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Vintage Stuff and Odd Things

Vintage Guitar: 1959 Jazz Bass (Herbie Flowers)

The following pictures were taken by Ecki for an article written by Paul Alcantara and appeared in the December 2006 issue of Guitar Buyer (UK), and are used with kind permission of Guitar Buyer magazine...thanks Mick.

I was contacted by Paul Alcantara, a journalist for Guitar Buyer (UK), whom was writing an article on Herbie Flowers' infamous Jazz Bass. Paul asked if I could examine some pictures and shed some light on its unique finish. Paul relayed to me that Herbie reckons he bought it new in 1959 from Manny's in New York.

An original Fender finish

First it is always nice to deal with an instrument that has only had one owner because the information on its history tends to be more reliable. I find this bass very interesting on a number of points. From what we know of Herbie's history with this bass, and from the pictures showing the wear layers and paint colors, it is clear that this is an original Fender finish.

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Fender's early finishing process

It not uncommon to have an early 60's Fender that has a totally different paint color underneath the finish color. Prior to 1961, Fender was doing custom color by request only and fit them into their existing production process. In 1961, Fender released its first official chart of Custom Color to dealers. For a 5% up charge you could get a custom color. In the early 60's, Fenders were in high demand and their production was running pretty much at capacity. When an order for a custom color came in, rather than building up a body from scratch, they would just take a body off the current production line and paint with the custom color. This sped up delivery because the body was already shaped, prepped, and sealed so it was very fast and easy to just spray over the current finish.

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More about Fender finishes and this guitar

It also was quite common during this period to find a custom color finish without the sealer, white primer and/or clear coat. Fender would just spray an extra heavy coat of color and buff that out. In general the clear coat step was not skipped on the metallic finishes, because the clear coat prevented the metal flake from oxidizing.

So another interesting thing to note with this bass: it was NOT clear coated! This is evident because the finish is still its original blue color, there are darker areas where the metal flake has oxidized, and there is a lack of finish checking (spider cracks running across the finish).

Most Lake Placid Blue finishes from this era have aged to more of a teal green color and the finish is checked. People that follow the vintage market know that it is nitrocellulose lacquer that causes a finish to yellow and crack. But what most people are not aware of is that from the beginning the metallic paints were never nitrocellulose based, but rather acrylic, which does not yellow or crack.

It was actually the clear coat that was a nitrocellulose furniture lacquer, and that caused the finishes to discolor and crack.

So with all that said—the Bright Blue, the oxidization and no finish checking—it is obvious the clear coat step was skipped.

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Fiesta Red

On a more ironic note, this particular bass has a sub finish color that is Fiesta Red! With of the fame of The Shadows in England, and Hank Marvin having a Fiesta Red Strat, everyone in England wanted a Fiesta Red guitar like Hank's. It is actually quite common in England to find a Fiesta Red Strat with another finish UNDER it, but in Herbie's case he bought a Blue Bass in New York City that, unbeknownst to him, was actually the sought after Fiesta Red—the color was only revealed years later through wear.

The following commentary is additional to what I submitted to Guitar Buyer:

Combining my knowledge of vintage guitars and my experience in the area of image analysis and forensics, I noticed that in two of the pictures I'd received that the decal on the headstock was NOT correct for a '59/'60 era Fender. I asked Paul to send me another picture that featured the headstock, and he sent me the following picture and comments.

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"I have interviewed Herbie, who is adamant that he bought the bass in 1959. Here is what he has to say:

"I bought the bass on Oct. 12, 1959, from Manny's in New York. If you remove the neck you can see Leo Fender's signature and because it's a prototype it has various bits that are not standard. For example, underneath the pickguard they installed what was tantamount to a fuzzbox but it was very primitive - a couple of resistors that cut the signal in half and fouled it up. It had a switch on it and when you tried to cut the roughness out it wouldn't cut out properly, so I took it out."

These were my comments after examining this picture:

The new picture of the decal is much clearer but the patent numbers are still a little blurry.

  1. 1960, there was a "Pat Pend" between the "Jazz Bass" and the "Offset Contour Body" in the decal
  2. 1961, the Pat Pend was removed, and four patent numbers appeared under the Fender decal.
  3. In your photograph I can't make out Patent Numbers 1 and 3, but 2 and 4 are more visible but still blurry. I know the patent numbers that should be there.
  4. Two of the Patent numbers that appeared on the '61 Jazz Bass were:
             2960900 (appears to be the second one in your picture)
             2968204 (appears to be the fourth one in your picture)
  5. If you go to http://patft.uspto.gov/srchnum.htm (the U.S. Patent Office official web site) and enter the 2 patent numbers, it will return patent info granted to Leo Fender. If you have a Quicktime viewer and the database is working, you can click on the image button and view the patent information.
  6. 2960900 has an issue date of November 22, 1960.
  7. 2968204 is of primary interest because it was issues on January 17, 1961. (It was for his pickups.)

In conclusion, it would be impossible for Fender to apply a patent number prior to it being granted by the U.S. Patent Office.

All that being said, as I stated before, it is really neither here nor there with what you have requested from me... just of interest to me I guess.

Paul's reply back to me was the following...

"I solved the discrepancy with the patent numbers on the headstock of Herbie's bass and the date at which he recalls buying it (1959/60). The headstock decal—which was flaking off—was apparently changed by George Harrison's guitar tech when Herbie was working on the 'Gone Troppo' album! So there you have it. Regards, Paul"

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