Bass Player Magazine, July 1997

Taken from “Jurassic Basses”
by Mikael Jansson & Scott Malandrone
Bass Player Magazine

Further electric trails were blazed in 1934, when James Thompson, father of custom bass builder Carl Thompson, built a solidbody electric guitar for use in his homemade studio. James – born in 1902 – was employed by Westinghouse as a coil winder of huge “house-size” generators. But he was also a musician who built the machines he needed to manufacture parts for his many musical inventions. In fact, in the 1920s he constructed a lathe on which Carl Thompson still machines his truss rods. “My father was not a bass maker by any means,” says Carl. “He was just a guy who happened to be a master of all trades. The man was a great woodworker, a phenomenal machinist, and an excellent audio engineer. He did everything.”

James built his electric guitar with the aim to eliminate feedback during recording. The Thompson guitar, which was assembled from a “Blue Bird” neck and a body fashioned from two 2x4s, featured a dual-coil humbucking pickup he built himself. The humbucker was handwound on his lathe. Carl’s mother told him she “could always tell when ‘Pappy’ was building pickups, because he’d bake the insulation in the oven, which would stink up the whole house!” Eventually, almost all stringed-instrument players in town had James B. Thompson pickups in their instruments.

An ill-fated recording session in 1942 initially inspired James to build an electric bass. Apparently he had a difficult time miking an acoustic upright and wanted to record the bass direct. His electric 4-string blossomed from a broken Kay arch-top guitar; he carved a solid block to fit the inside of the box, which would help to support the pickup and thick strings. The area of the strings directly above the Thompson dual-coil pickup was painted with a conductive coating and wrapped with steel wire to generate signals in the coils. It was a success, and James used this bass on many home recordings; Carl himself played it when he was 12. Although Carl still has many of those early recordings, the bass (which was the only 4-string his father made) has since “dissapeared into the family.” James Thompson passed away in 1974, but he lived to see some of his son’s ealiest bass-building experiments.

[I have listened to a tape taken from a home-done record of James and some friends playing. Both the guitar and the bass sounded great. I couldn’t tell the difference between them and some old fenders I have played. -Aaron]

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