Who was the first person to make a solidbody electric bass?
So how did we get here?
The question we are concerned with is how we got to the first electric bass guitar—the “Spanish-style” instrument that’s played on its side, across the body, rather than upright. The bass guitar is a major leap in evolution from the upright bass. Without the bass guitar, there would be no McCartney, Entwistle, Flea, or Claypool. In last month’s column, we looked at the 1930s and the earliest attempts to electrify the bass. The instruments we looked at were all modeled on the upright bass viol—the doghouse.
Who was the first guy to say, “A bass, electrified, doesn’t really need a resonant body. We could make a bass out of a solid plank of wood and string it up with a fretted guitar neck”? The common answer to that question would be Leo Fender. The Precision bass, a fretted, solidbody instrument, was introduced in 1951 and is perhaps one of Fender’s greatest gifts to music. He perfected this new instrument.
Notice I say perfected. Leo Fender was not a great inventor, but he was a great innovator, meaning he took existing items and made changes to them that enhanced their performance. There’s a sizable cabal of writers, collectors, and historians who devote their time to finding specific origins of “where Leo got the idea.”
But enough pontification. Do you want to know who invented the electric bass guitar? (All three words must be present to win.) Here’s the answer: Paul Tutmarc.
And here’s the story: In the 1930s, Seattle had a thriving music scene made up of mostly amateur players interested in the latest styles of jazz, country, Hawaiian, and gospel music. This scene coincided with the advent of electric instruments. Peter Blecha, former curator of the Experience Music Project, also located in Seattle, has spent decades chronicling the people, the music, and the businesses involved in this scene. In the early ’80s, Peter began sharing his historical findings and memorabilia with the public. At an exhibit he was approached by a gentleman by the name of Tutmarc, who said his father invented the electric guitar.
As it turns out, the man was Bud Tutmarc, the son of Paul Tutmarc, who had been a musician in Seattle in the 1930s. Bud had a stack of photos showing his family playing early electric instruments. In one of the photos, Bud’s mother was playing an odd four-stringed instrument.
Blecha had heard rumors of an electric instrument maker from Seattle in the 1930s, but here was proof. Over the next few years, he kept in touch with Bud Tutmarc and kept his eyes and ears open for examples of these phantom instruments. In 1990, he came across an example of one of the lap steels—it bore the Audio-Vox brand and said “Seattle” on it. Connecting the dots, Blecha realized Bud Tutmarc had been telling the truth. Now with something real to look for, Blecha began scouring Pacific Northwest shops, eventually finding more Audio-Vox instruments. Over the years he accumulated a nice little stash.
One day in 1997, Blecha got a call from the owner of a junk shop he frequently bought from. The owner said he had another Audio- Vox, but an odd one—one with only four strings. Light bulbs went off in Blecha’s head and he ran to the shop. It was the first Audio-Vox bass to have surfaced, and the earliest known example of the electric solidbody bass guitar.
Dating from 1936, the Audio-Vox bass is made out of black walnut. Technically, it is a neck-through construction with wings glued onto the body. The pickup is a dual-coil horseshoe, wired for hum canceling (that’s right—a humbucker). The bass has a 30 5/16" scale with a fretted fingerboard. Fretted, solid, Spanish-style, electric. What more do you want?
Blecha says the bass plays and sounds like an electric bass, just as you would imagine. Today, the bass has its home at the Experience Music Project. You can hear it for yourself at empsfm.org.
Wallace Marx Jr.
Wallace Marx Jr. is the author of Gibson Amplifiers, 1933–2008: 75 Years of the Gold Tone. He is a lifelong musician and has worked in all corners of the music industry. He is currently working on a history of the Valco Company. He is a children’s tour guide at the Museum of Making Music, a struggling surfer, and he once hung out with Joe Strummer.
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Mystery Stocking is coming soon! Sign up for PG Perks below so you don't miss it.
Sign up for PG Perks on the form below to make sure you don't miss the launch announcement!
