Philip Kubicki worked for Fender before starting his own shop in Santa Barbara in 1973. He is the man who built George Harrison’s legendary rosewood Telecaster. Factor bases are his brainchild, and are a lasting contribution to the evolution of the electric bass.
Kubicki Factor basses were introduced in 1985, and were quickly adopted by John Taylor and Stu Hamm. The Factor basses were innovative, both in their appearance and their sound.
Most obviously, these are headless basses. The bridge/tuner assembly is integrated into the end of the body, instead of being bolted to the top. The bridge is very different than the Steinberger system, in that the strings (normal strings, not double-ball strings) wrap around large drums, which provide a mechanical advantage so the tuning knobs are much easier to turn. Steinberger bridges use claws with narrow threads that are prone to wear due to the high stresses placed on them. I have never seen a worn-out Kubicki bridge.
The bodies are ergonomically contoured, and are very nicely balanced. A nice touch is the location of the output jack, which is next to the bridge. This makes it difficult to accidentally pull it out, and the bass fits nicely in a stand without the cable hanging up.
The necks are amazing, with a nut width that falls somewhere in between the Precision and Jazz bass profiles. They are crafted of 34 laminated pieces of maple with an ebony fretboard. I have yet to see one that warped or twisted. There is a conventional truss road that is accessed at the headstock, so you can adjust it while watching the relief. There are different necks for the standard Factor bass (34-inch scale, and the Ex-Factor, which has a 32-inch scale, and a clever detuner lever for a 36-inch scale E/D string. There are slotted fret markers on the sides of the neck, and these are the only thing I have ever seen consistently go wrong on these basses. On early basses, the filler for these expands, and becomes over-flush. Fortunately, it is an easy enough job to have them trimmed down to normal height again.
Serial numbers are stamped on the back of the headstock, as well as the production date, shown as month and year. Example: 1238 01 89 = serial 1238, made in January of 1989.
The original Factor basses have 18-volt active electronics, and all of the basses use two Kubicki-designed humbucker pickups.
The controls are: two stacked pots (volume/pan, treble/bass boost), and a rotary selector switch with three passive, two active and one standby playing position.
Used Factor basses sell for around $1000 to $1500 on eBay, depending on condition and year.
From 1988 to 1991 Fender was licensed to build Factor basses. The serial numbers for these are from 1287 to 3850. The basses are essentially the same with the exception that many (but not all) came with 9-volt pre-amplifiers. There is also a Fender Custom Shop sticker under the clear coat on the back of the neck (under the clear coat). These generally sell for a little less money on the used market.
If you love the sound of the electronics, but do not want to pay the higher freight to get a Factor bass (or if you just do not like the styling), you could opt for a Fender Jazz Plus. These sell for around $500 to $800 on the used market. They were produced the United States from 1989 to 1994 as both 4 and 5-string models.
I have owned around a half-dozen Kubicki Factor basses over the years, and really like them. They are comfortable to play, and sound like nothing else on the market. The two active settings are simply thunderous, and there is no extra noise or hiss. Of course, you might not need this aggressive tone for all types of music, so it is nice to have the option of the three passive settings.
Philip Kubicki has moved his operations from Santa Barbara to Colorado. He is still building the basses to order in many different configurations. Last year, I needed a little information about replacement parts for one of his basses, so I used the phone number provided on his web site. Philip answered the phone, and was very friendly, letting me know what thread pitch was used for one of the machine screws, and where to find one of the grabber-style strap hangers. A true gentleman, indeed.