Bass guitar

On eBay: the world’s first electric bass guitar, made in Seattle – and forgotten


It’s called the Audiovox 736 electric bass guitar, and it was made in the basement of Paul Tutmarc’s house in the Roosevelt district, along with other guitars that Tutmarc electrified.

History is full of possible and necessary things.

On eBay right now, the current highest bid at $ 20,000 is one such historic possibility.

It’s called the Audiovox 736 electric bass guitar, and it was made in the basement of Paul Tutmarc’s house in the Roosevelt district, along with other guitars that Tutmarc electrified. There’s a photo showing him working on a bandsaw.

It was marketed from 1936, with an initial advertisement in a Seattle high school yearbook.

It was the world’s first electric bass guitar.

Fifteen years later, in 1951, Leo Fender, of Telecaster and Stratocaster electric guitars, began selling his Fender Precision Bass.

Fender’s bass guitar took off and Tutmarc’s invention was forgotten.

On HistoryLink, music historian Peter Blecha writes: “… the instrument was so far ahead of its time that it was never commercially successful. So despite the uniqueness and innovation of Audiovox instruments, relatively few have been sold, no national distribution strategy has ever been implemented, and Tutmarc’s contributions have practically fallen through the cracks of history.

Now only four copies of the Audiovox 736 are known. EBay’s is stored under the bed of a couple living in a Snohomish County mobile home park.

Dale and Bev McKnight, 85 and 79, respectively, have been lugging him around for decades. Dale bought it in 1947 when he was a teenager living in Seattle.

“We are retired and old. We could use the money, ”says Bev.

Two of the other four Audiovox 736s ​​are with collectors and the third is a treasured exhibit at the Paul Allen Museum of Pop Culture, formerly known as EMP.

Bev and Dale McKnight hold an Audiovox Model 736 electric bass guitar, the first of its kind, created by Paul Tutmarc of Seattle.  They have placed the item on eBay and receive bids of $ 20,000 or more.  (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

By classical guitar standards, the offer of $ 20,000 for the Audiovox 736 is being exceeded by offers asking for at least $ 46,000 or $ 60,000 for electric guitars that are part of the main section. Bass guitars are considered part of the rhythm section and don’t get as much fame or money at auction

Bassists sometimes jokingly (post on a music blog: “Groupie accidentally sleeps with the bassist”) and sometimes more seriously (post on “Bassists are criminally neglected and members of most bands underrated” ) complain about their unappreciated status.

But try to imagine the “Peter Gunn Theme”, “Sunshine Of Your Love”, “Stand By Me”, “Another One Bites The Dust”, “I Feel Good” or “Ace Of Spades” without the catchy bass. There are YouTube videos such as “20 Amazing Bass Lines of All Time! Which only compile these amazing riffs.

Paul Tutmarc was a singer and music performer and had a guitar teaching business.

His son, Bud Tutmarc, would later write an essay on his father’s inventions.

The son wrote that in the early 1930s an “electricity enthusiast” by the name of Art Simpson came from Spokane to visit Tutmarc. Simpson had taken a telephone apart and wondered “how the local vibrations against the closed diaphragm were picked up by the magnetic coil behind the diaphragm and carried by wires to another telephone”.

This led Tutmarc to start experimenting and eventually building a horseshoe-shaped magnet, with coils wrapped around it, and wrapping the grapefruit-sized contraption with friction tape.

It was the beginning of the electrification of a guitar.

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“New dimension” in the sound

As with many inventions, work continued under such artisanal circumstances.

Tutmarc worked with another friend, Bob Wisner, a radio repairman, and they rewired a radio to create a crude amplifier.

A 1972 Seattle Times article on Tutmarc said, “The result surprised Tutmarc. He expected the volume to increase, but was not prepared for the “new dimension” of sound.

“Always before, the sound of a plucked guitar string quickly expired. Amplified, the sound lingered like a piano note does when the pedal is depressed.

It was revolutionary for the world of bassists, who until then had to play on bulky, standing instruments that were overwhelmed by brash horns and drums.

Bud Tutmarc recalls: “My father, being a conductor and traveling musician, always felt sorry for string bass players, because his instrument was so big that he once put it in his car. , he only had room to drive. The other members of the group were traveling together in a car and had a great time being together… ”

But the bass was electrified.

Left, Paul Tutmarc outside his studio on Pine Street in downtown Seattle in the early 1940s. Right, Paul Tutmarc in the basement of his house in the Roosevelt neighborhood using a bandsaw to make a guitar in 1936. (Greg Tutmarc)

1936 brochures for Audiovox Electronic Instruments by Paul Tutmarc.  (Greg Tutmarc)

Paul Tutmarc with three of the guitars he made.  On the left is a two neck guitar with

Tutmarc said he tried to patent his electrified guitar.

He told the Seattle Times: “I spent about $ 300 (about $ 5,600 in today’s dollars) in patent offices before the attorneys convinced me I should go back to Alexander Graham Bell. to find something patentable. In any event. The Bell phone is still the basis of the magnetic sensor. It was not so much an invention as it was to bring together existing forces.

Greg Tutmarc, his grandson, says his grandfather never expressed bitterness about missing the glory of Leo Fender. There is no indication that Fender copied Tutmarc in any way.

“This whole thing is probably just a parallel evolution, like bats and birds,” writes Jim Roberts in his book “How the Fender Bass Changed the World”.

Said the grandson, “He just moved on to the next thing.”

Musician Randy Hansen examines one of the many classical guitars made by Seattle builder Paul Tutmarc in the mid-1930s and acquired by Bev and Dale McKnight many years ago.  The McKnights intend to sell one of Tutmarc's Audiovox Model 736 electric bass guitars.  (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

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$ 20,000 auction

Greg Tutmarc learned that his grandfather’s bass guitar was with Dale and Bev McKnight because he knows a neighbor in the mobile home park. He told the couple that he would help put it on eBay, without any pay.

The guitar has held up surprisingly well over the decades.

Randy Hansen, the Auburn guitar virtuoso who for 40 years has paid a worldwide tribute to Jimi Hendrix, was invited to pass.

When he developed it, it was the first time in 70 years. He played a few tunes there, including “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

“I can’t believe it’s as old as it is. You could put that on stage with Van Halen or any band, plug it into their amp, and it would work. It has a nice feeling, a nice sound.

With the auction ending Tuesday, the highest bid of $ 20,000 is for David Wallis, 64, who lives in Georgia.

Wallis is a retired electrical engineer who played bass guitar in his youth and built an amazing collection of guitars, among other collectibles.

He sent a photo of the guitars hanging on the wall, which he sometimes chooses at random and just plays. He doesn’t like people knowing his hometown.

Wallis expects the bidding to jump in the dying seconds before close.

“If Paul Allen wants it, I can’t compete,” he said.

The guitar is black walnut and measures approximately 38 inches long and 10 inches wide.

“As an electrical engineer,” Wallis says of Tutmarc, “I can see what he did was just amazing. “

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UPDATE: The auction ended at 8:30 am Tuesday. Wallis gets the guitar for a high bid of $ 23,850.09.

“I always jump everywhere,” he says.