This week, we’re featuring two iconic bass guitars: Fender’s renowned Precision Bass and Paul McCartney’s innovative Hofner 500/1 Bass, or Violin Bass.
Fender Precision Bass
In the early 1950s, having created and mass-produced the solid-body Telecaster guitar, Leo Fender realized that a bass version was in order.
Birth of the Bass
Introduced in 1952, Fender’s Precision bass marked the birth of the electric bass guitar, and forever altered the landscape of popular music. The instrument became so commonplace that for many years all electric basses – regardless of make – became known as ‘Fender Basses’.
With its double-cutaway body, manageable 34-inch (83-cm) fretted neck and powerful pickup, the radical Precision bass – named for its ease of intonation and clear tone – freed bassists from the problems associated with the upright (double) bass.
The P Bass, as it is known, has a round, crisp sound in all its registers. It works well in a variety of genres, including blues, country and jazz. Much popular music in the second half of the twentieth century was indebted to the P Bass’s colourful bottom end.
Controls: Volume, tone
Characteristics: Versatile, crisp, clear tone in all registers
Played by: James Jamerson, Monk Montgomery, Jaco Pastorius, Sting
Image of Fender Precision Bass courtesy of fender.com
Hofner 500/1 Bass
In their eight years together, the Beatles amassed many fabulous instruments, the most famous of which was Paul McCartney’s violin-shaped electric bass guitar.
A Bass for McCartney
McCartney played a 500/1 throughout the Beatles’ career, and the instrument became known as the ‘Beatle’ or ‘Cavern’ bass, after the Liverpool club where the Beatles got their start.
In the early 1960s, Paul McCartney apparently couldn’t afford a Fender bass and opted for the less expensive, more distinctive Hofner 500/1. With its symmetrically shaped body, the 500/1 looked normal when played left-handed.
Made from a small, hollow spruce/maple body and a thin maple neck with a short-scale (30-in/76-cm) rosewood fretboard, the 500/1 has two pickups (controlled by individual on/off switches), volume knobs and a master boost knob. The 500/1’s basic tone is rich and round, with a pronounced mid-range; in its upper register, the instrument sounds especially heavy, as on the Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ (1969).
Controls: Two on-off switches, two volume, master boost
Characteristics: Excellent playability, warm, round tone
Played by: Paul McCartney
Image of Hofner 500/1 Bass courtesy of hofner.com
If you are interested in learning to play the bass guitar, check out our book How To Play Bass Guitar, available here; for expert advice on holds and plucking techniques and detailed lessons and exercises to get you started. Why not also check out our easy-to-carry Pick Up & Play Guitar Chords book, available here.