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Detail of electric bass

What is the function of the black strip below the fretboard on the lower horn? Some basses have it, some don't

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On older Fenders, it's below the strings, later ones it's above, then it disappeared entirely.

It's a finger/thumb rest.

enter image description here

Back in the 50s/60s you'd rest your fingers there & actually play with your thumb. I've never tried it, it's just too weird for me, though I used to own a Jazz bass old enough for it to be placed there.

Later it became more fashionable to play with your fingers, so it was moved to above the strings as a thumb rest.

As styles changed - more people used picks, others realised you could just as easily rest on the pickups or the edge of the scratch-plate, it just went out of fashion & many basses no longer have one at all.

Similar happened with the pick-up guards - or 'ash trays', as I used to call them. They were there to protect from stray interference, hum etc, but as people moved away from that early fixed-position playing style, they increasingly were just in the way. To start with, people would take them off themselves - considerably easier on a Fender than a Rickenbacker; a couple of screws, vs take the strings off & the entire pickup out. I eventually lost my 70's Rikki ash-tray after a house move, but it was one of the first things I did when I bought it, new.

I found someone did a blog page just filled with images of different rests, factory & custom - https://goleilamccoy693.blogspot.com/2018/03/fender-p-bass-thumb-rest.html

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  • I tried playing using the thumbrest as in the bottom picture, but it was virtually impossible! Or was that one for lefties?
    – Tim
    May 28 at 8:38
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    No, it's so you play with your thumb… I've no idea why anyone thought that was a good idea - it's not like string bass players had been doing it before.
    – Tetsujin
    May 28 at 8:44
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    I was jesting...
    – Tim
    May 28 at 11:04
  • @Tetsujin FWIW us acoustic cellists often do pizzicato with our thumb, and when doing so brace our hand by placing fingers on the "far" side of the fingerboard. Quite probably acoustic bass players did the same, and the pattern migrated to early electric bass May 28 at 13:54
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    I doubt the thumbrest was inspired from double bass or cello technique. More likely from folk and classical guitar, where indeed the bass strings are usually plucked with the thumb – though this is not so much because the thumb is better at it, but because the fingers are busy with other stuff! May 28 at 16:23
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Top picture is a thumb rest, bottom picture is a "pull bar". You rest your fingers there and play with your thumb. If you want to see the style of play that uses a pull bar, the first guy that comes to mind that always used that style is Brian Wilson. Check out some YouTube videos of early beach boys and you'll see it.

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The Precision bass was called Precision due to the frets being precise on the notes. It was intended only to amplify the "sound" of an upright, using the thumb contributed to that sound; hence the bottom finger rest. Leo knew 'precisely' what he was doing. 😁

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