Sunday, September 18, 2016

It's All About The Bass - The History of the Electric Bass Guitar

Leo Fender with '50's P Bass
Leo Fender gets credit for inventing the first bass guitar, but did you know that another musician and inventor named Paul Tutmarc actually developed and marketed the first electric string bass guitar almost 15 years earlier in 1935?

Paul Tutmarc with NO. 736 bass

Tutmarc was designing and selling lap steel guitars through his company, Audiovox.

Audiovox Bass No. 736

That same year he offered the Model 736 Bass Fiddle. This was a four string, solid-body, fretted, electric instrument.

' 35 Audiovox Bass

It had a short scale neck, only 30 1/2” length. He only made about 100 of these instruments. A horseshoe magnetic pick-up lies inside the body under the bridge. The cable runs through the body and out of the instruments upper bout. It had only a volume potentiometer.

Bud Tutmarc Serenader Bass

By 1947, his son, Bud Tutmarc was running the business and offered a similarly designed bass, which sold under the Serenader name. A year later these basses were offered through a wholesaler the following year.

Regal Bassoguitar

In the 1930’s the same company that made Dobros was offering the Regal Bassoguitar. This monster was a cross between an acoustic guitar and an upright bass.

Regal Electric Double Bass

The Regal Company also offered an electric double bass.

Rickenbacker Bass Viol

Rickenbacker built the Electro Bass Viol around 1936. Both the Regal and the Rickenbacker instruments were electric, but looked more like viols than guitars. The Regal bass came with a separate amplifier, but the Electro model mounted on top of the amp unit via a peg/pickup.

1938 Gibson Mandobass
In 1938 Gibson had developed a huge bass-mandolin during the era of mandolin orchestras. This instrument was so large it required a peg to hold it upright. One of the first actual electric basses that resembled a guitar was made by Gibson in 1938.

It had a oval shaped body, and a peg at the instruments end, so it could be played in an upright position. Remember, this was long before they introduced their model EB-0. The bass player for the Les Paul Trio utilized one of these Gibson instruments.

'52 Fender Precision Bass

It was not until 1951 that Leo Fender offered the Precision Bass for sale. He had developed this with the assistance of George Fullerton. Although the body looks quite different, the basis of the design was the Fender Telecaster. The original body was more slab-like. It came with one single coil pickup that was placed in the center of the instruments body. A chromed hand rest stood above this pickup and this had several purposes.

This was a rest for the performer’s palm and it also  aided in reducing 60 cycle hum. But perhaps the biggest reason for the bridge cover was to protect the pickup, since the pickup on the earliest models did have not a pickup cover.

The difference between Fender success and Tutmarc effort, was marketing. Leo knew musicians and was able to get his bass into the hands of many of the big names. Plus, Leo had created a large, professional amplifier to go along with his bass.

Monk Montgomery
One of the first users of the Precision Bass was double bass player Monk Montgomery, the brother of famed Jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. Monk played string bass in Lionel Hampton’s band. Hampton was looking for ways to enhance the bands sound and told Monk that he needed to start using a “Fender Bass”, (this was the generic name given at the time to electric bass guitars) to give the band a bigger bass sound. Monk hedged about getting one, but finally relented.

He practiced every night since the feel of the strings and fretboard of the Precision Bass were so much different than an upright bass. Eventually he became very proficient playing the electric bass.

Shifte Henri

Another Precision Bass player that was featured in early Fender advertisements was Shifte Henri. He is immortalized in the Elvis song Jailhouse Rock; “Shifte Henri said to Bugs for heaven’s sake...”

James Jamerson

Another player that was famous for use of the Precision Bass was James Jamerson. His unique style influenced so many players. Jamerson was part of The Funk Brothers that laid down the backing tracks for Motown artists.

Carol Kaye

Carol Kaye, of the Wrecking Crew fame, talks about Jamerson's sound and influence. She also used a 1960's era Fender Precision Bass on most of her sessions.

'52 Gibson EB-1
In late 1952 Gibson offered its first electric bass guitar to the public; the Gibson EB-1 electric bass. This was a short scale, 30.5” model which had a violin-shaped body and a guitar style neck. The body, which was stained tobacco-brown, to look like a bass viol, looked solid, but was actually hollow. It was topped with one pickup in the neck position and a faux F-hole. The strings attached to a non-adjustable compensated bridge, which bolted to the body.

