Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Fender Bass VI

Although referred to as The Fender Six String Bass, Fender actually named this guitar, The Fender VI.

In the late 1950’s, the Danelectro Company developed the first six string bass guitar called the model UB2.

Many recordings during the late 1950’s through the 1960’s featured this Danelectro six string bass, played with a pick with the high end accentuated. The sound was refered to as Tic-Tac, and the tic-tac bass was a new arsenal to add a special sound to recorded popular music.

Some players strung these basses with extra heavy guitar strings and tuned down a fifth to get a baritone guitar sound. Duane Eddy specialized in this sound and he used a Danelectro instrument.

In 1961, Leo Fender believed he could build a better instrument. Fender designers used a body pattern similar to a Fender Jazzmaster, however the upper horn had more of a curve.

The first model employed three single pole passive pickups with metal pickup rings and three single throw switches to turn each on or off. The neck had a 30” scale and a 7.25” radius. By bass standards, the neck was extremely thin. The guitar was equipped with a Fender Floating Tremolo that had a long arm.

The adjustable bridge came with a removable Chromed cover. The body included a large pickguard and an input, master volume and tone control that were mounted on a chrome plate. Leo Fender intended this to be a bass guitar tuned an octave below regular guitar pitch. The wound first string in the set had a .025” diameter. Because the strings were wound, the tone was quite different from that of a guitar. The tuning was much different from modern five or six string basses, which extend beyond low E.

The close proximity of the strings and the narrow neck did not win any praise from most bass players, although a few did use it in performances. Notably Jack Bruce, John Entwhistle, Robert Stiles of the Hollies and Rick Huxley of the Dave Clark Five. Robert Smith of The Cure and other such as Glen Campbell utilized it as a lead instrument.

The Fender VI was an excellent crossover instrument for guitarists. Harrison and Lennon both utilized it on their recordings. It is easy to play chords on this instrument and the short scale helps guitarists that are used to guitar necks as opposed to bass necks.

The tremolo bar on this instrument did not win many fans and did not receive much use. Though well designed, the Fender VI was not at all popular. From its inception to its demise, less than 800 units were manufactured.

1963 brought about a change in the instruments design when a “strangle” switch was added to the lower horn. This condenser boosted or cut the bass frequency to help provide that Tic-Tac sound or a deeper bass sound.

A foam rubber muffler became part of the guitars equipment and was located right above the bridge. A flick of a spring-loaded switch pressed the rubber mute against the strings. A modification to the pickups also came about. The metal rings were gone and the pickups resembled those found on a Fender Jaguar, although the VI still came with three pickups. The capacitor/condenser switch carried over from the Jaguar design.

Although Mr. Fender meant for this instrument to be an actual bass, many guitarists set it up as a baritone guitar and tuned it from A to A or B to B, using extra heavy guitar strings.

In 1964, a plastic pickguard replaced the celluloid one. A bound neck became standard equipment in 1965. In late1966, block inlays were added. In 1968 the headstock logo with printed with black ink instead of gold ink. Additionally a polyester spray-on finish, replaced the nitrocellulose finish.1975 brought about the discontinuation of the Fender VI.

During Fender’s transition years, all manufacturing moved to Japan. In 1996, a ’62 reissue of the Fender VI was offered.

One of the main downfalls of the Fender VI was price. A Stratocaster sold for $239 and a Precision bass sold for around the same amount. However, the Fender VI was priced at $400.

Though the Fender instrument was far superior to the Danelectro six-string bass, the Danelectro model, priced at less than $150 in 1961, was more popular. Guitarists saw this as a side instrument and were not willing to spend the extra cash.

In 2004, they released a similar instrument known as the the Fender Jaguar Baritone Custom or the Jaguar Bass VI Custom,

There were several differences in this guitar. The body had a Jaguar shape. It came with only two pickups with Jaguar switching options and the neck scale was 28.5”. The bridge was fixed instead of having a tremolo.

In 2006, the Fender Custom Shop offered a reproduction of the original 1961 Bass VI featuring three single-coil pickups and identical electronics.

At present, Fender no longer offers the Fender VI. One offshoot of the Fender VI was the Fender Jaguar guitar which was introduced in 1962.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Bizarro World Guitars

Bizzaro World Comics

When I was a little guy I loved comic books. Superman/DC comics came up with Bizarro World, which was a cube shaped planet where everything was backwards. The planet was named "Htrae", which is Earth spelled backwards. The characters did everything the opposite of characters on earth, as did it’s super heroes. This was delightful when I was 9 or 10 years old.

