Although we've only
started chatting with Albert Molinaro on a regular basis for
perhaps about a year or so, jon and i feel as if we've known
him for a long time. We've been wandering into Albert's Hollywood
store, Guitars-R-Us, for years now. If you like collectable vintage
American basses and guitars, then entering Albert's store will
give you a head rush. There are hundreds of beautiful Fenders,
Gibsons, Rickenbackers, and many others hanging from the walls,
many of them very rare. His shop is on every bass and guitar
player's short list of "must visits" if you're stopping
through Los Angeles, and it's always a enjoyable experience -
Albert is always there to personally greet you, and he always
seems happy to talk to you about all sorts of bass-stuff. His
down-to-earth store has been a fixture on the little strip of
guitar shops along Sunset Boulevard for about 20 years now, and
Albert's been providing instruments for recording and touring
to the music industry heavies the whole time.
Which brings us to the topic of Albert's own collection of bass
guitars - rumor has it that it's the most complete private collection
of Fender basses in the world. The collection grew out of Albert's
love of the Fender bass and led him to write, along with Jay
Black, the new book "The Fender Bass: an Illustrated
History". Imagine our surprise to find out that our
pal Albert is considered by many to be one of the world's foremost
authority on Fender basses. And many of the basses in the book
are from his collection, which he slowly accumulated over many
years as a player and dealer. We talked to Albert about this
new book and also his old flame: the Fender bass.
bunnybass: Your love (or is it closer
to obsession?) for the Fender bass is so obvious when I'm reading
through this book. It just comes through. When did your relationship
to Leo Fender's instruments begin? And why do you think you were
so attracted to the Fender bass as opposed to, say, bird-watching
Albert Molinaro: This is difficult to
answer accurately as my musical obsessions were realized at a
VERY YOUNG age, probably when I first discovered music, beginning
when I got my first transistor radio at age 5 or 6. But the single
largest factor that contributed to my interest in the Fender
Bass was seeing performers on TV... When I was young, in my early
teens in the late 60's and early 70's, this is before MTV, we
had to rely on weekly performance variety shows like the old
Ed Sullivan Show, Sonny and Cher, etc. Actually seeing the musicians
holding and playing their instruments somehow transformed my
love for rock and pop music into an obsession. It formed a visual
link in my brain. I really cannot tell you why the BASS stood
out and was indelibly etched into my psyche, but I knew at the
moment I saw it that it was for me. Maybe it was the long neck!
Plus I think I liked the fact that there was only one bassist
in every band. To me the bass represented some sort of power,
and as time would prove, some have used it for good, and others
bunnybass: Yes, evil - we will have to
return to that! Can you tell me a little about how this project
of writing an illustrated history of the Fender bass came to
Albert Molinaro: I was approached by
my friend and Fender Master Builder, Jay Black, he had the idea,
along with his friend and Fender photographer, Dave Maddux. At
some point Jay realized the depth of the collection of Fender
Basses that I had amassed over the last 20 years, and decided
that I could be a resource and a research partner. It was he
that had the idea for the book, and he organized it and rallied
Fender to get behind it, which they did. After all, 2001 is the
50th Anniversary of Leo's creation, the Fender Precision Bass,
which is primarily what motivated me to hop on board the project
too. It was mutual admiration, respect, and understanding of
just how significant this creation was to music, pop culture,
and humanity itself in the civilized world. Music is very powerful
and Leo knowingly or unknowingly changed it forever. So I was
already motivated when Jay approached me!
bunnybass: One thing that I've always
wondered about - how did Leo Fender just nail so many of the
fundamental characteristics of THE ELECTRIC BASS so positively,
so early? I mean, look how little the design has had to change.
How was it that he was able to come up with something so enduring?
Albert Molinaro: Leo Fender was a VERY
practical and economical man, from his design ideas, to the way
he ran his company. MANY of his designs and patents are still
being used today. It was all about practicality with Leo - the
precision bass is a great example of how "form followed
function." It was the way he was with all of his innovations
bunnybass: some of my favorite things
in your book are the old Fender advertisements. it's always interesting
to see how a new idea is first presented to a clueless public!
