Monday, April 1, 2013

The pre-war Gibson bass named Mother Maybelle…

We have been the fortunate stewards of a beautiful, pristine 1941 Gibson B-135 upright bass.  This lovely lady traveled all the way from the west to join our collection and be the inspiration to launch a new Gibson history page at the website.  With the history of the Epiphone upright basses being well documented at our website I thought it would be nice to expand our research to the second most asked question…what do we know about the original pre-war Gibson upright bass?  

I became aware of the pre-war Gibson manufactured bass through my Epiphone research and it would sometimes get blended together that the pre-war Gibson’s and the Gibson/Epiphone’s were the same bass.  They are definitely NOT the same bass.  They were not made during the same time period.  And the basses themselves are wildly different.  The pre-war Gibson’s were made from 1939-1945 in Kalamazoo, MI.  The Gibson/Epiphone’s were made after 1958 until 1963 in Kalamazoo, MI and then discontinued never to be re-made again.  The town and state of manufacture is about all these two basses shared. 

The bass shape, the neck, the tuners, tailpiece were distinctive on the pre-war Gibson basses.  The pre-war Gibson shape is very unique with the droopy maestro shape and the violin tips point out and downward.  In compared to a Gibson/Epiphone with its gamba shape, narrow upper shoulders and smaller over all body.

We will continue to add information to the pre-war Gibson web page as more information is discovered.  For now here are the pictures of our pre-war Gibson in all her glory. 

Beautiful bright blonde finish, all completely original  right down to the original flake wood bridge and gut strings

The bass is detailed with a double black painted pin stripe with those dripping tips

Vee shaped rosewood tail piece with original tail wire and end pin

Single Kluson chrome tuners as seen on all Gibson  basses

The mystery serial number?  No idea at this point.

Three piece neck with no outer rib linings

What a sweet gal she is for her age!!!

Not changing a thing for now...she will make music as she is

She was a one owner bass and stayed in the same family her entire life.  

Here is her story as told by the previous owner…

My Uncles name was Marvin Kippur. On the photo I sent you of the base of the neck, backside you will see that initials MK etched in the finish. Funny enough when I saw your Internet name as Molly Kay it influenced my decision to sell you the bass. Strange coincidence?

Marvin's mother had bought him the instrument in the early 40s as he was a music student in Denver, Colorado. He used to tell me stories of carrying the bass on the public bus system to get back and forth from lessons. I was amazed the poor bass did not get beat up too badly through all of that but he was always a very careful man and his love for music was reflected in his treatment of his instruments. I am not sure when it happened, maybe the mid 60s, he had a saw accident while working with his son and lost half of his index finger on his left hand. This pretty much stopped his Bass playing but he still played piano as much as he could. He actually had a prosthetic made but without the sensation he said it just wasn't the same after that. I remember as a small child sitting at the piano bench learning chopsticks and such fixated on his half of a finger as if I could not believe he could still play the way he did. He mostly liked to play Jazz but still had a hankering for classical and Big Band. Caldonia and Route 66 were a couple of his favorite songs. He passed in 2010.

It was sometime in 1998 that I found out that Marvin had an upright Bass. My whole life I only knew of his piano playing because he had lost the finger before I was born and never really mentioned the Bass to me. The Bass sat patiently waiting in a room in his house that us kids never went into. My mother actually borrowed the Bass from him because a friend of hers was a player in a local bluegrass/ old timey music band. When I found out I nearly blew my socks. He then agreed to give me the instrument as long as I found it a good home if ever I was to part with it. He had no idea that it was such a piece of American history being a Gibson made upright and was thrilled when I began to research the instrument. He almost asked me for the bass back when I found out how rare it was but then decided to trust my care and judgment concerning the instrument. I had played 12 string guitar and mandolin for years and the chance to work on a fretless instrument with a bow was very intriguing. The bass proved quite challenging, I had the forearm strength to handle it and got relatively good playing it but the size always intimidated me. I also play music alone mostly and it was hard to get excited about what I was able to play alone with the bass. I am no Edgar Myers. One of my favorite quotes when people ask me why I play alone all of the time I say, "Music is like my girlfriend, I do not like to share her with others". (I have since began recording and laying down tracks with a digital system so that I can share the music I create with others but not deal with headaches that other musicians and egos can cause, including my own). I then moved more towards violin and viola but always got the bass out just to hear the magnificent presence of those deep low notes. The ability to really feel music vibrating through the body can only be achieved by the Upright in my experience, and this bass can do that well. I will miss the ability to do that whenever I like but the diversity I can achieve with the violin has my attention now. I will always thank the bass for the introduction to fretless playing and using a bow.

The only Bassist of note that has played the instrument is Kimmit Stone, formerly of Spyrogyra and the Rippingtons. He is a friend of my Mothers and sponsored by Fender. He loves this Bass and always said that for a plywood instrument it is exceptional, even sounds better than some of the solid tops he has played. I am sure he will be very jealous that you are to be the new owner.

I believe my Uncle would be proud of your ownership of the instrument. From what I can gleam from your comments and your website I do believe this is the ideal situation for the bass to begin a real instruments life! I will look forward to seeing what your reaction is to the bass, what you come up with in your research and the music you will make when you get the chance to finally play it.

My reaction is...what a monster bass!  

Closets thing I'll play to a carved bass.  She is a keeper for life.  
Thank you Gregory, we are blessed to own this special bass with a colorful, well documented history.  

There's a dark & a troubled side of life
There's a bright, there's a sunny side, too
Tho' we meet with the darkness and strife
The sunny side we also may view

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side,
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us ev'ry day, it will brighten all the way
If we'll keep on the sunny side of life

The storm and its fury broke today,
Crushing hopes that we cherish so dear;
Clouds and storms will, in time, pass away
The sun again will shine bright and clear.
Let us greet with the song of hope each day
Tho' the moment be cloudy or fair
Let us trust in our Saviour away
Who keepeth everyone in His care

Recorded on May 27, 1928 by the Carter Family (Mother Maybelle)

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