Fender Precision Bass History
The Fender Precision Bass is considered to be the first electric bass. While there are some accounts of other mad scientists tinkering with an electric bass design before the Precision Bass was released in 1951, Leo Fender was the man who crafted a fully functional product and brought it to the masses (if you want a fun and comprehensive history lesson on this, check out The Fender Precision Bass: The Low End That Shook The World).
The original Precision Bass, or P-Bass as it would come to be known, followed the design of the recently released Telecaster electric guitar somewhat. This, of course, makes sense considering the overall lack of options to look to as design inspiration. But the P-Bass did have aspects which set it apart from the Tele, and those aspects turned around and inspired the guitar that would become the Stratocaster—particularly the double cutaway body design.
The original precision bass featured a one-piece maple neck with 20-frets, a single covered pickup, Kluson tuners, a finger rest, and a string-through bridge with a cover. Like the Tele, it had a slab body and blonde finish. Additionally, it copied the Tele's headstock shape, neck plate, and domed control knobs. Maybe most important of all, the Precision Bass featured a 34" scale length, a number that was deeply contemplated before being decided upon—and it's a good thing it was. The 34" scale length remains the standard for electric basses to this very day.
The P-Bass became very popular fairly quickly. Having solved all of the issues upright bassists encountered in playing and traveling with their acoustic instrument, the P-Bass was a wonder. Over the next few decades, the model continued to gain traction, appearing in a wide-variety of well-known records across different genres.
In 1968, Fender released a Telecaster bass, essentially a reissue of the original 1951 P-Bass. The Telecaster bass came in the quite limited Paisley Red and Blue Flower finishes, which were styled like 1960s wallpaper. In 1972, another version of the Telecaster Bass was issued with the addition of a humbucker pickup, designed by the humbucker's originator Seth Lover. It necessitated a redesign of the pickguard, and also received a new three-bolt neck plate and bullet truss rod.
Time rolled on and the P-Bass continued to pervade the musical landscape. By this time, you could hear it on records like Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On", The Eagles' "Desperado", King Crimson's "Red", as well as the ear-worm bass hook on Pink Floyd's "Money" and the rest of the still-unrivaled Dark Side of the Moon album.
In the late '70s and early 80s, the Precision Bass assisted in ushering in a new genre of music, where it again played a prominent role. The likes of Dee Dee Ramone and Clash bassist Paul Simonon rounded out the punk sound and attitude of their respective bands with Fender P-Basses slung over their shoulder. In a moment of true punk rock virtue, Paul Simonon even smashed his P-bass to bits during a show at New York's Palladium in 1979, a photo of which became the cover of their revolutionary album, London Calling.
To this day, countless artists from every corner of the musical universe have made the P-Bass their go-to. Whilst, in true Fender style, there are always variations to choose from in both playability and aesthetics, the P-Bass remains true to form at its core.
Popular P-Bass Models
Deluxe Active Precision Bass Special: A nice mix of Fender's classic bass model, with up-to-date design features, the centerpiece of this Mexican-made Fender is the PJ pickup configuration, with active 3-band EQ. The active electronics give this P-Bass a different vibe, with pointed, perfectly clean tone. It also has a modern "C" neck, 4-bolt asymmetrical neck plate, and a Fender HiMass bridge.
Vintera '50s Precision Bass: Harkening back to Fender's golden era, the Vintera series showcases the simplistic, yet incredibly functional and endearing features of the P-Bass's first decade. Fender re-voiced the split-coil P-Bass pickup to sound more like the original. The vintage "C" shaped neck has a 7.25"radius fingerboard, with 20 vintage-style frets for classic playing feel. It also has an anodized aluminum pickguard.
American Performer Precision Bass: Cut from Alder, this P-Bass features a modern "C" maple neck with a 34" scale length. It's got Fender "F" light-weight vintage Paddle Key tuners with tapered shafts plus 4-saddle vintage-style bridge with steel saddles. Like all the Performers, this P-Bass has Yosemite pickups – in PJ configuration.
American Professional Precision Bass: Fender's American Professional P-Bass is solidly built, aesthetically clean, and as reliable as they come. It sports a maple '63 P-Bass neck profile topped with narrow-tall frets, white dot inlays and a bone nut. It has Posiflex graphite rods beneath the fingerboard. The American Professional is stocked with a split-coil V-Mod pickup, designed by Michael Bump, which uses alnico 5 on the treble side, alnico 2 on the bass.
Artist Signature P-Basses
Steve Harris: In a true testament to how versatile the P-Bass's reach is, Steve Harris has been using the Fender model since the beginning of Iron Maiden – i.e. the beginning of metal. The hot coil wind behind Harris' signature Seymour Duncan SPB-4 pickup affords livewire tone, with extra mids and snug treble. Harris also has his signature P-Bass decked out with the official logo of the West Ham United soccer team.
Duff McKagan: Duff's rock-solid bass playing is one of the reasons Guns N Roses' debut album is one of the bestselling of all time. Paying tribute to the bass Duff used at the time they recorded Appetite for Destruction, Fender created a signature P-Bass, with Jazz Bass inspired features — including custom headstock and neck plate. It's stocked with a Seymour Duncan STKJ2B Jazz Bass bridge pickup and a vintage-style split single-coil Precision Bass middle pickup, plus TBX tone control.
Tony Franklin: Acclaimed for his innumerable session credits, as well as his work with Roy Harper, The Firm, Blue Murder, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and others, Franklin is a devoted Precision Bass player and one of the finest modern advocates of the fretless bass. His signature model is stocked with a Tony Franklin Precision Bass middle pickup, and a Tony Franklin single-coil Jazz Bass bridge pickup with hex screw pole pieces and ceramic bar magnets. This model also sports vintage-style tuners with a Hipshot Bass Xtender drop-D tuner on the E string, for fast, accurate drop D tuning at the simple flip of a lever.
Nate Mendel: Starting as a punk rocking bassist in Sunny Day Real Estate, Nate's career took off when he became the bassist for Foo Fighters. Playing with Foo Fighters is no easy task, but throughout it all, he's had his 1971 Precision Bass in hand. This classy signature model has special body contours, extra-slim neck width, a lightly worn Candy Apple Red finish with a black pickguard, and a powerful Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound, split single-coil pickup.
The Standard in Bass Design
Fender lover or not, it's hard to not look at the P-Bass as the standard for all other basses. It came first, it's withstood the test of time, and it has flourished in every genre of music. So no matter who you are, and what you play, you can feel right at home with a P-Bass.
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