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Category Archive1960’s Vintage Bass Guitars

Vintage Domino Beatle Bass Guitar

Back Catalog Memories: 1960’s Domino Beatle Bass Guitar

In keeping with the Domino theme this month, let’s take a look at the Domino Beatle Bass. Imported to New York by Maurice Lipsky Music Co., these Japanese guitars were part of a series of models branded “Domino” throughout the 1960’s.

Vintage Domino Beatle Bass Guitar

Vintage Domino Beatle Bass Guitar

This model was an obvious take on the Hofner Beatle Bass from the same era. The Hofner brand were German made guitars and basses and had been making top quality instruments for many years without much popularity in North America. However, once Paul McCartney surfaced with his lefty Hofner bass, everybody on the planet wanted one. Hence, once again Lipsky was quick to jump on the opportunity with the Domino brand.

The California was available in 2 pickup configuration, 3-way switch, volume and tone. Main color was Sunburst, but I’ve seen them in White, Redburst and Greenburst. They all sported a wooden floating bridge and single f-hole.

Vintage 1960's Espana Bass Guitar (Sunburst)

Back Catalog Memories: 1960’s Espana Bass Guitar

Here is a rare bass from Italy. There is little information about the Espana brand, but it was most certainly created under the Crucianelli brand in the 1960’s Italy, likely the late 60’s. This bass was obviously targeted at the Fender crowd – check out the headstock – and the body too is quite reminiscent of the classic Fender style. The switch on the upper horn was the pickup selector switch, added to this was a switch on the lower horn which switched the pickups in and out of phase. Each pickup had its own volume and tone controls.

Vintage 1960's Espana Bass Guitar (Sunburst)

Vintage 1960’s Espana Bass Guitar (Sunburst)

These Crucianelli guitars are surprisingly well made with a wonderful, slim neck. Unfortunately, many of these instruments from the 60’s were 30.5″ short scale basses, so never did measure up to the sonic boom of the full scale Fenders.

1960’s Supro Airline Pocket Bass Guitar

What’s the best bass for guitar players? What’s arguably the coolest bass ever made? What’s got bottom that’s so huge, warm, and round that Mr. “I like Big Butts” Sir Mix a Lot would pen a moving ode to it? If you guessed the Valco-made Supro and/or Airline Pocket bass, you guessed right.

1960's Supro Airline Pocket Bass Guitar

1960's Supro Airline Pocket Bass Guitar

What makes it so special? Let’s start with the delightful design, typical of early to mid 60’s Valco. The Supros came in black, with transparent thumb and finger rests on either side of the body and the white (and sometimes, rarely, black) headstock. The Airline came in the Ice-Tea sunburst and white pickguard wings. Some of the Airline models came with a bound neck; some did not. For my hand, I dig the unbound, thinner neck, but that’s all to taste, I suppose. Either model is a ridiculously easy bass to play. Both models sport Brazilian rosewood fingerboards.

Is one better than the other? I think the AIRLINE model is better looking, but beware: The SUPRO model has a MUCH better down angle from the nut to tuning pegs. The Airline’s angle is too shallow, allowing the strings to pop out of the nut unless you add some after market string trees on at least the A and the D strings.

Other interesting features? Small (for a bass, at any rate) Kluson tuners. A monster of a fat Valco pickup in the neck position and a piezo pickup in the bridge. The knobs are for pickup blend and volume.

What’s the story behind these? They are pretty much a guitar-sized bass, which is really just too cool. Actually, the bodies ARE guitar bodies (or, at any rate, were USED for Valco-made guitars that are the cousin of these basses). The only things different are the necks and the bridges. So, it was probably an economical way for Valco to use the bodies as a duel-purpose body to get more bang for fewer production bucks (though they probably weren’t very successful, as the productions ran for fewer than 4 years).

But back to the bass at hand (if you’re lucky enough to have one at hand). None other than vintage gear collector and ex-Bob Dylan sideman and Saturday Night Live bandleader GE Smith called these the best recording basses around. I’d agree and go one further – they are the coolest bass for jam sessions and live gigs if you’re a guitar player who plays bass on the side or a bassist with small hands.

The neck pickup is a typical Valco monster. VERY full and fat and round (put some nylon strings on this and play along to “Rubber Soul” all day long) with tremendous depth and warmth. The piezo pickup (and the blend knob) result in a much lower volume, but have an incredibly woody tone that resembles a standup jazz bass. Maybe not enough volume for the stage at this setting, but a fabulous recording setting.

The 25 7/8″ neck practically begs you to play chords and/or two note combos. The bass has a ring and chime to it that jumps out of a good cab’s speakers.

How much should you pay? As I write this (always a danger to list a price for vintage instruments…a month later, this could be woefully out of date the way prices seem to go), a MINT example seems to be going in the $800 range (that’s with the original hard shell case). A beater that you could take to your garage or a bar stage? Around five hundred bucks. Which, really, when you think about it, is better than money in the bank. You have an incredibly cool bass that will have people coming up before and after the set asking “what the hell are you playing?” Which, of course, is part of the fun with oddball gear.

