THE LOW END
“Wow, that’s weird!”
Every now and then, a vintage bass will cross
your path looking kosher, but after a second
look something jumps out that doesn’t seem
right. Sometimes it actually is; it’s what I
refer to as “factory correct.” This installment
will address that situation for Rickenbacker,
Gibson/Epihone and Fender basses.
By far, Rickenbackers are the most consistent basses out of the factory. The only item
that jumps out at me is from the period
when the neck pickup on 4001 basses
moved slightly more toward the bridge. The
neck pickup cavity looks like a small bar of
soap could drop right in. There appeared
to be a clearance problem transitioning to
the new guard assembly on some of the old
bodies. In order to fix the clearance issue,
the bottom of the cavity was hand routed—
I’ve seen one that was hand-drilled, like
the wire channel. The bottom edge is not
perfectly straight, but the finish in the cavity was factory correct, making the routing
factory original. Like I said, Rickenbacker
basses are very consistent.
Gibson and Epiphone
Gibson/Epiphone basses are also fairly
consistent, but they do have one very big
issue: almost every time Gibson introduces
a new bass to the market, they don’t get
the neck pitch/neck angle correct. We’ve all
seen Gibson basses that have laser-straight
necks, but their bridges are bottomed and
the action is still a little high. Early issue,
non-reverse T-birds are notorious for this.
With EB series basses, whenever specs are
modified they have this issue. These basses
run the gamut, from playable to completely
awful. There are ways around this, so all is
Another item—it’s not a biggie, but needs to
be mentioned—is transition basses containing both nickel and chrome parts. Forty-plus
years ago, the parts looked the same, but
today they don’t: nickel gets a milky look
while chrome looks like it should. It’s all factory correct and should not have a negative
impact on value.
Next, the cosmetic second. From the late fifties to the early eighties you could find a “ 2”
on the back of the headstock. This is a cos-
metic second. Gibson never sold an item that
was a structural second. I haven’t been able
to find anyone who could explain why a bass
was a cosmetic second. It apparently scares
away some folks at resale time. Personally, I
do not devalue the item at my shop because
of this, but I do mention it.
The only thing consistent with old Fender
basses is their inconsistency. Where do I
begin? How about logos? On many occa-
A Fender Mustang Bass sports the “parts logo.”
sions, I’ve seen basses with a logo applied
over another logo. My hunch is there was a
bubble or crease on the first applied logo.
After drying, it was smoothed, and another
logo is applied right over it. Only a trained
eye and a gut check would know if this was
What about a wrong logo? I’ve seen logos
transposed between Telecaster and Precision
basses and Musicmaster and Mustang basses. The strangest logo by far is the kooky
one Fender used between early 1966 and
early 1969 as a substitute. First, they used
the Fender part of either a Transition or TV
logo and clipped the rest; then they used the
model designation from another logo, if it
was available; and finally, a logo that just said
“bass” in a font no one had seen before.
They would merge the decal parts and viola!
Instant logo. Mustang and Telecaster basses
frequently wore this freak logo, but I’ve
seen it on a handful of Precisions, too. I’ve
also seen a few Telecaster guitar logos on
The next issue may not be an abnormality,
but it’s a source of confusion. What is the
correct vintage case for Pre-CBS basses?
Tweed cases started to fade out in late 1959.
Brown cases were used from early 1960 to
early 1963, or so; white cases were used
from mid 1963 to early 1964. Finally, black
no-logo cases were used from mid 1964 to
early 1967. So what’s the correct case for
your bass? Arguably, your bass should have
the case to match its year, but I’d say it’s
fifty-fifty whether it left the original retailer
that way. Cases were produced and purchased in lots. The Fender factory used stock
on hand, so there was factory overlap. When
the cases transitioned, retailers sold Fender
basses in the cases available.
To the untrained eye, what you’re seeing
may or may not be factory correct. Dealing
with instruments of high value could cost you
some serious bucks. If you have any doubts,
have your concerns documented when you
have your instrument appraised. If questions
arise about a bass you’re buying from a dealer, get your questions answered in writing.
If the bass is being purchased from a private
party, have a trained professional assess it.
Next month, I will dive into part two of vintage bass anomalies. Until next time, drop
the gig bag and bring the 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