Gibson Basses—A Primer in EB (That’s Electric Bass to You)
August 16, 2011
Jack Bruce moved a lot of air with his EB-3 in Cream.
Or do they? For most amps of the day (an SVT being a possible exception), it was a sonic chore to amplify sounds produced by the Gibson “mudbucker” pickup. But with stout front ends, high-wattage back ends, and efficient speakers, modern amplifiers are able to deliver these signals with a very deep, vintage, Motown-ish sort of tone. Let’s visit the product line.
The EB-1, or EB as the earliest ones were called, was Gibson’s first mass-produced adventure into electric bass. The bass was manufactured from approximately 1953 to 1958, and again from 1968 to 1973. The EB-1 body resembles a violin, and I have gigged with one on many occasions. It’s a great bass to use when you don’t know your material. In the wrong hands, the notes can be so undistinguishable that no one knows when you’re flubbing it. The EB-1 has a drastic character flaw—it weighs a ton. When I was a young man, the bass weighed about as much as me. As a fat, bald, middle-aged guy, the bass is so heavy it makes my right arm tingle.
The bass also has a built-in curiosity. The Gibson engineers apparently didn’t know if the bass was to be played like a standard bass guitar or an upright bass, so they included an endpin about six feet in length. Modern standards dictate this endpin can double as a pool cue, a martial-arts weapon for barroom brawls, or a pole vault stick for your middle school track star. Seriously, this bass is the vibiest of all Gibson basses. They play great and once you EQ the hyper low end, you’ll have some classic rock ’n’ roll tone. The only real drawback is that they aren’t cheap. The ’50s models go for $5000-$7000 and good examples of the ’60s EB-1s run about $2800-$3800.
Introduced in 1958, the EB-2 (and later the EB-2D) helped shape the quintessential tone for ’60s pop music. Essentially the bass relative of the ES-335, the double-cutaway, twin f-hole EB-2 is a semi-hollow bass with a center block. The EB-2D had a factory mini-bucker at the tail and these basses were the most versatile of the EB line.
Be cautious of an EB-2 that was converted into an EB-2D—easy to do but seldom done correctly. The easiest way to determine a possible conversion is to check if the tail pickup or controls are located incorrectly. Also check if the production year of the bass is too early for the EB-2D, because it wasn’t introduced until late 1967. Professionals have other tricks to determine a conversion. The nuclear detonator switch (aka the Bass Boost) has often been replaced with a toggle instead of the original push switch. It’s common for the switch to fail, and until recently, the part was not available. Expect to pay $2000 for a common color, singlepickup model and $2400 for a common color, double-pickup version. For ’60s EB-2s, expect to pay as much as 50 percent more for a cool color. Basses from the ’50s are valued at $4000-$5500 for a sunburst and up to 25 percent more for a blonde.
These basses are the easiest to distinguish since it seems we all have owned one at one point in time. As the counterpart to the SG, this bass is easy to spot. It was introduced in 1959 and the earliest models resembled Les Paul Juniors. The mid-’60s saw the EB-0F with built-in fuzz tone and the ’70s saw the EB-0L and the EB-3L (“L” designated long scale). We also saw slotted headstocks like a classical guitar.
For the most part, the EB-0 was a basic short-scale, singlepickup bass that was actually quite versatile, and the EB-3 was a two-pickup, Varitone-equipped version of the EB-0. Many EB-0s were converted to EB-3 clones (same EB-2 warnings apply). EB-3s never had a toggle switch and every trade show carries a supply of butchered EB-3 conversions presented as real. For the most part, 99 percent of the ’60s basses were cherry red with walnut being introduced later on. However, you will see EB-0s and EB-3s in other custom colors as Pelham Blue, white, black, ebony satin, Inverness Green, etc. These are rare and quite valuable. If Jack Bruce can throttle an EB-3, so can you. The best part about these basses is that a marginal, but playable example can be had for under a grand, and stellar examples are still quite affordable. Early and rare EB-3s with custom colors will put you near 5 figures for a great example.
The EB-4L is often mistaken for one of the weird EB-0 style basses Gibson dreamed up in the early ’70s. It’s a direct descendant of the EB-0 and it looks like a demon spawn from an EB-0 and an EB-3. The EB-4L was its own model and is quite honestly a decent bass. Again, the “L” signifies long scale, and the bass sported features proprietary to this model. It has a mudbucker pickup the size of a brick with two high and two low pole pieces (think of a Fender Telecaster Bass mudbucker, but even bigger and more foul). It also has a threespeed, stick shift Varitone that was particular to this bass.
You will get decent tone through a decent amp, and the long scale will make it easy to adapt to. Color choices are walnut and cherry, and the production years were approximately ’72 through ’79, though it seems every one of them is a ’73. As far as value, neither year nor color matter, as all EB-4Ls seem to retail at $1200 or so for a decent example. It’s a cool bass for short money.
I hope this primer cleared up many of your questions about the Gibson EB series. See you all in Arlington!
Kevin Borden has been playing bass since 1975. He is the principal and co-owner, with “Dr.” Ben Sopranzetti, of Kebo’s Bass Works (visit them online at kebosbassworks.com). You can reach Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to call him KeBo.