Top 10 Vintage Fender Bass Years
Coming up with the best Fender Bass years is a tall task, especially when you consider all the years Fender produced great basses. I decided to concentrate on the vintage years between the 50's and 70's even though there are many awesome years after that and up to today.
It would be almost impossible to play a vintage Fender from every year and of course any given bass could be amazing or not so good from the same year.
I therefore put the main criteria on the significance of that bass in Fender's history, on the great players that used them, and the overall reputation of that years quality.
I picked this year for two main reasons. First is that it seems that so many professional bassists have used a '72 Fender, especially Jazz Basses. I figure there has to be a something magic about that year. The second reason is that this is really when the new Jazz Bass pickup location started to have a real impact. Fender moved the Jazz bridge pickup about a 1/4" farther back in 1970. Although it doesn't seem like a big deal, it changed the sound of the Jazz pretty dramatically. It now had a more aggressive and punchy tone, perfect for funk and hard rock.
There were some interesting changes in '68 for Fender. The first one was something that some Fender fanatics regard as a big mistake. This was the year Fender switched from nitrocellulose to polyurethane for the color coat on all their basses, although the top clear coat continued to be nitro for many years. There are a few people that feel that this fact alone caused Fenders to suffer in sound quality. I personally think it had almost no effect on the tone of the basses or the overall quality of the instrument. Many top bassists have used a 68' Fender Bass so they must have something special going on.
This is a transition year for Fender, especially the Jazz Bass. CBS had taken over the company a year before and was already implementing some big design changes. The Jazz now had a bound neck and soon after would have the faux pearl block inlays too. The Precision Bass stayed pretty much the same but what makes this year special is the Jazz Bass changes and the fact that the quality control was still high with Leo Fender remaining as a consultant and many of the original builders still on staff.
This year had to be on the list simply because it was the first year. Although the 1951 Fender Precision Bass isn't regarded by many as a great Fender Bass by today's standards, if it wasn't for this bass there may not have been any other electric basses period. The design was simple, sturdy and easy to play. Leo Fender's new bass guitar is an absolute milestone instrument that changed music forever.
Another year of sweeping changes at Fender. Although some might not consider this a year of great basses, it's significance is the reason it's on the list. Fender starts offering fretless versions of the Precision Bass, standard options now include maple and rosewood fingerboards, the threaded bridge saddles are changed to the slotted barrel design. This is also the year Fender moved the bridge pickup on the Jazz Bass 1/4" further back.
Just three years after Leo Fender created the first mass produced electric bass he made a bold and important design change. Fender added sleek body contours like those found on the newly released Stratocaster guitar. This gave the bass a modern look but more importantly it was lighter and more comfortable to play. Other changes included replacing the pressed fiber bridge saddles with steel and offering a two tone sunburst color, which would become the iconic finish for Fender.
The year the Fender Jazz Bass was introduced. For many Fender Bass fans and historians that's all that needs to be said. With it's two single coil pickups, thin neck profile and sleek asymmetrical body design, the Jazz changed the way a bass was played and heard. The original version with the stacked concentric knobs is one of the most sought after vintage basses in history.
The number of great bass players that have used a 62' Fender Bass is remarkable. James Jamerson's " Funk Machine" Precision Bass, Jaco's "Bass of Doom" Jazz Bass, and John Paul Jones' Fender Jazz. This was obviously a special year and also one marked by some important changes. The slab rosewood fingerboards are replaced with laminated radius ones and the Jazz no longer had the stacked controls or the individual mute system, having been phased out since mid 61'.
An enormously important year in Fender history. This is the year the Precision Bass was completely redesigned. This version of the P-Bass would become the bass that all others after would be judged against. The biggest change was the new split coil, hum-bucking pickup that replaced the old single coil. The headstock was now larger, the body had a sleeker shape, and the strings were now top mounted through the bridge. The sound of the 57' Precision would become the sound of rock & roll for years to come. The 1957 P-Bass is an absolute legend.
I chose this year as the best of all Fender years for one main reason. This was the last year before Leo Fender sold his company to CBS. I think it represents the pinnacle of Fender craftsmanship and quality as a whole. The company was still small enough and tight enough to have complete control over their instruments. They also understood the importance of customer feedback to make only necessary changes, something that got lost with CBS later on. Tons of bassists have played Fender models from this year, and if I had the opportunity to buy any vintage bass I wanted to I would search for a 1964 Fender Bass first.