Coming up with the top 10 vintage Fender Bass years is a tall task, especially when you consider all the years that Fender produced great basses. I decided to concentrate on the vintage years between the 50s and the 70s, even though there are many awesome years after that, including up to today. It would be almost impossible to play a vintage Fender from every year, and of course, any given bass from the same year could either be amazing or not so great for many reasons. For instance, one bass may have some hidden electronics issues, a warp in the neck from damage or weather, and many other possible problems.
I, therefore, put the main criteria on the significance of a particular bass in Fender’s history, on the great players that used them, and the overall reputation of that year’s quality when I was working on this best vintage Fender bass years list.
The top 10
Number 10: 1972
I picked this year for two main reasons. First, it seems that so many professional bassists have used a ’72 Fender, especially the ’72 Fender Jazz Bass. I figure there has to be something magic about that year. The second reason I chose this year, is that this is really when the new Jazz Bass pickup location started to have a real impact on the sound and feel.
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 bass pretty dramatically. It now had a more aggressive and punchy tone, perfect for funk and hard rock.
Number 9: 1968
There were some interesting changes in ’68 for Fender. The first change was something that some Fender fanatics actually regard as a big mistake. This was the year that 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 Fender basses to suffer in sound quality. I personally think that 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.
Number 8: 1966
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 Fender 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 so high with Leo Fender remaining as a consultant and many of the original builders staying on staff.
Number 7: 1951
This year had to be on the list simply because it was the first year, the original. 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 would be an absolute milestone instrument that would go on to change the music world forever.
Number 6: 1970
Another year of sweeping changes at Fender. Although some might not consider this a year of great bass guitars, its 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, and the threaded bridge saddles are changed to the slotted barrel design. This is also the year that Fender moved the bridge pickup on the Jazz Bass 1/4″ further back.
Number 5: 1954
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.
Number 4: 1960
The year the Fender Jazz Bass was introduced. For many Fender Bass fans and historians, that’s all that needs to be said. With its 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.
Number 3: 1962
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 are all incredible examples of this musical icon.
This was obviously a special year for Fender bass guitars, and it was also one marked by some important changes. The slab rosewood fingerboards were 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.
Number 2: 1957
An enormously important year in Fender history. This is the year that the Precision Bass was completely redesigned. This version of the P-Bass would become the bass that all others after it 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.
Number 1: 1964
I chose this year as the best of the top 10 vintage Fender Bass 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 its 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.
Top 10 Vintage Fender Bass Years – Wrap-up
It’s not easy coming up with a list like this when there are so many incredible and iconic basses that have come out of Fender’s workshop over the years. It’s also a pretty subjective thing to do obviously. Making a list like this is a great thing to do, though, because it gives you a clear picture of what you love about Fender basses and which ones really show off those characteristics.
I recommend that you make your own list and see how yours differs from mine. If you have any thoughts about your favorite years, let us know in the comments.