The saga of Alamo Music Products is one of both “retro-innovation” and an against-the-trend manufacturing chronology. What’s more, the Robin Ranger bass has its own unique history.
Founded as Robin Guitars in the early 1980s, the Houston-based company began as an importer of high-quality Japanese solidbody electric guitars from Chushin, ESP, and Tokai.
The first Robin catalog, released in 1982, shows a plethora of electric guitars (and no basses), all of which have “reverse” headstocks – a design element that while borrowing from Gibson’s Firebird was actually at the forefront of an ’80s design curve.
“We started the reverse headstock thing (in the 1980s), and the whole industry picked up on it,” Wintz recalls.
The ’83 catalog introduced Robin’s “Ranger” series of guitars, which had reverse headstocks, Fender Telecaster-like control plates, and large pickguards that covered both cutaways, a la the original Fender Precision Bass and its later clone, the Telecaster Bass. Wintz points out that Robin was also the first company in the ’80s to use a pickguard with such a silhouette.
The catalog introduced the first Robin basses, the one-pickup Freedom Bass, the two-pickup Freedom Bass II (both with full 34″ scale), and the single-pickup, 32″/medium-scale Ranger Bass. While the headstocks on all three had a vague “reverse Fender” look, the tuning keys were arranged two per side.
Made by ESP, the original Ranger Bass had the same retro-cool control plate layout and (usually white) pickguard configuration as its guitar siblings. The contoured body was made from alder or ash, the neck and fretboard were one-piece, and a rosewood fretboard cap was seen on many examples. Stock finishes included Sunburst, Metallic Red, Black, Old Blonde, and Light Blue.
A rock-style bass called the Medley was added to the line in 1984, and when the decision was made in the late ’80s to manufacture Robins in Texas (rather than import them), the company dropped the Freedom, kept the Medley (“Bass Space,” August ’06), and added the Machete.
In the transition, the Ranger underwent a significant transformation. The Texas-made variant introduced in 1989 sported a full 34″ scale on a 20-fret neck with a 10″ radius, as well as a “P/J” pickup configuration with a three-way toggle switch on a larger, contoured body. Bodies on U.S-built Robins were ash or alder, and fretboards were maple or rosewood. The large pickguard was still there, but the headstock was reverse-style like Ranger guitars, with tuning keys aiming at the floor (Wintz points out that it’s actually more comfortable to use tuning keys on the underside of a headstock). By the 1994 catalog, however, the Ranger’s headstock had assumed the standard silhouette, with tuning keys on the top edge, and was joined by another retro-style model called the Jaybird, which had a Fender Jazz Bass-style body with offset waists (but with a large, Ranger-style pickguard).
The mid 1990s also brought the change to Alamo Music Products, and the company expanded into two more brands, Metropolitan, which made a few basses based on the Tanglewood map-shaped guitar, and Alamo, though no basses were made carrying that brand.
Pickups on Ranger basses built in the Lone Star State were originally Seymour Duncans, later supplanted by Rio Grandes. While some consider its three-position toggle switch somewhat out-of-place on a bass, it offers instant switching to a trio of unique sounds, and in particular, the center position conjures up a plump, slightly out-of-phase tone that’s fat and bright.
According to Wintz, stock colors for the domestic Ranger Bass included Pearl Mint Green, Black, Old Blonde, and Translucent Orange, but other custom-order hues were available. The ’93 example shown here is finished in Black Pearl, which has a faint glitter. It, too, was a stock finish, and the Alamo president noted with a chuckle that “…it was a popular color during the ‘shred years.’”
Basses came and went during the first decade and a half of Robin’s history, and in 1997, Alamo quit building basses in order to concentrate on guitars. If and when Wintz opts to return to the bass segment, he says he is more apt to build the Freedom model instead of the Ranger. Alamo made 20 Freedom Basses – 10 four-string, 10 five-string – in ’97, around the time it got away from the bass market (the June ’05 “Bass Space” profiles the first four-string).
Thus the Ranger Bass will most likely remain the longest-running bass model in Robin’s chronology, with about 14 years of production. Each of its variants had unique attributes, visually and/or sonically. They’re cool-looking, easy and fun to play, and sound fine.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’07 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.