Bobby Vega's Precision Obsession

I’ve always loved me some Fender Bass.

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!

I’ve always loved me some Fender Bass. Now that I have some years into this, I’d like to share some of the things I can see now that I couldn’t see before.

1955 P-Bass1960 P-Bass One of the best basses I own is a 1955 Fender Precision. It has a one-piece ash body, a maple neck, and a single-coil pickup that’s like the one in a Telecaster guitar. It also has a string-through-body bridge; the neck is big but very comfortable. Because of the pickup position, the bass doesn’t read open harmonics, but it has this beautiful, big, open, dry sound that’s woody—and yes, it’s so woody that it might give you a pudgy. It’s a trip! Oh, I almost forgot: It also has a contoured body shape, not the big-ass plank body.

I’ve found out that the bass picks the string. When I first saw this ’55 sometime in the late ’70s, it had La Bella flats, and they were real old even then. When the bass became mine sometime around 1985, I liked it, but it didn’t sound good with me, and it felt way too big, like I was playing a telephone pole. Man, with those big-ass flatwounds, I wasn’t man enough to play that bass set up like that. So the bass just sat there for at least ten years.

At the time, I was using GHS Bright Steels on my 1961 stack-pot Jazz Bass, the Shark Bass (see Bobby’s Bassment, January & February ’13). The ’55 P said, “Hey, put some of those strings on me!” So I did, and man, that was the shit. That bass got up and did the boogaloo! It doesn’t do everything, but what it does do, it’s a bad motherfather, the real thang.

Sometime around 1993, I got a sunburst 1960 Precision with a nice weight and a wide neck with a rosewood fingerboard. My longtime friend and guitar guru Billy Stapleton found it for me. He was working at American Music in Seattle, Washington, and the bass walked in with Jay Dronge, who wanted to sell it for $1,000. Billy called me up and told me I had to buy it, so I talked to Jay, who confirmed that it was indeed a great bass. I sent him the dough, the bass came, and he was right, so I called Jay to let him know that the bass made it. He was shocked because he thought I was going to beat him down on the price because of screw holes, an engraving on the bridge, and other stuff. When you’re buying a vintage instrument, you have to ask yourself: Is it for the investment? The sound? Because it makes you happy? There’s more to it than that, but that’s the short version. The bottom line is: Does it make you happy?

Next is a two-tone sunburst 1958 Precision with a maple neck and an anodized pickguard. The pickup has a raised A-string polepiece. When I play this one, I have to adjust my touch—the A string is louder because the magnet is taller than the ones under the E, D, and G strings. You can get a little more grunt out of it. The open A reminds me of the sound and weight of an E string, but it’s an A, and you can dig in on the E string with a different tonal vibe. Now the old La Bella flats that were on my ’55 P-Bass are now on my ’58, and man, that bass has that Aretha Franklinera Chuck Rainey/Carl Radle, Derek & the Dominos sound. It’s cool!

The bottom line is that these basses make me happy. They make people dance, sing, and smile, and they even make babies, too! And that’s a beautiful thang.

Until next time, may the groove be with you.