The Fender Precision is probably the most famous, most used and potentially the most respected bass guitar design of all time. Although the story of the electric bass guitar goes back at least 20 or 30 years before the advent of the Fender Precision, this was the first instrument to gain any commercial sucess, and despite modifications, exists in a very similar form today.
The earliest electric basses were made to appeal to bass players, and guitarists alike; guitarists attempting to play bass often found the scale of an upright bass (42") to large, and imprecise. Not to mention the unweildy nature, and lack of volume. After Leo Fender created the Esquire and Fender Telecaster models in 1950, he moved on to a bass instrument. The Precision dealt with all of the forementioned problems. Its scale was just 34", the frets allowed 'precise' pitch (hence the name), and the amplified nature could compete with the electric guitars and bigger drum kits starting to be employed in the music of the time. It has a wider neck than the Fender Jazz bass; Fenders two-pickup bass launched in 1960. It did of course change over the years...
1955 'slab body' Fender Precision bass Image Heritage auctions
Just like the Telecaster guitar, the Precision started as a square sided slab ash body, one piece 20 fret maple neck, and just one single coil pickup. Note the early features: large scratchplate, Telecaster-style headstock, metal control consul, angular bridge cover, and matching pickup cover/handrest. By the late 1950s, the design was pretty much refined to the bass still made today.
1962 Fender Precision bass Image Heritage auctions
1972 Fender Precision bass
Electric bass advertisements originally published from 1953 onwards. Click on the images for larger copies. Check out other vintage Fender advertisements
Fender Precision - Bassmen! Play the original Fender Precision electric bass & Bassman amplifier (1953)
Early fifties advertisement for Fenders first electric bass, the Precision, and its companion amplifier, the Bassman
Fender Precision - Instruments get out of date too (1953)
Early fifties advertisement underlining the modern features of the Fender Precision bass, and bassman amplifier
Fender Precision - Don't cheat yourself (1953)
Early Fender advertisement featuring three guitar/amp combinations: The Precision bass and Bassman amp; the Telecaster guitar and Twin amp, and the three-neck pedal steel and Pro amp.
Fender Precision - Fender fine electric instruments (1955)
Early Fender advertisement for four pedal steels, three amplifiers, and three electric guitars. At this point in Fender history, it is the pedal steels that top the page; electric guitars are still...
Fender Precision - The best things don't always need big packages (1958)
The electric bass was always designed as a replacement for upright acoustic basses. This late fifties advertisement demonstrates the Fender prcisions portability in relation to an acoustic bass
Fender Precision - From Arbiter the Most Wanted Guitar in Britain Today Telecaster by Fender (1966)
Mid 1960s UK advertisement for Fender guitars and amplifiers. In the early 1960s, Fender had been distributed in the UK by Jennings, but by the middle of the decade Arbiter had won the contract. Th...
Fender Precision - The lowdown on the bass (1972)
The pickup is the real secret to the Precision Bass. At the conception of the electric bass, this pickup was designed to simulate the sound of a true bass. Not overbearing or extremely "bassey" but...
Fender Precision - The Worlds Favorite Road Machine (1973)
Part of a larger series of Fender full colour artwork/cartoon advertisements issued between 1973 and 1974, all with a "Worlds Favourite" theme. The Fender Precision was indeed (and probably still i...
Fender Precision - In Concert (1974)
The world's favorite performers appear "In Concert." And 9 out of 10 times the electric bass is a Fender. ABC-TV's "In Concert." Far more than entertainment, it's the ultimate experience in the con...
Fender Precision - Goldilocks and the three bears (1975)
...someones playing my Precision bass right now, said baby bear, "and shes's really cookin'!"
Fender Precision - The Hearty-Roaring, Wide-Ranging Preecision Bass (1976)
Found in virtually all musical environments, the Precision Bass is by far the most prolific of the species Basso Electrica. The frequency of the sighting reflects upon the enormous range of the Pr...
Fender Precision - You Can Take A Fender Anywhere (1977)
Whatever band you play in, you've got to pick up on a lot of musical styles. But you'll never have to pick up more than one electric bass, Because Fender® gives you Rock Bass, Soul Bass, Country B...
Fender Precision - Fenders new dimension Precision Bass Special (1980)
The Precession Bass Special was a step up from the regular 1980 P-bass. It featured a new split-coil pickup design, with both active and passive modes; one of the first active Fender bass guitars, ...
The following description is taken from the 1969 Fender lovin' care catalogue
Fender's Precision Bass has become the most well known and widely used electric bass in the world. It's acceptance in all fields of music comes from true performance proven bass tone qualities, size, ease of playing, volume capabilities and mobility on stage or off.
A special split pickup is positioned for excellent string response and each section may be adjusted for custom string balance. Tone and volume controls are conveniently located and permit any desired response the player may choose. Individually adjustable bridges may be set for perfect string intonation and comfortable low playing action. As a result most bass players find their technique improves rapidly and difficult passages are played more easily. With the Precision Bass it is possible to obtain considerably greater volume than with a conventional instrument. It is convenient to carry and store inasmuch as it is lighter weight and approximately 1/6 the size of the old-type upright bass.
The comfort contoured body is finished in beautiful hand polished Sunburst or may be obtained in selected custom finishes and left-hand models.
One of the most popular of modern instrument developments, the Fender Precision Bass has rapidly become the choice of bassists in every field
Requires only a fraction of playing effort as compared with old style acoustic basses; compact in size allowing freedom of movement on stage
The fast action neck facilitates playing technique, playing in tune and is extremely comfortable
Fender have published regular list of replacement parts for their instruments, along with part numbers. Some of these parts lists are reproduced here
Check out the interview with bassist and collector Bob Daisley, on his Fender basses.