I thought the 1952 Fender press release was really fascinating
- it actually goes so far as to try to explain to people how
this new instrument should be played:
"Portable String Bass Really New. Radio & Television
Equipment Co., 207 Oak St., Santa Ana, Calif., announces a new
"portable" string bass, which they say can be carried
as easily as a guitar. The new bass is styled similar to the
Fender "Telecaster" Spanish guitar, but has only four
strings which are tuned the same as on a conventional string
bass. The instrument is _fretted_ and includes a built-in electric
pickup... Playing is done in "finger style," similar
to classic guitar, rather than slapping and jerking the strings.
It is said that not only can the bass player play difficult material
much easier than ever before, but that he will also be less tired
after a night of playing, as it requires very little string movement
to produce full volume."
it's a good reminder of how quickly we've forgotten
how very strange, revolutionary, and MODERN the Fender bass was
when it was first introduced way back in 1951...
Albert Molinaro: Well again, Leo being
practical knew that in order to gain the publics' acceptance
of such a new idea, he would have to give them some not-so-technical
information about its function, purpose, and advantages over
the old acoustic! He was a teacher too!
The 1952 Fender ad announcing their new "portable"
(click the picture for a bigger version)
bunnybass: I do a lot of writing and
researching myself, and one of the biggest problems I have is
that I have a tendency to lose my direction, or to want to include
EVERYTHING I learn in my writing. Obviously this would be confusing
to the reader. What were the central concerns you were trying
to address when you were working through this project? Did they
change as you went along?
Albert Molinaro: That is a very good
question... Yes, the focus did change after we began. The original
concept was to pay attention to the bass, its offspring (all
of the other bass models that Fender had introduced), all of
the changes and revisions that accompanied all of them throughout
the years, AND the players themselves - the men and women who
went on to glorify the instrument by embracing it through the
last half century! But as the limitations of the printing and
publishing world began to close in on us, we realized that we
would probably have to do 2 books to encompass ALL of the material
we had planned. The "artists" section had to be dropped
in order for us to focus on and accurately tell the instruments'
story. That was our central concern - to be able to show in great
detail, the features and changes these instruments underwent
during the last 50 years, from the obvious to the minutia, from
the inception to the current models today. Luckily for us, another
bass book has recently emerged, and does cover some of the content
that our book was forced to omit: check out former Bass Player
Magazines' Editor, Jim Robert's book How the Fender Bass Changed
the World. Also I would like to thank our books' designer,
Jill Smolin, who without her help, Jay and I would possibly not
have a bass book to be discussing! This was our first book, but
just one of many for her!
Surf Culture: a Fender ad from the 60's.
(click the picture for a bigger version)
bunnybass: The amount of data, trivia,
historical background information, archival photographs, and
so on in this book is staggering. Deciding how to organize it,
share it between yourself and J.W. Black, and then to finally
present to the reader in a clear and meaningful way - I can imagine
it must have been an extremely complicated process. What was
Albert Molinaro: To be fair, that was
more of Jay's work. He was the organizer. I was more or less
overseeing that process, I had more "finishing touch"
input. I was trying to be the voice of reason, to give another
point of view. Jay's background is more in manufacturing and
he has a lot of knowledge in that arena, while my background
is more that of the player/collector. So I lent perspective where
I could. The book is the result of both our different viewpoints.
bunnybass: Is there anything you wanted
to include in the book but didn't?
Albert Molinaro: I may have touched on
this earlier, but having an "artist/players" section
would have been a highlight to me personally. There are so many
great players who all helped to promote the Fender product and
sound. So many of them out there deserve recognition, many of
them were innovators, and many were just doing their job. Some
have been a personal influence on me, and many on the entire
world, but as Jay told me, that is another book!
bunnybass: The photos of the basses themselves
are excellent. You can actually learned a lot about Fender basses
just by looking at the photographs. What kind of direction did
you give to Dave Maddux, in terms of how you wanted these photographs
to function in the context of this book?
Albert Molinaro: Dave, Jay and I worked
together in the beginning. The earliest sessions took place at
my store [Guitars-R-Us in Los Angeles), in our spare time. But
after a while we were all so busy that Dave mostly just took
over the photography role. He has done some really nice work
for Fender and is a quality photographer. So we just sort of
let him do his thing, and from his own prior experiences he knew
what we needed.
bunnybass: Where did all these amazing
basses come from? Were they mostly lent from private collections?
