The history of the electric bass part two: beyond Fender

Posted Feb 25, 2014 at 7:04pm
Read more about The history of the electric bass part two: beyond Fender at MusicRadar.com

BASS EXPO 2014: In spite of Fender having set a high standard with the Precision, it was not producing vast quantities at any time during the 1950s. When Fender introduced the Stratocaster the bass was given a new contoured body that was considerably more comfortable than the relatively sharp edge of the original body.

This happened around late 1953/54 and became known as the 'Transitional P-Bass'. It helped to continue interest in the instrument but there was no way that other American guitar manufacturers were going to sit back and watch Fender take the monopoly on the bass guitar. Gibson and Rickenbacker were particularly eager to get in on the act and grab some of this new retail action for themselves.

Gibson

Although well established in the archtop electric guitar field Gibson was now producing the Les Paul so although a solid bass with a carved top, the violin shape of the Electric Bass was actually something of a surprise when it was introduced in 1953.

With a shorter scale than the Precision, a glued-in neck and a huge humbucking pickup positioned towards the neck this bass had a fat warm sound that was quite unlike the Fender. It took a little while to settle as some models featured painted f-holes and a coach line to the body edge whist others were left natural, but structurally each had an extendable endpin so it could be played in an upright position.

This was a great design ploy to temp traditional players into gradually making the change. However Gibson made bigger impact in 1958 with its EB-2 bass, a thinline semi-hollow bodied instrument with real f-holes and like the Electric Bass it initially had banjo-style tuners that projected backwards from the headstock. It also had the same humbucking pickup, a single-saddle bridge/tailpiece and a pushbutton tone switch.

Jimmy Page used one when he first joined the Yardbirds as a bass player although his was the later version with regular tuners. The last of the banjo headstocks appeared in 1959 on the EB-0 bass. This was a cheaper bass (hence the 0 in the designation) and caused the more expensive original Electric Bass to be renamed the EB-1 when it was reintroduced in 1969. The EB-0 drew on the success of the Les Paul Junior guitar and featured basic electronics and a slab body with a double cutaway.

Rickenbacker

By now Rickenbacker was also testing the water. Its early electric guitars and basses sported a very distinctive double horseshoe magnet pickup developed way back in the 1930s by Los Angeles steel guitar player George Beauchamp.

It was first used on the prototype 'Frying Pan' guitar devised by him and Harry Watson who had been working in the National guitar factory. His friend Adolph 'Rick' Rickenbacker had the money and the means to put the 'guitar' into production and naturally the pickup was adapted when the first Rickenbacker bass, the 4000, came into being in 1957.

It was a stunning looking instrument and like Fender had a futuristic look about it with a 'cresting wave' shaped solid body. It also made use of neck-through-body construction, which gave the early models a distinctive stripe on the body and the 'jigsaw puzzle' headstock an even more dramatic appearance.

With the single horseshoe magnet pickup and the chrome bridge/tailpiece dominating the body, the scale length was close to the Precision standard and initially the scratchplate was gold plastic although this was soon standardised to white.

One of the first to adopt the 4000 was Ricky Nelson's bass player James Kirkland. Ricky had a deal with Rickenbacker so for James it was the obvious choice. When he first played it on the Grand Ole Opry radio showit caused quite a stir:"I almost blew the sound engineer's ears out, because he wasn't expecting it. They weren't gonna let me play it at all."

Fortunately they did because the bass guitar had arrived and was here to stay. The 4001 was introduced in 1961 and this had the benefit of a second smaller pickup with a 'toaster' top. The rosewood fingerboard now sported snazzy pearloid triangular position markers rather than the simple dots of the 4000 and the whole instrument was neatly bound.

It looked a million dollars but more importantly it produced that characteristic Rickenbacker bass growl that would be explored to great effect later on in the sixties. But in America yet another bass sound was also being heard.

Danelectro

In 1954 Nat Daniel's Danelectro Company began producing cheaper electric guitars for the Sears Roebuck chain of stores, many under the name of Silvertone. In 1956 Danelectro ventured into the bass marketplace with the first ever 6-string bass!

The U2 was a single cutaway, semi-hollow design that was essentially a guitar with heavier strings and tuned down. It featured on many recordings at the time including tracks by the Everly Brothers and Duane Eddy.

In 1958 Danelectro produced the Longhorn 4423, a 4-string bass with a 33.5-inch scale that was even more unusual than the rest of the ange. It employed the same Masonite and hollow frame construction method as their guitars but it was the symmetrical and extended twin cutaway design that caught the eye.

With a pair of the infamous Lipstick pickups and dual concentric controls it looked like something from Greek mythology and it had a killer sound. Both Jack Bruce and John Entwistle used Longhorns during the sixties in Cream and The Who.

Extra Precision

With so much going on in the guitar and bass market during this remarkable decade Fender decided to take a third look at their Precision bass and came up with what has become the definitive version. The headstock was enlarged for sonic reasons (the upsized Telecaster shape left a dead spot on the upper string) and mimicked the Stratocaster, the cover plates changed shape, the controls and jack socket were mounted on the scratchplate but most importantly the bass was now equipped with an impressive split-coil pickup.

This offset design cleverly presented seperate coils for the bottom two strings and for the upper two strings and each string vibrated between a pair of pole pieces. The result was a much fatter sound than the earlier versions and clarity of sound that appealed to all. This is the P-Bass sound as we know and love it and the one that has appeared on countless thousands of recordings right up to the present day!

