Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Scanning Fender Guitars

From a Polaroid SX70 SLR:
My first bass--should have kept it!
After I had been playing guitar for about a year and expressed interest in trying bass too, mom asked my teacher if it was a good idea. He said that I was "a natural" and that exposure to more instruments could only benefit so she bought this bass from her hairdresser for $100 including the tweed hard-shell case.
It's a 1962 Fender Precision Bass, which turned out to be such a popular combination of woods, finish, and dimensions that Fender periodically produces modern clones that retail for over a grand.

At the time I got her, it was a beat-to-crap 14 year old bass that was probably only worth $300 if you included the case, so mom made a steal.
I thought it a cool coincidence that my new bass was made the same year I was born.
I got the wiring fixed, put on a set of RotoSound SwingBass strings to replace the dull flatwounds, and learned how to lay down a groove.
I also learned how to get my Geddy Lee and Chris Squire on.
It was badass.

Unfortunately, I had to justify the purchase by doubling the length of my guitar lessons to fit sight-reading in bass clef plus technique tips, and drag two heavy axes up the long set of stairs to my teacher's studio.
(Soon after we added classical guitar to the list, but thankfully I was allowed to use my electric so only an extra lesson book was added to my burden if you don't count the time--and to this day I have never owned an acoustic guitar).

Once I joined a "real" band and started playing bars at age 18 it was time to get my stage rig in order, so to finance my first echo unit I let the Precision go for $500. Not a bad profit, considering how little I had spent besides my time getting her in fighting form.
At the time, vintage Fenders had just started to rise in value due to the perceived degradation of the brand after it had been bought by CBS. Musicians (and apparently the Japanese collectors) had finally figured out the mojo living in the '50s and early '60s American instruments.

Of course I miss the old girl.
I learned all about the bass on probably the single best make and model and year there ever was. Nothing beats a Fender Precision--they are copied by everyone from cheap beginner models to boutique builders plus Fender American-made models (and Custom Shop), Made in Mexico ones using USA parts, and the Squier brand that uses overseas factories to produce some really fine and affordable versions.

There are a lot of producers that will insist you use their personal favorite or a rental if you don't bring a good one to a recording session, because the "Pbass" is really the standard of the industry, and has been since the mid 1950s when it was the first successful design that electrified bass and allowed musicians enough room in their cars to carry more than 3 people and a change of socks. Those big old double basses were a pain in the ass, and rightfully earned the nickname "doghouse".

Don't own anything remotely like a Precision right now, but I have a set of specs written down somewhere detailing a variation that would suit me right down to my toes. Maybe someday...

Maybe fifteen years ago I was in a guitar store in Houston and saw what could have been her twin going for $6400 and the prices were still rising fast for the next few years.
I refuse to look at eBay results in case it might make me even sadder, but it's really not about the money--I just miss an old friend that was special. Hopefully my bass has eventually found a home with someone who really appreciates how great it is and can make some good music with her.

This is a Fender Stratocaster I painted and tweaked in the early 1990s:
Sanded down the body and sprayed it white with rattle-cans and clear coats. Since it was a 1970s CBS Fender I didn't refuse what might have been sacrilege on a better instrument.
The knobs and pickup covers got some dayglo action, but the pickguard was the main focus.
I did this job when my brother and I owned a unique screen-printing company that specialized in everything BUT T-shirts. We took pride in finding a way to get a print onto materials and shapes that still confound the so-called experts.

I made the "splashes" by dipping tongue depressors we used for stirring into thinned custom blends of ink, then blasting fine droplets onto the pickguard with a burst of compressed air.
The technique worked so well I decorated a model rocket the same way.

Both projects got lots of attention at the time and gave me a bit of a reputation, but that particular look is dated and silly by today's standards.
But by doing the unexpected in a creative and competent way, I managed to impress the right people and get pulled into a very successful band as their new soundman.
Funny how that kind of thing happens.
Right place, right time.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Great story! You are truly a jack of all trades. The look on that Fender is probably dated, but it looks good nonetheless.