The Fender Telecaster bass guitar was introduced in 1968. As its name suggests, it resembles the famous Telecaster guitar that became an iconic instrument across many genres of music. Somewhat of an oddity in the long line of Fender Basses, the Telecaster bass was a reissue of the Precision Bass that debuted in 1951. And, the P Bass itself borrowed some key design aspects from the original Telecaster guitar. Let’s take a look at this odd and interesting design cycle that became the Fender Telecaster bass.
A pioneering instrument for Fender
As Fender’s first actual reissue guitar, of any kind, the Telecaster bass will always represent something very special in Fender’s history. With long lines of reissue instruments in the Fender catalog and a commitment to reissues as a core aspect of their design and build philosophy, the Telecaster bass will always be the first of its kind.
Interestingly, as Fender notes themselves, the reason that the Telecaster bass looks so different from what we know of as modern Precision basses is that the P bass itself had been redesigned drastically since it was first introduced. The “reissue” Telecaster bass was modeled on the design of the original ’51 Precision.
Telecaster bass construction and colors
The Telecaster bass featured the slab body, mid-placed single-coil pickup, maple neck with the smaller headstock, and string-through-body design just like the old ’51 P-Bass. The large pickguard shape was also the same, except that now it was white instead of the original black color.
A few Telecaster bass models shipped with some of the more unusual paint schemes that Fender has issued over the years. These were the red paisley and blue flower finishes introduced in the late ’60s that reflected the fashion trends of the time. These rare basses featured a clear pickguard rather than the standard white one as well.
Why Fender would come out with this bass in 1968 is anyone’s guess. The musical climate at the time seemed to be moving towards more powerful and advanced bass designs. Possibly, Fender saw that there was an interest in the older, simpler style that was becoming more popular in the blues-rock revival.
One interesting and significant difference that you may have noticed between the Telecaster bass and the Tele guitar is that the guitar is a single-cutaway body, while the bass is a double-cutaway. Even with this difference, the Fender Telecaster bass is still very recognizable as being related to the Tele guitar.
Changes to the Fender Telecaster bass line over the years
The first version of the Fender Telecaster bass, as we mentioned previously, much resembled the original ’51 P-Bass. However, Fender changed the single-coil pickup in 1971 to a humbucker which was repositioned at the heel of the neck. This model is often referred to as the mudbucker, owing to its overwhelming bass-heavy sound.
Just a quick aside…the mudbucker is a reference to the original pickups that Gibson put in their EB series basses. The sound that they produced, due to the configuration of the pickups themselves as well as their placement on the body of the bass, was something to behold. It was deep, dark, and muddy. They could also produce an impressively battering sound with the right amplification on stage. One notable figure to wield the Gibson mudbuckers of old was, of course, Jack Bruce.
In 1972, Fender also introduced the new 3-bolt neck design on all Telecaster basses instead of the usual 4-bolt neck. The Telecaster bass was in production until 1979.
Who’s played the Fender Telecaster bass over the years?
Relatively few notable bassists have used the Telecaster Bass as their main instrument. However, there have been a few including George Porter Jr. of the Meters and Dusty Hill of ZZ Top. Definitely influential musicians. Several other bassists have been known to keep one in rotation alongside their other daily use instruments.
Ron Wood played one during his time with the Jeff Beck Group. Arthur Kane of the New York Dolls played one, and Paul McGuigan of Oasis also played a Telecaster bass. Even John Paul Jones sported a Fender Telecaster bass from time to time.
It does seem like it found a niche among early rock, mod, and prog bands for a time. However, the Telecaster bass was not hugely popular during its day. It seems like it’s more sought after now than it was when it was more heavily in production.
The Squier Telecaster bass
Fender has reissued similar models under the Squier line. This gave bass players a lower-end (budget-wise), nostalgic taste of this vintage instrument. Interestingly, since these went out of production, people are more on the lookout for them than ever. Here’s a look at the Squier Telecaster bass.
The Parallel Universe ’51 Telecaster PJ bass
Fender also released a version of the Telecaster bass that is a bit of a mashup, hence the Parallel Universe distinction. It features both P and Jazz bass pickups that you can blend with a stack-knob setup. It also has a dedicated tone knob to control that aspect separately.
Have a look.
I’ve played a few Telecaster bass reissues. While it’s not my favorite Fender model, there are some things I like about it. They tend to be light-weight and, more than anything, they’re fun to play.
The sound is deep and barky with the single-coil model, although it is susceptible to 60 cycle hum. The humbucker model is a little too muddy sounding for my tastes, but it could definitely work in the right setting…death metal maybe?
Let us know in the comments if you’ve owned or played one of these unique Fender bass guitars and how you felt about it.