The "vintage" it real or is it a marketing scam?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by JPJ, Nov 6, 2001.

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  1. JPJ


    Apr 21, 2001
    Chicago, IL
    I've noticed quite a few postings about vintage basses at the forum lately, and I thought that this would be a good time to address a topic that has been bugging me for quite a while. If you've been on this forum for a day, you've surely been introduced to the notion that "vintage" basses are the ultimate in tone and that old Fenders are the holy grail of the bass-playing community. I STRONGLY disagree, despite the fact that I love old basses, think that they sound great, and are fun to play. That notwithstanding, I think that the entire notion of "vintage" basses and their superior tone is simply a scam designed to give bass manufactureres another tool to move product.
    First, I hear the argument all the time that these basses were just made better....were of a higher quality than any & all basses made after them, because they were "handmade" with love and care in smaller production runs, so that quality could be kept under control. This is total crap. Modern technology, CAD design, computer technology, improvements in hardware and luthery skills, and precision-cutting machines have all made it possible for new basses to be crafted and assembled with the highest degree of precision and accuracy in the history of the bass guitar.
    The other argument tht I often hear is that the basses have aged naturally for decades...sometimes half a century...and that the settling of the finish, weakening of the pickup magnets, old-growth timber, constant vibration of the strings, etc. have allowed the bass to open up and breathe more than a "green", new bass. I also don't buy this one, although some of these statements are true. I just don't think that they affect the tone of the bass to that high a degree to make the tone THAT much different from a relatively new bass.
    If you think about it, the SOUND that vintage lovers compare modern basses to is the sound that was recorded by classic rock bands of the '60's and early '70's. THIS is vintage tone made by VINTAGE basses, right. This is the tone that collectors are paying thousands of dollars to achieve. Well, when Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Stones, Jefferson Airplane, etc. were all laying down those classic tracks on their classic basses, the basses they were using were BRAND NEW. If anything, they were only several years old, which would be comperable to anything in a used guitar rack in any local music shop. If new basses don't sound as good as "vintage" basses of the '50's and '60s, then how could these bass tracks sound so fantastic, and why do they inspire us to go out and buy these old "vintage" basses from this era?
    Finally, if age, vibration, settling of the wood fibres, etc. make for a great sounding bass, why are basses from the '70s and early '80s not commanding higher prices for their superior tone over new basses. Afterall, when the basses from the '60's came into vogue in the late '80s, they were only about 25 years old at that point. Thus, my '77 Jass is about 25 years old, so why is it not skyrocketing in price and why is it not considered to be a tone machine of the highes quality. Some will argue that the basses of this era are not of the highest quality...and I agree. But do these differences account for such a high disparity in values...considering that age adds such positive and desirable tonal characteristics to a bass? If we go with these assumptions, '70s and '80s basses should have GREAT tone, just like the basses before them did. But now we've come full circle, because the basses of the '60s sounded great new anyway, right. Listen to "Exile on Mainstreet", "Tommy", "Led Zep II", "Aqualung", etc.
    Just a few thoughts before you run out and spend $8,000 on a worn out P-bass. And NOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW...let the fun begin. Let's have some responses!!!
  2. geoffzilla


    Oct 30, 2001
    Nashville, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Aguilar Amplification
    Wow! do you feel better now? that's a lot to vent. The only comment I would make is that stringed instruments do imporve as they are played (not necessarily aged, but played). I have heard a new upright "open up" dramatically after only two weeks of daily playing. I think a lot of your arguments make sense for individual cases, but you are trying to make sweeping generalizations about all basses. I'm posistive that you know the answers to most of your questions already.
  3. Tapp


    Aug 29, 2001
    USA, Mississippi
    I mostly agree with you JPJ, but I will say that 70's instruments are commanding much higher prices than what you can buy a used "recent" Jazz or P bass for (mostly Jazz's though). I personally think 4-bolt 70's Jazz's have an awesome tone; probably why I own 2 of them. Quality is at times shoddy but the good ones are great IMO.

