This photo from Fender’s 1969 catalog shows all the Fender basses of the 1960s except a Coronado model, including the Bass VI (second from right), Bass V (far right and second from left), Mustang Bass (third from right) first version of the Telecaster Bass (center), and the ubiquitous Precision (far left) and Jazz (third from left) basses.
Fender’s Precision® and Jazz® basses have ruled the music world with impunity ever since they were introduced (in 1951 and 1960, respectively), and yet as perpetually omnipresent as both instruments are, there have been other Fender basses. Plenty of them, in fact. From the Bass VI in 1961 to the Jaguar Bass in 2006, there have indeed been many other members of the family led by the venerable Precision and Jazz.
In roughly chronological order then, here’s a survey of these “other” Fender basses, which run from the forgotten to the far-out to the familiar. Part one, here, covers the 1960s and 1970s; parts two and three will cover the 1980s to the present.
Bass VI (1961-1975). Within a year of the Jazz Bass’s 1960 debut, Fender introduced its six-string Bass VI, which was really a baritone guitar rather than a full-on bass. It was Fender’s answer to Danelectro’s 1956 six-string bass and its popular “tic-tac” sound, but the short-scale (30”), triple-pickup Fender Bass VI was its own instrument entirely, with much more tonal versatility and an attractively sleek chromed-out design. Although not especially successful—players found the neck too thin and the string spacing too close—it stayed in the Fender lineup for more than a decade, and it did find its way into some very capable hands, most notably Jack Bruce, Jet Harris, John Entwistle, and George Harrison and John Lennon, who sometimes picked up a Bass VI while Paul McCartney was busy at the piano (as seen in a 1968 promo film for “Hey Jude”). Fender reissued the Bass VI from 1995 to 1998, and the related dual-pickup Jaguar® Bass VI Custom was available from 2004 to 2007.
|A mid-’60s Bass V (above) and a modern-era reissue Mustang Bass (below).
Bass V (1965-1970). The world’s first five-string bass, the short-lived Bass V appeared in summer 1965 and was the first Fender instrument designed with little or no input from Leo Fender. A true oddball of unusual dimensions, the Bass V was three inches longer than a Precision even though it only had 15 frets, and it had stubby horns and a long and ungainly headstock in order to accommodate the fifth string—a high C rather than the customary low B of modern five-string basses. It looked weird—“deformed and stretched” as described by authors Martin Kelly, Terry Foster and Paul Kelly in The Golden Age of Fender: 1946-1970, and it didn’t catch on. James Jamerson, John Paul Jones and C.F. Turner (Bachman-Turner Overdrive) were known to play the model, but the Bass V was discontinued in 1970. No more than 1,000 were made, and the Bass V is considered a collectible instrument today.
Mustang® Bass (1966-1981, 2002-). The first truly successful Fender bass that didn’t say “Precision” or “Jazz” on the headstock was 1966’s Mustang Bass. Leo Fender began development of the instrument in 1964 as the final element in a complete range of student instruments; indeed, it was the last Fender bass guitar designed by Leo himself. Based on that year’s highly successful Mustang guitar, the Mustang Bass was a split-pickup, short-scale (30”) student model that also found favor with pros including Bill Wyman, Trevor Bolder (Spiders from Mars), John Deacon, Colin Moulding (XTC), Fred Smith (Television) and Tina Weymouth. Discontinued in 1981, the Mustang Bass was resurrected in 2002 and remains in the line today. A Squier model, the Vintage Modified Mustang Bass, appeared in 2011, followed in 2012 by the artist-model Mikey Way Mustang Bass.
The Coronado Bass I and Bass II (above) and a Wildwood Cornado Bass II (below), as seen in the 1968 Fender catalog.
Coronado Bass (1966-1973). At the behest of new owners CBS, Fender introduced its first hollow-body instruments in 1966 under the Coronado banner, including the single-pickup Coronado Bass I. The dual-pickup Coronado Bass II followed in 1967. Like all Coronado instruments, these were true hollow-body instruments (no central solid wood block) with bolt-on necks and oversized f holes, and the Coronado Bass II became available in the highly distinctive Wildwood and Antigua finishes in late 1967. Although they were well built, Coronado series guitars and basses never really caught on, and the Coronado Bass I and II models were discontinued in 1970. The Wildwood Coronado Bass II and Antigua Coronado Bass II fared slightly better, lasting until 1973. Although regarded as something of an aberration at the time, Coronado basses are collectible today and command high prices in the vintage market.
Telecaster® Bass (1968-1979, 2011-). The 1968-1972 first version of the Telecaster Bass is really an “other” Fender bass in name only, it being a largely faithful reproduction of the original early-’50s Precision. The 1972-1979 second version had a large humbucking pickup in place of the first version’s single-coil pickup (and consequently a redesigned pickguard). Neither Telecaster bass model sold strongly, but the instrument nonetheless enjoyed a solid reputation—devotees past and present include Charlie Tumahai (Be-Bop Deluxe), Paul McGuigan (Oasis), Victor Damiani (Cake), Dusty Hill (ZZ Top), George Porter Jr. (Meters), Ron Wood (Jeff Beck Group), Lou Barlow (Dinosaur Jr.) and Mike Dirnt (Green Day). Today, both versions of the Telecaster Bass are highly regarded and sought after by collectors. Curiously, Fender has never reissued the instrument in either of its previous forms, although Squier introduced its Vintage Modified Precision Bass TB in 2007 as an affectionate and affordable nod to the 1972-1979 model. Fender’s Modern Player Telecaster Bass of 2011 differs substantially from both of its ’70s-era namesakes, most notably in its dual humbucking pickup design.
Musicmaster® Bass (1971-1981, 1998-1999). Another successful short-scale student model, the Musicmaster Bass, was introduced in 1971. If anything, it was an even simpler version of the Mustang Bass, and many a bass player started out as a kid with the budget-level Musicmaster and the small practice amp of the same name. Interestingly, the Musicmaster Bass’s pickup cover concealed a six-pole guitar pickup rather than a four-pole bass pickup; it is perhaps no surprise that many Musicmaster Bass owners modded their instruments with actual bass pickups. Like all of Fender’s budget models at the time, the Musicmaster Bass was discontinued in 1981; it reappeared briefly in 1998 as a member of the short-lived Squier Vista series before being supplanted only a year later by yet another short-scale student model, the Squier Bronco Bass, which remains in the line today.
Lead Bass (1979). There’s a very good reason why few if any have ever seen the fabled Lead Bass model of 1979—it never made it past the developmental stage. Little is known about the model, which was intended as the bass member of the short-lived Fender Lead series of guitars of 1979-1982, but at least one Lead Bass prototype was built. A photo of it that appears in author Klaus Blasquiz’s 1990 book, The Fender Bass, shows a distinctly different instrument—long scale, with the same double-cutaway body shaped that characterized the Lead I, II and III guitar models. Most notably, it had two slanted eight-pole single-coil pickups, with two black control knobs (volume and tone) and two pickup selector mini toggle switches, all mounted on a Stratocaster-like pickguard. It never went into production, thus becoming a Lead that was never followed up on.
Below, the first version of the Telecaster Bass (upper left) and an Antigua Coronado Bass II (upper right), both from the 1970 Fender catalog, the second version of the Telecaster Bass (lower left) as seen in the 1972 catalog, and a rarely seen 1979 prototype of the Lead Bass model (lower right), which never went into production.