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1961 Fender Precision Bass

The above pictures show that despite the horrible matt black finish, the bass still has most of it’s original parts, the tortoiseshell pickguard has faded beautifully and without any cracks that can so often afflict these early celluloid examples. Both the bridge and the tuners are in remarkably good condition with barely any patina at all on either...

The refinish to the neck destroyed the decal, there’s no sign of it at all...

So to work....stripping off both body and neck refins...

The black paint stripped quite easily, you can still see the original yellow stain next to the pickup cavity that was originally applied for the base of the sunburst.

I was pleased to see no nasty routs or damage hidden by the black paint as I am intending to refinish it in it’s original sunburst.

The discolouration around the top horn is where I repaired the over sanding with super glue and wood dust...worked very well...

Close up of the repaired over sanded edge radius

The body was fine sanded ready for the finish

Yellow stain for the basis of the sunburst

After a couple of sealer coats it was time to spray the sunburst. I decided to go with a faded type look, as the pickguard is quite faded, I guess it would follow that the original sunburst, had it still been on the bass, would have also been fairly faded too.

I’m also quite partial to a two tone look these days, so here it is...

The repaired edges are totally invisible, covered by the dark brown of the burst...

I filled the pickguard screw holes with wooden dowels, I prefer to re-drill the holes later, this puts less stain on the guard as the holes can be drilled where you want them as opposed to trying to use the existing holes and having the screws go in at 45 degrees due to celluloid shrinkage and creating stress where you really don’t want it...! This is why you see so many vintage guards with the ‘tips’ missing...


With the body hanging up drying out, time to turn some attention to the neck. I don’t know what it was refinished in, but it seemed quite impervious to paint stripper, so I carefully scraped and sanded it off taking care not to remove any more wood than I needed to.

It had been refretted at some point in the past with small vintage style frets, it wasn’t a great job, some were loose and caused some buzzing issues, I’m not a fan of small frets on a bass anyway, so I removed them.

With no truss rod pressure the neck had an even but noticeable forward bow, I therefore elected to use some medium jumbo stainless steel frets with a slightly oversized tang, the idea is the oversized tang would cause the neck to be forced into a straighter position, like if you force wedges into a slotted piece of wood, it will bend. This idea worked perfectly, after the refret the neck was absolutely arrow straight! I was delighted with the result...The advantage is there is no need for as much truss rod pressure to achieve the correct relief, and on a neck from 1961...the less the better!

I refinished the neck in a lightly tinted nitro-cellulose, the wood had naturally darkened with age, so a heavy tint wasn’t required (it looks more yellow in the pics than it actually is). The Brazilian rosewood board is really nice, it had been sanded at the last refret but fortunately has retained most of it’s thickness.

The new frets seated very well and are nice and tight, as they are stainless steel and therefore harder than nickel silver frets, they should last considerably longer, meaning this bass shouldn’t require a refret for many many years...

Having allowed the body and neck lacquer to harden and cure for a couple of weeks, it came to the exciting bit...putting her back together...

There she is in all her glory.....the decal was replaced with a correct ‘2 patent no.’ spaghetti type, the EMG pickup it was sporting was replaced by a hand wound Bare Knuckle, the pots were replaced with a couple of CTS solid shafts, and the capacitor is a really old one I had knocking around the workshop.  

The bass has set up beautifully, nice low action, no buzzes or rattles...plays like a new bass but with the vibe of an old instrument, the wood is really resonant, the body and neck work really well together, as is often the case when two pieces of wood have vibrated in sympathy over many years...

The Brazilian rosewood looks gorgeous, the clay dots look great....

Some might be surprised by my decision to not distress the finish...I thought long and hard about it, but my thinking was as the body is a little over sanded, to anyone who knows what they’re looking at...it will be obvious it’s a refin, so making it look as if it’s an original finish from ‘61 seemed not to be the thing to do, plus the nitro I use tends to weather check on it’s own pretty quickly...so I’ll let it age it on it’s own...

At the time I bought this bass, it came in a case that obviously wasn’t a Fender, having done some research...it turns out that it is actually it’s original Jennings case. In 1961 Jennings, the then importer, shipped Fenders without the cases as they had their own cases available. Also in the case was the two original pickup and bridge covers...and incredibly...the original strap that came with the bass...what a cool package.....