    I will say this too concerning the "aged" issue. I spoke with a local luthier recently who is versed in archtop guitar building and has worked on high end stuff (apprenticed in NY). He told me that he would much rather have say an older bass who's neck has been under tension for several years (he didn't give me a time specific) and remained stable (ie no twists, cracks, and bows). He said I could trust this neck much more than a "new" neck that is still moving around. In my experience, I think he's right. My '73 Jazz I bought cheap because of refin had a terrible fret level job that made it unplayable. After sending it to this luthier, having the board trued up and refretted; it plays wonderful and I never have tuning problems. I recently put together a "FrankenJazz" from parts, the neck was a beautiful maple with maple board; I couldn't get the thing straight. I would tweek the truss rod and it would straighten up, the next day it was bowed; I sent it back.

    Summing up, I do agree that a lot of the prices are extremely hyped.

  4. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    This brings us to another point, which I never understood: The Fender Relic Series. Why would you want to pay over 2 grand for a guitar/bass that has had the bejesus beat out of it? If I'm paying that much money, there better not even be a scratch on the backplate.
  5. frankencow150

    frankencow150 Guest

    Oct 17, 2001
    that was the bets point i have heard on talkbass.the fact that people buy these to get the sound of led zeppelin,the who etc...,but dont understand that the basses those bass players were using werent that old,very smart thinking JPJ...
  6. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    You are right about the fact that when the old records were made, the axes were new. The more important component of the recorded sound is of course the old amplifiers and the old recording gear (tube mixers and mikes, etc.).

    In the 70s, when people first started lusting after pre-CBS axes, Fender had made significant changes to the instruments so the older ones did sound quite different: warmer, rounder.

    I think that today's "vintage reissues" made (supposedly) with vintage spec parts will sound as good in 40 years as pre-CBS basses do today...if they are played a lot! I have a 62 Jazz RI that was 10 years old and WELL played (lots of finish worn down to the wood) when I bought it 3 years ago and it sounds very, very good already.

    Wooden string instruments do sound better the more you play them, this is well understood in acoustic instrument circles. I personally believe this is also true with electric instruments.

    However, I'm not someone who will ever play $5000+ to get a pre-CBS bass. Instead I would buy a Sadowsky and have enough $$$$ left over to buy a used Daewoo to drive to my gigs in :D

    I'm more interested in how much better my own basses will sound as I play them more :p
  7. geshel


    Oct 2, 2001
    I'm also really curious as to how much money Fender et al make on vintage reissues, compared to what they make on the gazillions of normal instruments they sell. I don't figure it's really that much. When you look at the fact that an AmStrat costs $1000, and Les Pauls cost $2500. It's all a rip-off! :)
  8. Aram


    Feb 2, 2003
    New York, NY
    I'm bumping this olde thread.

    For one, I've always wondered this -- not so much is it a 'marketing scam', but are the merits of vintage instruments a bit overstated? I admitedly have limited experience in vintage basses, because i've never owned one. But one thing I have appreciated about the ones I have played was the feel of a nice broken-in instrument.

    Now, however, I'm playing in a setup where it's suggested I purchase a vintage P-bass, because that's the only thing that gets 'the sound'. I probably will anyway (because I think it'd be a good thing to have in my arsenal -- for precisely these types of instances), but I have a tough time believing that the ONLY thing that gets 'the sound' is a VINTAGE P-bass. Feel and look, fine, but sound?

    Before I get harangued about how the wood 'opens up' after all those years, etc etc realize I'm an upright player first and foremost, and am aware of the tonal properties of aged woods. My 100+ year old Czech upright sounds better than my 60 year old German (for many reasons, but certainly age plays a roll). But in my estimation, on an electric instrument -- especially when surrounded by loud guitars and drums -- the difference would be subtle at best.

    Flame away :cool:


    edit: fixed poor spelling
  9. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    thanks for bumping this thread aram
    5500 for a jazz bass, come on.........
    i think some vintage axes sound great but i'm not a rich collector
    besides there are so many companies making jazz copies that dance all around most fenders tone wise, and if you go thru enough fenders (a guitar show is a great place to do this) you can find a jazz for 1500 that sounds and plays every bit as good as that 5500 dollar 1963 jazz that looks like it was dragged behind a vw bug during the remainder of that decade:rolleyes:
  10. Gentlemen,

    I received my FIRST, now vintage bass in 1966, my father gave it to me. The bass was brand new, I was 5 years old. That bass has been my life ever since and I still own it.

