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Fender Historians - What Makes Old Fenders Special?

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

  1. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    I think a lot if it is that there are a certain number of basses rolling off the assembly line at Fender that (for whatever reason) sound far better than average. And within that better than average group there’s a certain smaller number of exceptionally good sounding instruments. And since they sound so good, they tend to be treated better and passed on more often than the average ones do.

    So it might be more a case of survival of the fittest than anything else. Exceptional instruments tend to survive multiple owners and retain their value. So what’s around from the 50s and 60s in the vintage market is the cream of the crop. Which might lead people to believe every 50s and 60s era Fender sounded and played great despite that not being true.

    Fender has made many exceptional basses throughout the years. There’s new ones being made as we speak. In every production run there will be a certain number of great basses. The trick is finding that special one in a herd of merely good instruments.

    The designation ”vintage instruments,” as most people think of it, isn't a badge of quality because of the age of the instruments. It’s more because those older instruments have been vetted by their various owners over the decades and the real gems have been culled from the herd.

    Exceptional instruments tend to survive the passing of years and multiple owners. Average instruments tend to fall by the wayside. A bass isn’t good simply because it’s old. However, there’s a strong likelihood it lived to be old because it is so good.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2019
  2. jnerics


    Mar 6, 2019
    I think that fender and a lot of manufacturers have deconstructed the pre cbs sound and know how to make them consistently so the vintage thing is essentially over. I've got a fender modified that I bought for 150.00 that is just amazing and schecter diamond j's that are wonderful. Fender really made junk in the 1970's- just dogs, so that created the mystique. I have owned a half dozen pre-cbs to 1967 jazzes and don't miss them one bit. I'd be scared as hell buying a vintage today as I suspect there is a lot of fraud going on and altered basses over the years. It's over. I wouldn't be willing to sink big bucks into one anymore.
  3. It might have already been said, but I'm pretty sure Fender started using a least a little bit of polyurethane pretty early on. Now, even the Fender instruments with nitrocellulose finishes have a polyurethane primer under them.
    DirkP likes this.
  4. SpazzTheBassist


    Jun 20, 2006

    great post and new sig - thanks
    joker820 and 40Hz like this.
  5. This is a really, really good point that's never occurred to me before.
  6. Last edited: Mar 13, 2019
  7. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    everyone else on this thread would do the same: drive the lexus coast to coast --- the '57 would sit at home in the garage, protected from the elements...waiting for a nice day to drive around the neighborhood in order to 'show off' a really special, 'fun' piece! old fenders (per this thread) are the same: really special, 'fun' pieces. that's about it! to own and play with either (for fun and/or satisfaction) = you have to believe something apart from fact. fact is: instruments made today have a higher likelihood of being better in every way...at any price point!

    "they don't build them like that anymore" (old fender/'57 chevy) = nostalgia. :D

    FWIW: i generally like old stuff. and i can be nostalgic, too. old fender vs. 57 chevy = tough call! :laugh:
    12BitSlab likes this.
  8. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Agree. If I wasn’t buying vintage from Gruhn, Elderly, Norm’s, or maybe CMI, I’d be pretty leery too. Whole lotta Franken-fakin’ going on out there as well as your usual outright fakes.

    I’ve got some vintage instruments. But with the exception of two Gibsons, everything else I have that could be considered vintage was brand new when I bought it. Which is the one big consolidation I have for being somewhat “vintage” myself. “Being there” saved me a lot of money. :laugh:
    RedVee likes this.
  9. jnewmark

    jnewmark Just wanna play the groove. Supporting Member

    Aug 31, 2006
    Stax 1966
    Third St. Cigar Records staff musician.
    I don't have a dog in this race as I'll never spend the money on a pre CBS anything, but I have played a few old Fender basses, both P and J, and, compared to " newer " Fenders, the " feel " is definitely different. In 1973, I remember playing an old 60's vintage Fender P in an Atlanta music store that really was more comfortable than the new '73 that I bought that year. Didn't sound any different than the '73, but was more comfortable to play, at least in my hands. Having said that, a friend of mine has a '67 Jazz that sounds and " feels " almost identical to my RW Jazz, which is about 10 years old. A couple of other P and J vintage basses I've played down through the years also had that " feel " as compared to newer Fenders. Sound wise though, I did not not hear much difference.
  10. chris_b


    Jun 2, 2007
    IME the good/bad Fenders are a "thing" for studio musicians and on the internet.

    While in the real world. . . . the majority of bass players over the years have been rocking out with a Fender bass. A great Fender will probably be lost on many of them and a bad Fender probably won't be noticed by many of them.

    As most Fenders are in the middle range I reckon the majority of Fender players are pretty happy with their basses and rightly so.
  11. Alexander


    Aug 13, 2001
    Seattle, WA
    I felt that same way when I got my 67 jazz bass - I just could not believe how good it sounded the first time I plugged it in (and this is the fourth jazz bass I've had in my life). I kinda had my lip stuck out a bit because I had always considered myself "to be a PBass guy" - but there you have it. When I took that bass to it's first gig, our sound guy came up to me after our first set and commented on how great it sounded.
    HappyFunTime69 likes this.
  12. Alexander


    Aug 13, 2001
    Seattle, WA
    I understand the value of tinkering and that with a little love, you can improve almost any bass. I wish I was more technically astute and was able to work on basses myself - I'm only comfortable changing strings! I would be interested in hearing what you do to make a $500 MIM comparable to a $5,000 bass, though. I've had a number of MIMs - the only recent production Fenders have been CS (and more like $3,000-3,500) - I have a hard time seeing how you can improve the MIM enough to bring it to that level...
    fhm555 likes this.
  13. dwizum


    Dec 21, 2018
    Depends on what you mean by "that level" - which, I guess, is what this whole thread is about.

