Fender American Vintage '63 Precision Bass
By Phil O'Keefe |
Recently revamped, Fender's vintage reissue P-Bass is now even more historically authentic
By Phil O'Keefe
The Fender Precision Bass, first released back in 1951, was the first commercially successful solid body electric bass. It's the model that really started it all for modern bass players. By 1957, the model had morphed into the modern P-Bass as we know it today, with its famous hum-canceling "split" coil pickup and comfortable tummy cutout and forearm body contours. Further changes occurred over the next couple of years - most notably, the change from an all-maple neck and fingerboard to a maple neck capped with a rosewood "slab" fingerboard in 1959. By 1963, more changes had been made, and further changes were made in the years following the sale of Fender to CBS in 1965, but it's those early basses from the "pre-CBS" era that remain the holy grail for a lot of players. Unfortunately, vintage basses are getting harder to find, and more expensive every year. To address this, Fender started making vintage reissues of some of their most iconic models in 1982.
Fender recently revamped their entire American made vintage reissue series, with an eye towards making them even more historically accurate. They've retooled, and where possible, returned to the vintage tooling that was used on the original instruments back in the 1950s and 1960s. This attention to detail has resulted in their most authentic reproductions of those legendary guitars and basses yet.
What You Need To Know
- Fender sought out exemplary "golden" vintage examples of the original '63 P-Bass, and examined and measured them in great detail to serve as the benchmarks for their new American Vintage series models.
- The pickguard is mint colored, which looks great paired with the Olympic White nitrocellulose lacquer finish on the lightweight alder body. Other colors are also available, including Faded Sonic Blue, Seminole Red and three-color sunburst. The sunburst models come with a 4-ply tortoiseshell pickguard instead of the mint pickguards that are used with the other colors.
- The nitrocellulose lacquer-finished maple neck is evenly and subtly flamed, and it looks gorgeous. 1963 marked the introduction of the laminated rosewood fingerboard on Fender basses, which replaced the earlier slab style fingerboards. True to the vintage originals from 1963, the American Vintage '63 Precision Bass features the round, laminated rosewood board, which is actually more labor intensive than the slab style board to make. The fretboard radius is the vintage correct 7.25", while the 20 frets are also the smaller vintage-approved style and size.
- Fender used to offer four different optional neck widths for various models. These were called A, B, C, and D, and measured roughly 1.5" (A-width), 1.625" (B-width; probably the most common), 1.75" (C-width), and 1.875" (D-width) at the nut. These neck widths should not be confused with the neck profile - the way the back of the neck is curved or shaped - which is typically described as V-shaped, D-shaped, U-shaped, or C-shaped. The American Vintage '63 P-Bass has a C-shaped neck profile. The width of the American Vintage '63 Precision Bass most closely matches the traditional C-width.
- At 1.740" wide (measured at the bone nut), the new '63 P-Bass has a slightly wider neck, but it's not unbearably thick - even with my fairly short and stubby fingers, it felt fairly comfortable, especially by P-Bass standards. I'll admit I'm generally more of a Jazz Bass kind of guy, but I must say that the neck on this bass, while by no means small, is very "playable." It has a very comfortable feeling profile.
- One of the more glaring cosmetic flaws in the earlier reissues was the look of the material used for the neck's dot inlays. Typically, they were stark white, which is an instant visual cue that you're looking at a reissue and not an original. Thankfully, Fender has addressed this with the revamped reissues, making them look a lot closer to the vintage "clay dots."
- The pickup is a re-voiced classic hum-cancelling split single-coil unit. Volume and tone controls with chrome flat-top knobs and a pickguard mounted 1/4" output jack round out the electronics. The tone is classic vintage Fender P-Bass, with a deep, powerful and clear fundamental tone, and a throaty growl when pushed. In a nutshell, this bass sounds great!
- The vintage style four saddle bridge features threaded steel "barrel" saddles. The stock strings are roundwounds. The strings are "top mounted" and anchor at the back of the bridge, as opposed to going through the body.
- Nickel / Chrome bridge and pickup covers come pre-mounted on the Vintage '63 Precision Bass. Back in the day, we used to call them "ashtrays" since they were typically removed from the bass and somewhat resembled them when they were stored in the case, and could serve as one in a pinch. While a lot of players will probably still decide to remove them, it's cool that Fender is including them with the American Vintage models.
- The accessory pack on this bass is as good as anything I've seen in quite a while. Not only do you get the usual assortment of hang tags, you also get vintage style recreations of the original manuals, a vintage style strap, and lots of other cool "case candy." Fender even thoughtfully includes a 1/4" cable.
- The vintage-style orange plush lined G&G case is quite nice. It fits the bass very well, and the cream Tolex exterior with contrasting black ends looks really sharp. A small Fender logo near the handle is the only visual clue to what lies inside.
- The tuning machines on this bass are the vintage correct "reverse" open gear design.
- According to Fender, their "flash coat" finishing uses a 100\% nitrocellulose lacquer "flash" topcoat over the 100\% nitro sealer and color coats, and this final flash topcoat gives the guitar "a more authentically vintage appearance." The nitrocellulose lacquer finish on the American Vintage '63 Precision Bass is admirably thin, and does indeed have a great vintage-approved visual vibe to it.
- It's a P-Bass, and that means the neck is probably not the first choice for players with smaller hands. While it's still comfortably playable, a thinner Jazz Bass neck may be more appropriate for those who have smaller hands. The reverse of that is also true. If you have average to larger-sized hands, you're probably really going to love the neck on this bass.
- Nitrocellulose lacquer finishes require a bit more care than urethane or polyester finishes. You'll need to use caution when taking the Fender American Vintage '63 Precision Bass out of the case whenever it has been stored in a cold car trunk or similar location, or you'll risk causing small cracks in the finish called "checking." A large red tag on the outside of the case cautions you about the dangers of exposing the bass to temperature extremes.
- The American Vintage '63 Precision Bass has a thin 100\% nitrocellulose lacquer sealer coat. This provides a less "smooth" base for the color and clear top coats than some other sealers that have been used in the past, and very fine imperfections due to the texture of the underlying wood are more likely to be seen in the final finish. The finish is very nice on this bass, but don't expect the same level of smoothness that you sometimes see with thicker polyester and urethane finishes.
- Because of the way it completely covers the anchor point for the top-mounted strings, the bridge cover will need to be removed to change them. It's not a huge deal, and many players will opt to leave the cover off all the time anyway, thus making the point moot, but if you like the looks with it left on (and it does look cool), just know that string changes will take a little longer to accomplish.
Fender has really stepped things up a couple notches with their latest American Vintage series. The Fender American Vintage '63 Precision Bass is far more "vintage correct" than previous models, and it plays and sounds fantastic. All the vintage inspired goodies (such as the case candy and the retro case itself) further add to the illusion of having a modern day version of a vintage classic. Fender says "they did the research, and it shows." They're not lying. Fender has really nailed that elusive vintage vibe with this bass - the sound, the look, and the feel - and you can get it for a fraction of the price of what the vintage originals go for. If you're in the market for a classic P-Bass that looks and sounds like the ones that were made 50 years ago, you really need to check it out. It's a fantastic throwback to one of Fender's golden eras.
Musician's Friend Fender American Vintage '63 Precision Bass online catalog page (MSRP $2,499.99, $1,999.99 "street")
Fender's American Vintage '63 Precision Bass web page.
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Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.