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Fender Historians - What Makes Old Fenders Special?

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

  1. fhm555

    fhm555 So FOS my eyes are brown Supporting Member

    Feb 16, 2011
    As usual i failed to make my point. Any of the basses i’ve been through in the last few years were capable of being outstanding with just a bit more work. As I suffer from terminal tinkeritus they are right up my alley. Point being, the potential to be outstanding existed in all the MIM J basses that have passed through my hands. Some were outstanding after fresh strings and a good setup, others required a bit more but nothing that couldn’t be easily done by a competent luthier or a dedicated hobbyist. If you insist on it being outstanding when you pick it up you limit your choics to mostly customs and a handful of mass produced models, but with a little sweat equity or a trip to a decent tech, a $500 bass can hold up to a $5,000 bass for less than a grand in total outlay. If you’d rather spend the big bucks, that’s fine, i just love to tinker.
    G19Tony and Frndmoretti like this.
  2. HappyFunTime69

    HappyFunTime69 Supporting Member

    Jan 23, 2012
    I’m not sure what (if anything) makes em special, but I know my one experience playing a pre cbs fender was effing magical. It was a white 62 jazz bass with tort guard and matching headstock. I was in a vintage shop with my wife who’s a cello player and has a pretty great ear. She knows relatively little about electric basses, but of all the basses I tried that day, we both agreed that 62 sounded miles better than anything else there, and that includes a few custom shop jazz basses that we’re hanging on the wall. Best bass I’ve ever picked up, and I’m a p bass guy... man that thing still haunts my dreams
    Alexander likes this.
  3. tjh

    tjh Supporting Member

    Mar 22, 2006
    "Fender Historians - What Makes Old Fenders Special?"

    … our embellished memory of them because they were the first maybe? … it was 50+ years for the imagination to enhance the story ...

    ...the one mid 60's I had was 'special', every time I think about my selling it for $250 when I went into the service and see ads for them now up around $10 grand … then came the ones from the 70's, which were nothing special in my memory, just hunks of trees … the last 15-20 years were significantly better than the 70's in my experience …

    JMHO .. as always
  4. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Winding a pickup is not rocket science. A machine can do it more reliably and precisely than a person can. If there is a "magic" winding recipe that A.Y. used, then just have the machine wind it the same way. After all the reason A.Y. is lionized is because some people think that the pickups she wound sound better than pickups other employees wound.

    More important reasons for changes in the pickups are the changes over time in the magnets and wire being used and decisions to voice the pickups differently because of the changing tastes of players. Fender didn't even offer a choice of pickups until the Precision Special of 1980, responding to the then recent trend of "hot rodding".

    This gets argued about all the time and certainly will be argued about in this thread. I firmly believe this to be the single most important factor to why some older Fenders sound better than recent ones. I also believe that when today's basses are 50 years old they will sound better than they do today if they are played regularly.

    I have owned four "vintage" Fenders, still have three of them. The fourth was a 1968 Tele bass and it didn't play well and even unplugged and trying different strings, the E string sounded dead compared to the other three. So I sold it.

    I also owned an AVRI "62" Jazz Bass that was pretty beat up when I bought it although it was less than 10 years old. It sounded great, played great and had that "thing" that people look for in vintage basses. Before I bought it, every time I went into the store someone was playing it and going nuts over it. I sold it because like many of the originals, it's very thin neck warped and once the truss rod was maxxed out I couldn't be bothered with the major surgery required to fix it.

    One of my "vintage" Fenders is a Precision Elite from the 1980s. I bought it new and it was my main gigging bass until I switched to a Steinberger and then a refinned 1961 P-bass. It's one and only downside is the weight of the ash body. I had it up for sale with no takers for months. At one point I pulled it out of the case to play it for a few days at home and was reminded how nice it is. It's only "vintage" because people think a 35 year old instrument is vintage, it's post CBS and it sounds nothing like my 61 but why should it? Ash vs. alder, different pickup, different truss rod, preamp, high mass bridge, premium Schaller tuners. It also is worth less today than the much less expensive "Standard" basses of the era (the ones with the single ply pickguards)...so it's a good example of a bargain in vintage basses.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2019
  5. smeet

    smeet Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2006
    Woodland Hills, CA
    I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned that the quality of wood was very different back then, due to old growth trees that are now mostly gone. I’m not sure if I buy into the mystique, but back when I literally hated Fenders, flats, and precisions, I played a 61 P with flats, and it was astounding. But then I also played a mid 90s Jaco model that was magical.

    I do believe that wood makes a huge difference. I have two Nordstrand basses with ash bodies and one piece maple necks. Both have the same P5 pickup, same strings, bridge, everything. They both sound great, but radically different, both acoustically and plugged in. Not different wood species mind you, but different wood.
  6. I came for answers and got nothing definitive.
    My ‘75 P is a great bass. I A/B’d against a CS Pino and it was like a blanket had been lifted off the amp with the ‘75. Both had flats.
    I’ve also A/B’d against a ‘63 and a ‘62. Those old pre-CBS basses pulled the same trick on my ‘75!
    Live you’d never know or care. The more focused ‘75 would actually sound more balanced and even, probably.
    Who knows...
    P.S. A great professional fretjob and setup definitely makes an instrument sound better in my experience. It really improved my Fender RBV.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2019
  7. lowendblues

    lowendblues Supporting Member

    Oct 8, 2004
    Hard to say for sure because these are the ones under glass or in private collections that no one will ever be able to play or touch.
  8. Energy


    Jun 20, 2006
    I do! :cool:

    fretno and RedVee like this.
  9. dwizum


    Dec 21, 2018
    I'm guessing you weren't doing any sort of meaningful analysis of actual Fender QA data and comparing it to the pre-CBS years in the 70's. Versus finding anecdote to support the dream of the "good old years" before CBS. ;)
  10. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    And some are still in cases under beds and in closets.
  11. dwizum


    Dec 21, 2018
    For the record, I don't disagree that quality was bad during the CBS years, but I would like to see someone show meaningful proof that it was better before CBS - to the point that quality is what determines the value difference.

