So…Here’s the lowdown.

by Jim Mathis

Fifty-four years ago, in 1951, a California guitar builder named Leo Fender saw a need for a small light-weight bass instrument. Before that, the bass player always had to wrestle with a huge acoustic bass, often had to ride by himself in a station wagon, and then had trouble being heard over the rest of the band. Fender reasoned that a bass guitar would do wonders for the bass player’s social life and might help the sound as well.

The big problem was finding speakers that would handle the low frequencies and the power needed to give enough volume to be a presence in a band. The technical problems were eventually solved and the even bigger problem of convincing bass players to give up their big wood monsters began. Fender added frets with the idea that it would make regular guitarists more likely to switch to bass. Because the frets made the bass easier to play in tune, he called it the “Precision Bass.”

It took years of promotion and marketing to convince musicians that the electric bass guitar was a real instrument. By the late 1950’s, rock and roll and country musicians had begun to see that the electric bass could open the door to a whole new sound. The strong bass driven music meant that large crowds could dance to a four or five-piece band, marking the end of the big-band era and crowning rock and roll king.

Innovators, such as Paul McCartney of the Beatles, took the electric bass guitar to new levels, far beyond just a replacement for the acoustic bass violin.

As the electric bass continued its domination of new music, more and more genre’s switched to the electric bass guitar. Today, except for symphonic music, it is hard to find any style of music where the sound of the electric bass has not had a huge influence. Even the diehard acoustic world of bluegrass now regularly accepts electric bass players.

Hundreds of manufacturers and custom builders now make electric basses and amplifiers, all trying to be better than the others. Basses are now available in all shapes, sizes, and prices, but the original Fender Precision Bass is still a world-wide favorite – an amazing feat with any product in any industry. Original 1950’s era Fender basses are now prized collector items, sometimes bringing five-figure prices.

The revolution has continued into church music with most churches replacing piano or organ based music with music dominated by electric bass guitar and drums. This has ushered in a whole new style of praise and worship music, revitalizing worship services, resulting in many people coming to Christ.

Leo Fender had little idea, fifty-years ago, that his simply idea of an electric bass guitar would have such an impact on our music, our culture, and even the way we worship. Arguably, the Fender bass is one of the most influential inventions of the twentieth century. Thank you, Leo.


Jim Mathis
Bob Kaat-Wohlert
Theresa Kaat- Wohlert
Wes Burrows
Charles David Smart

Articles by Jim Mathis
I Corinthians 13
Here's the Low Down
Let's Start a Band
Fourteen Generations
The Steel Guitar