Fender Bass Guitar Facts and Myths

Fender has been around a long time, and over the years several myths have developed about Fender Basses. The question is….are any of them true? When Fender first started making basses the only thing on the company’s agenda was to produce high-quality instruments efficiently. But, as time went by and Fender became a legend and their instruments became collectible, the Fender bass guitar facts and myths began to grow and spread.

Clay Dots

One of the most interesting Fender myths is the story around the clay dots. This story refers to the position markers used on rosewood fingerboards from 1959 to 1964. For years, collectors have coveted the fact that Fender basses from this period had tan or brown-tinted position markers rather than the white or faux pearl dots. The stories of what type of material Fender used for these markers had been disputed for years.

Probably the biggest myth is that Fender used old floor tile material to create the so-called clay dots. The story goes that Leo Fender needed to change the floor in the Fender factory. So, he decided to use the old tiles to cut out the position markers for the new rosewood fingerboards. This was supposedly in order to save money. It’s also usually added that the tiles contained dangerous asbestos, making things a little more dramatic. Other stories have Fender using actually clay material for the dots, hence their name.

The (most likely) truth about the clay dots

The truth is that Fender used a type of filler compound that was popular for furniture work back in the day. The material would dry hard and was actually stark white in color when new. Over time, the combination of the oil from the rosewood board and the general sweat and dirt from years of playing would turn the dots that clay color.

Generally speaking, the darker the rosewood the darker the dots would become. Sometime in 1964 Fender replaced that method with faux pearl dot inlays. The “clay dots” on the new Fender reissues and Custom Shop basses are colored plastic.

’70s Jazz Pickup Spacing

In 1970, Fender started building Jazz Basses with the bridge (back) pickup located about 1/4″ closer to the bridge. This seemingly minor adjustment had quite an impact on the tone of the instrument and on rock music in general. The new pickup position gave the Jazz Bass a brighter, tighter, and more focused sound. Many people believe this sound had a major influence on the popularity of funk.

Why Fender made this change has sparked numerous myths and speculation. Some say that Fender wanted to change the tone of the Jazz Bass to meet the growing demand for a brighter bass sound. The odd thing is that there is no documentation of Fender ever revealing this change to the public. You would think Fender would want to announce this to help boost sales. Of course, this change happened during the CBS years when Fender was starting to lose touch with musicians and overall quality and attention to detail were on the downside.

The real Jazz pickup story

The other story, the one that is most accepted, is that Fender moved the pickup back purely for aesthetic reasons. The original bridge pickup placement meant that when the bridge cover was attached (most bassists removed them) the pickup was partly visible. So, Fender moved it back so that it would be completely hidden by the pickup cover.

Whatever the reason was, the change had a big impact on the Jazz Bass sound of that era. And, this sound contributed to the movement towards funk and slap bass. By 1982, Fender returned to the narrower and warmer sounding 60s pickup placement for all its standard Jazz Basses. All, of course, except for the 70s reissues and certain Custom Shop models.

3-Bolt Micro-Tilt Neck

Sometime in 1974, Fender started to produce Jazz Basses and Telecaster Basses with a 3 bolt neck instead of the usual 4 bolt attachment. There’s been a lot of confusion and myth regarding why Fender switched to the 3 bolt system, why it was never used on the Precision Bass, and the fact that many people think it’s inferior to the 4 bolt necks.

The 3-Bolt story

The first misconception is that Fender switched to a 3 bolt neck to save money. Actually, the 3 bolt system was more complex and more expensive than the 4 bolt neck. This is why it was used on the more expensive Jazz Bass (a deluxe model) and Telecaster Bass (a specialty model) but not on the Precision Bass, which was at the time considered the standard model.

The reason for the expense was Fender’s Micro-Tilt neck adjustment, which was part of the 3 bolt neck design. In theory, it allows the player to adjust the tilt angle of the neck using an Allen head screw located in the neck plate. This would enable you to achieve lower action without removing the neck and placing a shim in the neck pocket.

The downside to the 3 bolt Micro-Tilt neck is the possibility of instability. This was mainly a problem of build quality rather than the actual design. Fender was probably at its lowest point around this time, and the quality control was not always that great. As a result, many of the 3 bolt Jazz Basses ended up having neck issues which led lots of people to believe that it was only because of the 3 bolt design.

In truth, the 3 bolt neck design itself was solid and was used on early Musicman and G&L basses with no such issues. It was simply a matter of execution and overall construction that ultimately doomed the 3 bolt neck, with Fender discontinuing them in 1981. They still show up today in Fender reissue models and by all accounts work just fine.

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