About Mystery Stocking
Each year, Premier Guitar likes to put out these mystery boxes as a part of bringing some fun to the holiday season. Remember, this is supposed to be a fun holiday treat! If the contents of this box will ruin your holiday, deplete the last of your bank account, or end your ability to see the good in humanity, it may not be for you.
- This year's Mystery Stocking will cost $44.95. ($39.95 + $5 Flat shipping)
- Each box will be guaranteed to contain $40 or more in value.
- US only. (Sorry World.)
- Make sure your shipping address is correct.
- Have your credit card ready to go before you refresh the page. Paypal is not available. Autofill may not fill in your information.
- There will be NO REFUNDS given.
- There has been a huge demand for these in the past. We really did sell out in less than 4 minutes last year. When they are gone, they are gone.
- One per household, one per person.
Q: What's in the Mystery Stocking?
A: It wouldn't be much of a surprise if we told you, now would it?
Q: Will I definitely get my money worth?
Q: Can I return it if I don't like it?
A: Nope. All sales final.
Q: What if I live outside the US?
A: Sorry, US only.
Q. How much is it?
A. $39.95 Plus $5 shipping
Q. When will it ship?
A. On or before December 10, 2022.
Q. What form of payment do you accept?
A. Credit cards only. Sorry, no Paypal for this.
Q. Can I ship to a different location than my billing address?
Q. I tried last year and didn't get one. Will I get one this year?
A. There is an overwhelming demand for Mystery Stocking. Be sure you have a fast internet connection and be ready when they go on sale. Last year we sold out in 3 min 33 seconds.
Q. I want to buy 5. How can I buy 5?
A. You can't. This year, we're limiting to one per household, so more people can get in on the fun!
Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
Origin Effects introduce the new M-EQ DRIVER mid booster & drive pedal. Based on a vintage Pultec studio EQ, this unique pedal offers a range of mid-focused tones, from a subtle mid boost to thick, resonant overdrive. Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
A choice of three mid-range frequencies ensures that you can boost just the right part of your guitar signal and, when pushed harder, can elicit a range of saturation from a classic “mid-hump” overdrive to fierce “cocked wah” distortion. Thanks to the Adaptive Circuitry, the high-end roll-off of the Cut control is reduced as the pedal cleans up. This allows for a smooth transition from warm overdrive to bright clean tones in response to playing dynamics or guitar volume knob changes.
Introducing... M-EQ DRIVER || Mid Booster & Drive
Built-in the UK to the highest standards, the M-EQ DRIVER continues the Origin Effects tradition of vintage, studio-inspired tones in modern guitar pedals. The Origin Effects M-EQ DRIVER is available now from Origin Effects dealers worldwide.
RRP: 259 GBP (Inc VAT) / 319 USD (Ex TAX)
For more information, please visit origineffects.com.
The new finish, according to Lava Music, is “inspired by the beauty of the golden hour,” a shining time just before sunset and after sunrise when photographers covet to capture stunning pictures.
With bright and warm golden hues, the new finish adds a brilliant metallic glow to the surface of Lava ME 3, complementing its AirSonic 2 carbon fiber unibody which features L3 Preamp with FreeBoost 2.0, delivers industry-leading sounds by breakthrough acoustic technologies, and houses a multi-touch display powered by Lava-developed HILAVA system.
Speaking of the HILAVA system, Lava Music also added four new effects: Nebula, Desert Rose, Cassette, and Edge of Breakup. As unique as their names sound, they are very much different from what we normally know about effects. Programmed into the HILAVA system, each of the four is powered by the company’s latest ArctanDrive algorithm and incorporates effects like Pitch Shift, Delay, and Reverb. And every one of those incorporated sub-effects comes with various parameters that players can adjust to design unique, overdriven sounds by just tapping on the multi-touch display. That said, those effects enable users to play with overdriven tone on an acoustic-electric guitar without even plugging in any external gear.
LAVA ME 3 | Now in Golden Hour | LAVA MUSIC
Lava Me 3 in Golden Hour is now available starting from $999 on LAVA MUSIC, Amazon, and local guitar dealerships near you.
For more information, please visit store.lavamusic.com.