BunnyBass Interview:
Albert Molinaro
September, 2001

Although we've only started chatting with Albert Molinaro on a regular basis for perhaps about a year or so, jon and i feel as if we've known him for a long time. We've been wandering into Albert's Hollywood store, Guitars-R-Us, for years now. If you like collectable vintage American basses and guitars, then entering Albert's store will give you a head rush. There are hundreds of beautiful Fenders, Gibsons, Rickenbackers, and many others hanging from the walls, many of them very rare. His shop is on every bass and guitar player's short list of "must visits" if you're stopping through Los Angeles, and it's always a enjoyable experience - Albert is always there to personally greet you, and he always seems happy to talk to you about all sorts of bass-stuff. His down-to-earth store has been a fixture on the little strip of guitar shops along Sunset Boulevard for about 20 years now, and Albert's been providing instruments for recording and touring to the music industry heavies the whole time.

Which brings us to the topic of Albert's own collection of bass guitars - rumor has it that it's the most complete private collection of Fender basses in the world. The collection grew out of Albert's love of the Fender bass and led him to write, along with Jay Black, the new book "The Fender Bass: an Illustrated History". Imagine our surprise to find out that our pal Albert is considered by many to be one of the world's foremost authority on Fender basses. And many of the basses in the book are from his collection, which he slowly accumulated over many years as a player and dealer. We talked to Albert about this new book and also his old flame: the Fender bass.

bunnybass:  Your love (or is it closer to obsession?) for the Fender bass is so obvious when I'm reading through this book. It just comes through. When did your relationship to Leo Fender's instruments begin? And why do you think you were so attracted to the Fender bass as opposed to, say, bird-watching

Albert Molinaro:  This is difficult to answer accurately as my musical obsessions were realized at a VERY YOUNG age, probably when I first discovered music, beginning when I got my first transistor radio at age 5 or 6. But the single largest factor that contributed to my interest in the Fender Bass was seeing performers on TV... When I was young, in my early teens in the late 60's and early 70's, this is before MTV, we had to rely on weekly performance variety shows like the old Ed Sullivan Show, Sonny and Cher, etc. Actually seeing the musicians holding and playing their instruments somehow transformed my love for rock and pop music into an obsession. It formed a visual link in my brain. I really cannot tell you why the BASS stood out and was indelibly etched into my psyche, but I knew at the moment I saw it that it was for me. Maybe it was the long neck! Plus I think I liked the fact that there was only one bassist in every band. To me the bass represented some sort of power, and as time would prove, some have used it for good, and others for evil!

bunnybass:  Yes, evil - we will have to return to that! Can you tell me a little about how this project of writing an illustrated history of the Fender bass came to be?

Albert Molinaro:  I was approached by my friend and Fender Master Builder, Jay Black, he had the idea, along with his friend and Fender photographer, Dave Maddux. At some point Jay realized the depth of the collection of Fender Basses that I had amassed over the last 20 years, and decided that I could be a resource and a research partner. It was he that had the idea for the book, and he organized it and rallied Fender to get behind it, which they did. After all, 2001 is the 50th Anniversary of Leo's creation, the Fender Precision Bass, which is primarily what motivated me to hop on board the project too. It was mutual admiration, respect, and understanding of just how significant this creation was to music, pop culture, and humanity itself in the civilized world. Music is very powerful and Leo knowingly or unknowingly changed it forever. So I was already motivated when Jay approached me!

bunnybass:  One thing that I've always wondered about - how did Leo Fender just nail so many of the fundamental characteristics of THE ELECTRIC BASS so positively, so early? I mean, look how little the design has had to change. How was it that he was able to come up with something so enduring?