'57 Gibson EB-1
The head-stock was topped with a black veneer and bore a Gibson decal. The tuners were banjo style with the heads facing backwards. The original model housed a retractable rod in the end-pin, which allowed the bass to be played standing up, or the player could strap in over their shoulder. The bass was renamed in 1958 to the Gibson Electric Bass, with no model designation. The latter version omitted the retractable end-pin.

'59 EB-0
I know a guy that  owns an original 1959 Gibson EB-0 bass. He has owned it since he was a teenager when he purchased it second hand. The first incarnation of this electric bass resembled a Les Paul Special. It had a single pickup in the neck position and a non-adjustable compensated bridge.

1959-60 Gibson EB-0

By 1960 the design of the EB-0 was changed to look more like a Gibson SG.

1961 Gibson EB-3

The Gibson EB-3 electric bass was introduced in 1961. It was similar to the SG style EB-0 but came with a "mini-humbucker" in the bridge position. This instrument inclsuded a Varitone control. All of the Gibson basses so far were all short scale instruments.

1964 Gibson Thunderbird
Gibson did not produce a 34-inch scale bass until 1963 when they came up with the Thunderbird bass, as a companion to the Firebird guitar.

This bass was created by automotive designer Ray Dietrich. The Thunderbird also has the distinction of being the first Gibson bass to use dual-humbucking pickups.

1960 Jazz Bass
The Fender Jazz Bass was first offered in March of 1960. The Precision Bass had been very successful. By 1954 Fender had offered the Stratocaster, with its contoured body  and Leo wanted to apply this design to a new version of a deluxe bass guitar and began this process in 1959.  This was meant to be a companion instrument for the Fender Jazzmaster guitar, which was first offered in 1958. This bass would not only incorporated the contoured waist of the Stratocaster and Jazzmaster, but also the offset body of the Jazzmaster. It was originally called the Deluxe Bass, but renamed the Jazz Bass. Unfortunately, neither the Jazzmaster or the Jazz Bass found favor with any Jazz players when first offered.

1960 Jazz Bass - original finish
Instead of the split single-coil pickup found on the Precision Bass, the Jazz Bass featured two single coil pickups, in the middle and bridge position. This gave the instrument added sound dimensions. The first models offered in 1960 had twin stacked volume and passive tone controls for each pickup.

The basses neck was slightly thinner at 1 7/16th”, versus the 1 1/2” width of the Precision Bass at the nut. Both instruments had neck scales of 34 inches.

The neck on the Jazz bass came with a rosewood fretboard and clay dot position markers, just like the original Jazzmaster guitar. The offset body of the Jazz Bass made it almost and inch longer the the Precision Bass.

The original model was offered only in a sunburst finish with a tortoise shell pickguard and a chromed metal plate for the volume and tone controls. It also came with a bridge cover, which was stamped with Fender’s stylized “F” initial and a chromed cover/hand-rest for the middle pickup. Both pickups were hidden by the covers, which service the dual purpose of shielding the pickups and a palm rest.

'62 Jazz Bass

By late 1961 the stacked volume/tone potentiometers were replaced with three knob;.volume-volume-master tone.

1961 J-bass string mutes
The original 1960 version had individual string mutes mounted on the adjustable bridge.

These were replaced in 1963 with mutes that were glued to the inside of the bridge cover.

1964 Fender Jazz Bass 
In 1964 the pickguard material was changed from 3-ply white and tortoise shell nitrocellulose material to vinyl material. This same year the clay position markers were changed to faux pearl inlays.

'66 Jazz Bass
By 1966 white binding was added to the neck and the tuners were changed from the paddle style to clover shaped machine heads. This same year the small fret wire was upgraded to medium fret wire.

In 1969 the logo decal was changed to a larger style decal and the neck was offered with a maple veneer option that had black binding and black block inlays.

By 1972 the bridge pickup was moved slightly closer to the bridge. This went unnoticed by most players.

'74 Fender Jazz Bass
1973-74 was the time that Fender changed to the 3-bolt neck. That same year you could purchase Jazz Bass with a maple veneer neck that had white binding and white block inlays.

'76 Jazz Bass with serial number

In 1976 the serial number was added to the neck instead of being embossed on the neck plate.

John Paul Jones

Well known Jazz Bass players include John Paul Jones of Led Zepplin, John Entwhistle played one for a while, Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane used a Jazz Bass too.

Larry Graham

Larry Graham had a customized Jazz Bass.  Bootsy Collins played a Jazz Bass during his days in James Brown’s band.