    My point was, people like to set CBS in total opposition to the pre-CBS management, which just isn't the full story. It feels good to pick on CBS and paint them as the enemy that killed the collectable value of the instruments because by golly they just couldn't build them right! But there were arguably plenty of good, and bad, instruments before and after the change in ownership.

    This thread is supposed to be about why pre-CBS instruments are worth more - and they clearly are worth more. But - they aren't worth more because of quality differences. They're worth more because of culture and collector's desire for "the most pure" version, or the earliest version, or the first version their favorite player used, or whatever. It's a supply and demand thing, it's not driven by quality differences. If it was about quality, then the (perhaps rare?) "nice" quality P from the 70's would be worth as much as a "nice" quality P from the 50's, and that is clearly not the case. Making it about "later instruments are worth more because CBS killed the quality" is misleading.
    12BitSlab and JRA like this.
  12. Gorn


    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    Sentimentality, nostalgia and hype.
    - not a historian.
    JRA likes this.
  13. Kmonk


    Oct 18, 2012
    South Shore, Massachusetts
    Endorsing Artist: Fender, Spector, Ampeg, Curt Mangan, Nordstrand Pickups, Korg , Conquest Sound
    I've owned Fender basses ranging from the early 70s to today and have played some early 60s Fenders in music stores and a few owned by friends. To be honest, I never really noticed much of a difference in the tone or the way they played. Every era had good and bad basses.

    I've never understood why older basses are automatically demanding much higher prices than newer ones. It's not like a classic car that is no longer being produced. Basses really haven't changed much in the last 60 years. I think a lot of the reason why the older basses are more desirable is based more on hype and perception.

    I posted this before but given the topic, I think it's worth posting again. I saw a Pre-CBS Jazz bass in a guitar store a while ago. It showed a lot of wear and they were asking $11,500. I jokingly asked if it was going to sound $10,000 better than a new Fender. The owner of the store laughed and said of course not. I wouldn't spend that kind of money on an instrument but the bottom line is that we should all play what we like and can afford regardless of what anyone else thinks.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2019
  14. Energy


    Jun 20, 2006
    My 1956 P-Bass is a good example showing that QC/QA was not really better pre CBS. It's neck pocket is routed quite rusticly and there's a lot of air between it's upper edge and the neck heel - a point that's often criticised in CBS era instruments. On the other hand, my 1974 P-Bass' neck pocket fits perfectly with no gap whatsoever.

    Still I love that old '56 P-Bass. It's the best sounding bass I ever had, period. And that's not just me wanting it to sound good because of the sh*tload of money I paid for it. I compared it to many other Fenders, old and new, and the '56 always won in terms of clarity, punch and evenness of tone.
    Chickenwheels likes this.
  15. Maxdusty


    Mar 9, 2012
    Michigan USA
    A well made bass is a well made bass. I think as mentioned above, if anything, back then perhaps there was more attention to make sure the best material (wood) was used , not to mention the supply of good choice wood was more plentiful.
    Also remember back then there was no MIM or MIA, Squier Affinity, VM or CV - there was just Fender. So when taken as a whole, back then, Fender basses collectively were pretty much built the same way and to the same standard - today, only the MIA has such attention to quality and less restrictions or compromises on what wood to use, downgraded electronics in the case of the models below the MIA.
    That being said, technology in manufacturing techniques today though has made it such that even the cheapest Fender model can often sound good even if not made of the choicest wood. Also whatever compromises in labor on things like the neck, fretwork and the overall set up are now typically addressed by guitar techs or luthiers after the purchase.
    bonruiz likes this.
  16. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    When I bought my P bass, in early 1969, pre-CBS was already a well known "thing". CBS were ramping up production and cutting costs so there were always going to be differences and I guess the products were always going to go "down-market". Most of the A list session guys seem to have pre-CBS Fenders, but on a gig, in a noisy room, standing next to the drummer, I'm not sure anyone can tell the difference between a 58 and 88 P bass.

    In 1968 I borrowed a 62 P bass to record the first album. It wasn't that special to play and when the producer had finished it sounded just like any other bass!! IMO this pre-CBS stuff is a fine line and situation dependant. Everyone I knew back then played CBS Fenders and we were all happy that we had great sounding basses.
    12BitSlab likes this.
  17. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    Curious, what was the name of the album?
  18. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    It was recorded when I was 2 months out of school. I think it's probably best to let that effort rest in peace!
  19. 74hc


    Nov 19, 2015
    Placebo due to supply and demand unless someone invents a time machine.
  20. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    $750 for a new model Squier? $750? What could be so special about a Squier to make it cost $750?

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