“Not as described” are three of the most notorious words in the vintage bass business. One service my shop provides is a pre-purchase inspection of vintage basses. This ensures the buyer gets exactly what they are led to believe they are paying for. This article will give you some basics to gauge your expectations on your purchase and help you provide proper verbiage on a sale item. If you have any doubts about any of this, talk to your local guru.
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 avidPremier Guitarreader) 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.
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