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Inside The Music Studio: Jim’s Vintage Instrument Collection.

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Leo Fender and his staff had successfully revolutionized the world of bass playing with their 1951 Precision Bass, but there was a problem. With the exception of Ampeg, nobody was building amps dedicated to reproducing the low frequencies that were the key to the usefulness of the new electric basses. Fender solved the issue with a specialized amplifier in 1952, originally called just “The Amp” in early catalogues, but soon renamed The Fender Bassman.

With a serial number of 0400, mine is a very early model, and shows signs of heavy use. Nobody seems to know how early, because records are apparently not available, but it is known the numbering sequence did not start at 0001.

I found it on line and was initially put off by the pictures. The faceplate was gone, replaced with a piece of painted sheet metal, it had the wrong speaker, it looked really rough, and the pictures of the chassis looked somewhat different than the catalogue shots from 1952. But I continued to do research and discovered snapshot pictures of other 52’s that looked identical. The seller could not find a serial number anywhere, a bad sign, and the chassis looked like it was steel, not the copper I’d seen in articles about the first Bassman amps. But I was intrigued, the seller offered a price appropriate for the mystery, and the amp was on its way from Seattle.

When it arrived, the first thing I did was slap a magnet on the chassis. Steel is magnetic, copper is not, and when the magnet stuck I was very disappointed. It was not an authentic Bassman after all, even though the time-worn cabinet was certainly real. I pulled the chassis out and flipped it over, where I noticed tiny bits of verdigris in the corners, the result of copper being exposed to the elements. More research revealed that the early Fender chassis were not made of copper after all, but were copper-plated. Some chemical cleaning, a high-power magnifying glass, and a bright light uncovered the serial number, and a consultation with Fender confirmed the amp’s authenticity.

I had it service by a qualified technician (always a smart move with a vintage amp), and he replaced a few defective parts that could not be repaired. I also managed to find an amazingly-rare replacement faceplate. Back in my museum, I plugged in an authentic repro 1951 Precision Bass and was instantly transported back to the earliest days of country and rock and roll bass playing. The bass and the amp together had that distinctive “thunk” sound that had marked the earliest Fenders and it was so much fun to hear it.

I have one each of the four earliest fully-professional bass amps from the 40’s and early 50’s, and my 1952 Fender Bassman is an important part of the story they tell.

1951 Fender Bassman
1951 Fender Bassman

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