T HELOWEN D
I Coulda Been a Contender!
The last few issues we explored all sorts of
viable alternatives for a good vintage bass,
from vintage refins to custom replicas. A
great way to wrap this up would be to discuss how a reissue really stacks up against
the real deal.
Through some horse-trading my shop
acquired four viable candidates, which all
went head-to-head in a showdown. The
testing was all done blindfolded to keep
initial impressions limited to tone and feel.
Each bass went through three different
rigs: a vintage Seventies Ampeg SVT with a
matching 8x10 cabinet to reproduce high-volume situations; a 1968 Ampeg B- 15 to
reproduce studio situations; and lastly, a
Hartke head going through an old set of
Bag End 1x12 cabinets to simulate what
you’d be playing in 95 percent of your studio rehearsal halls. The four basses used in
the test are as follows.
The Reigning Champ
We got our hands on a real deal, 1961
stack knob Jazz bass. This bass is 100 percent original, unmodified and show room
complete. Weighing in at 8. 5 pounds, the
output at the amp end of the jack was
3.59K. Measurements showed the nut to
be 1. 5”, transitioning to 2 7/16” at the last
fret. The tone of this instrument could be
described as purely from the gods – buttery and focused, although she will wake
up in a hurry when you start to dig in. Even
blindfolded, you could feel an intense mojo
that could not be recreated or purchased.
I would like to thank Gary Rivenson for the
use of his number one axe.
The Contender and New Kid on the Block
My friend Craig Brody of Guitar Broker
commissioned the Fender Custom Shop to
make six 1960 stack knob basses. One bass
was to be made in each of his favorite colors, and most importantly, the basses were
to be made to his exact specifications. The
bottom line is this bass feels, looks and
performs nothing like a standard Custom
Shop bass. It weighs 8. 5 pounds, has an
output of 3.65K and a 1. 5” nut, filling
out to 2. 5” at the last fret. Front to back,
the neck was thicker than the real 1961
Stacker, but the tone on this bass was
robust, almost like a good P-bass. The area
that this newbie could not match was the
response to digging in – she performed
The next pair consisted of 1966 dots and
bound Jazz basses. One was real and one
was a limited edition Custom Shop reissue.
The Rock Star
We put our hands on a 1966 custom color
Candy Apple Red Jazz bass in completely
original condition. She weighed in a little
zaftig but still comfortable 9. 7 pounds. The
standard nut was 1. 5” and the fingerboard
was 2. 5” wide at the last fret.
This ‘ 61 stack knob Jazz bass easily
handled the competition.
While the Stackers showed up wearing old
school mandolin fretwire, the ‘66s showed
up with modern wide wire.
The interesting stat here revolved around
the output; although it measured 3.37K,
this bass was loud. To my ear, it was easily
15-20 percent louder than the other three.
I love P and J basses from 1966. They’re
loud, middy and have a delightfully snotty
disposition, and this bass certainly did not
disappoint. If the Stackers are gentlemanly
in nature – like a vintage Porsche 911 – the
‘ 66 is a jacked up Chevelle with a blower.
I’d like to thank my good friend Ed Zdrok
for the use of his baby.
The Mirror Star
My shop acquired one of a limited run of
Custom Shop 1966 dots and bound Jazz
basses, made using the usual components
by the usual crew. This Sonic Blue honey
weighed in at 9 pounds flat. The output was
3.55K, while the neck was 1. 5” at the nut
and 2. 5” inches at the last fret. The pickups
were the usual bevel-edged Custom Shop
units. It sounded great in a modern way,
and man did it ever look the part! The look
of this bass is amazing – admired after the
blindfold came off, of course.
The Final Mojo
All four basses looked, performed and
sounded incredible – but different. In the
end, the hands down winner was the real-deal ‘ 61 Stacker. There’s a reason these
basses are north of $20,000. Everyone
should own one at one point in their life
– sell the dog and work three jobs if you
must. Second place was given to the ‘ 66
real-deal Candy Apple Red. With looks
that will kill and tone for days, there’s an
unmistakable “wow” factor here, and it’s
priced within dreaming distance. A very
close third place went to the Guitar Broker
Stacker. On many occasions I thought this
was the real ‘ 66 bass. I am calling this bass
the first understudy, because she is that
good. The fourth place bass, but absolutely
no loser, is the ’ 66 Custom Shop reissue. It
had gorgeous looks, great tone and great
playability, but it will never come off as the
real thing. Think of this as the 2008 Shelby
Cobra – it looks old school, but is cutting
edge. There are no losers here, just winners.
Anyway I’m going to wrap up a little different
this month. I’d like to dedicate this month’s
column to my cousin Ezra, who passed a few
weeks ago. He was a man of knowledge,
inspiration and friendship. Most importantly,
he was just a good dude. I’ll see y’all in
Dallas, and feel free to bring cannolis!
Kevin Borden has been a bass player since 1975, and is
currently President of Goodguysguitars.com.
Feel free to call him KeBo.
He can be reached at