Ampeg, Scroll Fretless Bass AUB-1, 1967


Scroll Fretless Bass AUB-1
The Story Behind


About the Guitar:

The AEB-1 (fretted) and the AUB-1 (fretless) were the first horizontal electric basses of Ampeg's own design, and they are the most commonly recognized of the Scroll Basses. They feature a scroll headstock, similar to Ampeg's Baby Bass, and a rounded body with two large F-holes that go all the way through the body. Most of the front surface of the body is covered by a large black pickguard that wraps around the F-holes.

The initial development of these instruments was done in the spring of 1966, and they were introduced to the public at the NAMM show in July 1966. Production started right after the show and ran into the middle of 1968. A total of about 1150 instruments were built, all by a small crew of luthiers in Ampeg's Linden, NJ factory.

In addition to the unusual overall appearance, the AEB-1 and AUB-1 have many interesting technical features that were innovative at the time. The "mystery" pickup, as it was called in Ampeg's brochures, is buried in the body underneath the bridge. The bridge itself is mounted on a thin steel diaphragm plate overtop of two big magnetic coils cast into a large epoxy block. It's not a piezo pickup.

The reason for this unusual pickup is so that the bass could use gut strings! Everett Hull, Ampeg's founder, was trying to create an electric bass for upright jazz players, and he thought that fretted basses with metal strings were just a passing fad. Obviously, he was wrong, and very few of Ampeg's horizontal basses were sold with gut strings on them. Most were shipped with LaBella flatwounds, and the rest had LaBella black tapewounds. Everett refused to equip his line of basses with roundwounds, although many players put them on themselves.

The tailpiece on these instruments hangs about an inch off the back end of the body on two steel posts, and the extra length between the bridge and tailpiece requires special strings that are about 3" longer than standard Fender length. This was done partly to get the necessary string angle over the mystery pickup, and also the extra string length allows the strings to stretch more, so they can be plucked harder like an upright bass.

The necks on all Ampegs are maple, and the center scrolls in the headstocks are actually molded plastic parts which are glued in place. Most Ampegs have ebony fingerboards, although some have rosewood. There are blonde fingerboard which appears to be padauk. A few early AEB-1's came from the factory with some custom work such as fully bound fingerboard or with elaborate decorative inlays.

The body of the AEB-1 and AUB-1 models is made of three blocks of maple glued onto a one-piece back cut from 1/4" birch plywood. Over the years, many of these instruments have developed cracks in the body down near the tailpiece. The pickguards on all Ampegs are made from a 5-layer engraver's stock, a hard laminate plastic which is used to make signs and nameplates on trophies.

Because of the difficulty in getting strings and the temperamental nature of the "mystery" pickup, many AEB-1's and AUB-1's around today have been heavily modified. I've seen dozens of them where the "mystery" pickup has been trashed and the cavity filled with a block of wood; then a BadAss or a Fender bridge and a P-bass pickup are installed. These modified instruments sound okay, but they've lost the characteristic deep Ampeg thump. Unfortunately, when the original tailpiece is discarded, the instrument's serial number is lost.

Mint condition AEB-1's and AUB-1's are rare today. The lacquer finish typically disintegrated after 15 years, so most are either very badly cracked or chipped, or have been repainted. Almost all of these models were shipped in a red/black sunburst color scheme, with clear (amber, now) finish on the back of the neck. A few instruments in '66 were shipped in other colors, such as solid black, tobacco sunburst, turquoise/black sunburst, and white with some gold trim. Many of these instruments were actually repainted over the standard red/black sunburst finish at the factory.

It is estimate that about 750 AEB-1's and 400 AUB-1's were built. The serial numbers, which are stamped on the underside of the tailpiece, start at #001 and go up to about #1250. About a hundred of those numbers are ASB-1/AUSB-1 "Devil Basses", which use the same tailpiece. The highest AEB-1/AUB-1 serial number seen so far is #1217.

It's hard to say when AEB-1/AUB-1 production ended. During the summer of '67, while the newer model AMB-1/AMUB-1 was being developed, some hybrid instruments were built that were a mixture of the two designs. But some standard AEB-1's and AUB-1's appear to have been built into early '68, and some unsold instruments were still in Ampeg's inventory in 1970.

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