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Fender Bass Guitar

Updated on December 6, 2011

While many musicians will give first thought to owning and playing vintage Fender guitars, or other desirable six-string instruments, there is a significant number of players that will always think about that beautiful four-string instrument called the bass guitar. Purists will simply call their chosen instrument "bass" without referring to the word "guitar." To many of them, a guitar has six strings; a bass has four. Period.

1969 vintage fender precision bass guitar in sunburst

Among the many beautiful instruments that provide the low-end of the tonal range are the Fender Precision Bass and the Fender Jazz Bass. These Fender basses have been around for decades, with the Fender P Bass first offered in 1951 and the Jazz Bass offered in 1960. In the half-century and more since those instruments first came to the public eye, physical, electronic and visual improvements have been made, making some of these four-string electric bass guitars very desirable. 

fender jazz bass guitar in midnight wine

The Precision Bass was first made with a "black single-coil pickup with level polepieces," according to Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars. This first vintage bass guitar had a 34" scale on a maple neck. If you're looking for the earliest models in the P-Bass line, look for the smaller, Tele-like peghead. These should not be confused with the Telecaster Bass, an instrument all its own.

New colors, pole pieces of staggered height and a split pickup (called a double rectangle in some books) were changes made in the first five or six years. Some of the more desirable items under the umbrella of Fender guitar and bass are the late 1950s and early 1960s Precision bass models. Rosewood fingerboards, both slab and curved, were introduced in models during this time.

The thumb rest and the black pick guard were mid-1970s changes. The Precision bass guitar was replaced by the Standard Precision in 1981. A number of reissue Precisions from Fender added to the popularity of this bassline. The 1951 reissue, was followed by the 1957 reissue, the 1960s reissue, the 1962 reissue and others. The company also made a number of Deluxe models and a Donald "Duck" Dunn model, named for the well-known bassist for Booker T. and the MGs. It must be the pipe!!

Some who search for a good instrument by typing in bass will find that electric will come up with the very popular Jazz Bass. The Fender Jazz Bass guitar was first available in 1960 and the original models went through some of the same changes as the P Bass before being replaced by the Standard Jazz guitar in 1981.

Some differences between this model and the Precision Bass guitar are: the Jazz Bass had two rectangular bass pickups from the beginning, along with individual string mutes and a slab rosewood fingerboard. The American Standard Jazz, which became available in 1988, is a bass guitar with the "strings-through-body design." It is still in production.

The Jazz Bass guitar also has some reissue models, including the 60s Relic Jazz and the ‘62 Jazz. It's interesting to note that the company made a '75 Jazz, a model made in Japan. The latter is still available. There is a nice Geddy Lee model in this line as well.

One of the things that draws players to the Fender line of bass guitars is that often-magnificent bass neck. Some swear by the maple neck. Others seek only the rosewood fingerboard design. Either way, when a musician puts these words together "bass electric guitars" the answer is often one of the classic Fender basses.

Keep these few numbers in mind, though they are only a beginning when looking for vintage Fender guitars and basses. A mint-condition 1961 Jazz Bass guitar can be worth $7,000 or more, while a similar model of CBS-era is worth a fraction of that. According to Gruhn's research the 1951 Precision Bass will have a number from 161 to 357 on the bridge. This, of course, is only an example. Later models of most Fender products have the serial number as a peghead decal. But it's best to check both Gruhn, the Bluebook of Electric Guitars by S.P. Fjestad and other quality reference works to make sure both the buyer and seller know what they have.

Do you really want a Jaguar Bass guitar or a left-handed bass guitar from Fender? They made ‘em, but you have to look closely to find a great one. You may also be fortunate enough to uncover a Telecaster Bass, a Mustang Bass or one of the other unique models from this icon of musical instruments.

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      soul 7 years ago

      what is the diffrences of the bass guitars today and Leo

      Fenders bass?

    • profile image

      Vintage Bass Guitar 7 years ago

      Real nice hub. Everyone wanted a precision bass, it was even Paul McCartney's choice. He couldn't afford it so he got stuck with a Hofner. Just looking at the legendary bass players who used these instruments tells you they were, and still are, the best.

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      SirDent 8 years ago

      I am a bass player myself. I play a 4 string Fender Jazz Bass. The Fender Jazz Bass is the best instrument to play. I am thinkjing of upping to a 5 stringer these days. Nice hub about Fender Bass guitars.