The Gibson EB-3

1962 Gibson EB-3, serial number 78748. Photo: VG Archive. Instrument courtesy of Gil Southworth.

When it came to electric basses, Michigan-based Gibson spent the ’50s playing follow the leader to California’s Fender. So it’s a touch ironic that while Fender made only one model in that decade (the Precision), Gibson introduced three – the violin-shaped solidbody Electric Bass in 1953, the semi-hollow EB-2 in ’58, and the solidbody EB-0, which replaced the Electric Bass in ’59.

Fender’s first two-pickup bass, the Jazz, was introduced in 1960, and to what extent the two-pickup EB-3 (introduced in ’61) was actually a “response” to the Jazz is debatable. The similarities in approach were obvious; the Jazz was perceived as an upgraded/two-pickup version of the Precision. Likewise, some saw the EB-3 as an upgraded/two-pickup EB-0 (which, incidentally, was given a pointed-double-cutaway SG-shaped body in ’61), but the reality was there was much more to both.

Like the EB-0, the EB-3 had a mahogany body and neck, and the 30.5″ scale shared by all Gibson basses at the time. The headstock had a crown inlay, and the rosewood fingerboard joined the body at the 17th fret. Standard finish was Cherry, both had dot inlays and a one-piece bridge/tailpiece with an angled portion for compensation. The EB-3’s hardware also included a handrest and string mute. Early versions had a large, black-plastic-covered humbucking pickup near the neck and a small metal-covered humbucker near the bridge. By ’62, both were metal-covered.

The EB-3’s electronics were versatile. In addition to a Volume and Tone knob for each pickup, an unusual four-way rotary switch offered operation of the neck pickup only (position 1), both pickups (2), bridge pickup only (3), and neck pickup with “choke” (4) that produced a brighter, baritone-like sound; its circuit was similar to the pushbutton “baritone” switch on the EB-2.

Fans of classic rock and its guitarists know that Jack Bruce, bassist with Cream, was the most visible EB-3 player in the ’60s. After learning bass on an upright, he switched to a 30″-scale Fender Bass VI (six strings, tuned an octave below a standard guitar) while playing with the Graham Bond Organization and began playing an EB-3 in the early days of Cream.

“I wanted to play bass like a guitar, and you can’t do that on a regular Fender – you can’t bend the strings,” Bruce told VG in 2002. “But the most important reason was that I didn’t want it to sound like a Fender; I wanted it to sound very personal. The EB-3 fit the bill; I was able to get some great distortion, and it didn’t sound like a Fender at all!”

Bruce’s improvisations were a vital part of Cream’s legendary jams, and music critics of the time did indeed apply the term “guitar-like” to his playing, as they did to that of Free’s Andy Fraser, who also played an EB-3. Other noteworthy EB-3 users in the ’60s included Big Brother & the Holding Company’s Peter Albin, and David Freiberg of Quicksilver Messenger Service.

The 1962 EB-3 shown here doesn’t have the standard finish or fretboard inlay. Instead, it has a factory-original white finish and large-block markers that match the Les Paul Custom of the era. According to Gibson records, it was a special order entered as “EB-3 – white” on September 12, 1962. It was apparently made to match a Les Paul Custom made for members of a band.

In its history, the EB-3 went through several configurations, including having a slotted headstock for a brief time, and long-scale variants. Company records indicate that white became available as a standard finish beginning in 1976 and going through ’79, the year the EB-3 was discontinued.
Like most short-scale basses, the EB-3 may have a sonic disadvantage thanks to its inherently decreased string resonance, but also like most short-scale basses, it’s very comfortable to play. And in the hands of certain players, it has provided many a memorable low-end lick.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s January 2008 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

No posts to display