We have two of these in the house, and both get used with the bands. One is set up like a normal bass – one set up as a baritone electric ukulele (hey, why not?). These are fabulous made in the USA vintage basses that are still pretty affordable on the vintage market (the Reso-Glass super short scale Map Shape Bass is ALSO incredibly cool, but they’re going for well over a grand now). Get one while you can. And, hey Mike, how about a re-issue?

Editors note: We’ve considered doing a re-issue of this little beast for some time. But, the ultra short scale has some inherent design flaws; the worst of which is the extreme difficulty in keeping these in tune. The heavy strings combined with the short scale make intonation and pitch very difficult to nail down. If someone invented tuners with a much higher (or lower?) gear ratio, they would be easier to tune. Also, the short scale length does not give a full resonance as a Bass. But hey, it is a great BASS for guitar players indeed…

In the meantime, we decided to offer something that is the best of both worlds, and hence the AIRLINE Bass and the new AIRLINE MAP Bass. Both are 30″ scale (shorter than traditional 34″ scale BASS), and therefore offering 1) complete comfort for a guitar player, 2) long enough scale for accurate tuning and setup and 3) resonant enough for professional Bass players.

But, might still be cool to do the real McCoy in the coming years…

– Mike Robinson

Rob’s Crazy eBay Finds: 1960’s Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

The Short-Scale Bass is a versatile and wonderful instrument. It packs enough punch to be used as a part of a bassist’s gigging set-up. Its shorter scale (anywhere from the super duper short 25 7/8″ of the Valco/National/Supro/Airline pocket basses, to the 30″ of the classic Fender Mustangs and Musicmasters) makes it comfortable to play for beginners, small-handed adults and guitar players more familiar with guitar scale. Plus, a lot of very cool ones have been made over the years.

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

Enter exhibit A: A late 60’s KENT short scale variation on the very popular (then and now) “Beatle” violin shaped bass. As you can see from the photos, this isn’t your average violin bass. While many, from the classic Hofner that Paul McCartney turned a few kids on to, to the Teisco and Black Jack Japanese models, didn’t stray far from the violin shape, this Kent takes a few attractive and stylish liberties with the standard template.

While clearly inspired by the violin basses, notice the cool horn flares and the distinct cut aways. Also of note on this model is a stunning triple (TRIPLE!) bound side and a highly figured and eye-catching sunburst on the back (!?) side.

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

This, like many (most?) Kents has a history that’s a little difficult to trace. This one is from 1967 or 1968 and was probably made at the Kawai factory. Some sources also credit the earlier slab bodied models to Guyatone and/or Teisco. A tangled web they weaved, these Kents.

Also of note about Kents is that both the amps and guitars vary wildly from model to model – perhaps more so than any other brand from the era. They made some truly crappy guitars (the slab body models mentioned above among them. Most I’ve seen, actually, are low-grade crude one pickup models with very little to recommend them as players or collectables). Yet, they made beauties like this and many other higher-end semi-hollowbodies. And while most of the Kent amps I’ve ever seen are the basic three and four tube crapboxes without Power Transformers (i.e., ones you don’t want to play barefoot on a cement floor with a moisture problem), there are a couple of models that are very sweet. These include a 2 EL84 output model with tremolo and a single 12″ speaker in a primitive basket-weave faux-tweed (or, paper, if you want to be exact-ha), and a REALLY cool piggyback model (with single 12″ cab). They may not be collectable, but their cool factor is very high and no one wants them, so they can be had on the cheap (which, for the frugal tone gourmet, only increases the cool factor).

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

Back to the bass at hand, though. This model has a zero fret and plays really well up the neck. With a good setup, these are truly sweet playing basses. If you were going to use it as your main bass, you’d probably want to get some higher-grade machine heads and also probably replace the pickups (which are pretty aenemic and flat sounding). However, the pickup covers are so radically cool, you’d probably want to find something that fit so you could put this beauty back to stock. No permanent mods on something this nice looking. For just looking and the odd recording bass and quieter(er) jams, leave it as-is.

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

One thing to look out for (especially if buying via on line auction and/or through the mail): I’ve seen a few of these over the years and nearly half had a warped neck. The truss rods are not the most reliable, so ask questions and don’t pay too much if you have any hunch there might be something hinky about it.

Other nifty features: Dig the 60’s Japanese top-hat Tone and Volume knobs (with the stylish “T” and “V”), the funky script on the headstock and chunky block mother of toilet seat inlays on the neck.

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

1960's Kent Short Scale Bass Guitar

What does one of these cost? These are pretty rare and, as a result, they don”t show up on eBay or in music stores a whole lot. As a result, there seems to be more variation on the price- I’ve seen them go as low as $150 (not including shipping…which of course we never do include when discussing what we paid for a neat vintage guitar, right?) and as high as $450. There is a corresponding guitar model, so be the hep cat on your block and, like they used to say about Hot Wheels, “collect ’em all.” Happy hunting, yee vintage freaks.