Friday, June 26, 2015

1980 Yamaha BB800 Electric Bass Review


Sometimes basses just pop up when you least expect them too, and you have to act quick or miss out on the deal and wonder how you let it slip through your fingers. The 1980 Yamaha BB800 we are looking at today is one of these deals, and it was certainly worth the money.

My son and I frequent the monthly local antique flea market, and it is pretty hit-and-miss as far as what sort of musical instruments you will find there. I have gotten lucky there before, having found some cool effect pedals and a sweet vintage Acoustic 260 amp for short money. But, mostly there are souvenir ukuleles, beat-to-death classical guitars with stickers all over them, and one or two sellers that have a Martin or Fender that is so expensive that it must have been played by Eric Clapton at some point.

So, this BB800 stopped me in my tracks when I saw it laying on the ground in its original Yamaha hard case. I knew from past experience that these are generally very good instruments, and this one checked all of the boxes for me. I picked it up to look it over and it was not super-heavy, and the condition was quite remarkable: no stickers, scratches, dings, or fret wear – amazing for a 35-year old bass. But even more cool was that it was completely original with none of the expected modifications that were performed back then. So, there is no brass nut, no Badass bridge, no goofy tuners, and no Dimarzio pickup. It even had a brand new set of flats on it.

I asked the seller what he wanted for it, and right off he quoted a price that was around half of what it was worth. I must have been stunned into stupidity, because I mutter thanks and wandered off to check out the rest of the swap meet. About a half hour later we were ready to leave, and I had to see if the bass was still there, and sure enough it was so I paid up and we made a quick getaway before he changed his mind. Of course, I ran into a killer Teisco on the way out (also for a good price), but my funds were gone. Figures.

The BB (Broad Bass) instruments were produced by Yamaha in Japan by Yamaha, and there were a bunch of different models (BB200, BB300, BB500, BB800, BB1000, BB1200, and BB2000). The higher the numbers, the more expensive they were, as the number indicates the price in Yen. So, a BB800 was originally 80,000 Yen, or around $327 at the time (at 244 Yen to the dollar).

The BB800 basses were built only from 1978 to 1981, and they are an unabashed knock-off of the Precision Bass knock-off, with just enough things changed to keep Yamaha from getting sued by Fender. This means you can expect a double-cutaway alder body with a bolt on maple neck and alder fretboard. There are 21 frets on that neck, and it is capped off with large-base open-gear Gotoh tuners with cast heads. There is a super-meaty bridge at the other end, and it is a cool piece with flowers engraved in it and two extra screws at the bottom corners to keep it from lifting from the body (a problem with the initial production run).

There are a few differences from their Fender brethren, aside from that cool bridge and the Gotoh tuners. There is a uniquely shaped 3-ply BWB pickguard (kind of ugly, actually), a cool truss rod cover at the heel of the neck, and volume/tone speed knobs with pointers. And then there is the way they reversed the coils on the pickup so that the one for the higher strings is closer to the neck and the portion for the lower strings is closer to the bridge. I have always thought this was the proper way for these to be set-up as it gives more balanced tone across all strings, but apparently Leo Fender did not think that was the best way to do it.

Thanks to its nearly time-capsule condition, all these years later we can still have an appreciation for what a great job the craftsmen in Japan did of putting this thing together. The black poly finish is even, the neck pocket is tight, and the frets are still level and pretty. This is particularly significant because 1980 was right around when Fender’s quality hit absolute rock bottom, so this was a powerful challenge to their authority.

If you strap this bass on and plug it in, you will find that it is pretty much a really good Precision Bass. It has the feel and the sound down, so this Yamaha would be perfect for blues or rock. It has a P-width nut and a nice beefy neck, which fits in with the slightly hefty weight of this thing: 10 pounds, 10 ounces.

This Yamaha BB800 bass does not really fit in with my collection or with the paucity of playing time that I am getting nowadays, so I will probably be flipping it soon. Hit me up if you are interested, I am sure we can make a deal…



  1. I bought my 1st Broadbass, my 1st professional bass, in December 1978 at the Sakae Yamaha music store in Nagoya for 40,000 Yen. I would later on sell this in Korea for 3X what I got it for.

  2. Hi Rex
    Do you happen to have that BB800 still??

  3. I bought mine (BB800 Electric Bass) in 1983 from "Weathers Music Corporation" in Salem Oregon,(now closed). I love this bass. It is a bit heavy but stays true in tuning. I have a Fender as well as a Gibson but this is my goto when just jamming with the band.

  4. Love mine. Still all original. Plays and sounds fantastic!

  5. I am blown away by the beauty of of this incredible instrument, (BB800) I also have had the joy of playing Fender and Gibson as well as Gretsch and Ibanez (my 5 string bass) but this to is my goto when just playing. I also purchased mine from Weathers music in Salem Oregon back in 1983. It was used but was pristine with original Yamaha case it is a bit heavy but is perfect. If you ever get a chance to play one you'll know why it's a keeper.