So within this remarkable short period of time America had introduced some of the most enduring and copied guitar and bass designs. However things were also happening in Europe during these fabulous fifties..

Read more about

Add a Comment
0 Comments

Similar Guitar News

Fender launches Brown Derby and Top Hat round-neck resonators (11/12/2014)
Read more about Fender launches Brown Derby and Top Hat round-neck resonators at MusicRadar.com Fender has expanded its resonator range with a pair of new round-neck acoustic models, the Brown Derby and Top Hat.Both models share laminated mahoga...
Fender Releases FA-300CE Acoustic/Electric Pack with SLIDE interface (11/11/2014)
Fender is proud to announce the release of the FA-300CE Acoustic/Electric Pack with Fender SLIDE interface. The FA-300CE Acoustic-Electric Pack gives players everything they need to start playing right now. With the included Fender SLIDE instrum...
Fender Releases Brown Derby and Top Hat Resonators (11/11/2014)
Fender is proud to introduce two new instruments, the Brown Derby Resonator and Top Hat Resonator. Fender’s Brown Derby Resonator gives a jaunty tip of the hat to phenomenal round-neck reso-phonic sound and style. Pure resonator tone rings from ...
WIN! A signed Fender Jim Root Telecaster in association with Fret12 (10/29/2014)
Read more about WIN! A signed Fender Jim Root Telecaster in association with Fret12 at MusicRadar.com Click here to enter! If you're trying to capture the sound of your hero, getting hold of their signature model is a good first step. But thank...
WIN! A signed Fender Jim Root Telecaster (10/24/2014)
Read more about WIN! A signed Fender Jim Root Telecaster at MusicRadar.com If you're trying to capture the sound of your hero, getting hold of their signature model is a good first step. But thanks to the good people at Fret12, we can go one bet...
Fender launches Adam Clayton Jazz Bass (10/16/2014)
Read more about Fender launches Adam Clayton Jazz Bass at MusicRadar.com Hot on the heels of U2's like-it-or-not gifting of their new album Songs of Innocence to the entire world, Fender has announced the launch of its new Adam Clayton Jazz Bass...
Fender Introduces Adam Clayton Jazz Bass Guitar (10/16/2014)
Fender has introduced its Adam Clayton Jazz Bass guitar. From the company: Throughout the entire phenomenal history of the band, the music of U2 has been underpinned by the gracefully muscular bass work of Adam Clayton. His impeccable groove and...
Fender launch Adam Clayton Jazz Bass (10/16/2014)
Read more about Fender launch Adam Clayton Jazz Bass at MusicRadar.com Hot on the heels of U2's like-it-or-not gifting of their new album Songs of Innocence to the entire world, Fender has announced the launch of its new Adam Clayton Jazz Bass.
Joe Bonamassa Talks Fender Strats and His New Album, 'Different Shades of Blue' (10/15/2014)
This is an excerpt from the December 2014 issue of Guitar World. For the rest of this Joe Bonamassa story, plus features on Slipknot, Slash, Lenny Kravitz, Paul Gilbert, Motionless In White, Electric Wizard and more, including lessons, tabs and ...
The Fender Stratocaster at 60: The Six Coolest Strat Solos (10/2/2014)
This feature is from the October 2014 issue of Guitar World, which celebrates 60 years of the Fender Stratocaster. As the curvaceous Fender Stratocaster marks six decades of innovation and influence, Guitar World celebrates its legacy via 60 pla...
Fender Releases Piha'ea Soprano Ukulele (10/1/2014)
Fender is proud to announce the release of the Piha’ea Soprano Ukulele. Piha’ea is Hawaiian for playful, and that’s exactly what this soprano-style uke is, and it’ll have players smiling as soon as they strum their first chord on it. An afforda...
Fender Announces Tom Petty Signature Kingman Dreadnought (9/17/2014)
The Fender Acoustic Custom Shop has announced the arrival of the limited edition Tom Petty Kingman dreadnought, beautifully crafted with the famed singer/songwriter’s personal style and specs. With the Heartbreakers, the Traveling Wilburys, on h...
Fender adds Vibrolux Reverb to '68 Custom amp line-up (9/10/2014)
Read more about Fender adds Vibrolux Reverb to '68 Custom amp line-up at MusicRadar.com Fender has announced the newest addition to its electric guitar amplifier line: the 2x10, 35-watt '68 Custom Vibrolux Reverb. Autumn 2013 saw Fender debut it...
Fender announces Sherwood Green Metallic finish for Johnny Marr Jaguar (9/3/2014)
Read more about Fender announces Sherwood Green Metallic finish for Johnny Marr Jaguar at MusicRadar.com Fender has revealed that the Johnny Marr Jaguar - the most practical and best-sounding Jaguar we've played - is now available globally in ve...
Fender Releases Limited American Standard Guitars, New Classic Player Models and Special Edition Blacktop Model (8/27/2014)
Fender has released several new Limited Edition American Standard Series guitars, new Classic Player Series models and a Special Edition Blacktop Series guitar. All the details can be found right here: The venerable American Standard Stratocaste...
Jim Campilongo on his Fender Custom Shop Telecaster and Princeton tone (8/10/2014)
Read more about Jim Campilongo on his Fender Custom Shop Telecaster and Princeton tone at MusicRadar.com Jim Campilongo is one of the most creative, Tele-twisting guitarists in the world, seamlessly melding jazz, early country and blues together...