Jaco Pastoriius
But the most famous player by far is Jaco Patorius. Jaco was in a class of his own. He claimed to have ripped out the frets in his bass and put in marine epoxy. Later sources say he purchased a fret-less neck. He named his instrument The Bass of Doom.

1966 Fender Mustang Bass

In 1966 the Fender Mustang bass was issued as a companion to Fender's shorter-scaled, two-pickup Fender Mustang guitars. This would be the last original bass designed by Leo Fender before his departure from the company in 1965.

The Mustang Bass has a short 30" scale and a single split pickup, which although similar to the Precision Bass was backwards. It had one volume and one tone control, with strings-through-body routing.

Like the early Precision and Jazz basses, the Mustang Bass was fitted with string mutes

1966 Fender Bass V
The following year, 1967, Fender came up with the first five string bass; The Fender V. Although it was a far cry from modern five string bass guitars. The body on this was an elongated version of the Mustang bass. The lower four strings maintained traditional tuning, but the first string was tuned to “C”. This bass only had 15 frets. The idea behind this short scale model was to allow the player to be able to have the same range as a traditional 34” scale bass, by the addition of the high first string.

This would eliminate those “woof” tones that bass player get when the play high up on the neck. It was a failure. The bodies were later used on other Fender guitars.

'55 Hofner Bass

Taking a step back to 1955, and going the other side of the world, Walter Höfner of Höfner Musical Instruments made a decision to construct an electric bass that would appeal to upright bass players; the ones that performed in club venues and did not want to lug around a bulky double bass. His company had been building violins and instruments in the viol family for decades, so his plan was to construct an electric bass guitar that would be similar in appearance to a double bass.

Hofner Factory in the 1960's
His employees were already versed in violin construction, so this instrument was designed to have a similar arched and carved hollow body, aand a set in neck. The guitar components would include an ebony bridge/saddle, a neck with a guitar-like fretboard, a headstock with guitar style machine heads, a trapeze tailpiece and bar pickups like the ones already in use on the Höfner Club guitars.

1955 Prototype

The prototype Violin Bass in 1955. It differs slightly from production models as it has a black scrachplate and control panel. The logo on the body is on the upper bass bout, not under the tailpiece. The headstock shape also appears to be slightly different than the production model. The ovular control panel had two tone and two volume potentiometers.

This version was first presented to the public at the Frankfurt Musikmesse in the spring of 1956 and offered to dealers for sale to the public.

'55 Hofner
The 1956 model was quite different than what we have come to know as the Höfner Violin Bass. Many changes have occurred through the years.

The first batch of basses had the pickups "wide spaced", that is one by the neck and one by the bridge. In 1957 the bridge pickup was moved to a place slightly above the instruments center, possibly to improve tone.

'59 Hofner

Two years later the oval control panel, which had twin volume and tone controls was eliminated and replaced with the more familiar rectangular control panel.

The fascia on this was made of black plastic and had a volume control for each pickup, an on/off slider switch for each pickup and a switch for a capicitor that was labeled “Rhythm/Solo”.

'60 Hofner
In 1960 the “black bar” pickups were changed to “toaster” style pickups. This same year a truss rod was added to the neck. By 1961 the toaster pickups were replaced by what are called “Cavern” type pickups.

'61 Hofner bass
By 1961 other changes occurred to the Hofner Violin bass. Gone was the tortoise shell pickguard and it was replaced with a cream coloured pearloid guard. The instruments top was changed from being solid to laminate.  The brown violin stain, was replaced by a brown to yellow sunburst finish.

The pickup covers were no longer toaster models, but now came with solid chrome covers surrounded by a black pickup ring.

This is the same original bass used by Paul McCartney during the Beatles days in Germany and Liverpool at the Cavern Club.

'62 Hofner bass
In 1962 the Cavern pickups were gone and replaced with Höfner diamond logo pickups. The center pickup was moved back to a position in front of the bridge. The Höfner logo decal was moved from the body to the instruments headstock.

The following year, the diamond logo pickups were changed to Höfner staple pickups. These basses were now being made with two piece necks. The tuners were updated from two-on-a-strip models to individual machines. This is the same bass guitar that Paul McCartney had used since his days with the Beatles. His original 1961 bass was stolen.

