Fender aficionados will regularly rehearse the fact that it all started with the Telecaster back in 1951. However, the birth of Fender electric guitars involved twins. In that same year, another one of Leo Fender’s early, and now lasting, guitar innovations made its debut: the Fender Precision bass. Since then, the Precision Bass has remained in consistent production and graced the stages and studios of artists across genres and through generations.
While the Precision Bass was pretty much everywhere after a few decades, one of its earliest life challenges was contending with the big, bold stand-up bass that had been the low frequency standard since, well, pretty much forever. Part of the strategy and success of the new breed of bass was Fender’s ability to get it into the hands of some influential and visible players. For example, in the early 1950s, the Precision Bass strategically earned a regular spot on the popular Liberace Show when played by resident musicians John Henry and Bob Manners. Turn on, tune in, and there’s the Precision Bass piped into your family room.
Like any good twins, the Tele and Precision shared some resemblance, especially at birth. Both came originally in blonde with black pickguard, both had a similar contour to the headstock, and similar chrome hardware appointments. The most distinctive feature of the original design is the slab wood body that came in a shape and contour clearly borrowed from the Telecaster, only with an upper horn. Over the years, however, there have been some changes, throwbacks, and more changes to the classic design.
The first wave of revisions came in 1954/55 when the body shape of the Precision Bass took on tendencies from another, more recent sibling. To enhance player comfort and instrument balance, the Precision adopted some of the cutaway and arm contours of the newly revealed Stratocaster as well as a two-tone sunburst finish to fit right in. In the 1960s, the Tele-esque headstock was retired. Here again, the new design had a clear influence from the Stratocaster headstock, only now out of necessity it was beefier. By the late 1972s, the fame and heritage of the Precision Bass were so high that Fender released a fresh version of the 1968 Telecaster Bass, which was pretty much a clone of the original 1951 Precision Bass. This model, however, sported a thump-tastick humbucking pickup designed by Seth Lover himself, who’d been on the roster at Fender since 1967.
As with most Fender story lines, the latter part of the CBS ownership years meant a dive in quality for the Precision Bass. However, as Fender restructured and relocated aspects of its facilities following the sale of the company in 1985, the Precision Bass was poised for recovery and another run for success. Expansions to the model line included a range of Standard, Deluxe, Anniversary, and Custom Shop takes on the classic.
Fender’s catalogue of bass guitars is deep and decorated. Few, however, have enjoyed as wide a reception as the Precision Bass. With an ancestry that stretches back nearly 70 years, few musical instruments have proved their ability to not only weather the storm of modern music but be the thunder within it.