1969 Gibson EB-3 Bass, as made famous by Jack Bruce
Famous in the hands of Jack Bruce during the height (and Goodbye) of the Cream years, and favoured by any of the big name bass players of the sixties, a hugely versatile and iconic classic. Bask in the Sunshine Of Your Love.
It's a bass, but it sure does look similar to a 6-string electric . . . Wind back to 1961. Gibson launches an utterly redesigned Les Paul - the double cutaway, the horns, the lighter, more sculpted body. Only called Les Paul for a couple of years. Not liked or endorsed by the man himself, Les Paul. And so, changed to a name far more familiar to its shape ever since, the Gibson Solid Guitar, aka the Gibson SG. Yes, that scalloped body, the cherry red finish, those ever-so-slightly-offset horns. Such a good design that, at the same time, Gibson changed the design on their existing one pick-up bass, the EB-0, to match - and launched a two pick-up bass as well, the EB-3. 1961. A year of big transition for Gibson. The redesign of the Les Paul and the EB-0 bass, the birth of the SG and the EB-3. If you're going for revolution, you may as well do as much as you can at once.
And the EB-3 ticked all the revolutionary boxes. A staggeringly short 30.5" scale, a fabulously thin superfast neck (sometimes dangerously thin), and a wide range of tones across the neck and bridge pick-ups. What's more, I suspect there was a desire to go that one step further than its recently launched rival, the Fender Jazz Bass - with the addition of a four-way "chickenhead" switch to remove the need to fiddle with volume and tone knob settings mid-flight. All the more time for rapid-fire riffing.
Jack Bruce started using an EB-3 with Cream in 1967, following the release of debut album Fresh Cream. It was then his weapon of choice through the big tour years (all two of them), beyond the demise of Cream, and into the mid-70s, when he discovered the Warwick basses that he was known for in his later career. This 1969 model differs only slightly from his. A rounded rather than stepped neck join. And more noticeably, the Gibson Two-Point Tune-O-Matic Bridge and levered Mute system, introduced in 1967 - both of which actually improve the tonal options further. Evolutionary design changes aside, this remains the most iconic of Gibson's basses from the 60s. And, if Cream isn't your thing, then there's always those other famous beat combos, The Rolling Stones and The Who . . . Bill Wyman and John Entwistle both putting it out there with an EB-3. Golden years.
See & Hear It In Action
History, Tones, Demo & Spec All-In-One: It's a 1967, but identical apart from the bridge and neck heel. A lovely bit of history about Gibson basses and the EB-3 in particular, with thanks to The Trogly's Guitar Show.
Sunshine Of Your Love (1968): Cream, at the Royal Albert Hall, that riff, that EB-3. Classic.
Number of Frets
Kluson 538 "elephant ear" open-gear
Gibson EB-3 Humbucker
Gibson EB Mini-Humbucker
Gibson Two-Point Tune-O-Matic Bridge; Gibson EB levered string mute
This is a perfectly original EB-3. OK, not quite. I've replaced the mounting screws around the bridge pick-up, because the originals were over-corroded. But, really, that's it - and with that as the only change, this is a beauty.
An aged beauty, for sure. It's seen a life on the road, and bears testament with the nicks and chips you'd expect. But in terms of hardware, fretboard, frets, and electrics, it's in fantastic condition.
And it plays and sounds just fabulous. All the way from the warm thickness of that neck humbucker (or "mudbucker" as these were either lovingly or uncharitably described), to the edge of that bridge mini-humbucker, to the woodiness of the 4th position (a tone-choke on the neck pick-up, apparently). Plus the added feature of that mute, which gives you more of a stand-up bass response. A huge amount in a small package! And a great bass, whatever your chosen style.
Finally, a geek alert. Dating 1961 - 1969 Gibsons from their serial numbers is a well-trodden path to madness. So, it took some detective work to date this EB-3. Skip the rest of this section if that's a step too far into guitar geekery. Otherwise, read on . . .
True to form, the serial number was coy about revealing this guitar's age. Standard references would give you a build date of 1966, 1967 or 1969. So, it was down to the other clues in the design to get to 1969:
1966 got eliminated pretty quickly. The Two-Point Tune-O-Matic Bridge was introduced in 1967. And it was also in 1967 that the chrome-covered fixed-height neck pick-up narrowed and lengthened, albeit ever so slightly. That fixed-height pick-up was itself replaced by an adjustable height pick-up in 1969. Which is also when Gibson transitioned out the Kluson 538 tuners. So, the range narrows to 1967 - 1969.
Around 1969, Gibson introduced the rounded heel joint, with no step between neck and body. There may have been early examples of this rounded heel in 1968, but certainly not 1967.
So, it was looking pretty certain to be a 1969 model. And it was the pots, thankfully original, that confirmed this. Never an easy task deciphering what may be obscured by solder, but the Neck Volume and Tone pots gave enough away to show a manufacture date of the 7th week of 1969.
So, the experts are right: serial numbers are one way of dating a guitar, but not the only way. Particularly when the original manufacturer was less bothered about exact and unique sequences than the geeks of today might want them to be. Not a cause for sadness. In fact it's good news all round. It's a platform for the geeks, and for that we should be thankful ;-).
Sources & Links
Fly Guitars - Everything You Need To Know About the EB-3: And some! Utterly indebted to Fly Guitars for the stories, the specs, the painstaking detail, and design evolutions. I wouldn't have got anywhere near as close to dating this EB-3 without the info on this site. And that's not just for the EB-3. If you're looking for information about vintage Gibson and Epiphone basses, I've not found a finer place!
Vintage Guitar And Bass History & Specs: And hats off once again to Vintage Guitar And Bass - though this time even they link to Fly Guitars when it comes to the more esoteric detail. A nice history for those short of time.