Albert Molinaro: Well, most of the instruments
shown that are not archival or catalog reprints came out of my
store and from my personal inventory/collection. A few other
folks were kind enough to help us out by allowing us to photograph
their instruments if something cropped up that I did not have
or have access to, so a mighty thank you to all of them for helping
out with this celebration of Leo's legacy!
bunnybass: Let me torture you a little.
There's a dumb mental game that's popular among geeks (I should
know) called "what's your five all-time greatest."
I know you have a million amazing Fender basses in your collection.
But let's say you have to give them all away except for five.
You can only keep FIVE Albert! Which five do you keep?
Albert Molinaro: That is not so tough...
As a collector, I would keep my 1951 Precision, as it represents
the origins of electric bass. As a player, a 1958 Maple neck
Precision, as it is my favorite era and tone. Also as a player,
a Rosewood neck early to mid 60's Precision, as it is "THE"
classic and a must have for every bassist. Any jazz bass from
the same early to mid 60's era, and for variety a 70's Telecaster
bass, just to annoy people when I want to be loud!
Albert's 1951 Precision bass.
(click the picture for a larger version)
bunnybass: You were already well-known
in the bass collecting community as an authority on the Fender
bass, but even so you must have learned a lot during the process
of researching and writing. What were some of the most surprising
things, unexpected things, that you discovered about the Fender
bass as you were doing the research for this book?
Albert Molinaro: I really like this question...
I have to admit that the MOST surprising or unexpected thing
that I personally learned from this experience is that, JUST
when you think you know all there is to know, you are in trouble.
I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that Fender, the
company, did many things inconsistently. So just when you think
you know it all, you get slammed with contrary evidence. Only
through investigation and research did some new evidence come
to light, many facets, which I had never thought about in the
past. There were many unanswered questions that Jay and I had
to discover answers to, and we did our best. We would like to
point out that even though our research led to a discovery or
answer, when it comes to Fender products, there is often more
than one right answer! And lastly and maybe most importantly,
I learned that some of what Fender did was for the player, and
some of what they did was for themselves, to facilitate ease
in the manufacturing process. That is what Fender has always
been about -providing economical, quality instruments that players
could afford, love, and cherish.
Can you tell the difference between a '62 and a '65 Jazz bass?
How about tuners?
(click the pictures for larger versions)
bunnybass: Let's talk about that point
- that some of what Leo Fender did was for the player. This kind
of mentality - "I want to put good instruments in the hands
of everyday people" - are there records, correspondence,
or anything else that suggest that Leo Fender was hoping to change
popular music in any particular way?
Albert Molinaro: I really can not say
if there is official documentation to support this idea or not,
but it IS widely known amongst musicians, from then and now,
that Leo was always giving instruments and amplifiers to 'players"
to take out of the factory and test and then relay comments and
suggestions back to him. That is how he honed his products to
perfection, by ingesting advice and comments from a variety of
people and players. So in some ways it was an interactive relationship
and ultimately the players won, by getting good, quality gear
at affordable prices.
bunnybass: On a personal level, how has
the process of writing this book changed your relationship to
the Fender bass?
Albert Molinaro: For a time, I became
tired and bored of having to deal with the bass under a microscope.
I was not used to thinking about the bass as a manufactured product.
But now that the chores are behind us, I am back to loving and
caressing it again. I can now look at it as I once did, not like
the frog in biology class. I am also personally excited by the
Limited Edition 1951/2001 Fender bass that Alan Hammel at Fender
custom shop and I worked on. He studied and duplicated, in almost
every minute detail, my personal and rare 1951 Precision Bass.
We used it as a template for much of the reissue. His goal was
to really make an accurate, authentic replica, the kind that
Fender is known for. I cannot wait to get mine!
bunnybass: mmmMMMMMmmmm...'51 P bass...
*drool* oops, sorry... When you get it, please let me know. I
would love to see it. Thanks Albert.
You can find Albert and Jay's book,
"The Fender Bass: an Illustrated History" at
most large book stores, and also at online bookstores like Amazon.com. You know, places like that.