    I'm not trying to replicate anyone' s sound. I'm just old and have kept all my instruments, now their vintage!

  11. dave_clark69

    dave_clark69 Guest

    Jan 17, 2003
    basses now are made with a big variety of tones that you can variate. There are just some things that vintage basses have. As you may know i have a 1983 ibanez roadster bass series 2. It has the same tone as john paul jones has. It also sounds like a bass. My yamaha is good; nice and light, but it doesnt sound like a bass, it sounds like a guitar. This ibanez is really old and in perfect nick, its even the same strings. but their tone is so unique and fantastic
  12. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    For the sake of playing, I think that age, per se, is irrelevant. If an instrument sounds good, feels good and looks good to you and is at a price you can afford, then it's worth it - otherwise it's not.

    If someone wants to buy something because it's old, that's fine, but that makes them a 'collector' as well as a player. The value of an instrument to me is whether I find it a well made tool that I will make good use of.

  13. IvanMike

    IvanMike Player Characters fear me... Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 10, 2002
    Middletown CT, USA
    right you are
    i'm not bashing collectors at all, i've played some oldies that i would have loved to have bought but the price tag was just a wee bit too high
    another thing to consider is that there is tremendous variation from bass to bass in terms of playablity and tone regardless of age - however the "dogs" seem to command just as high of a price tag because they are "vintage"
    my guitar player has the money to collect and to him there are two companies - gibson and fender
    he actually has no "vintage" guitars but has 4 "relic" strats, a "relic" tele, and a new les paul. they are all wonderful, but it took playing a whole bunch of guitars to find these jems. the les paul alone was selected from about 30 over the course of several months.
    go play 20 fender american standard jazz basses and i guarantee you will have played 20 VERY different basses, just because its a fender doesnt automatically make it a player
    i will say this. the fender "relics" as a whole seem to be better tone wise and playability wise than their "NOS" and "closet classic" cousins. no idea why.
  14. SMASH said it better then I !

  15. Nino Valenti

    Nino Valenti Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 2, 2001
    Staten Island NYC
    Builder: Valenti Basses
    I'd say it's alittle of both.

    Personally, as a player. I wouln't want to bring a $6000+ 60's Jazz to a gig for fear of it getting swipped. I'm paranoid about bringing my Sadowsky's that cost 1/2 as much.

    About the cost of these instruments, if a buyer is willing to buy it for these prices, the sellers are going to keep asking the high prices.

    I've played alot of vintage peices & alot have been dogs & some have been AWESOME but NOTHING has been as good as the Sadowsky's I own.

    Also, I've played alot of Custom Shop Re-Issues & I can't recall one that was bad.

    You're only as old as you tell people..... I mean as old as you feel. ;)
  16. I have no problem with others knowing my true age!:D

    42 and still rockin"

  17. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    Not all stringed instruments improve over time. Classical guitars deteriorate.
  18. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    I say vintage bass players are the best !
  19. Keech


    Oct 16, 2003
    All in your head
    I played a '51 P-bass remake from the Fender custom shop. It is built to the exact specs of the '51 bass. It was a little over $6000!! The storeowner said he'd let it go for 3 grand. Nope, sorry--still out of my range.

    I mean, if I had 6 grand to blow on a bass, I'd look at some custom Alembics or something. I sure wouldn't spend it to buy a "vintage" bass that had to be greatly modified in the late 50s in order to stay competitive. And after playing it I could see why. Big, heavy clunky thing.
  20. Well, I'm an old fart and I've had a lot of instruments over the years...some old and some new. I think there is a whole lot of crap spread around about this subject. Personally, I think you have "old school" sound and "modern" sound and unless the "old school" instrument is a real dog, it will sound fine in the "old school" context. It would probably be more accurate to say that say that it can be made to sound fine by using various right-hand techniques and amp and instrument settings. I have "my tone" and I can (and do) get it on anything I play whether new, old or "vintage." I love the look and feel of vintage instruments but I can get the tone / sound I want and need from a '70's Jazz Bazz or a Reverend Rumblefish. I personally feel that far too much fuss is made about the age of an instrument when the "real" tone comes from a mixture of materials, adjustments, pick up configuration and playing technique. Just my $.02, YMMV.

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