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Basses will fall into the “not as described” category for four typical reasons: The condition is over-described, it is misdated, it is told to be 100 percent original when it is not, or something is wrong with the bass.
Conditional representation means different things to different people. Excellent condition can range from really nice and clean items to those that have bumps, bruises or are lousy players. This is totally subjective. Before you make a purchase, get a complete blow-byblow of every nook, cranny, bump, ding, date, and component. Make the decision for yourself as to what is the true condition.
The biggest faux pas is the “dead mint” description. In all of my years, I have only seen one dead mint vintage bass—a 1963 Sonic Blue Precision in the shipping carton. (To this day, that may have been the only bass I’ve seen blow Rudy Pensa’s mind.) Unless the bass is flawless, it is not dead mint. The “not as described” bass I inspected was said to be dead mint. It was near mint with a changed pot. Be careful of your wording.
This is a frequent issue and requires a trained eye to spot. Never rely on a serial number alone to date a bass. With a Gibson or Epiphone, the serial number is either impressed in the back of the headstock, written on an oval decal in the F-hole, or both. The problem here is that the serial number ranges were reused, so more detective work is required. A dental mirror will get you the pot codes. Do some research on the differences of hardware. The bell covers and bridge assemblies changed over the years. Using a combination of serial numbers and components, you can accurately determine the year.
Specific models will require specific knowedge. Rickenbacker basses have a removable serial plate which doubles as a jack plate. I have seen these swapped and even faked. The inlay material and size varied over the years. The neck pickup moved back toward the bridge around 1974. Fender basses are extremely easy to misdate. Basses from the 1950s and very early ’60s have pencil dates in the neck and cavities which are extremely easy to forge. At this point, components must come into play. Combinations of hardware, pickup bobbin color, logos, routing schemes, and paint features—along with the dates and serial numbers— will help date a Fender bass.
A common mistake made when dating a bass is taking the oldest dated component and calling the bass to be of that year. If your Jazz bass has a ’69 neck, ’67 pickups, and ’66 pots, your bass is a ’69, not a ’66. If your bass has a ’66 neck, ’67 pickups and ’68 pots, what do you have? It’s a late-assembled ’66 bass with ’67 and ’68 components. It’s all very tricky—the more information you supply or receive will help make a correct and educated decision.
This again means many things to many people. To me, 100 percent original means just that: Every component, every solder joint, covers, and case are original. We have seen ads that say every component is original, but are the components original to this bass? Was a replacement bridge installed and then the correct part swapped back on? The components are original, but are the solder joints? Pots are very easy to find, especially 1966 pots. 1966 pots can be found in basses through the mid- ’70s. So is it technically correct to have replacement pots from 1966 in your 1972 Precision? Yes. Are they original pots? Yes. Are they original to this hypothetical bass? No. Every day on online auction sites, you see “100 percent original bass,” only to discover it is refinished. Paintwork nullifies “original”— plain and simple. A grey area is fretwork or nut work. The bass is untouched, right down to the solder joints, but you just had a fret job. Is this bass original? The issue is subjective— I state “original,” but specify that it has had this or that done, and let you make the choice. But it has to be mentioned.
We Have a Problem
I cannot tell you how many times I receive a bass that has a problem. Don’t get me wrong— setups get knocked out during transit, neck relief changes during climate shifts, and pots can get scratchy in transit. That being said, real problems do not just occur, and they do not fix themselves. Take it from me: Your problem will be returned to you. Bad truss rods, twisty necks, and finish blushes don’t just occur. Of course, the big caveat here is that you may have a case of transit damage. Beware of cracks and any other signs of carelessness.
The Low Down
Before closing, I would like to thank my buddy Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick (who is also an avid Premier Guitar reader) for the tray of cannoli recently presented to me backstage when I saw him and the boys at the Mann Center in Philadelphia. You are King Cannoli, my brother!
Kevin Borden has been a bass player since 1975 and is currently the principle and co-owner, with “Dr.” Ben Sopranzetti, of Kebo’s Bass Works: kebosbassworks.com. He can be reached at: Kebobass@yahoo.com. Feel free to call him KeBo.