I remember the first time I saw a ‘1969 Dan Armstrong lucite bass. I was in awe of the materials and its cool shape and sound. Over the years I had a few in my possession and they were always the hit of the party.
One of the true tests of the attractiveness of the see-thru basses came years ago, in the days when I displayed my collection in my home. Instruments in attendance included a ’63 Lake Placid Blue Jazz Bass, Ampeg Devil bass, ’62 Fiesta Red Precision, ’64 Burgundy Mist P-bass, ’66 dots-and-bound Sonic Blue Jazz, ’67 Rickenbacker 4005 hollow body eight-string bass, ’65 Rickenbacker Fireglo 4001 Deluxe, ’68 Rickenbacker Burgundyglo 4001 Deluxe, ’68 Rickenbacker Mapleglo 4001 Deluxe, ’59 and ’60 Ricky slab-body gold guard Fireglo 4000 basses, a ’56 two-tone sunburst Precision, a ’51 slab-body Butterscotch Blond Precision, a slab-body Cherry-finished ’59 Gibson EB-0 ( Les Paul Junior style), a Pelham Blue Metallic ’67 Gibson Thunderbird IV, a Sherwood Green Metallic ’65 Jazz and a ’69 Ampeg Dan Armstrong lucite bass.
As you can imagine, when any of my musician friends visited, there was an immediate bassfest – playing and oogling the many wondrous and rare-colored basses and weird styles. But the true testimonial to the attractiveness of any individual instrument happened as my non-musician friends stopped by. With all the amazing icons of our culture at their fingertips, they would always gravitate to that ultra-cool see-thru Ampeg!
Years have passed and most of those cool basses have found new homes, but I think I’m ready to add another Ampeg to the collection. I am really into collecting cool short-scale basses in addition to my frequent flyers. They started as an acquisition of an early Fender Musicmaster Bass with pearloid guard I acquired years ago.
That purchase later mushroomed to include an early Fender Mustang bass in Olympic White with tortoise guard, an early Danelectro Copper shorthorn bass, a Cherry EB-3, a personal-refin white EB-3, and a Cherry EB-2 hollowbody monster. I think it may be time to go the Ampeg route again. I rationalize the acquisition and display of these short-scale basses as possible tools for my daughters (ages 9 and 11) if they choose to learn to speak with the wonderful low-end tones. Hey, they always clap for me when I wake them up with a bass run instead of that annoying alarm clock. I think it may be destiny! Who knows, I may be grooming the next Suzy Quattro, Carol Kaye, or Tina Weymouth!
Until recently, the only way to acquire a see-thru Ampeg was to scour VG, attend shows, or do a lot of asking around. Most of what showed up was bastardized or at least slightly modified. They tended to be heavy, not unlike most of the instruments offered by Fender, Gibson, and Rickenbacker in the late ’70s.
Now, Ampeg, in conjunction with Dan Armstrong, has reissued the see-thru bass and guitar with some evolution-inspired detail changes to help the overall playability and sound of the package. The new instruments seem a little lighter, probably due to a different acrylic formula. The guitars are offered in clear and smoke-tinted translucent colors. The rosewood bridges received individual compensated brass inserts for better intonation. The prototype and first few original instruments made in ’69 received a slimmer, faster neck that later gave way to a chunkier design for the majority of their production. The current reissues have the slim/fast neck design.
But the most significant upgrade is in the electronics; guitar and bass come standard with two quick-change (five-second) pickups. Each bass pickup is actually two “stacked” pickups with different winds and tonal characteristics. The two multi-pickup units included are labeled BB (broad bass) and DB (deep bass). The DB unit produces a vintage-type tone reminiscent of ’60s Fender-style tones and the BB unit has modern characteristics ranging from a very deep super-low bottom to a sparkly high-frequency – sort of like the extremes from a fat Gibson EB-0 sound up to a Rickenbacker bite. Each half of the unit is split with a capacitor. The circuit uses tonal variance caps that allow a blend between coils or halves of the stack. So moving the pot counterclockwise to the end position engages only the bass half of the stack, clockwise to center brings both the bass and the high pickups on equally, and all the way to the right results in the most clarity and brightness. There is also a two-way toggle switch to affect the tone of the instruments even more with the center position acting as a total bypass of the tone circuit, allowing the uncolored sound of the pickups to be heard. Versatility is definitely the key with this new system.
The full two-octave 24-fret neck is very accessible with the deep cutaways. If Ampeg was looking for suggestions on additions to the line, I would like to see some 34″ and 35″-scale four-string and five-string basses. Of course, the upper horn would have to be extended to allow the same balance. What the hell – how about some wood-bodied versions while we’re at it?
I would probably get carried away if I had a say in this product line; imagine collector’s editions with silver or brass medallions, or micro-thin layers embedded in the acrylic. How about thin veneers of exotic woods suspended in the center of the acrylic bodies! Butterflies would be cool, or your favorite freeze-dried insect for a decoration. We could do leaves, or a lightweight, colored foam core with…yeah – lights or a glow-in-the-dark alien. I must stop this raging…
Anyway, try one of these new versions at your local Ampeg dealer, and have a ball. By the way – I didn’t even touch on the fact that the six-string guitar screams like a vulture and sustains forever!
This article originally appeared in VG‘s March ’99 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.