The era of the modern electric bass guitar began in 1951 when a former radio repairman named Leo Fender gave the world the Fender Precision. The first Precisions had 20 frets on a full-scale 34-inch maple neck that was bolted to the guitar’s ash body—the frets, presumably, were the "precision" points that differentiated Fender’s bass from traditional fretless uprights. Chromed covers hid the bridge and the instrument’s single pickup from view, while two knobs on the bass’s body allowed the player to adjust volume and tone.

Fender did not reach far for the instrument’s design. That same year he had released the Telecaster, a six-string solid-body guitar, and the Precision was essentially a four-stringed version of that. Like a Telecaster, the sides of the Precision bass were squared off so that the body was a uniformly thick slab. As for its headstock, it, too, echoed the look of the Telecaster. Both of these details changed in 1954, when Fender released the Stratocaster, with its contour body (the Strat’s cutaway made it comfortable for players to hold the guitar against their bodies for extended periods of time) and more sculptural headstock. The Precision copied both of these features, note for note.

Naturally, Fender had imitators, first a company called Kay, whose short-necked K-162 from 1952 faded away almost as soon as it appeared. In 1953, Gibson followed with the EB-1, a radically scaled-down version of an upright bass, complete with a fake F-hole. That model was dropped in 1958, but in 1955, German instrument maker Höfner made a go of the traditional look when it introduced its famous 500/1 bass, known variously as the "violin bass" for its shape and the "Beatle bass" for its most famous player, Paul McCartney.

Two other basses from the 1950s are of interest to vintage bass collectors. Danelectro introduced its six-string UB2 in 1956, prompting Gibson and Fender to issue their own low-octave six-strings in 1959 and 1961 respectively. Rickenbacker’s 4000 came along in 1957. It was the first electric bass built with through-neck construction, and it featured fancier electronics than its competitors—its Rick-O-Sound feature allowed a player to simulate stereo by directing the output of each of the guitar’s pickups into a separate amplifier.

In 1960, Fender followed up on the Precision with the Jazz Bass, which aped the look of the Fender Jazzmaster guitar released in 1958. After a false start with the EB-1, Gibson finally got into the bass game in 1961 with the EB-3, a short-scale-neck bass with "horns" on its body and a deep, muddy sound that caught the attention of players such as Jack Bruce of Cream. Not to be outdone when it came to horns, Danelectro launched the Long Horn in 1961. Although they were made of cheap materials like Masonite instead of fancy hardwoods, players liked Danelectro basses for their distinctive look and punchy sound.

Gibson followed up on the EB-3 in 1963 with a bass version of its fabulous Firebird called the Thunderbird—John Entwistle of The Who played a Thunderbird bass almost exclusively from 1972 until 1976. As the 1960s continued, other traditional electric guitar companies began to offer their customers electric basses, too. In particular, the hollow-body Guild Starfire was the bass of choice for the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh and the Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady, both of whom eventually turned to an engineer named Ron Wickersham to have their instruments customized with low-impedance pickups developed by Rick Turner.

The connection between bass players like Lesh and Casady and technicians like Wickersham and Turner led to a renaissance in bass guitars that would arguably prove to have an even...

For instrument collectors, especially those who are fans of the bass guitar, Alembic holds a hallowed place. Its instruments deliver natural tones that are rich, sophisticated, and nuanced, not just deep and boomy, although they can also do plenty of that. And the physical appearance of an Alembic bass is as stunning as its sound. For example, Alembic’s first bass, number 72-01 created for Casady, had a pointy bottom so that a musician would never be tempted to rest their precious instrument on anything but a cradling stand.

As legendary as their hardware and physical appearance were the details that graced each instrument, especially ones created for a who’s who of rock and jazz elite. Casady’s bass married multiple types of exotic woods with painstakingly precise inlay. Greg Lake of prog-rockers Emerson Lake and Palmer had an eight-string Alembic bass with signs of the zodiac in mother-of-pearl crawling up the fingerboard. Stanley Clarke played an Alembic tenor bass. The list goes on and on.

In recent years, collectible basses include five- and six-stringed instruments, as well as the otherworldly graphite axes made by Ned Steinberger. His instruments frequently have no headstock at all, while Steinberger bodies resemble small, rectangular notebook PCs. They look weird, but players from Sting to Geddy Lee of Rush to Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones have become fans of their sonic properties.

