Tuesday, September 26, 2006

My 1962 Precision Bass

In the mid to late 70's, Fender basses built previous to the CBS buyout of the Fender company were beginning to appreciate in value. At that time, a new P bass could be had for about $300.00. For about twice that amount, you could find a "pre-CBS" in reasonable condition and you might find a beater for quite a bit less. I owned a Pre-CBS Jazz bass and a '72 Precision, but I just couldn't be hip unless I got my hands on an old P now, could I?

I had a friend named Ward who was just a hell of a guitar player. He had a power trio that relly cooked, and it was all him, man. Well, to be fair, the whole band was really good, but he MADE them better. Doug, the bass player had a '62 P bass that just looked like absolute shit. The only thing valuable about it was the serial number. It was pre-CBS, and that made it worth something.

Functionally, this bass was a disaster. The original pick-up was intact, but a second split pick-up had been installed in the bridge position...by a cro-magnon, using a flint hatchet instead of a router. The hole had literally been dug out of the alder wood body with a knife or a screwdriver, and the wires were taped into a channel cut into the top of the body!! And if that wasn't bad enough, there was a humbucking style guitar pick-up installed with the same mincing attention to detail demonstrated by the brigde unit. This one was placed butt-up against the end of the neck. What a fucking mess that instrument was.

BUT...there were two things about that bass that made me want it. Doug got the bass from an english guy named Derrick, and Derrick was given the bass by Klaus Voorman. Three degrees from the Beatles, man! This was a big deal to me. Who knew who's hands had turned those knobs? Who had those tuners between their thumb and first finger? I mean, Klaus Knew the Beatles in Hamburg and played with John on "Imagine" for god's sake! Who might have fingered that neck? Which brings me to the absolute deal maker on that bass.

The fucking neck on this bass is bloody insane. First of all, it's bird's-eye maple. I've seen moderately figured maple used on Fender necks, but I've never seen another like this. A big, wide, flat hunk of bird's-eye maple capped with rosewood the color of french roast coffee beans. I played this thing every two weeks for six months while I wrestled with the $300.00 price tag that Doug had put on it. Finally, I came to my senses and decided that the neck alone was worth that amount, and we made the deal.

The bass sounded great as it was. The original pick-up was all that worked so on tape and in your hands, it was a monster. But it was so fucking ugly that I had to do something. I got hold of a tortoise shell pick-guard and took the bass apart. The first step was to get rid of all the holes and wire channels cut into the body. Idiot that I was, I filled it with Bondo. Then I painted it black and re-assembled it. It looked great...sounded like shit! So I tried all the hip bolt-on solutions of the era. This consisted of a solid brass bridge and nut...sounded like shit!

In addition to the bridge getting rid of the Fender characteristic sound, it seemed that the bondo didn't like the vibrations and it began to desintigrate and rattle. I made the decision to do major surgery. what did I have to lose? the body was a mess anyway, and I could always use the neck.

I took a router to the pick-up holes and cleaned the cavities. then I took 3/8ths of an inch off the entire face of the body. Then I found a nice piece of 3/4 inch birds-eye, cut it in half and bookmatched it. I marked the seam with the center line of the body and glued it to the face. Glueing to the surface of the upper contour was tricky, but a couple of clamps did the trick and the maple bent enough to follow the body shape. After trimming and rounding the edges, I cut pick-up holes for two Jazz Bass pick-ups. I cut the control access into the rear in order to keep the top clean looking. Then I made a pick-guard out of clear plexi-glass. I finished the body with clear nitrocellulose lacquer, waited two weeks, and rubbed the shit out of it. I installed a pair of old Jazz pick-ups with the appropriate potentiometers. Then came the bridge. The original bridge on old Fenders are engineered for cheapness. You get the feeling that Fender used whatever the hardware store happened to have in stock. BUT...that's the sound man. I put the original bridge with those threaded barrels back on, and from the first note I decided never to question anything that happened in the old Fullerton factory. It just sounded exactly like it was supposed to sound.

So my '62 isn't "all original", hell, even the case fell to bits. But anyone and everyone that has had their hands on it have a hell of a time putting it down. This bass fought hard to be here and its character shines through all the changes in appearence, pick-ups, hardware and owners. And as far as owners go, I will be the last.

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