Roto Neck Guitar

When it comes to the present day, I have come across some guitars that may have been made on the Bizarro World planet, such as The Roberts Roto-neck electric guitar. Curt Robert was an inventor; his wife Elizabeth was an artist. At the 1979 NAMM Roberts displayed the first two neck design with a guitar he called the Double Eagle.

Roto Neck Guitar with body
In 1980, his creation went on to become a four neck guitar. The player would rotate the neck to the desired string pattern, and continue playing. I am informed that the instrument is capable of 1,100 different combinations. Much like the LaBaye 2 x 4, this instrument appeared to have a body comparable to a 2 x 4. However it could be fitted an optional body. There is no record of how many of these guitars were sold.

La Baye 2 x 4 Guitar

The La Baye 2 x 4 was first manufactured in 1967. This minimalist design was the brainchild of a Green Bay, Wisconsin guitarist by the name of Dan Helland.

The La Baye 2 x 4 was a plank of wood with a slim neck bolted on, four thumb-wheel tone and volume adjusters on the top, and a Bigsby-style vibrato unit that is highly expressive. There were only 45 or so ever made. It was also offered in a bass version.

Because Devo used one in their stage act, this guitar developed a following, and Eastwood guitars did a reissue.

In 2018, Fender issued their Parallel Universe Guitars. These were guitars based on a combination of alternate guitars.

Strat Tele Hybrid

Such as the Strat-Tele Hybrid, which has the body shaped of a Fender Telecaster, however it was contoured like the one on a Strat. It has a two-tone sunburst finish, and a one piece pickguard similar to a 1956 Stratocaster. It also has a maple neck with the original 1956 style headstock.

Jazz Tele

The Jazz Tele combined a Telecaster body, but all the other features were straight off a Fender Jazzmaster. There are two Jazzmaster single coil pickups, a volume and tone control, and a three position toggle switch. The Tremolo unit was straight off a Jazzmaster. This guitar had a maple neck with a rosewood fretboard, and a Jazzmaster style headstock.

Tele Thinline Super Deluxe

The Tele Thinline Super Deluxe combined the 1967 Telecaster that had a single F hole, with a large pickguard. The neck is maple with a rosewood fretboard, and large block, perloid fret markers. The bridge is right off a hard tail Stratocaster. What makes this guitar stand out are the twin TV Jones pickups.

Whiteguard Strat

The Whiteguard Strat is reminiscent of the Squier ‘51. This unique instrument combines a Stratocaster body with all the features of a Telecaster. I like it.

Jag Strat

The Jaguar Strat combines a Stratocaster body, three parallel Stratocaster pickups, and all the features of a Fender Jaguar, including the Tremolo, the Rhythm/Lead switching capability with a separate bridge tone wheel control, and single volume and tone knobs. It included a 5-way blade pickup switching system.

Melobar Guitar
In the late 1960’s Walt Smith invented and marketed the Melobar Guitar. This was his attempt to bring the slide guitar, which was tuned to open chords, to young player.

The guitar was shaped like a convention double cutaway style guitar, but the body was at a 45 degree angle to the player. The fretboard was numbered to be correspondent to the chords.

Melobar Guitar

He called his company Smith Family Music. I did an article on Melobar guitars a few years ago, and some of Walt’s children wrote me. They are wonderful people. Ted set me straight on a few points. These were unique and bizarre guitars, and were played by quite a few famous people.

H.S. Anderson Mad Cat

For those fans of Prince, which should include many readers, you should be aware that Princes’ H.S. Anderson Mad Cat. 

This was an instrument based on Hohner’s version of a Fender Telecaster, called The Prinz, but a much nicer version.

H.S. Anderson
Apple Guitar

H.S. Anderson is a Japanese guitar manufacturer, that usually produces replicas of well known guitars from U.S. manufacturers. But they once offered this wild, and bizarro “Apple” guitar that sort of looks like the body from a Danelectro Bellzouki.  This minimalist instrument has one single coil pickup, a unique scratch plate design, and an unusual body that appears to be an upside-down apple.

Danelectro Bellzouki original

The Danelectro Bellzouki was invented by session player/guitar designer, Vinny Bell invented by session player/guitar designer, Vinny Bell.

Model 7010 and 7020
This twelve string instrument was introduced in 1961, and was the first Danelectro to date to feature a solid wood body. It featured one or two lipstick pickups. Over the years the body design changed. It is an interesting instrument, and at the time was very reasonably priced. Now they sell in the $1300 to $1500 range.