduced until 1963. Prior to that the mutes were made of felt.

Jamerson on upright bass




When playing upright bass, he used his index finger to pluck the strings. On electric and acoustic bass, he favoured utilizing open strings. This technique helped give his playing a fluid feel. He subsequently got the nickname; The Hook.



On studio recordings James Jamerson plugged directly into the mixing console. He adjusted the console so his sound was slightly overdriven. The tubes in the mixer gave him a little compression. 

Jamerson with Ampeg B-15 amp

When he played in clubs he used an Ampeg B-15 amplifier with an older Kustom speaker cabinet loaded with twin 15” speakers and covered in blue Naugahyde. He always played with the volume control turned up fully and the treble control turned only half way up.

Click on the links below the pictures for the sources and the links in the text for additional information. For a real treat, click on the links on any of the songs mentioned to hear some of the best Motown music ever recorded.

©UniqueGuitar Publications 2017 (text only)





1 comment:

http://www.essaybulldogs.com/5-of-the-most-beautiful-college-campuses-in-the-world/ said...

Oh wow, James was such a great musician. I am sure this auction is going to go huge. Thanks for posting this and sharing it with us. Great !