Albert Molinaro:  Leo Fender was a VERY practical and economical man, from his design ideas, to the way he ran his company. MANY of his designs and patents are still being used today. It was all about practicality with Leo - the precision bass is a great example of how "form followed function." It was the way he was with all of his innovations and inventions.

bunnybass:  some of my favorite things in your book are the old Fender advertisements. it's always interesting to see how a new idea is first presented to a clueless public! I thought the 1952 Fender press release was really fascinating - it actually goes so far as to try to explain to people how this new instrument should be played:

"Portable String Bass Really New. Radio & Television Equipment Co., 207 Oak St., Santa Ana, Calif., announces a new "portable" string bass, which they say can be carried as easily as a guitar. The new bass is styled similar to the Fender "Telecaster" Spanish guitar, but has only four strings which are tuned the same as on a conventional string bass. The instrument is _fretted_ and includes a built-in electric pickup... Playing is done in "finger style," similar to classic guitar, rather than slapping and jerking the strings. It is said that not only can the bass player play difficult material much easier than ever before, but that he will also be less tired after a night of playing, as it requires very little string movement to produce full volume."

it's a good reminder of how quickly we've forgotten how very strange, revolutionary, and MODERN the Fender bass was when it was first introduced way back in 1951...

Albert Molinaro:  Well again, Leo being practical knew that in order to gain the publics' acceptance of such a new idea, he would have to give them some not-so-technical information about its function, purpose, and advantages over the old acoustic! He was a teacher too!

the 1952 Fender ad

The 1952 Fender ad announcing their new "portable" string bass.
(click the picture for a bigger version)

bunnybass:  I do a lot of writing and researching myself, and one of the biggest problems I have is that I have a tendency to lose my direction, or to want to include EVERYTHING I learn in my writing. Obviously this would be confusing to the reader. What were the central concerns you were trying to address when you were working through this project? Did they change as you went along?

Albert Molinaro:  That is a very good question... Yes, the focus did change after we began. The original concept was to pay attention to the bass, its offspring (all of the other bass models that Fender had introduced), all of the changes and revisions that accompanied all of them throughout the years, AND the players themselves - the men and women who went on to glorify the instrument by embracing it through the last half century! But as the limitations of the printing and publishing world began to close in on us, we realized that we would probably have to do 2 books to encompass ALL of the material we had planned. The "artists" section had to be dropped in order for us to focus on and accurately tell the instruments' story. That was our central concern - to be able to show in great detail, the features and changes these instruments underwent during the last 50 years, from the obvious to the minutia, from the inception to the current models today. Luckily for us, another bass book has recently emerged, and does cover some of the content that our book was forced to omit: check out former Bass Player Magazines' Editor, Jim Robert's book How the Fender Bass Changed the World. Also I would like to thank our books' designer, Jill Smolin, who without her help, Jay and I would possibly not have a bass book to be discussing! This was our first book, but just one of many for her!

a Fender ad from the 60's

Surf Culture: a Fender ad from the 60's.
(click the picture for a bigger version)

bunnybass:  The amount of data, trivia, historical background information, archival photographs, and so on in this book is staggering. Deciding how to organize it, share it between yourself and J.W. Black, and then to finally present to the reader in a clear and meaningful way - I can imagine it must have been an extremely complicated process. What was that like?

Albert Molinaro:  To be fair, that was more of Jay's work. He was the organizer. I was more or less overseeing that process, I had more "finishing touch" input. I was trying to be the voice of reason, to give another point of view. Jay's background is more in manufacturing and he has a lot of knowledge in that arena, while my background is more that of the player/collector. So I lent perspective where I could. The book is the result of both our different viewpoints.

bunnybass:  Is there anything you wanted to include in the book but didn't?

Albert Molinaro:  I may have touched on this earlier, but having an "artist/players" section would have been a highlight to me personally. There are so many great players who all helped to promote the Fender product and sound. So many of them out there deserve recognition, many of them were innovators, and many were just doing their job. Some have been a personal influence on me, and many on the entire world, but as Jay told me, that is another book!

bunnybass:  The photos of the basses themselves are excellent. You can actually learned a lot about Fender basses just by looking at the photographs. What kind of direction did you give to Dave Maddux, in terms of how you wanted these photographs to function in the context of this book?

Albert Molinaro:  Dave, Jay and I worked together in the beginning. The earliest sessions took place at my store [Guitars-R-Us in Los Angeles), in our spare time. But after a while we were all so busy that Dave mostly just took over the photography role. He has done some really nice work for Fender and is a quality photographer. So we just sort of let him do his thing, and from his own prior experiences he knew what we needed.

bunnybass:  Where did all these amazing basses come from? Were they mostly lent from private collections?

