Clas­sic Gear

Guitarist - - Contents -

Nowa­days, any sense of the ex­otic evoked by a Fen­der Bass VI pales in com­par­i­son to how ex­tra­or­di­nary Leo Fen­der’s elec­tric in­stru­ments were upon their de­but. To­day, solid­body elec­tric guitars and basses are so em­bed­ded in our psy­che that it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine where we might be with­out them, but prior to the 1950s, such tech­nol­ogy was pretty revo­lu­tion­ary. It’s a won­der that Fen­der man­aged to cre­ate a de­mand for such strik­ing in­no­va­tions at all, let alone change the face of pop­u­lar cul­ture with them. All the same, some de­signs proved to be more of an ac­quired taste than oth­ers.

The solid­body elec­tric gui­tar as we know it to­day evolved from its acoustic an­ces­tors via sev­eral de­vel­op­men­tal steps that were in­tended to in­crease the au­di­bil­ity of the in­stru­ment within a band, while its bass coun­ter­parts evolved in par­al­lel from up­right, fret­less basses in a sim­i­lar vein.

In the decade af­ter Leo Fen­der in­tro­duced these ground­break­ing guitars to the mass mar­ket – with the Esquire/ Broad­caster in 1950 and the Pre­ci­sion

The Bass VI’s unique ten­sion and string gauges give it a very spe­cific feel and sound

Bass in 1951 – he con­tin­ued to ex­pand the com­pany’s cat­a­logue and in 1960 re­leased the Jazz Bass, which was fol­lowed shortly af­ter­wards by the Fen­der Bass VI (of­ten re­ferred to as the ‘Bass Six’) in 1961.

Sport­ing an off­set body and float­ing vi­brato sys­tem, the Bass VI is im­me­di­ately rem­i­nis­cent of Fen­der’s Jazzmas­ter, re­leased a few years ear­lier in 1958, and came in sun­burst with a tor­toise­shell cel­lu­loid pick­guard as stan­dard, as well as a se­lec­tion of cus­tom colours. Three cus­tom de­signed sin­gle coil pick­ups with in­di­vid­ual pole­pieces housed in metal sur­rounds were selected via in­di­vid­ual on/off switches lo­cated on the up­per tre­ble bout con­trol plate, with fur­ther ad­just­ment avail­able on the con­trol plate of the lower tre­ble bout cour­tesy of mas­ter vol­ume and mas­ter tone knobs po­si­tioned ad­ja­cent to the gui­tar’s front-load­ing jack in­put.

With a one-piece bolt-on maple neck and a 7¼-inch ra­dius, 21-fret rose­wood fret­board, the Bass VI’s scale length mea­sures 30 inches, be­tween the Jazzmas­ter/Tele­caster/Stra­to­caster scale length of 25½ inches and the Pre­ci­sion/ Jazz Bass scale length of 34 inches. Or­di­nar­ily tuned to E-A-D-G-B-E (from low to high) and pitched an oc­tave lower than a reg­u­lar six-string gui­tar, the Bass VI’s unique ten­sion and string gauges give it a very spe­cific feel and sound that may be de­scribed as more fo­cused and de­fined than a reg­u­lar bass, while ex­hibit­ing sig­nif­i­cantly greater punch and power than a con­ven­tional gui­tar. It re­mains a com­pelling and dis­tinc­tive sonic ex­pe­ri­ence.

Dan­elec­tro’s bari­tone gui­tar had hit the mar­ket back in 1956, so the six-string bass was al­ready a stu­dio favourite in Nashville, where pro­duc­ers fa­mously made use of its muted ‘tic-tac’ sound. In­no­va­tion was still pos­si­ble, how­ever, and in 1963, fol­low­ing the re­lease of the Fen­der Jaguar, the Bass VI re­ceived a se­ries of spec up­grades de­signed to ac­cen­tu­ate this char­ac­ter­is­tic bari­tone sound, in­clud­ing a foam string mute, a fourth ‘stran­gle’ / bass-cut switch and ‘saw­tooth’ Jaguar-style pick­ups.

Dis­con­tin­ued in 1975, the Bass VI re­mains a unique piece of gui­tar his­tory and al­though it was never a main­stream hit, it nonethe­less man­aged to meet the dis­tin­guished ap­proval of Jet Har­ris,Jack Bruce, John En­twhis­tle, John Len­non and Ge­orge Har­ri­son. [RB]

Jaguar-style ‘saw­tooth’ pick­ups re­placed the model’s orig­i­nal framed ones

In­di­vid­ual switches en­gaged the Bass VI’s pick­ups

This Bass VI’s ‘Pink Cham­pagne Sparkle’ cus­tom fin­ish is a one-off

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