Although Leo Fender is often given credit, it was actually Paul Tutmarc who invented the first electric bass guitar. The Audiovox Model 736 was designed and manufactured by the Seattle-based builder all the way back in 1936. There are only three of these basses known to be left in the world, and now one of them is up for sale.
In an eBay listing for the instrument, Tutmarc’s grandson Greg explains the instrument had one owner who bought it from the builder himself. “The guitar shows some minor signs of wear but is in overall good condition. It plays fine and the original pick-ups still work fine. The guitar is all in original component configuration,” he writes. “Of the three Model 736’s known to exist, the one in the EMP museum is a painted model, the one held by [a private] collector is finished, “unpainted” varnished wood as this one is. The wood appears to be black walnut.”
The Audiovox Model 736 was ahead of its time and never gained the kind of following the Fender Precision would fifteen years later. Former EMP Museum senior curator Peter Blecha detailed the instrument in a 1999 article for Vintage Guitar. “One of the first people to perform with the new bass was a member of the Tutmarc family band – his wife, Lorraine. Others were sold to various gospel, Hawaiian, and country players,” he explained. “At the time the #736 was sold for a whopping $65, and the matching model #936 amp paired with that thumpin’ four-stringer would set you back another $75. Though Audiovox reportedly sold a number of sets to local acts before the firm folded around 1950, they never took off, commercially, and Tutmarc’s Electronic Bass was forgotten over time.”
Seventy-five dollars was a lot in those days, but it seems like a good investment now. As of the writing of this article, the bidding was up to $20,000. The auction ends March 6th at 11:35 am eastern time.