June 17, 2013 in Historic Fenders

Historic Fenders: James Jamerson’s The Funk Machine

jamersonOne of the most historic Fender bass guitars of all time belonged to James Jamerson. Born in January of 1936 in South Carolina, Jamerson later moved with his mother to Detroit, Michigan. He learned to play bass while attending Northwestern High School. He eventually found work with Berry Gordy’s famous Motown record label and the rest was history.

While working for Gordy, Jamerson formed an informal group with other musicians who were regularly in the studio together. They called themselves The Funk Brothers. Members of this group can be heard on most of the big Motown hits of the 60s, however they were not usually credited. Jamerson started out playing double bass with this group, but later switched to the Fender Precision electric bass.

Jamerson is known for revolutionizing the way bass is played. Hundreds of famous bass players, including Paul McCartney and John Paul Jones, have listed him as an influence. He played in a very unique way by resting his right middle and ring fingers and plucking strings only with his index finger. This led to his index finger receiving the nickname “The Hook.” His style includes a good deal of syncopation and chromatic runs.

In 2000, Jamerson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He has also been honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and been inducted into the Fender Hall of Fame.

The Funk Machine

Jamerson’s first electric bass was a 1957 Fender Precision that was given to him by Chili Ruth. After that guitar was stolen in the early 60s, he acquired a 1962 Fender Precision bass. He carved the word “FUNK” into the bottom of the instrument and filled it with blue ink, hence it was called The Funk Machine. The guitar had a three toned sunburst finish with a tortoise shell pickguard and chrome hardware.

The instrument was never cared for particularly well. Jamerson was known for cranking both the volume and tone knobs as high as they went. He only changed strings when they broke and never cleaned it. According to Jamerson, that is how The Funk Machine got its funk. He believed that the secret to his playing was the sweat and dirt that his guitar had acquired over the years.

The Funk Machine can be heard on some of the most famous Motown tracks of all time, including: You Can’t Hurry Love by the Supremes, My Girl by the Temptations, I Heard it Through the Grapevine by Marvin Gaye, and For Once in My Life by Stevie Wonder.

The Funk Machine was stolen just a few days before Jamerson died in 1983 and has never been seen since.

Unlike most of the historic Fenders we have looked at, there is no Fender Signature model for The Funk Machine. This is mostly due to the fact that there were never any modification made to the guitar. Jamerson simply played a stock model 1962 Fender Precision Bass. If you wanted to get a comparable guitar, there are ’62 Fender Precision Reissue basses available on Musician’s Friend.

Here is a fantastic tribute to Jamerson from his induction into the Fender Hall of Fame:

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