An ad from a well-known music shop in New York popped onto my Facebook feed, and the image of a Fender Precision bass from the 1970s stopped my heart for a beat. Certainly not one of the highly desirable “vintage” basses for sure, but an excellent instrument.
I read the product description and felt my pulse quicken with each line.
“Here’s a really nice Fender P-Bass from 1974 in a natural finish. It has had a refret with new electronics, including a replaced DiMarzio pickup. The pickguard, bridge are replaced. Comes with a nice non-original case. A great price for any player looking for a nice vintage P-Bass with a nice neck and feel!”
So why the heart attack?
I had a 1970s P bass, just like this one. I installed a DiMarzio pickup and replaced the original bridge with a brass Badass. The original pickguard was white, and the replacement one, as noted in the description, is black. The kicker, though, was the featured picture and the description of the neck. I stared at the picture and dug out a photo of me with my P bass.
I know, just like I know my children, my family, my now aged face. Guitar players know. Violinists know. We know our special instruments as well as we know our art.
In the late 1970s I had a gig in Jupiter, Florida, home to the legendary Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater. I carelessly leaned my a beautiful cherry Gibson EB-3 against my amp and gasped in disbelief as it fell over, hit the hard tile floor, and split the headstock and part of the neck—a disaster for a musician who was dependent on his instrument for his living.
That Gibson had played a whole lot of sets in a whole lot of places, including a USO tour of Germany, Greece, and Turkey. And then it was gone.
I found a music store down the road in Stuart. I was hoping to find another EB-3 but instead landed a beautiful Fender Precision. Gibsons and Fenders are different beasts, with distinctly different sounds and feel. This Fender, though, had something special.
It had a beautifully figured natural finish body, a maple fretboard, and a tapered neck profile more like a Jazz bass than a Precision. It fit my hands like it was custom carved. It toured the country, took a horrific trip to Greenland, and later served me well when I returned to New York for the next chapter of my musical career.
A few years passed. After a long day of rehearsal and recording, I parked on 56th street near 5th Avenue for a few minutes while I ran into a local club that hosted songwriters’ workshops. When I came out, I immediately saw the smashed window. I knew my bass was gone.
It began to rain. It rained all the way home, the long drive up the Taconic Parkway made more brutal by the wind-driven water stinging my face with each gust, the plastic garbage bag taped to the broken window rendered ineffective as it tore and flapped. The loss of my instrument, made worse by the mocking weather.
Over the following days, I visited the music stores and pawn shops around midtown Manhattan, particularly the legendary strip on West 48th street. I hoped that the thief would try to sell the bass to one of these shops, and I would recover my instrument. No luck.
Life went on. I got a new bass, a beauty, from Leo Fender’s new company, G&L. I still have that instrument. It is worn, beaten up, poorly refinished, and mostly unplayed now. It is a worthy axe, but my aging hands struggle with the wider neck, and my old body struggles under its heft. I have tried to find a bass with the same magic neck of the purloined Precision over the years, with no luck. Every state and country I have been lucky enough to visit has included a stop at the local music shop: part white whale hunt, part habit.
As I sort through the impact of this sudden appearance, I realize that it is not just about the bass; it is all the memories that surround it. A bandmate who went with me to the music store became my true and forever soulmate. That story has its share of love and loss and so much music. More than any bass could produce.
I could repurchase the bass, but that seems somehow wrong. It would perhaps have me playing again, but more likely, it would have me remembering things better left behind.
My only real wish is that wherever it goes next, it will pull some joy from the hands and heart of the person playing that oh-so-perfect neck.