Another graphite bass maker, and perhaps the heir apparent to Alembic in terms of pushing technology, is Modulus, whose graphite basses are favorites of Phil Lesh, Mike Gordon of Phish, Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam, and Oteil Burbridge, to name but a very few.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vintage Guitars Info

Vintage Guitars Info

This great reference site features detailed sections on vintage guitar makers, including Gibson, Fender, Martin, Gr… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Want to see all the old brochures and ads for your favorite vintage axe? Check out this great site, which showcases… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass Guitar Fender Jazz PrecisionVintage 1961 Fender Precision P-bass P Electric Bass Guitar Olympic White Finish1991 Ken Smith 5 String Mint + Neck Through Aaaaa Quilted Maple Bass Guitar Rickenbacker 4001 '77 Vintage Electric Bass Guitar Toaster Pup, New Ric Case.Squier Jaguar Electric Bass Guitar Black 4-string By Fender E/2203Cort / Steinberger Licensed Bass And Guitar SetVintage 1973/4 Cimar Ibanez Jazz Bass Guitar 1984 Ibanez Fretless Bass Guitar With Case And Strap ...japan D830622Dod Effect Pedal Lot Of 5 Guitar Effects Pedals Vintage Bass Boss Made In UsaPeavey Tl Five - Bass GuitarLakland Skyline Series 55 Right Handed 5 String Bass Guitar 139050 JjVintage Fender Musicmaster Bass Guitar 1978 Original Case Music MasterCharvel By Jackson Electric Bass Guitar 4 String - Right Hand - Usa - Off WhiteKingwood On Goncalo Alves J-style Bass Guitar NeckCrowther Audio Hotcake Guitar / Bass Overdrive Pedal Amazing As New ConditionIbanez Soundgear Sr405 - Natural - Right Handed - 5-string - Bass Guitar As IsMartin Bc-16gte Jumbo Cutaway Acoustic-electric Bass Guitar With CaseFender Jazz Bass Mexico Maroon / Dark Purple Electric Bass GuitarVintage, 4-string, Right-handed, Solid Body, Yamaha Bass Guitar W/case - Bb1000sSquier By Fender Precision Bass Guitar Body P 1983 1984 Made In Japan MijBc Rich Nj Series Ironbird Electric Bass Guitar Usa/la Low Serial Project1960's Danelectro Silvertone Dolphin Head 144-u-1 Bass Guitar Used Set Of Fender Lace Sensor Jazz Bass Guitar Pickups Silver Letters Pair Vintage Late 1970s / Early 80s-hondo Ii Bass Guitar For PartsBoss Chromatic Tuner Tu-3 Guitar/bass Pedal 1970s 80s Dimarzio Vintage Paf Fender Jazz Bass Guitar Sized Pickup Pickups RareBrownsville 5 String Bass Guitar White Emg Pickups Nice Squier Fender Black Active Electric 5-string Bass GuitarFender P Jazz Bass Vintage Tolex Hardshell Case Precision Bass GuitarGuyatone Tzm5 Mighty Micro Torrid Fuzz Pedal Super Rare Guitar / Bass Fuzz PedalIbanez Btb 7 Bass GuitarTech 21 Sansamp Bass Driver Di Distortion Guitar Effect PedalFender Rumble 4x10 Bass Guitar Amplifier Cabinet*fender Squier P Bass Guitar*Harp Speaker Cab. Mojo Cab! Weber Speakers! 4x10. Harp Amp/mic/guitar/bassDunlop Mxr Bass Envelope Filter Guitar Effect Pedal - UsedFender Precision P Bass Vintage Tolex Hardshell Case Bass Guitar RectangularDean Ml Metalman 4-string Bass Guitar Black ( G5 )Rickenbacker 4001 Electric Bass GuitarBc Rich €Esp Ltd Phoenix Series Phoenix 204 Electric Bass Guitar BlackFender Jazz 5 String Bass GuitarFernandes Purple Bass Guitar With Gig Bag ~ Serial Number 011919Fender Deluxe Precision Bass Guitar 1989 With Orig CaseBass Amp Vintage,bass Guitar AmpLot Of 3 Vintage Aria Electric Bass Guitar Pickups Pro Ii Thor Sound Mij P JRare Vintage 1940's Retro Deco Swing Era Man W/ Upright Bass Guitar Tv Lamp Gold Tone Acoustic Bass Guitar - FretlessSchecter Stiletto Elite 4 String Bass Guitar Lh Black Cherry Neck -thru BodyNew Fender Squire Jazz Fretless Bass Guitar Jaco PastoriusShredneck Low Rider 4 String Bass Bn7-wh-bh Practice Travel Guitar Neck WhiteMusic Man Sterling Classic Bass GuitarD.i.y. Circuit Bent Theremin Fx Kit! Bend A Guitar, Bass, Synth Or Effects PedalDunlop Mxr Bass Di M80 Bass Guitar Effect PedalNew Eminence Kappalite 3015 15" Neo 450 Watt Bass Guitar/pa /dj Speaker 8 OhmUsed Fender 5-string Noiseless Jazz Bass Guitar Bridge PickupDunlop Mxr Bass Di M80 Bass Guitar Effect PedalElectro-harmonix Bass Big Muff Electric Guitar Fuzz Pedal *used1 Piece Ash P-style Bass Guitar BodyVintage 1960 Danelectro Shorthorn 3412 Bass Guitar - Copper