Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ruben, a 1941 Epiphone B5, #623

Autumn is in the air, the days are getting shorter and the nights are cool and refreshing.   

Lonnie’s ready to get into the workshop for the next project bass.  This 1941 Epiphone B-5 #623, we have owned for a few years, it has finally been moved to the front of the line.  You know there is always a back-story with our basses and this one does not disappoint.  This Epiphone journeyed across the USA from California in a lost flight case from a Greyhound bus shipping nightmare.  The gentleman who owned it did not know much about the bass and found us in an internet search for Epiphone upright basses.  He was an Antique dealer not a bass player.  I think the bass came to him through a couple of “interceptions” by other antique dealers.  The name of his business was “Sanford & Son”; his name was Nate Wright (remember that name, more to come on that later).  Nate and I had conversation back and forth about the bass.  I was able to provide him with the Epiphone history, a positive ID, along with the year of manufacture and model.  The bass was not in playable condition, I loved the patina of the wood and the over all character of the bass.  After some back and forth negotiations he agreed to sell us the bass if I took care of all the packing and shipping arrangements, which of course I did.
The bass as it was received

Nicely flamed wood.
When the bass arrived…WOW…it threw off an immediate vintage vibe.  This bass was a workhorse, a real pack mule, like a pure bred Belgium draft horse.  I have never seen a bass with grooves so deeply worn in the fingerboard from playing.  Not destructive wear, but genuine hard playing wear.  The back of the neck has ripples in it from the soft grain of the wood being worn more deeply then the hard grain of the wood.  Patina and honest wear like this can only come from thousands of hours of playing gigs.  A real bass player’s bass…I love these kinds of basses, the history and stories they have with in them are meant to be savored and appreciated. 
The grain in the back of the neck has high and low spots from playing the bass so much
Hard to see in this pictures but the name is Charles Smith
The bass has some petrified masking tape that was applied to the outer edges.  It did help protect the edges from chipping, it is so dried out and brittle it turns to dust when you scrape it off.  The next hidden gem was a crude hand carved name in the bottom of the bass.  In two places is say “Charles Smith”.  In the old days players would put marks or their name in the bass for identification if it was lost or stolen.  We once had a bass that someone wrote their social security number at the neck joint…that’s a no-no in today’s world.  Upon arrival (before we saw the name Charles) the bass was christen “Ruben” for the classic Earl Scruggs bluegrass banjo tune, Ruben. He is all original right down to the non-adjustable wooden end pin with the black rubber crutch tip. The original finish is in tact with a beautiful deep, golden strawberry honey color.  The new shine is long gone but the finish is in great condition.  It should not take too much cosmetic work to make him a real looker.

The grooves in the fingerboard that remain AFTER all the scraping. 
More work needs done to flatten the fingerboard and then get the right amount of scoop.

The previous player must have hung on that G & D strings...a lot!
The first thing Lonnie did was vacuum out the HUGE dust bunnies and trash inside the bass.  He said there was the Mother of all dust bunnies inside the bass.  He began to remove the taped edges, trying to get it off and clean the surface…that will take some patience so he will work on it a little at a time.  The original rosewood fingerboard, it has a lot of scoop and deep grooves in it.  It will take some heavy scraping to level the board and make it smooth again.  I love all the little curled shavings that come during this process.  That old Brazilian rosewood is priceless by today’s standards.  As silly as it seems Lonnie saves the shaving, who knows why, but he appreciates the value of this priceless exotic wood.  Maybe he will make a pressed laminated rosewood fingerboard some day from all the collected scraps. 

Brush them into a plastic bag and save them?
I am thinking this bass will wear gut strings to keep the vintage mojo alive.  I am certain gut strings are the only string this bass has every worn.  I have some special strings in the reserved for a bass like this…Golden Spirals.  The Kaplan strings have not been made for many years, I happen to snag a new old stock G&D that were paired with a vintage Spiro A&E.  All the strings are brand new still sealed in the package.  A classified ad find a few years ago…the Internet is a beautiful thing in many ways!

I’ll post updates as this project progresses.  This is one cool old bass.  I can’t wait to make it swing once again.

Oh!  Just one more thing…Nate Wright, the nice guy that sold us the bass.  He is a retired professional football player.  He earned All-Pro honors at defensive back in 1974 and 1976. His career consisted mostly of time as a defensive back with the great Minnesota Vikings teams of the 1970s. He totaled 34 interceptions and three fumble recoveries in 156 professional games.  He was the defensive player who was covering Drew Pearson during the 1975 NFC Playoffs on the infamous Hail Mary pass in the 1975 NFC Divisional Playoff Game between the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, played on December 28, 1975.  Some observers and Viking players believed that Pearson pushed off on Wright, causing him to fall down and thus allowing Pearson to catch the pass from Roger Staubach and score the winning touchdown.

Small world…isn’t it!?!