june 2013

This well-played, yet beautifully preserved 1952 Fender Precision Bass—serial #0215—rests against a 1952 TV front Fender Bassman 1x15 combo.

This well-played, yet beautifully preserved 1952 Fender Precision Bass—serial #0215—rests against a 1952 TV front Fender Bassman 1x15 combo.

Leo Fender introduced the Precision Bass in late 1951 following the success of his revolutionary electric 6-string, the Telecaster. The P bass proved to be even more groundbreaking. The radical guitar-sized instrument was almost immediately embraced by bassists and guitarists alike.

Bassists had labored for years carrying around the huge upright, only to be barely heard over the horns and drums. Fender’s new, readily portable 4-string was easily amplified and could provide a strong bottom-end complement to the drums. Unemployed guitarists, out of work due to the post-World War II trend of smaller dance bands, could get gigs without having to learn a completely new technique. An early 1952 ad listed the reasons to buy a Precision Bass: “Fretted neck, superb tone, easily played, modern design, highly portable, extremely rugged, faster changes, light weight, 1/6 size of a regular bass.”

The P bass pictured this month dates from July of 1952. It shares the characteristics common to basses made between 1951 and 1954. The most prominent of these are a flat, slab ash body like the Telecaster’s with elongated horns for better balance (the body became contoured to match the Stratocaster’s in ’54), a headstock shaped like a larger version of the Tele’s (this became more Strat-shaped in ’57), black Bakelite pickguard (white by ’56, gold anodized by ’57), and a single-coil pickup (which became a hum-cancelling, dual-coil unit in ’57).

Early players of the original Precision were Roy Johnson and Monk Montgomery—two consecutive bassists in jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton’s band. More than two decades later, the bass again found favor with two successive bassists for the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Keith Ferguson and Preston Hubbard.

The amp behind the bass is an original 1952 TV front Bassman. It came with a 15" Jensen speaker and a closed back with two small circular ports. The chassis on the earliest Bassman was mounted on the cabinet’s bottom.

The Fender Precision Bass sold for $199.50 in 1952, and its current value is $15,000. With a current value of $2,000, the Bassman originally sold for $203.50.


The Tele resemblance is also evident in the original headstock shape.


Yes! Tone to 12—that’s one more than 11, isn’t it, Nigel?


Fender’s amp logo, circa 1952.

Sources for this article include The Fender Bass: An Illustrated History by J.W. Black and Albert Molinaro, Fender Precision Basses: 1951-1954 by Detlef Schmidt, Fender: The Sound Heard ’Round the World by Richard R. Smith, and Fender Amps: The First Fifty Years by John Teagle and John Sprung.

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Karaoke is undeniably ridiculous, yet strangely engaging once you embrace your inner geek. Here are a few tips for those of you brave enough to be idiotic.


Somewhere, someone has a video of a PG columnist attempting to disrobe while singing Macy Gray's “I Try" at an after-hours karaoke bar. Worth tracking down, perhaps?

I've always favored the prototypical rock-guitarist persona established by Jimmy Page and Keith Richards: Sing when you must, but ultimately that's the dubious task of the prancing egomaniac hogging the front of the stage. I feel much more at home slightly to the right of the drums taking care of the actual music-making, while leaving the majority of the singing and crowd-working to a self-absorbed diva.

Being the singer in a band seems a bit silly; singing to tracks in front of an audience? Fug-ged-eh-bout-et. That's ridiculous. If you've been to a karaoke bar and observed those delusional fools stiffly holding a mic in front of their sweaty, boozy faces while nervously caterwauling “Don't Stop Believing," you've probably thought “I'd have to be out of my mind to do that."

About 12 years ago I was quite literally out of my mind while on tour, thanks to some serious pain meds my doctor prescribed after he removed discs 7 and 8 from my neck. I should have stayed home to convalesce, but I had to pay for the operation so I went on the road.

I pilled up and toughed my way through two weeks of shows. Each day of the tour I'd play the gig, then decrepitly shuffle to my bed and descend into a medicated coma. On the final night of the tour, my bandmates pulled me out of my bunk and dragged me to a bar for a post-show, celebratory drink.

I commandeered the karaoke mic for a spirited version of Macy Gray's “I Try." It was a powerful performance that concluded with me trying to take my pants off over my head.

The details remain a bit cloudy, but from what I can piece together through my cheesecloth memory and the few videos that regrettably captured the evening, after my third scotch and Demerol, I commandeered the karaoke mic for a spirited version of Macy Gray's “I Try." It was a powerful performance that concluded with me trying to take my pants off over my head. (Although the good people at YouTube's Standards and Practices removed the video, I'm sure it's out there somewhere.)

I learned two valuable lessons that night: It's best to heed to those warning labels on pill bottles, and, karaoke can be fun.

Karaoke is undeniably ridiculous, yet strangely engaging once you embrace your inner geek. The masses rarely get a chance to perform in front of an audience. Karaoke gives everyone license not only to sing, but also to act like a rock star. For me, it's an Andy Kaufman-inspired moment—an opportunity for anyone to attempt to entertain a crowd either through musicality or stupidity.

Here are a few tips for those of you brave enough to be idiotic.

Do not attempt karaoke while sober. Let me preface this with a heartfelt plea: Drink responsibly and do not mix medication with alcohol. This isn't just the boys in legal talking, I actually mean it. Also, if you've used up all your drink tickets in life, continue working your recovery program. That said, karaoke is no time for clear thinking. The brain cell you kill may be the one that's holding you back from being the performer who truly delights.

Don't just sing it, sell it. Now is the time to apply every over-the-top rock-star cliché: Strut about the stage, fall to your knees and cry, raise your fist in the air and maniacally pump it, twirl and spin like Prince and James Brown, spread-eagle jump like David Lee Roth, circa 1978.

Engage the audience. Get them to join you on the final chorus. There's something genuinely sweet about a sing-along. It makes strangers feel like family, which in a way, they are.

Find a killer song that fits you. As long as it's not Macy Gray's “I Try"… that's mine. The track's key should be in your range and you should kind of know the words so you're not dully staring at the video monitor. More importantly, your song should draw something out of you emotionally.

Avoid overtly sexual songs. That's just creepy.

Avoid the trite. Not even Jimmy Buffett should be allowed to sing “Margaritaville" again.

We all fear embarrassment. We privately worry that others think our hair is all wrong, our body isn't quite right, or we sound stupid. Most of us are plagued by private anxieties that something about us just doesn't measure up to some unachievable image of perfection. These mostly unfounded fears rob us of many of life's joys. It's wonderfully liberating to let go of our inhibitions. By taking risks and laughing at ourselves, we strip those hobgoblins of self-consciousness of all their power. It also just plain feels good to sing as loud as you can, even if you kind of suck at it.

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Onstage or in the studio, the Dingwall Super P''s modern take on a legendary design can and will tackle it all.

Breaking from tradition can be a slippery slope. But when a talented and passionate craftsman does so with an instrument, the possibilities and results can sometimes be downright incredible. Sheldon Dingwall, founder of Dingwall Guitars, falls into this camp. Whereas not entirely a household name, the basses rolling out of his workshop are known in the bass universe for envelope-pushing designs and superb construction. These attributes—combined with upscale features and versatile tone—have helped turn a number of players on to the quality basses being built in the company’s humble workshop in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

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