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Fender Historians - What Makes Old Fenders Special?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Alexander, Mar 12, 2019.

  1. Alexander


    Aug 13, 2001
    Seattle, WA
    First, I want to say that I'm not a troll - I'm really interested in getting more information.

    I have a couple of old Fenders - a 58 Precision and a 67 Jazz. I have one more on the way (59 Precision) and have no desire to play anything else. I find them to be really special - the current productions for the most part can't compare. I am hoping to understand more about what makes them that way.

    I have a few ideas - wondering if they are on point and if there may be some that I am missing...

    1. I read an article with Abigail Ybarra saying that with the move to CBS came the move away from hand-wound pickups. She would go from making 15-16 pickups a day to "hundreds" and that she felt the machine wound pickups were inferior.

    2. I know Fender used Brazilian Rosewood on their earlier instruments. Not sure when they stopped doing so on their production instruments, but assume it was late 60s like a lot of other guitar manufacturers. I also know their earlier fingerboards were "slab" but they moved away from that - not sure if they did so because it produced a better instrument or if it was somehow cheaper and/or easier.

    3. I understand Fender moved away from Nitro finishes to Poly at some point too - again, not sure when. Don't know what (if any) affect it had on the tone, but certainly know it has an impact on the "feel"

    Two other things I suspect, but am less certain of:

    First is that it seems clear CBS was interested in scaling up and moving toward mass production. Not sure if this was a good thing or bad thing in terms of quality of the instrument. I have to think it was bad, but with modern manufacturing techniques, maybe it produced higher quality and better consistency - but with what I am seeing from current Fender production, I'm not sure this is the case. I also have to think with this scaling came an influx of new labor, with all of the problems that usually brings.

    Second is that instruments just sound better with age. I am convinced that is the case with acoustics, but part of me has to believe the effect may be less so with electric instruments. But as wood structure changes, the wood reacting to years of being played and (maybe) changes in the magnetic qualities of the pickups - who knows?

    Thanks - I look forward to hearing from people "in the know"!
    ICM, basspraiser and faulknersj like this.
  2. ChrisNJ


    Apr 14, 2015
    dalkowski and bassdude51 like this.
  3. Nunovsky


    Sep 4, 2004
    They sound good?
  4. Alexander


    Aug 13, 2001
    Seattle, WA
    To me, yes - they sound fantastic. Just trying to understand what makes that so (compared to what has come later from Fender)
  5. I can't speak for Fenders. I never liked them until the new American mustang came out. I do, on the other hand have experience with vintage Gibsons vs new ones. Are old ones better? Not in my experience. They haven't made EB-2's or EB-0's in years, and my EB-2 is the first of the Cherry finish '64s, but I'd rather play a 2005 SG.

    Nostalgia makes me still love my EB-2 and I enjoy the tone quality, but the SG or Mustang are lighter and more versatile. I've never understood people who prefer a single pick-up when you have the option of mixing two, just more choices to work with. You don't have to use both, if that suits you. I see a lot of "Holy Grail" going on with instruments lead more by collectors than players. The best tenor sax player I've heard in years preferred a new Japanese horn to his vintage Selmer because "it didn't piss him off as much". And among the best bass players I've seen recently was playing a $750 new model Sire.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2019 at 12:01 AM
    TrustRod, Marikk, wmmj and 2 others like this.
  6. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    nostalgia. :D
  7. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    The value of pre-CBS Fenders is determined by supply and demand. There is a substantial non-player collector market that has had a strong influence on pre-CBS valuation. That collector interest has spilled forward into the post-CBS instruments. Different market from the player market; but, the pricing goes with the sum of both demand curves.

    As to the quality and/or characteristics of the instruments, Fender has actually produced very fine instruments all along at any point. Some are much better than others. As a player, you have to go out and play a LOT of instruments to find the good ones. Knowing what to look for is a good start. I suppose that during the pre-CBS era, production was relatively lower; and construction /assembly may have been more careful.

    I’ve had a very nice ‘62 Jazz for about three decades. It’s a nice instrument. A good portion of it’s charisma derives from it’s relative scarcity and character. I like it; but I’ve also played modern era instruments that were every bit as functional.
  8. SpazzTheBassist


    Jun 20, 2006
    OP: not trolling back, but I feel that you are looking for criteria for confirmation biasing.....I'm opposite of you: I feel that Fenders have overall improved with evolution (just not in a linear ascending slope)...in other words, I wouldnt trade my '15 American Deluxe Jazz for a vintage Fender (unless to turn-it-over to make a huge profit)

    You find qualities for your ears and/or playing in the vintage instruments over newer ones and that is good enough without finding reasons to justify yourself........
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2019
  9. jd56hawk


