The Fender Precision Bass Timeline: 1951-1982

When Leo Fender invented the first mass-produced electric bass, no one could have guessed that it would have such a massive impact on music. The first Precision basses looked liked over-sized Telecaster guitars. But by the late 1950s, the Fender Precision Bass became the definitive electric bass in modern music. So dominant was the Fender P-Bass that any musician who used an electric bass was known as a Fender bass player, regardless of the actual make they played. The P-Bass completely and totally changed music forever. Let’s take a look at the Fender Precision Bass timeline and the slow, steady evolution of this iconic instrument.

With simple slab bodies and a not-so-powerful single-coil pickup, the Fender Precision Bass did not exactly burst onto the music scene with great success. Many bassists were skeptical of this new instrument, and not many of them expected it to last.

The Precision Bass has gone through several changes and modifications during its long and esteemed history. Listed below are the most important and interesting of those changes to the Fender P-Bass throughout the years. So, let’s take a look at the Precision Bass timeline from 1951 to 1982.

The Precision Bass in the 1950s

The early 50s

In 1951, Fender introduced the Precision Bass. It had a slab ash body with a one-piece maple neck and a single-coil pickup in the middle position. The bridge design at this stage was two-piece pressed fiber. The strings went through the back of the body, and the headstock resembled that on a Telecaster. A finger-rest was mounted below the G string with one screw. The only color option available in 51 was blond with a black pickguard.

By 1954, Fender added body contours to the upper arm bout and back just like the newly released Stratocaster guitar. The bridge material was changed to steel, and a new two-toned sunburst body was available with a white pickguard.

The mid to late 50s

In mid-1957 the Fender Precision Bass was completely redesigned. Fender changed the single-coil pickup to a split-coil humbucking design, and the A pole piece was raised to balance out the string sound. The P-Bass was given a larger headstock, and the shape then resembled the one on the Stratocaster guitar.

The bridge had threaded saddles and each barrel was adjustable. The strings at this point were top-loaded, no longer going through the body of the bass. The white pickguard was also replaced with a gold anodized aluminum one, and the finger-rest was mounted with two screws.

Moving into the late 50s, Fender added a three-tone sunburst finish in 1958, and certain custom color options were available as well.

In Early 1959, Fender replaced the maple fingerboard with a slab Brazilian rosewood board. The gold aluminum pickguard was changed to a four-ply celluloid tortoiseshell pattern, and the A string pole piece was lowered so that all the pickup poles were level. In order to provide better string stability, Fender made the bridge saddle grooves deeper and wider too.

The P-Bass in the 60s

In 1960, Fender added the hootenanny, which was a strap button on the back of the headstock. Later in 1962, Fender replaced the slab rosewood board with a radius laminated rosewood version.

The clay position markers were replaced with faux pearl dots in 1964, and Fender also changed the nitrocellulose pickguard material to vinyl. The Precision received a new block-style decal on the headstock, and the tuning gears were mounted flush to the back of the headstock as well.

The Fender CBS era

In 1965, as Leo Fender sells his company, the CBS era of the Fender Corporation begins. In the early days, Leo decides to stay on as a consultant for five years, but big changes are heading Fender’s way.

Fender changed the smaller vintage frets to the medium jumbo frets in 1966. Also, the manufacturing of the tuning gears was moved to the Fender factory, and they were no longer reverse turning.

By 1969, the headstock decal was changed to a larger, bolder font known as the T.V. logo, and the hootenanny button was removed. Fender began using polyurethane finishes on the body and neck at this time, although the headstock and top coat were still nitrocellulose lacquer.

The Fender P-Bass in the 1970s

Fender changed the threaded saddle bridge to a single notch barrel design in 1970. This also marked the year that the Precision Brass was available with a choice of maple or rosewood fingerboards. A fretless P-Bass version was offered as well. Fender also introduced an ash body natural finish Precision model.

In 1972, Fender changed the wider Precision “C” neck measuing 1 3/4″ to a thinner “B” neck version that measured 1 5/8″.

In 1974, Fender moved the finger rest from below the G string to above the E string, making it a thumb rest. They also began replacing the tortoiseshell and white pickguards with black ones.

Fender changed the decal again, making them smaller in 1976. The serial number that was always on the neck plate was moved to the headstock under the logo.

The Precision Bass in the 80s and beyond

Fender introduced the Precision Special in 1980 and featured active electronics with gold hardware.

In 1982, the Fender Vintage Reissue series started with 1957 and 1962 Precision Bass models. These basses feature accurate design and finishes of the original classic Fender basses. To this day, these Vintage Reissues are highly regarded and sought after by players and collectors alike.

The Fender Precision Bass timeline wrap up

While the Fender P-Bass has undergone and slow and steady evolution over many decades, it’s dominance in the world of electric bass players hasn’t declined. Even through the darker days of the CBS era when Fender’s reputation dipped, the Precision Bass remained as important as ever.

The Fender Precision Bass timeline is an interesting one. It shows how an iconic instrument can be changed, modified, and altered over the years but still grow in influence and even come back to the beginnings.

Leave a Comment