1972 Fender Precision Bass, as made famous by . . . well, everyone
The first ever electric bass, and still #1 today. If we were trying to be specific, we'd say "as made famous by Roger Waters". But what's the point? This one is really "as made famous by pretty much any bassist". Solid-gold classic!
October 1951. Fender had only just settled on the Telecaster name for its earliest electric, the Broadcaster (and briefly Nocaster), first introduced in 1950. There were still three years to go before they put the Stratocaster into production. And while the Telecaster was unique in so many ways, there were plenty of other companies that had been producing six-string electrics for 20 years or more. But the Precision Bass was truly innovative - the invention of something that had simply not existed before. Before, that is, until Leo Fender put his mind to the problem of size, portability and volume (or lack of it) of the existing alternative, the floor-standing double-bass. And came up with a product of inspired genius, something you could put a strap on, plug in, and yet still produce the deep tonal range of those soon-to-be-overtaken double basses.
This has to be the most adaptable, and probably the most recorded electric bass in the world. For the full story, go to Fender's own wonderful history of this guitar: Legendary Lows: The Precision Bass Story. In every decade, the Precision takes its place across just a staggering range of musical styles and innovations. Love the description for the 70s: "straight rock and roll, hard rock, blues rock, country rock, psychedelic rock, glam rock, progressive rock, album rock, funk rock, jazz rock, folk rock, pop rock, soft rock, garage rock, Latin rock, heavy metal, Southern rock, avant-garde rock, pub rock, punk rock, post punk, punk pop, power pop, new wave, rockabilly, reggae rock, and even more." Is there any more? As the story continues, with justified modesty: "The Precision handled it all with ease."
And, of all Fender models, the Precision seemed to survive the cost-cutting quality loss that affected others in the range during the CBS years. Possibly because it really is the least complicated model in the range - there's not a lot to get wrong, or very little to tamper with in the name of corporate streamlining.
So, to this 1972 model. We say "as made famous by everyone", but it's close enough in year to narrow it down to two identical spec Sunburst Precision Basses that Roger Waters bought in 1971. And so probably used on Pink Floyd's albums up to 1983's The Final Cut. There's plenty of images and clips out there with Roger and a Sunburst Precision - as many as with the Black Precision that later provided the template for his Fender Precision Signature model. So, as the song goes, powered by that immortal Precision bassline, we stand in awe of this everlasting classic: "It's a hit"! Leo Fender, inventor and innovator, we salute you!
First up, why Precision? It's a name we just take for granted, but it doesn't sound like it comes from the same space-age thinking that inspired names like Telecaster or Stratocaster. And the answer is simply: frets. Seems obvious today, but it was the addition of frets and fretboard markers that helped bassists moving from floor-standing to strap-suspended quickly get used to the new way of doing things, and to get it right first time, with precision.
Innovative though the design was, Leo Fender smartly took what he could from the Telecaster those things that just didn't need to change: the headstock design, the pots, the knurled flat-top knobs, and strap buttons. Even the body was a development of the Telecaster body-shape, albeit with the longer lower horn added to give more balance to that weighty neck. And, thinking about it, itself then an inspiration for the shape of the Stratocaster, launched 3 years later.
Almost everything on this 1972 model is original. Everyone has a preference, but for us, it's this. Classic sunburst, rosewood fretboard, open-gear clover-leaf tuners, tortoiseshell pickguard, serial-number stamped neckplate.
The only thing that has changed is the split pick-up. A previous owner has replaced the originals with some lovely Kent Armstrong PBV-1s. Kent started producing these out in his Korea factory some time in the 80s, which is about as specific as we can get on when they were added. Built to replicate the original 1957 split pick-up, they produce a fantastically low-hum, high-fidelity response across the tonal range. A mod that just makes this guitar even better.
The only other mods are natural - use and ageing. Oh, and the removal of the original pick-up and bridge covers, or "ashtrays" (their most common use once removed). Which just makes this bass look even more of the part. Perfectly set up, sounds great at all levels, and just a pleasure to play. And that's praise from a six-string guitarist . . . so it's an easy bet to say that in the hands of a proper bass guitarist, this one will just sing!
See & Hear It In Action
Original 1972 advert for the Fender Precision, "the grandaddy of all electric basses".
The Precision Over The Years: Over to the Chicago Music Exchange for a video run-through of a fabulous collection of Precisions, from its earliest slab incarnation to the modern day. 11 minutes to get very excited about.
A Saucerful Of Secrets, Live At Pompeii (1972): Pink Floyd, famously playing live to no audience. Absolutely bonkers for the first 5 minutes, but once Roger Waters swaps a massive gong for his Sunburst Precision, we're back in familiar and wonderful territory!
1972 Precision Flatwound Jam by Mr Mountain: And just to show one other side of the Precision, a lovely groove from Mr Mountain, together with some telestration of his set-up. Jam on!
Sources & Links
Legendary Lows: The Precision Bass Story: The story as told by Fender. Just a fantastic source of information about the evolution (minor adaptations over complete redesigns), use (just look at the list, then add your own), and influence across the decades.
Vintage Guitar And Bass Original 1972 Publicity: Hats off once again to Vintage Guitar And Bass for outstanding research, here's the original 1972 advert for the Precision, and the 1972 Fender Catalogue, offering the Precision for all of $293.50!
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