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.
Dave Rogers’ collection is tended by Laun Braithwaite and Tim Mullally and is on display at:
Dave’s Guitar Shop
1227 Third Street South
La Crosse, WI 54601
Photos by Mullally and text by Braithwaite.