By far, Rickenbackers are the most consistent basses out of the factory. The only item that jumps out at me is from the period when the neck pickup on 4001 basses moved slightly more toward the bridge. The neck pickup cavity looks like a small bar of soap could drop right in. There appeared to be a clearance problem transitioning to the new guard assembly on some of the old bodies. In order to fix the clearance issue, the bottom of the cavity was hand routed— I’ve seen one that was hand-drilled, like the wire channel. The bottom edge is not perfectly straight, but the finish in the cavity was factory correct, making the routing factory original. Like I said, Rickenbacker basses are very consistent.
Gibson and Epiphone
Gibson/Epiphone basses are also fairly consistent, but they do have one very big issue: almost every time Gibson introduces a new bass to the market, they don’t get the neck pitch/neck angle correct. We’ve all seen Gibson basses that have laser-straight necks, but their bridges are bottomed and the action is still a little high. Early issue, non-reverse T-birds are notorious for this. With EB series basses, whenever specs are modified they have this issue. These basses run the gamut, from playable to completely awful. There are ways around this, so all is not lost.
Another item—it’s not a biggie, but needs to be mentioned—is transition basses containing both nickel and chrome parts. Forty-plus years ago, the parts looked the same, but today they don’t: nickel gets a milky look while chrome looks like it should. It’s all factory correct and should not have a negative impact on value.
The only thing consistent with old Fender basses is their inconsistency. Where do I begin? How about logos? On many occasions, I’ve seen basses with a logo applied over another logo. My hunch is there was a bubble or crease on the first applied logo. After drying, it was smoothed, and another logo is applied right over it. Only a trained eye and a gut check would know if this was factory done.
What about a wrong logo? I’ve seen logos transposed between Telecaster and Precision basses and Musicmaster and Mustang basses. The strangest logo by far is the kooky one Fender used between early 1966 and early 1969 as a substitute. First, they used the Fender part of either a Transition or TV logo and clipped the rest; then they used the model designation from another logo, if it was available; and finally, a logo that just said “bass” in a font no one had seen before. They would merge the decal parts and viola! Instant logo. Mustang and Telecaster basses frequently wore this freak logo, but I’ve seen it on a handful of Precisions, too. I’ve also seen a few Telecaster guitar logos on Telecaster basses.
The next issue may not be an abnormality, but it’s a source of confusion. What is the correct vintage case for Pre-CBS basses? Tweed cases started to fade out in late 1959. Brown cases were used from early 1960 to early 1963, or so; white cases were used from mid 1963 to early 1964. Finally, black no-logo cases were used from mid 1964 to early 1967. So what’s the correct case for your bass? Arguably, your bass should have the case to match its year, but I’d say it’s fifty-fifty whether it left the original retailer that way. Cases were produced and purchased in lots. The Fender factory used stock on hand, so there was factory overlap. When the cases transitioned, retailers sold Fender basses in the cases available.
To the untrained eye, what you’re seeing may or may not be factory correct. Dealing with instruments of high value could cost you some serious bucks. If you have any doubts, have your concerns documented when you have your instrument appraised. If questions arise about a bass you’re buying from a dealer, get your questions answered in writing. If the bass is being purchased from a private party, have a trained professional assess it. Next month, I will dive into part two of vintage bass anomalies. Until next time, drop the gig bag and bring the cannolis!
Kevin Borden has been a bass player since 1975, and is currently President of Goodguysguitars.com.
Feel free to call him KeBo.
He can be reached at Kebobass@yahoo.com