Bobby's Bassment: How I Met My Bass of Dreams

June 10, 2014
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Bobby Vega is a world-class collector and vintage bass freak of the first order. The gear is real. The stories are true. The dates are foggy. And the names of the innocent have been changed to protect their identities… and save Bobby’s ass!

 

My love affair with the Fender Jazz Bass started after I saw Sly and The Family Stone on The Dick Cavett Show on June 8, 1971. The bass player was Larry Graham, and he sound of the bass really got my attention. After seeing that show, I knew I had to have a Jazz Bass.

The next day, I cut school, went to Don Wehr’s Music City, the biggest and best music store in the Bay Area, and played my first Jazz. At first, I didn’t like it, but Larry Graham had shown me what that bass could do. I couldn’t make the bass sound like he could—not yet—but that was the sound. I was 16.

Before long, I got a job working at Don Wehr’s. This other guy who worked there, Billy Stapleton, knew everything about old guitars and basses. We became friends, and he saw that I was a bass junkie: I played bass, ate, slept, and played bass some more. He starts to tell me about “concentric-pot Jazz Basses.” I said, “What?” He told me that for the first two and a half years of production, the Fender Jazz Bass had concentric pots, a circuit with volume and tone potentiometers stacked on top of each other, hence the term “stacked pot.”

After Billy told me about concentric-pot Jazz Basses, one walked in the store. The guy who had it played his ass off! I’ll never forget that bass. It was the first stack-pot Jazz I had ever seen. It was white with a matching headstock and a worn spot over the top of the back pickup where his hand went, and man, did that bass sound great! I think it was the first time I saw and got the relationship between a person and his instrument.

OK. So now I’m thinking, “How am I going to get a concentric- pot Jazz? Is somebody going to walk in the store and trade one in?”

Well, I got tired of waiting for that day to come. I’d heard about this guy named Norman Harris who specialized in vintage guitars, so one day in 1973 I dialed 411 and asked for Norman’s Rare Guitars in Reseda, California.

The operator gives me the number.

“Norman’s Rare Guitars.”

“Hi, do you have any concentric-pot Jazz Basses?”

“Yeah, I got one. But you better hurry up and get down here,” Norman says. “The guy from the Eagles wants it.”

I ask how much he wants for it.

“Do you have anything to trade?”

How ’bout an anodized pickguard 1957 Precision Bass?

“OK,” he says. “Bring that bass and a hundred bucks, and it’s yours.”

“OK, thanks.” I get off the phone.

“Oh, shit! I can’t believe it! I found a stack-pot Jazz Bass!”

I get a ride to San Francisco Airport. I buy a ticket on Pacific Southwest Airlines to Burbank, and then my friend Alvin Taylor, drummer for Eric Burdon and Billy Preston, picks me up and drives me to Reseda, to Norman’s Rare Guitars, where my Bass of Dreams is.

At the time, Norman’s Rare Guitars was in a little house. I walk in and see Norman standing there.

“Hi, I’m here to see the concentric-pot Jazz Bass.”

He gives it to me and I check it out and it’s love at first play. Then I look at it and it’s a two-tone sunburst. I’ve never seen a sunburst Fender Jazz like this. It had a little red in it, but the red had faded, so it was two-toned. We made the trade, and now I had my first concentric-pot Fender Jazz Bass.

I got back home and man, was I a happy bass player!

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