Gibson has long been identified with its guitars, but there have been many twists and turns in the company’s bass department, resulting in instruments that were innovative, if not always commercially successful. First introduced in 1973, the Les Paul Signature Bass is certainly one of Gibson’s most and interesting and enduring bass experiments, reincarnated in the ’90s as the Epiphone Jack Casady Signature bass.
The Les Paul Signature bass was preceded in 1970 by the Les Paul Recording bass, later known as the Les Paul Triumph bass. The original Recording bass (profiled in December ’06) was designed by Les Paul himself, and included low-impedance electronics and a sophisticated EQ filtering system. Perhaps all the knobs and switches of the Les Paul Recording basses were intimidating to some players, so Gibson, still searching for a breakthough in the bass market, launched the first version Les Paul Signature bass in 1973, which evolved slightly into this version by 1974. The 342"- scale neck has a solid feel and gives it a punchiness rarely found in previous short scale Les Paul basses. The body style is a combination of an EB-2’s hollow body, with one traditional rounded bout and a sharper cutaway on the treble side. Its simple yet elegant electronics were no doubt derived from the innovations of previous models, but presented in a goof proof fashion. Combined with the natural resonance of the classic hollowbody design, this bass has the “round mound of sound” one might expect from a Gibson, but it also speaks well in the midrange, due in part to the single pickup’s placement.
This fretless axe, which belongs to Glenn Worf, a great Nashville session bassist who has also played with Mark Knopfler for many years, is in great shape and sounds really good unplugged. The Tobacco Sunburst finish is beautiful and reminiscent of early-’60s Harmony basses. The factory-made fretless rosewood fingerboard is a rare occurrence, and was probably a special order. The cream binding is exquisite and has aged beautifully, and the matching pickguard is a nice touch. The bridge has more intonation adjustment than previous Gibson bridges. The Les Paul style knobs are stylish and practical, and the bass balances well.
Electronically, this bass was clearly a step forward for Gibson. Conceptually, it has one basic sound with a few subtle variations. This works really well and is a makes it easy to quickly dial up a particular tone. The “Super Humbucking” low impedance pickup has a smooth, even tone, and the 3-way switch allows for emphasis on fundamentals (50hz), lower mids (200Hz), or articulation (500hz). This bass is especially good for rootsy grooves where a subtle combination of low-end “woomph” and punchy midrange works really well.
The Signature Bass was discontinued in 1977 due to a number of factors, including a poorly-timed price increase. In the ’90s, the bass was revived with a few tweaks, mostly in the pickup design, and became the Epiphone Jack Casady Signature Bass. For once, a good idea that was a little ahead of its time came back around and has been successful in a new era. I love it when that happens. Maybe it just goes to show that if you are true to yourself, and keep doing what you believe in, maybe the world will catch up with you.