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Old School: 1960’s Burns of London Baldwin Jazz Bass

1960’s Burns of London Baldwin Jazz BassYou’re in for a special treat in this edition of Old School. Bassist Daniel Bayer shares the story behind his 1960’s Baldwin/Burns Jazz bass – a rare beauty, which Daniel believes was made in 1965 or 1966.

According to the Burns Guitars website, James Burns (1925-1998) was often described as the “British Leo Fender”, and this background on the man behind the company:

“Jim Burns too was very much a pioneer, and his policy of continual development and refinement reflected a constant quest to realize his vision of the ideal electric guitar. Distinctive design ideas were more than matched by accompanying hardware and circuitry and although some such aspects bordered on gimmickry, others offered genuine innovation, and have become accepted concepts, later to be claimed as firsts by other, more illustrious conveniently forgetful makers. Such Burns-originated features include: the heel-less, glued-in neck; 24-fret fingerboard, knife-edge bearing vibrato unit; active electronics and stacked-coil pickups.”

“Despite these achievements and the high profile enjoyed during the early ’60s, Burns fortunes declined after the takeover by Baldwin in 1965, and it was another twenty years before Burns oldies were accorded proper recognition and credibility.”

Here is Daniel’s story behind his Burns/Baldwin Jazz…

Make/Model/Year?

Baldwin/Burns Jazz bass, probably made in 1965 or 1966… which makes it older than me! Weird to think that someone might have been playing it somewhere the night I was born.

How long have you owned it?

About 20 years.

How did you come across it?

I bought it at Sam Moss Music in North Carolina, and I took out my first credit card to buy it. I’d always been fascinated by Baldwin/Burns instruments and couldn’t pass it up.

1960’s Burns of London Baldwin Jazz Bass closeup

Stock or customized? Give us all the specs!

All stock, except someone stripped off the original sunburst finish, and I had to replace the tuners after the knobs on the original ones became brittle and fell off. It’s a 32″ scale with three Tri-sonic pickups, tone and volume controls, a four-way rotary selector that offers “bass”, “contrabass”, “treble” and “wild dog” settings, and a completely adjustable bridge. Not sure what wood it’s made out of.

Any special characteristics?

That would be the “wild dog” setting, which offers an out-of-phase sound. It’s not terribly useful, though. I generally use the “bass” setting, which activates the front pickup.

1960’s Burns of London Baldwin Jazz Bass Body

What’s your favorite story about the bass?

People always ask what it is. It’s my trademark, like Johnny Ramone’s Mosrite.

Any notable bassists (other than yourself, of course) play the same instrument/use the same gear?

The bassist from the Troggs [Pete Staples] played one, and Burns has re-issued it as the Marquee bass, but I’m the only person I know of who plays one.

Any special history or story behind this instrument or the company who made it?

It was made by Burns of London, which was purchased by Baldwin in 1965. Jim Burns, the founder of the company, was apparently a rather eccentric fellow from what I’ve read.

Do you use it on gigs?

Yes, I play it on every gig with my band, the Raving Knaves. It’s got a punchy midrange tone that suits our power pop/punk originals perfectly.

What else do you want to share about your gear?

It’s a great bass. I began using it when I became tired of sound techs muddying up our sound by going for that modern rock deep bass tone. I figured if the bass wasn’t putting it out, then they couldn’t do that. It sounds a bit like a cross between a Rickenbacker 4001 and a Fender Precision, which is perfect.

Any other vintage gear?

  • 1965 Burns/Baldwin Vibraslim guitar
  • Mid-’60s Gibson Falcon amplifier
  • Early-’70s Acoustic 150 amplifier

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a musician/writer/photographer who plays in two bands, the Raving Knaves and Empire for Rent. I’ve been playing bass for 30 years. I also do live sound.