'64 Hofner
In 1964 white binding was added to the neck and the decal logo was upgraded to a 3 dimensional white and gold version. Between the years of 1965 to 1966 the control panel was enlarged. The pickup mounts were changed to make height adjustments easier, however due to this change the top needed to be routed, whereas before the pickups were mounted on top of the body. The tailpiece was also shortened.

'67 Hofner
In 1967 the pickups were changed to “blade” type pickups. A year later the tuners were changed to enclosed versions with metal buttons.

The headstock logo was changed back to a gold decal.

'72 Hofner

By 1972 the control panel was changed back to a smaller version. The script on the logo was now in silver.

Meanwhile around 1953 in Czechoslavakia, the factories were under Communist control and private enterprise was forbidden. A cooperative known as the Rezonel factory called Drevokov was building furniture. An order was given to create electric guitars.

Arco Bass
The first electric bass instrument to come out of this was called the The Arco and it was created around 1954. It was a small bodied upright instrument meant to be played upright. This bass caught on in Western Europe when the Selmer Musical Instrument Company of France picked this up and relabeled it The Futurama Bass.

Jolana Basso IV

Around 1960, the company was selling electric instruments under the Jolana brand name. Their bass offering was the Basso IV, which was very much based on Fender instruments.

Pampero bass

By 1963 Jolana offered the Pampero bass, which had a body style similar to a Gibson EB-2.

Jolana Basso IX

Their other models from the 1960’s included the Studio Bass and the oddly shaped Jolana Basso IX.

EKO 1150
During 1962-1964, the Italian accordion manufacture, Eko, produced a version of a violin bass called the the Eko 1150. Less than 300 of these solid body violin shaped electric bass guitars were manufactured. Though the body looked like wood, it was a plastic veneer.

1962 EKO 1100

Also offered was the more (or less) conventional shaped Eko 1100.

Crucianelli Espana & Lear Basses

Around this same time frame, rival Italian manufacturer Crucianelli, began making violin style basses. Their models included the España bass and the Lear model. Both were hollow body instruments with decorative F-holes and bolt-on necks.

1961 Hagstrom bass

In 1960 Albin Hagtrom, an accordion manufacturer of Sweden began producing electric guitars and electric bass guitars.

The first versions were offered in a sparkle finish sold under the Hagstrom brand name. These usually had a single cutaway, one or two pickups and roller knobs with switches for controls.

1962 Kent bass

The Kent bass, was made by Hagstrom came with a plastic pickguard that housed the pickups and electronics. The back of the body was made of vinyl. It had an insert in the center that was made of gold coloured diamond shaped plastic. This was supposed to give it an acoustic sound. It did not work and many players removed it, since it was just glued on to the face plate. This bass was sold in the UK under the Futurama brand name, imported by the Selmer company.

Hagstrom Coronado IV and HII basses

Hagstrom basses and guitars were imported to the US, by the Hershman Musical Instrument Company. . Hagstrom then offered basses under their own name which included the Fender shaped H models.

In 1967 Hagstrom offered the first electric 8 string bass guitar. All of these guitars and basses featured extremely thin necks and were advertised as The World’s Fastest Necks.

Framus Star bass
The Franconian Musical Instruments Manufacturer used their initials for the company name and were better known a Framus. This German company was started by Fred Wilfer in 1945. One of their most popular instruments was the Star Bass. This bass was favored by Rolling Stone bassist, Bill Wyman, who liked it due to its unusually slim neck profile. This short scale bass was only 1 1/4” at the nut and 1 3/4” at the 12th fret. It was a hollow body instrument that only weighed in at five pounds. Framus introduced this model around 1961.

In 1957 Francis Hall, the owner of Rickenbacker guitars and his design team created the model 4000 electric bass guitar. The prototype was built in April and quickly offered for sale by June of 1957.

1957 Rickenbacker 
The model 4000 bass was a rather unique instrument with a neck-through-body design, a cresting wave body, which had been used on some other Rickenbacker guitars, and  a cresting wave headstock. The bass came with an unusual 33 1/2” scale,  Schaller machine heads and a combination tailpiece/bridge unit were featured on the original models.

The fretboard was made of unbound rosewood wood and topped with 20 frets on its original mahogany neck. The neck was changed a few years later to a laminate of maple and mahogany.

The original model came only in Mapleglo, but by 1960 Fireglo was the most popular colour.

The original model had a single pickup with a volume and tone control. It was offered through the mid 1980’s when it was replaced by the model 4001.

