1968’s Telecaster Bass occupies a special place in Fender history, if for no other reason than that it was the company’s first-ever “reissue” instrument.
Many years later, in the 1980s, the modern Fender corporation would start building the first of the great many reissue guitars and basses that now comprise a large and popular portion of the company’s stable of instruments. But such an idea was highly unusual at the CBS-era Fender in the late 1960s, when designers first decided to look backward rather than forward for a “new” bass guitar design.
Thus the arrival of the interestingly named Telecaster Bass. Basically a reissue of the original version of the Precision Bass, there was really very little about it that had anything to do with the Telecaster guitar. True, it had the distinctive headstock shape of the Telecaster, but that shape was also a feature of the original Precision Bass headstock.
The Telecaster Bass owed its existence to the fact that its true direct ancestor, the revolutionary Precision, was redesigned not once but twice within several years of its 1951 debut; first in 1954 and again even more dramatically in 1957. So substantial were the changes, in fact, that the Precision Bass of 1957 onward bore little resemblance to its 1951 predecessor.
It was this long-discarded design — that of the original ’51 Precision — that was re-introduced in May 1968 as Fender’s “newest” bass.
Like the first Precision basses, the Telecaster Bass had a slab body, one single-coil pickup, the aforementioned Telecaster-style headstock, string-through-body design with a two-saddle bridge, large chrome bridge and pickup covers, a pickguard that covered the entire upper bout and controls mounted on a Telecaster-style chrome plate. Priced at the time at $302.50, it was less expensive than a Jazz Bass ($356.50) but slightly more expensive than a Precision Bass ($293.50).
The differences between the 1968 Telecaster Bass and the 1951 Precision were less obvious. The Telecaster Bass’s pickguard was white rather than black, and its string ferrules were smaller and slightly raised (’51 Precision ferrules were flush-mounted into the body). The Telecaster Bass also had a two-piece maple cap neck with no “skunk stripe,” although some models built later in 1968 did have the one-piece maple neck typical of the first Precision basses. Some early models had the paddle-shaped Fender-made tuners found on the 1966 Jazz Bass.
This first Telecaster Bass version had three different headstock decals. The earliest was a regular silver Telecaster guitar logo with the word “bass” added underneath; only prototypes are known to have this decal. The second decal was the larger black Telecaster Bass logo, with “Bass” in the same script style as “Fender.” The third and most common decal had the silver Fender script with the words “Telecaster Bass” in a sans-serif font underneath.
The 1968 Telecaster Bass also bore the unusual distinction of being briefly issued with Fender’s infamous pink paisley and blue floral finishes. These were achieved by applying paisley and floral wallpaper to the top and back, with the sides shaded using a sunburst technique to match the paper and a thick clear coat covering the entire instrument.
The original Telecaster Bass model lasted until 1972, at which point substantial modifications were introduced. These resulted in what was essentially a new version of the instrument.
Differences in the new Telecaster Bass model of 1972 were readily apparent. Chief among them was the replacement of the small single-coil pickup with a large and powerful humbucking pickup.
Staunchly single-coil Fender got serious about humbucking pickups in the late 1960s, hiring the inventor of the design, Seth Lover, away from Gibson in 1967. Lover designed new humbucking pickups for Fender that were introduced on the Telecaster Thinline (1971 version), Telecaster Custom (1972) and Telecaster Deluxe (1973) guitars.
The modified 1972 Telecaster Bass also benefitted from Lover’s efforts, with a look and sound substantially altered by the change in pickup type. Other changes included eliminating the chrome control plate in favor of a larger pickguard that extended down over the lower bout, a three-bolt neck plate with tilt adjustment, a bullet truss rod with headstock-end adjustment and a different headstock decal, changed from silver to gold with black outlining.
This second version of the Telecaster Bass remained available throughout the rest of the decade until the instrument was discontinued in 1979.
The design of the first version didn’t appear again until 1994, when Fender Japan introduced the reissue ’51 Precision Bass, which may also be seen as a reissue of the 1968-1971 version of the Telecaster Bass. This instrument used the larger, more period-correct string ferrules of the kind used on early-’50s Precision basses. This instrument remains available today and was subsequently joined by slightly revised counterparts in the forms of the Mike Dirnt and Sting Precision Bass models.
The second-version Telecaster Bass design didn’t resurface again until spring 2007, when Fender value brand Squier introduced its Vintage Modified Precision Bass TB. This instrument features a large humbucking pickup, large pickguard and Telecaster-style headstock patterned after its 1972-1979 predecessor. It too remains available today.
While only modestly successful in its original incarnations, the Telecaster Bass did enjoy a solid reputation as a formidable rock bass, and instruments in good condition command hefty prices in the vintage market. Bassists known for playing the model 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).
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