TYPICALLY, THE PHRASES “HIGH-END INSTRUMENT” and “’60s Japanese bass” don’t go together, but this month’s bass is a glorious exception. The Teisco Spectrum is perhaps the pinnacle of 1960s Japanese bass building, and this beautiful candy apple red example is still in amazing shape. It was a gift from Mark Knopfler to his longtime bassist, Glenn Worf, one of Nashville’s top session players, and is the only one I have ever seen.
Teisco, founded in 1948, was one the best known and most successful of the many Japanese companies that jumped into the guitar- manufacturing boom of the ’50s and ’60s. Marketing products under a variety of names including Checkmate (my first amp), Kent, and Teisco Del Ray, Teisco’s combination of funky good looks and affordable price got a lot of players started.
After years of copying existing models, in the mid ’60s Teisco took some chances with models featuring more exotic designs and pickup configurations. This bass, which by all accounts is among the most rare of the Teisco line, has many unusual features for the times. First and foremost, the 3+1 headstock predates Music Man by quite a few years, and the “zero fret” below the nut is also innovative. The funky plastic headstock cover has a cool art deco vibe, and the ebony fingerboard with pick-shaped inlays is a high-end feature rarely found in basses of this era. The body shape says it all: Rickenbacker meets Mosrite with some Italian EKO style mixed in. A happy melange, indeed! The Spectrum was also available in blue and black, but all I can say is this red finish looks amazing, even 40 some years later. According to its catalog, Teisco used seven coats of paint and lacquer.
One of the coolest features of this bass is the carved ridge outlining the top of the mahogany body. In traditional instrument building, this is known as a “German Curve” and is very nicely executed. The groovy plastic pickguard enhances the 3-D look of the Spectrum. The chrome bridge, thumbrest, and hardware are much more substantial than the era’s norm, and while it’s still a short-scale bass, the Spectrum has a very solid feel. It’s apparent that Teisco pulled out the good stuff for this one!
And the sound, you ask? It lives up to its name with a mellow, round tone from the front pickup and a nice midrange bark from the bridge. The pickups are an interesting combination of dual poles in a cover and a thin exposed bar magnet, which look unique and are surprisingly full-range. The ebony fingerboard gives it an extra zing on top, and when both pickups are used together, it’s a hi-fi tone that surprised me by being just as cool as the way this bass looks.
The Teisco Spectrum can certainly be considered a peak of this era of Japanese bass design and construction. In 1967, the year after this extremely cool bass was launched, Teisco was bought by Kawai, who quickly halted bass and guitar production— so we’ll never know what they might have thought of next!