Travis Bean TB-500 Prototype Solid Body Electric Bass Guitar (1978)

Travis Bean  TB-500 Prototype Solid Body Electric Bass Guitar  (1978)
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Item # 11987
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Travis Bean TB-500 Prototype Model Solid Body Electric Bass Guitar (1978), made in Sun Valley, CA, serial # 11, black lacquer finish, hardwood body, Imron coated aluminum neck with rosewood fingerboard, black tolex hard shell case.

This TB500 bass is a one-of-one prototype, a concept that never made it to production before the soon-to-follow end of the Travis Bean operation. The TB500 guitar was a Strat-style offering from Bean, meant to be a budget model compared to the signature TB-1000 model and the eccentric TB-3000 Wedge. Travis Bean offered a TB-2000 bass which built with the technique and standards of the higher end guitars, but it never became as beloved with players or collectors. There were also miniscule numbers of the very rare and now coveted Wedge bass.

In creating these instruments former motocross racer and lifelong tinkerer Clifford Travis Bean initially had two partners: guitar tech Marc McElwee and one Gary Kramer, who split off to found his own (for a time) hugely successful guitar operation. Ads claimed their aluminum-necked designs were "the first new development in the electric guitar since the 1930s". The catalog continued "The...lightweight neck and receiver system forms a rigid link between the tuning machines and the bridge. When the strings are attached, a complete vibration connection is achieved. It is this patented chassis that makes the Travis Bean guitar what it is: an instrument that has become the most dramatic breakthrough in electric guitar technology in 50 years."

After the small company went through a restructuring in 1977 and began production again, Mitch Manina, a buffer in the shop and the bass player in Travis Bean's own band proposed the idea for a TB500 bass to McElwee. It would have a similar body shape as the guitar with top-mounted version of the company's calling card through-neck milled from T6061 aircraft aluminum. Fittings include a string-through-body bridge and a single house-made 4-pole Travis Bean pickup centered on the body with controls for tone and volume. The body (like most other color lacquer finished Beans) is more than likely Magnolia wood rather than the beautifully figured but heavy Koa Bean often reserved for natural finishes.

This TB500 bass bears serial number #11, denoting it the first of a line that would never follow. That this bass never got to meet the masses can only be called a shame, as it is to our hand and ear among the finest instruments to come out of the Bean factory. Dating towards the end of the run for the company it bears some key characteristics of a post-1977 Bean: black Imron coating on the back of the neck and a thinner, lighter body. The bass is surprisingly light and fast, the neck profile svelte and comfortable. The TB500 Fender-esque body makes for more ergonomic play than the more unusually shaped TB2000 and Wedge basses. The voice of the bass is superior in tone and clarity to what we've heard of the standard TB-2000 basses. The single center-mounted pickup has the power and articulation of the classic Bean guitar pickups and can range from crystal clear to attack-y growl especially when pushed at high volume. It puts out enough gain to excel with a passive direct box or straight into a mic preamp.

This model never bore an original price nor was it offered to the public; allegedly, perhaps around 4 or 5 TB500 bass bodies were produced, but only this single complete instrument is known to have materialized. The possible existence and location of any other blank bodies is unknown, perhaps lost to time and circumstance after the Bean company's demise. While not a huge commercial success due to their high price and the unconventional (and weighty) characteristics of the guitars, a few high profile artists did buy in to the Bean magic: Keith Richards, Ron Wood, and Bill Wyman all played them with the Rolling Stones in the mid '70s. Jerry Garcia played both a TB 1000 and a TB 500 for a time, so many deadheads revere them to this day. More recently, Travis Beans have been gainfully employed by a number of noise-rock players along with many denizens of myriad heavy sub-genres like doom and stoner metal due to players like Stephen O'Malley, Steve Albini, and Ty Segall.

For this one-of-a-kind bass, the only known provenance beyond once belonging to Manina is that it spent some time in the private collection of filmmaker, musician, and likely world's foremost Travis Bean afficionado Vincent Gallo. Travis Bean knew he had something great in the mid-1970s; while his vision did not lead to major success at the time he would no doubt be well satisfied by the lasting appeal to players and highly collectible status his creations have earned nearly 50 years on.
Overall length is 41 in. (104.1 cm.), 14 in. (35.6 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 1 1/4 in. (3.2 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 33 1/4 in. (845 mm.). Width of nut is 1 9/16 in. (40 mm.).

This bass is a minimally used, lightly worn and fantastic piece of Travis Bean history. Overall it remains in excellent condition and has not been altered in any way. There is a smattering of light cosmetic wear with some minor scratches and signs of use, most notably a few deeper dings to the back. Original fittings includes the raw brass nut, original frets, original four-pole pickup and electronics, original pickguard, bridge and so on. Amazingly enough strap buttons were never even installed! What little it has been tested and played in its life must have been seated, in a home or studio. If it is intended to be played seriously the set up can be tweaked (mostly lowering the nut slots and setting the bridge) but for now remains is exactly as it has been for decades. It comes with a non-original black Tolex hardshell case; being a one-off prototype, this bass never had a factory case of its own. Excellent Condition.