    Manufacturing quality? There's arguably no difference to begin with. If anyone wants to challenge this, I think you need to bring data, not just "it's made in Mexico so it has to be bad."

    Feel and playability? Pick a MIM with a neck you like and set it up well.

    Want the sound and hardware look/feel too? Buy the pickups, bridge, tuners, and electronics from the more expensive instrument secondhand on ebay for maybe a few hundred bucks and swap them in. At this point, as long as your eyes are closed, I bet you can't tell the difference.

    Want the specific visual appearance? That gets harder, since you can't as easily change things like materials or finish.

    Want to upgrade the MIM such that you end up with the social cachet of owning a more expensive instrument? Well, that's just not possible!

    I feel like I keep needing disclaimers when I post in this thread, but let me make it clear - I don't think it's wrong to want a brand new $5,000 custom Fender just because you want it - I would love to own one. I do think it's misleading though to claim there's a meaningful difference in terms of basic functionality versus a cheap MIM Fender.
  14. "A little bit of polyurethane" is a very kind discription for "Fullerplast" :)
    Runnerman, joker820 and BassIsBoss like this.
  15. joker820

    joker820 Supporting Member

    Jan 20, 2014
    Gotta love the yellow undercoat!
  16. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    What Makes Old Fenders Special? The people that buy them.
  17. glennreid


    Aug 14, 2017
    fort worth
    my precision ,76, all maple ,has never been altered or setup ..just as it came from the factory..very low action and no fret buzz..solid and smooth sound ,changed pickups to EMGX ,still my favorite bass for ease of playing and best buddy when im tired and something satisfying and easy to fret..
  18. fhm555

    fhm555 So FOS my eyes are brown Supporting Member

    Feb 16, 2011
    I’m talking about playability. You can work on cosmetics but they do nothing for ease of playing or sound.
    Anywho, i clean up the neck edges and fret ends, to go all out i take it to a guy who rolls the edges of the fretboard. I make sure all frets are level and crowned although to be honest few of the MIM’s i’ve had needed much. I’ve had one i took to a pro, all the others just needed a little dressing and polish. I check string height at the nut and occasionally need to flare the slot on the machine head side or open some slots up but never more than an RCH. I make sure the machine head post bushings fit right. This is one area that pretty much sucks on all MIM basses, the bushings fall out of the holes or are so loosely fitted that a little tap will knock them out. When they fall out i wrap the flange with a wrap of aluminum foil tape, making sure to press it into all the flutes, and they press in nicely and stay in place. I make sure the flat plastic bushing in the machine heads are in good shape and replace them if needed. Another universal thing is the neck screw holes in the body are too tight, requiring you use a screwdriver to get them through the body. When you screw two threaded things together, you can actually force them apart, which i’ve seen on plenty of MIM. I don’t know if Fender runs the nck screws down in some kind of clamping fixture to prevent the neck from being pushed away from the pocket but when i take a neck off if i don’t fix the body holes where the neck screws will pass through, there’s a good chance the neck wilk not get pulled tight back into the pocket. I insure the neck screws will pass through the body without needing to be screwed or pounded, but i don’t drill the holes as that takes too much chance on making them too big, although i’ve yet to encounter an MIM with a sloppy neck to pocket fit. Some fit like a glove but most are snug enough a little gentle clubbing with a plam is required to seat a neck in it’s pocket and this includes necks that didn’t come from the factory with the body it is being mated up with. As a personal preference i replace the bridge with at the very least a Pure Vintage nickel plated threaded saddle bridge. Also a personal preference is to replace the slot head saddle height grubs with allen head hardware of the same length. If i have the money to spare i use a babitz bridge, again it’s personal preference because of my awful right hand and my tendency to drag saddles out of position if they are not held in place. While the bridge is off i replace the ground with a heavier guage wire which i fan the stripped portion out under the bridge when i run it back down. I replace the pckups with humbuckers, again a personal preference, and after trying a lot of humbuckers i like the Dimarzio Model J and Ultra J sets best. The model j for rock god blues power and the ultra j for country and Americana. I install a set of Gotoh oversize strap buttons which solves the straplock dilemma while avoiding the need for rubbers.
    I do some other stuff but it’s mostly cosmetic or to make the controls more reliable. I’ve got a friend with several high end basses and he recently picked up mine and after noodling for a while offered to buy it. Last time i saw him he said it’s his favorite bass.
  19. Maxdusty


    Mar 9, 2012
    Michigan USA
    What makes vintage Fenders "better"?
    If made in the 50s & 60s - 1% chance that the Bass Creator - Leo Fender himself touched or at least looked at your bass at some point and imparted some of his mojo.
    If you have a more current bass....zero.
  20. Alexander


    Aug 13, 2001
    Seattle, WA
    Cool - thanks for taking the time to write that out in detail. As I mentioned above, I have basically zero tinkering ability - but I wish I did. At least to do my own setup work and to more fully understand all the things that make my bass my bass. I know guys that love to tinker with basses (or cars!) just as much as they like to play (drive) them. I totally respect that.

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