Fender Precision Bass

The Fender Precision Bass introduced in 1951 changed the world of music forever.

Leo Fender’s ingenious idea to create a solid body electric bass guitar that could be mass produced proved to have a profound effect that is felt and heard to this day.

The four string Precision Bass had a Telecaster style body and headstock with a single coil, four pole piece pickup. The neck was a one-piece hunk of maple that resembled a baseball bat.

Although by today’s standards the original pickup would be considered a little wimpy, at the time it was still much louder when compared to the volume of the stand-up double bass. Many musicians were quite skeptical about this new, strange bass guitar, and it took several years and a lot of marketing on Fender’s part to get the Precision bass accepted as a serious musical instrument.

In mid-1957 Leo Fender and his team radically redesigned the Precision Bass. The body was now sleeker and more ergonomic, usually using alder and sometimes ash. This was to be the final version of the Precision and it has changed very little since then. Probably no other bass in history has been more copied than this Fender P-Bass design. This instrument set the standard for both sound and durability with it’s simple and sturdy functionality.

Two-toned sunburst was the standard finish with custom colors available at an extra charge. The original neck was one-piece maple, later changed to a maple neck capped with a rosewood fretboard added in 1959. Fender developed a split coil high-output hum-bucking pickup which not only made the bass quieter but also improved tone and gain. The pickup had a taller A-string pole for better sound balance and two pole-pieces per string for a more consistent tone. The raised pole piece was discontinued in 1959.

A larger headstock, which resembled the Stratocaster guitar was designed which was thought to improve sustain and minimize dead spots. Also changed was the bridge, which now featured a four-saddle, threaded barrel design with individually adjustable saddles for better intonation. The bridge was also secured to the body with five screws instead of three, and the strings were now top loaded as opposed to going through the body. Just like the original version, the newer P-Bass had pickup and bridge covers and the famous “tug bar” below the g-string.

More Changes

The pickguard was changed from the plastic single ply to a gold anodized aluminum which helped shield the bass from electronic noise interference. By 1959 they had switched to a four-ply tortoiseshell with a thin metal shielding plate underneath. By 1968 Fender was now using polyurethane for all it’s body finishes. The headstock logo increased in size and by mid-1973 the finger rest was moved above the E string, making it a thumb rest. Interestingly the Precision never used the three bolt neck tilt system that was used on the Jazz Bass from 1975 to 1982. To many collectors and vintage bass players, the 1970s Fender Precisions have a more aggressive and cutting tone when compared to their 1960s counterparts, which tend to sound warmer and fatter.

In the 1980s Fender tweaked the Precision bass quite a bit, experimenting with active electronics, different pickup configurations, exotic woods, and fancy hardware. By the mid-1990s trends in music shifted back to basics and the Precision had come full circle with Fender reverting back to the original design, much to the approval and relief of most die-hard Fender bass players.

Known for it’s fat, warm tone and aggressive mid-range growl, countless well-known bassists have used this model including Donald “Duck” Dunn, James Jamerson, Willie Weeks, Carol Kaye, Brian Wilson, Roger Waters, George Porter Jr., and many others. The Fender Precision is still in production today and is without a doubt the most famous electric bass in history and still one of the most popular.

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