Text by Peter Stuart Kohman
Data compiled by Alan Greenwood and Gil Hembree
Vintage Guitar is marking 25 years of publication with a year full of features. This month, using data compiled for The Official Vintage Guitar Price Guide 2011, we continue the celebration with a list of the 25 most valuable basses.
1. 1960-’62 Fender Jazz Bass
($25, 000 to $38, 000 in custom-color finish)
The holiest of Fender Bass grails is a “stack knob” custom-color Jazz. The “J-Bass” proved the market could support fancy, pricier bass guitars; a solid duco-finish Jazz was a hot-rod four-string nonpareil. By the mid ’60s, they were ordered comparatively often – not so in 1960! Highly collectible since the ’70s, a custom-color Jazz Bass still tops the list today. Sunburst models from the period fetch , 000 to , 000.
2. 1970s Zemaitis “Heart Hole” Bass
($24, 000 to $29, 000)
England’s Tony Zemaitis hand-made his electric guitars for many years, but built very few basses, mostly for U.K. rock stars like Ronnie Lane and Greg Lake. With only four extant, this model would be the ultimate four-string in the Velvet Goldmine.
3. 1963-’65 Gibson Thunderbird IV
($20, 000 to $23, 000 in custom-color finish)
Arguably Gibson’s greatest bass, the two-pickup, “reverse-body” Thunderbird IV, with its neck-through design, combines style and function like few others. With a production run painfully short at less than two years, it could be ordered in any of 10 flashy colors and is the ultimate Gibson four-string (sunburst models from the same period go for $9, 000 to $13, 000).
4. 1958-’60 Fender Precision Bass
($18, 000 to 23, 000, custom color)
Originally offered in any color – as long as it was blond(!) – by the early ’60s, the Fender Precision could be had in a rainbow of finishes. The Precision ruled the ’50s, and a late-’50s (maple neck, anodized pickguard) model will rule many collector’s wallets, especially if not in the then-standard sunburst (which go for $8, 000 to $11, 000; ’51 to ’60 models sell for as much as $19, 000). Any pre-CBS P-Bass will follow – the rarer the color, the higher the dollar!
5. 1961-1964 Fender Bass VI
($10, 500 to $14, 500, custom color)
Leo Fender’s answer to a cheap-but-practical Danelectro was this super-elaborate three-pickup/30″-scale twang machine – with vibrato! The $329 Fender VI was “bass-ically” an overgrown guitar, and was a hit with studio players, though few others could afford one. Jack Bruce started his career on a sunburst model; now, collectors crave flashy custom-color examples while sunburst models fetch $5, 500 to $7, 000.