Albert Molinaro:  Well, most of the instruments shown that are not archival or catalog reprints came out of my store and from my personal inventory/collection. A few other folks were kind enough to help us out by allowing us to photograph their instruments if something cropped up that I did not have or have access to, so a mighty thank you to all of them for helping out with this celebration of Leo's legacy!

bunnybass:  Let me torture you a little. There's a dumb mental game that's popular among geeks (I should know) called "what's your five all-time greatest." I know you have a million amazing Fender basses in your collection. But let's say you have to give them all away except for five. You can only keep FIVE Albert! Which five do you keep?

Albert Molinaro:  That is not so tough... As a collector, I would keep my 1951 Precision, as it represents the origins of electric bass. As a player, a 1958 Maple neck Precision, as it is my favorite era and tone. Also as a player, a Rosewood neck early to mid 60's Precision, as it is "THE" classic and a must have for every bassist. Any jazz bass from the same early to mid 60's era, and for variety a 70's Telecaster bass, just to annoy people when I want to be loud!

Albert's 1951 P-bass

Albert's 1951 Precision bass.
(click the picture for a larger version)

bunnybass:  You were already well-known in the bass collecting community as an authority on the Fender bass, but even so you must have learned a lot during the process of researching and writing. What were some of the most surprising things, unexpected things, that you discovered about the Fender bass as you were doing the research for this book?

Albert Molinaro:  I really like this question... I have to admit that the MOST surprising or unexpected thing that I personally learned from this experience is that, JUST when you think you know all there is to know, you are in trouble. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that Fender, the company, did many things inconsistently. So just when you think you know it all, you get slammed with contrary evidence. Only through investigation and research did some new evidence come to light, many facets, which I had never thought about in the past. There were many unanswered questions that Jay and I had to discover answers to, and we did our best. We would like to point out that even though our research led to a discovery or answer, when it comes to Fender products, there is often more than one right answer! And lastly and maybe most importantly, I learned that some of what Fender did was for the player, and some of what they did was for themselves, to facilitate ease in the manufacturing process. That is what Fender has always been about -providing economical, quality instruments that players could afford, love, and cherish.

details, details,...     details, details,...

Can you tell the difference between a '62 and a '65 Jazz bass? How about tuners?
(click the pictures for larger versions)

bunnybass:  Let's talk about that point - that some of what Leo Fender did was for the player. This kind of mentality - "I want to put good instruments in the hands of everyday people" - are there records, correspondence, or anything else that suggest that Leo Fender was hoping to change popular music in any particular way?

Albert Molinaro:  I really can not say if there is official documentation to support this idea or not, but it IS widely known amongst musicians, from then and now, that Leo was always giving instruments and amplifiers to 'players" to take out of the factory and test and then relay comments and suggestions back to him. That is how he honed his products to perfection, by ingesting advice and comments from a variety of people and players. So in some ways it was an interactive relationship and ultimately the players won, by getting good, quality gear at affordable prices.

bunnybass:  On a personal level, how has the process of writing this book changed your relationship to the Fender bass?

Albert Molinaro:  For a time, I became tired and bored of having to deal with the bass under a microscope. I was not used to thinking about the bass as a manufactured product. But now that the chores are behind us, I am back to loving and caressing it again. I can now look at it as I once did, not like the frog in biology class. I am also personally excited by the Limited Edition 1951/2001 Fender bass that Alan Hammel at Fender custom shop and I worked on. He studied and duplicated, in almost every minute detail, my personal and rare 1951 Precision Bass. We used it as a template for much of the reissue. His goal was to really make an accurate, authentic replica, the kind that Fender is known for. I cannot wait to get mine!

bunnybass:  mmmMMMMMmmmm...'51 P bass... *drool* oops, sorry... When you get it, please let me know. I would love to see it. Thanks Albert.

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You can find Albert and Jay's book, "The Fender Bass: an Illustrated History" at most large book stores, and also at online bookstores like Amazon.com. You know, places like that.


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