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60 Years Of Lowdown Sound: Gibson’s EB Basses

Ted Drozdowski
|
06.25.2013

The EB series of Gibson basses have been making history since 1953, when the EB-1 became the first bass to roll off Gibson’s production line. Ever since, they’ve been a staple in rock, blues, jazz and country in the hands of such masterful players as Jack Bruce, Phil Lesh, Jack Casady, Bill Wyman, the Animal’s Chas Chandler, Free’s Andy Fraser, and many more.

Today’s version of the EB is a departure from the vintage designs that made the model famous, with a solid ash body and a glued-in maple neck that’s got a 34-inch scale. And in an even more radical design, Gibson has just begun producing the Five-String EB Bass, with a rounder offset double-cutaway design for easy access to the strings at all the frets.   

The first American-made production basses were marketed in 1951, so the EB series’ debut iteration, the EB-1 — “EB” for “electric bass,” of course, had some catching up to do when it was introduced. The model eschewed the conventional American electric guitar design of the era. With its violin-shaped solid body, the EB-1 was patterned after the visual style of upright basses and initially even had f-hole patterns painted on the top of its body.  In another turn, the pickup was mounted right at the bottom of the instrument’s neck, adding to its distinctive look.

EB BassThe EB-1’s initial run lasted five years. In 1958 the EB-1 was replaced in the Gibson Company catalog by the EB-0 and EB-2. The EB-0 sought to modernize and lighten the EB-1, adopting a shape inspired by the Les Paul Junior, but retaining the EB-1’s mahogany neck and body and the 30.5 in scale length neck. In 1961 the body shape changed again, this time to resemble the two-horned SG. In subsequent years the pickup cover changed from plastic to chrome, the nickel hardware was also replaced with chrome, and, more important, the model’s neck became thinner and its static bridge was replace by a bridge with adjustable saddles just as the rock revolution was kicking into sonic and psychedelic high gear, in 1966 and ’67. The EB-0 enjoyed a long initial, uninterrupted run of 20 years.

Parallel to the introduction of the EB-0, the EB-2 arrived. It was a radical departure from American electric basses at the time, with a semi-hollowbody design, similar to the enduring ES-335 guitar's. The bass also came with a single sidewinder noise-canceling single coil pickup in the neck position, to accent the instrument’s bright end. A mini-humbucker was added in the bridge position in 1966 and the EB-2 evolved into the EB-2D, a more versatile cousin with a three-way switch to select the pickups. Nonetheless, both models remained in production and the EB-2D received the same modifications as its building continued until 1972, albeit with a break from ’61 to ’64.

The star of the EB family of basses, the EB-3, begin shipping from Gibson’s original Kalamazoo plant in 1961, but hit the limelight in 1967 when Cream’s Jack Bruce began playing the model on stage and used it on the band’s classic album Disraeli Gears, which included the hits “Tales of Brave Ulysses,” “Sunshine of Your Love” and “Strange Brew.” Other notables who wielded the EB-3 include the Velvet Underground’s Doug Yule, Andy Fraser and punk bass legend Mike Watt.

During the model’s initial production period, until 1979, more than 14,000 were built, outpacing the most popular of its predecessors by nearly double. With its thin, dual-horned body and relatively light weight, the EB-3 was the bassist’s answer to the SG, which Cream had also catapulted into the spotlight thanks to Eric Clapton’s custom painted 1964 model called “the Fool," named after the artists’ collective that provided its psychedelic artwork.

Like earlier EBs, the EB-3 featured a 30.5-inch scale neck, but with a large neck humbucker and a mini in the bridge spot and a four-way switch. Once again, the instrument’s most significant development was the adoption of a thinner neck in 1966 and ’67. In the ’70s, both pickups were moved closer to the bridge and the neck stretched to 34-inches in length to appeal to players used to the longer necks on other company’s models.

Despite its removal from production 35 years ago, the EB-3 lives on as the Gibson SG Standard Bass, which is essentially the same instrument. Similarly, Epiphone makes dependable reissues of the EB-0 and EB-3, as well as several Jack Casady models that are updates of the vintage EB-2.
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