A Super Rare, all Original, Micro-Frets 'Martian Sunburst' Short-Scale Thundermaster Bass
1968 Micro-Frets Thundermaster Bass (Style 1)
This ca. 1968/9 short-scale bass guitar weighs just 8.90 lbs. and features a double-bound,14 1/2 inch wide, just under 1 3/4 inches deep, 'two-piece' carved maple thinline double-cutaway body with a single leaf-shaped f-hole. One-piece maple neck with a nut width of just over 1 5/8 inches, a short scale length of 30 inches and a very fast thin-to-medium profile. Micro-Frets, 36-piece 'Micro-Nut'. 'Hockey-stick' shaped headstock with "Micro-Frets / Thundermaster" decal in black. Two-on-a-side, closed-back Schaller bass tuners with metal 'key' buttons. 'Slab' rosewood fretboard with 20 original jumbo frets, inlaid pearl double-dot position markers and small pearl side-dot markers. Micro-frets "Patent Pending" metal neckplate with five screws engraved with serial number "2166". Two Micro-Frets [Schaller] single-coil bass pickups with individually adjustable pole-pieces with outputs of 10.51k (neck) and 5.31k (bridge). Two-tier, three layer white over black plastic pickguard and single layer white plastic pickguard secured by three screws. Two controls (one volume, one tone) plus three-way pickup selector switch and two-way tone selector switch, all mounted on lower pickguard. Black plastic top-hat shaped control knobs with fluted sides and metal tops. Combined Micro-Frets four-saddle, height adjustable bridge/tailpiece. There are two slight 'seam cracks' (each side of the top just below the bridge-tailpiece) - these do not require any intention and in no way do they affect the integrity of the body. There is some light finish checking and some light belt-buckle wear on the back with just one tiny area (1/2 x 1/4 inch) of surface loss. Together with an original, late sixties, eight-page Micro-Frets catalog and also a four-page instruction sheet describing the 'Micro-Nut'. Housed in the original Micro-Frets three-latch, rectangular black hardshell case with black leather ends and orange plush lining with Micro-Frets metal logo on top (9.00).
This Thundermaster Bass sports a wood body that is actually made of two halves; a top piece and a back piece. There is a 10" chamber in the middle of the body that gives it a semi-hollow sound, and at the same time makes it quite light for its size. The pickups are Schaller designed bass models. This guitar, as with all Micro-Frets models has a 36 piece, adjustable, compensated nut that allows for individual string height and length adjustments, which was used on all Micro-Frets models. And this was decades before Buzz Feiten, Paul Reed Smith, or Earvana started moving nuts around to sweeten intonation. Wild!.
Micro-Frets guitars were the brain-child of a self educated genius, Ralph J. Jones, who got into the guitar business with financial backing by his former employer, a successful Maryland real estate magnate. Jones served as company president and treasurer. F.M. Huggins was vice president and general manager and A.R. Hubbard was the secretary during Jones' hegemony. When Jones passed away, Huggins became president of the company… It's probable that Jones began making prototype Micro-Frets guitars at his Wheaton, MD, workshop in around 1965 or so. In 1967, the decision was made to go into production and a factory was opened at 100 Grove Road in Frederick, MD, where it was listed in the telephone directory until 1975. By 1968, Micro-Frets - "the personal guitar" - was exhibiting at the NAMM show. Jones and his wife, Hazel M. Jones, were pictured in The Music Trades holding up a Micro-Frets Orbiter guitar. Ralph Jones was responsible for the concepts that informed Micro-Frets guitars, designing the electronics and hardware innovations, while other handled the woodworking aspects of design. Except for such things as tuners and fretwire, and in the early days, pickups from outside suppliers, virtually all components were made in Maryland by Micro-Frets."
"Hollowbody innovations. What kinds of innovations? Well, for one thing, most Micro-Frets were hollowbody guitars with the insides of the fronts and back carved out of two solid slabs of wood, and joined at a seam around the sides (an idea that would turn up later on Kustom guitars made in Kansas). Not only did Jones patent this "Tonesponder" construction, but he designed and built the carving equipment to produce his design."
"Micro-Nut… More significant, however, was the patented Micro-Nut nut… The Micro-Nut was a clever little device which allowed for string length adjustment at the nut, not just the saddle, to correct harmonic inaccuracies that occur due to the fixed length between the nut and the twelfth fret. This was accomplishes elegantly with metal nuts for each individual string, affixed to the truss rod cover, which could be moved forward or backward by loosening a screw."
"Wireless transmission. Two other innovations must be noted. First, Jones may have invented one of the first wireless transmitting system for electric guitars, which micro-Frets began promoting in 1968. Reportedly the early versions of these were called Telecasters, but there was an obvious trademark conflict, and the name was quickly changed. These wireless guitars were described in ads as "ALL-NEW! STARTLING! NO-CORD solid-state Teleguitars and Telebasses." Jones apparently got the idea from garage door openers, which had only recently been invented and were being marketed heavily at the time by Sears!. in any case, Jones used an FM transmitter to get the guitar signal to an FM receiver hooked into an amplifier…"
"More than twenty models. Micro-Frets offered some twenty-plus different six-string guitars and basses between 1967 and about 1974 or 1975… Almost all Micro-Frets guitars and basses had two pickups. Some guitars had a leaf-shaped f-hole, while others had none; this is not always consistent within a given model. Also some examples featured cloth backing in the f-hole, but not all. The Micro-Nut was standard… All Micro-Frets guitars were made of solid woods, with no veneers or ply-woods, and were offered in standard colors including walnut, black, maraschino cherry, sunburst, Martian sunburst (green sunburst), and natural. Custom solid colors were available by special order…"
"Style 1 circa 1967-69. Style 1 characterizes the earliest Micro-Frets guitars built from the beginnings in 1967 and lasting at least through 1968, and possibly into 1969. Style 1 guitars feature a side gasket on the two body halves…
"The long and the short of it… Rumors have abounded that Micro-Frets basses came standard with a short scale and that long scale basses were special orders. There is no evidence to support this, and Micro-Frets apparently made both routinely. Actually short scale basses are somewhat unusual, so the company is clearly distinguished by emphasizing these in line… Micro-Frets guitars did feature serial numbers for warranty purposes. These were four digit numbers stamped on the neck plate. As with all manufacturers, stamped neck plates were purchased in lots and sat in a box on a shelf. The person doing neck-plate duty would reach in and grab one as needed, so neck-plate serial numbers usually provide only a rough guide to chronology."
"Rare birds. As is evident from the discussion of serial numbers, Micro-Frets guitars are relatively rare. No one knows exactly how many Micro-Frets guitars were made, but David Sturgill, who purchased the Micro-Frets assets at the end, estimates that there were fewer than 3,000 total." (Vintage Guitar Magazine. The Different Strummer. October 1995, pp. 22-25 & 132-133).
Ralph J. Jones, died back in the early ’70s, just as the company was getting off the ground. Four years later, Micro-Frets went out of business. All told, less than 3,000 Micro-Frets guitars were made. (#2133)
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