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Gibson Basses—A Primer in EB (That’s Electric Bass to You)

The EB line consisted of the EB-0, EB-1, EB-2, EB-3 and EB-4L basses.

Jack Bruce moved a lot of air with his EB-3 in Cream.

Last month, we explored the

strange and beautiful Gibson

Thunderbird [“The Four Eras ofthe Gibson Thunderbird,” August2011]. Let’s continue down the

Gibson path and sort through the

EB series. The EB line consisted

of the EB-0, EB-1, EB-2, EB-3

and EB-4L basses. These basses

price well under their peers even

though they’re made well, they

play well, and they look way cool.

So why do they sell at up to 90

percent less then the comparable

basses of the era? It’s simple—it’s

either because the scale is odd

or because they can sound like

whale farts projecting through

a bale of hay.

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 You can reach Kevin at Feel free to call

him KeBo.