Danelectro UB-2
lt was in 1956 that  Danelectro  offered the first six string electric bass. The model UB-2 was a 29-1/2-inch scale instrument tuned an octave lower than a guitar. It was used on countless recordings to double the bass part as a “tic-tac” bass.

'58 Shorthorn bass

In 1958 Nate Daniel finally decided to create a that the four-string model. Thousands of these were sold as Silvetone basses.

'60's Longhorn
That same year, 1958, Danelectro issued one of the more unusual looking bass guitars ever made.

It was called the Longhorn. The body was design to look like an Aeolian lyre paired with a long neck. Daniel drew the design while doodling one day and found that it was well balanced and made all the frets accessible.  Three models were offered, a six-string bass, a four-string and the Guitarlin, a 31-fret guitar.  All models came with a cream-to-bronze finish on the instruments Formica top.

Leo Fender left the company named after him after the CBS Corporation acquired Fender Guitars. Mr. Fender, Forrest White and Tom Walker, who was a Fender salesman, were interested in starting up a new enterprise. So in 1971 they founded The MusicMan Company to build guitars and amplifiers.

1977 MusicMan Stringray bass

In the world of the electric bass guitar this is significant because MusicMan was the first to offer a bass guitar with built in active electronics. This was the Music Man Stingray bass.

This bass featured a built in 3 band buffering pre-amplifier which increased the basses low-end as well as the mid-range and high-range output. This started a move and other manufacturers followed suit.

Casady's Alembic
It was in 1972 the Alembic Company made the first bass with active electronics for Jack Casady. This company’s forte was high-end boutique bass guitars which featured not just pre-amplification, but on-board equalization, compression and many other features. Additionally their products featured high quality wood and construction.

During the 1980’s Ned Steinberger, a designer came up with the headless Steinberger Bass guitar.

The body was made of graphite instead of wood. New strings were required for this instrument since it was tuned at the base of the instruments body instead of at the headstock.

Due to its unique design and use of materials this bass rarely went out of tune. It also featured the patented Trans Trem tremolo bar that kept the string in tune while in use.

1982 Warwick "Nobby"
The Warwick Bass company was found by Hans Peter Wilfer. He is the son of the founder of Framus guitars, Fred Wilfer.

With Warwick, Wilfer set out to build a European bass worthy of competing with Asian and America models. His basses are excellent. The current Star Bass used by Bootsy Collins was manufactured by Warwick and marketed for a few years.

The electric bass has evolved to the point that most manufacturers now offer five and six string models of their bass guitars, while twenty years ago this was unheard of.

The same can be said of fretless basses.

Ashbory Bass from Guild Guitars

One of the more unique bass instruments was the Ashbory Bass. This unique instrument  was designed by Alun Ashworth-Jones and Nigel Thombory. Hence the combination of names Ash-Bory.

Ashbory Bass
The Ashbory was a 18” fretless instrument looked like a travel guitar. It utilized four silicone rubber strings and a piezo pickup. The sound it achieved was similar to that of a double bass.

Alhough the neck was fretless, painted on fret markers guided the player to the correct position.

Guild guitars initially manufactured these basses. After Guild was acquired by Fender Musical Instruments, they were manufactured in Asia under the DeArmond brand-name. I do not think these instruments are currently being manufactured, however there are electric bass ukuleles that use these same strings available.

Ernie Ball Earthwood bass
Acoustic electric bass guitars have recently gained a lot of popularity. Aside from the Regal Bassoguitar, which was not electric, the first real acoustic electric bass in modern times was the Ernie Ball Earthwood bass.

This was a huge instrument, that was played like a conventional electric bass guitar. It was loosely based on the Mexican guitarron.

Martin Acoustic bass

Guitar manufacturers did not pursue acoustic electric bass guitars until around the time that MTV began their “Unplugged” series of concerts many years ago. Now there is a plethora of instruments available. Most acoustic bass guitars do not use magnetic pickups, instead the opt for piezo crystal pickups that sense the vibration of the strings and transfer it into energy.

Lightwave Optucak pickup
A newer type of non-magnetic pickup is offered by LightWave Systems. It is called an Optical pickup. This uses an infared LED to optically track the movement of the strings. This allows the player to crank up without the hum or noise associated with magnetic pickups. The down-side is that these pickups do not pickup high frequencies or percussive sounds very well.

Links to the pictures used can be found by clicking the text below them. Links in the text of this article will provide further information.
© UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)


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