    Sep 12, 2011
    The Garden State
    What I'd like to know is what is special?
    What can they do that my bass or any other good bass can't do?
    How much better can their tone possibly be?
    How comfortable can one possibly feel?
    Do they even look better than some of the seriously beautiful basses being made today? And I'm not talking about boutique basses, I'm talking about Bacchus/Momose and other $2,000 or so basses.
    In no way am I putting down vintage Fenders, I've played several very nice ones, but are they magical or merely just great-sounding basses that feel as comfortable as a nice warm bath?
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2019
  10. Technically, if I had to guess, Fenders then were essentially hand made in that the way the wood was cut and formed into bodies and necks was to blueprints and done by humans in a pre-CNC world, with resulting bigger tolerances. So the 'good ones' have survived in some cases, but they made turkeys as well. It was not uncommon for good players to try out 5 or 6 before they settled on one that felt the best, they could vary that much to finicky players hanging new in stores (. . . . this is back when you could get a Strat or Jazz with that gap on the high side at the neck pocket you could put an Ace and two Jacks in . . . .). Ms. Ibarra and her coworkers indeed wound pickups by hand, introducing more randomness to it all to those with good ears. And over all this time, the wood has indeed dried to an equilibrium since it was built: The sap in the wood finally dried out, and the paint, solvents, solder, all that has 'gassed out'.

    When all these stars align properly, for some guys and girls, it's magic, and in the vintage guitar world, this costs money. A LOT of money in a lot of cases.

    This sort of thing has gone by the wayside. Wood (by price range . . . . ) is far more controlled in original purchase, drying, and milling. CAD/CAM and CNC has made dimensional variance a minor issue. It's just a far more technically consistent process, software driven, which is why even Squiers made in China or Indonesia can be as close to Cali as they are. Spec a certain quality wood menu, use a certain level of hardware, and you can build as little or as much quality and feel into a given price point, and the higher the price point, the more time you can spend to get more and more of the fine points just right . . . . . . if the folks doing the final assembly and the level of the build process and software and time taken is correctly bundled to the retail MSRP.

    So it's efficient manufacturing with most of the 'magic' baked in: Back then they were building snowflakes, in that they were all alike but each differed slightly. That's the difference. Jay Leno often remarks when talking about his old cars vs. ones built today that, 'back then labor was cheap and technology was expensive, whereas today that is reversed'. That's what's at work here.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2019
  11. Ghastly


    Oct 18, 2015
    Mill Valley
    I would say first and foremost what makes old Fenders so special is their history... what type of music they were playing "back then" as well as who was playing them. But Walking Bass and JRA said it simply... nostalgia. Plus the handmade notion imbues a certain special quality, I believe.
    JRA likes this.
  12. pudge

    pudge Supporting Member

    Sep 13, 2008
    They are the same as new ones .some are turds ,some are outstanding.Not every "vintage" fender bass is the greatest thing ever.The trick is to find the "outstanding" ones same with the new models.
    TrustRod, Bigguy2017, Marikk and 7 others like this.
  13. Kevin Teed

    Kevin Teed

    Mar 8, 2013
    I just have to say, being a guy that never cared for matching pegheads, that is one of the best looking basses I've ever seen! Just awesome!
    Stormchaser, Runnerman and bucephylus like this.
  14. Dr. Love

    Dr. Love

    Nov 5, 2008
    Lubbock, TX
    The reason old Fenders are so highly regarded is because only the really good ones are left. The rest have been parted out, modified, or trashed.
  15. Alexander


    Aug 13, 2001
    Seattle, WA
    Thanks, J - this is along the lines of what I was looking for - namely, what are the physical differences between early Fenders and those that came later. I know there was variance then (and variance now). My 58 Precision is a good bass - I've only found one current model that is as good in my mind - a 55 Masterbuilt Precision RI. My 67 Jazz (which is a re-fin from the less desirable CBS era) is an absolutely phenomenal instrument - I've never put my hands on a bass that plays and sounds as great as that one does.
    faulknersj likes this.
  16. bassdude51

    bassdude51 "You never even called me by my name." Supporting Member

    Nov 1, 2008
    Central Ohio
    What makes old Fenders so special is the same thing that makes classic cars so special..............they don't make them anymore.

  17. derg

    derg Supporting Member

    May 26, 2005
    Cleveland, OH
  18. hypercarrots


    Jan 28, 2009
    los angeles
    the owners make them special
    BK bassist likes this.
  19. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I build and modify basses
    Fender Historians - What Makes Old Fenders Special?

    They aren't making any more old basses … they only make new ones ...
  20. ToneMaven


    Dec 22, 2018
    Beauty(special) is in the eyes, ears and hands of the beholder...BUT...there are some variables to take into account. Original Gibson PAFs are highly sought after because some, not all of them, sounded great due to uneven, manually wound coils. I am sure that the same variations existed in the early Fender pickups so, one bass might have sounded better than another made the same week. Today's manufacturing advances makes that variance negligible, as most techniques have matured and there is a considerable amount of automation. It's really 50s artisan craftsmanship vs modern consistency in mass manufacturing. I can see a plus side to both.

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