1972 Micro-Frets Stage II

After years of rapid expansion, the guitar market crashed in 1967. A few long-lived manufacturers started focusing on other products, such as Magnatone, or simply went out of business, such as the recently conglomerated Valco and Kay. As demand for guitars was slowly revived in the next few years, the lion’s share of the market – low-end instruments aimed at beginners and those on tight budgets – became dominated by Japanese imports. Yet, a number of new guitar builders were able to carve out niches in the rapidly transforming guitar industry. Some existing companies brought out new products, such as electric guitars by Kustom and Ovation. Other companies seemed to spring from nowhere, such as Micro Frets.

Based in Frederick, Maryland, Micro Frets built approximately 3000 guitars and basses in its five years of existence. From 1968 through 1972, the company’s products employed a number of features intended to drag electric instruments into the modern era. Perhaps the most notable was the radio transmitter built into some models, creating the earliest wireless guitar system on the market. Less outlandish (but more practical and popular) was the Calibrato vibrato, which was successful in keeping the guitar in tune through heavy bends. The bodies themselves were unique: thin but mostly hollow, the top and back were extensively routed and then merged using gaskets. The gaskets quickly gave way to internal clips, and eventually the two halves were simply glued together. A couple of models sported truly solid bodies, but they were the exceptions in the Micro Frets catalog.

Hollow bodies were given unusually-shaped soundholes, though these were later abandoned (giving the guitars the appearance of being completely solid). The 1972 catalog claimed “Although most models of the Micro-Frets guitars are made as hollow bodies to create the unique sound, we have found through extensive research that a sound-hole decays the tone. Hence the lack of a sound-hole.” The true effect of the soundholes is debatable, but the design change certainly did save on time and construction cost. Bodies were given a range of finishes, from black and translucent red to some remarkable multi-colored bursts.

This is a Stage II bass from the last generation of Micro Frets designs in 1972. Like the guitar model of the same name, it features a hollow maple body with a single-piece maple neck. The default scale for Micro Frets basses was 30”, but this bass has a 34” scale (available on order per the catalog). While the first Micro Frets instruments used DeArmond pickups, the units on this later bass were designed by Bill Lawrence and built in-house by Micro Frets. These single-coils have a wide frequency range and produce a sound that is deep yet clear. A toggle switch engages a coil tap (not a phase switch, as is sometimes claimed) that reduces output and rolls off a bit of treble. The bass also features the company’s Micro-Nut, which allows intonation to be adjusted at both ends of the vibrating string. This nut was available as an aftermarket addition to any guitar, but the need to cut out part of the fretboard under the highest string ensured that it was rarely used in that capacity.

The neck has a slightly thin C-shaped profile that allows for easy playability all the way up. The hollow body makes for a surprisingly lightweight instrument that’s easy on the shoulders when played for long periods. There is some minor wear to the finish, particularly on the neck near the body, but overall the bass has survived in clean condition with all of its original components.

 

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