Vintage Guitar - February 2017 - Open - 93

Blecha with the
Audiobox 736.
The 936 and 736 in the Audiovox catalog.

first electric bass-viol is only four feet
tall, instead of six. It could be made a lot
smaller, but Tutmarc didn't want to be
too revolutionary right off the bat. Bass
violinists are a conservative race, and
have to be accustomed gradually to the
idea, he says."
The latter was, of course, an understatement. Though Tutmarc would revise the
instrument and Audiovox would produce
its model 736 Electric Bass Fiddle and 936
Amplifier, neither would sell very well.
It seemed an instance of an invention
arriving ahead of demand, and the saga
of how Tutmarc made several pioneering
contributions to electric-guitar design was
destined to remain obscure to the extent
that, in the wake of Leo Fender's Precision
Bass being released in November of '51,
the very existence of a previous electric
fretted bass (played horizontally) was
effectively forgotten - except within the
Tutmarc family.
Yet, as the years passed, interest in
Audiovox instruments quietly grew with
the gradual emergence of several models
of lap-steel guitars with matching amps.
The 736 basses, however, have remained
elusive, with only three publicly known
to still exist, while a mere two 936 amps
have been counted.
	

PETER BLECHA
AUDIOVOX CHAMPION

T

he story of the
once-obscure
Audiovox company
first came to light in the
run-up to the grand opening
of the Experience Music
Project (EMP) in June of
2000. In conceiving and
planning its "Quest For Volume" exhibits on the history
of the guitar, curator Peter
Blecha conducted research,
acquired instruments and
other artifacts, and wrote labels for various items in the
exhibit. The display included
a handful of items made by
or relating to the brand.
In the midst of the effort,
the March '99 issue of
Vintage Guitar included a
pair of essays (Blecha's
"Discovered! The World's
First Electric Bass Guitar"
and "Fender Myth DeFebruary 2017	

93	

bunked," by John Teagle)
that explored what is today
widely acknowledged as
the first commercially
available solidbody electric
bass guitar, the Audiovox 736 Bass Fiddle.
But the EMP exhibit and
those essays benefitted
from longer research by
Blecha. As an independent
historian, he gained credibility by producing and
promoting exhibits about
the history of music in the
Pacific Northwest. It was at
one of those in 1984 where
he first crossed paths with
an attendee named Paul
Tutmarc, Jr., a.k.a. "Bud."
The two spoke, and Blecha
was fascinated to learn
details about the accomplishments of Tutmarc's
father - and astonished to

VINTAGE GUITAR

lay eyes on a 1935 photograph of the Tutmarc family
band, including his mother
playing a four-string bass.
Blecha began casual
research on the subject.
"In those times, it was
still relatively easy to
acquire Audiovox lap steel
guitars and small amps,"
he said. "Nobody seemed
to want them! Guitar shops
often shunted them to
dark corners with other
unwanted oddball instruments. So, over the following decade, I amassed a
collection surpassing the
two-dozen mark, made up
of three models of lap steel
and four models of amp."
His efforts included a
diligent search for an Audiovox bass. Finally, in 1996,
a white-enameled example
surfaced at Jake Sturgeon's
appliance-repair/used-guitar
shop in Tukwila, Washington
(and has been showcased
at EMP ever since). Also
that year, Blecha penned a
booklet titled Wired Wood:
The Origins of the Electric
Guitar for the EMP, which
included the first contextual
telling of the Audiovox story.
The research continued
and a couple years later
Blecha reeled in a matching
936 amp for the museum's
collection; the set has
since been ogled by more
than a million visitors.
Several years ago, another 736 bass (along with
a 436 lap steel) turned up at
Gruhn Guitars, in Nashville -
the first one that proprietor
George Gruhn had acquired
in his 40-plus years dealing
in rare vintage instruments.
It was quickly sold.
In 2001, the bass featured here emerged from
an antique shop in Eugene,
Oregon. But the effort to
locate a matching 936 amp
required another dozen
years before it surfaced at
Guitar Maniacs, in Tacoma.
Today, it is reunited with
the bass it was born to
accompany. - Ward Meeker



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vintage Guitar - February 2017 - Open

Contents
Vintage Guitar - February 2017 - Open - Cover
Vintage Guitar - February 2017 - Open - IFC
Vintage Guitar - February 2017 - Open - 1
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