1958 Gibson EB-1

 

The Fender Precision Bass was not the first bass guitar – that honor goes to the Audiovox model 736 of the mid 1930s – but it was the first commercially successful one, and the first to inspire competition. Within two years of its introduction, bass guitars were introduced by Gibson and Kay, though both companies took radically different approaches than Fender. The Kay K-162 was a 30” scale bass built on a fully-hollow frame like most electric guitars of the time. The Gibson Electric Bass was a solidbody, but its 30” scale and violin-shaped body were far removed from the precedent set by Fender.

Nowadays, the term “violin bass” generally conjures images of the Hofner 500/1. This fully-hollow bass was introduced in 1956 and immortalized in the following decade by its most famous Liverpudlian endorser. It’s not clear whether Hofner took inspiration from Gibson, particularly in light of a ban on American imports into the UK during the 1950s. Regardless, both companies are said to have designed their instruments to draw the attention of upright bass players. The deep thump of the Hofner went some way toward emulating the sound of an upright, while Gibson actually created an instrument that could be played upright if desired: the tail strap pin could be unscrewed and replaced with a long end pin for vertical playing.

Because it started out as the only bass in the Gibson lineup, the instrument was named simply the Electric Bass. In 1958, with the addition of the semi-hollow EB-2 to the catalog, the Electric Bass was renamed the EB-1 for its final year of production. Although Gibson had introduced their first solidbody guitar only a year before the Electric Bass, a number of the Les Paul’s design features are evident in the bass. The body is made of solid mahogany with a contoured top; along with painted f-holes and pinstripes, this immediately differentiated it visually from the competition. The massive single-coil pickup (different from the humbuckers Gibson introduced on basses in 1959) was located in the neck position for maximum warmth and output. The 30” scale, a feature of many subsequent Gibson basses, allowed for easy fretting and accentuated the deep sound of the instrument. It also helped the instrument to balance on a strap. Kluson banjo tuners were probably intended to remind players of an upright bass, where the tuning pegs are pointed backward from the headstock.

The Electric Bass/EB-1 was moderately successful, and 546 were built between 1953 and 1958. A reissue featuring a few changes was offered from 1970 to 1973, but this was less successful and fewer were built. This particular bass dates to the end of the original 1950s run; it sports the metal tuner buttons that were only used on the very last ones. It shows its age in terms of finish wear, but structurally it is in excellent condition. It is missing the pickguard and the screw-on end post, and a thumb rest has been added, but the playability remains impeccable and the sound is excellent.

 

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