By Diane Gershuny
Originally published on Fender’s BassStreet.com
Berry Oakley’s “Tractor Bass” will forever be immortalized in the annals of bass lore, and on classic recordings like the Allman Brothers’ Live at the Fillmore East. This hybrid instrument, cobbled together by Oakley and roadie, Joe Dan Petty, was a modified Jazz Bass with the neck pickup moved back and a Guild Starfire pickup put in its place. Many a story circulated about how the band tolerated the “Frankenstein” instrument-which looked more like a farm implement than a musical instrument-but none could deny the amazing sound it produced in Berry’s hands.
After his untimely death in a motorcycle accident, the bass was inherited by his son, Berry Jr. Berry Jr. began playing and touring with the instrument in his own group Bloodline… until he had it appraised. “I knew it was a historical piece and it meant a lot to my dad. When the Allman Brothers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, I went to the ceremony to accept my father’s award and took the Tractor with me.
I figured I could get someone to give me an actual estimated value. So the people at the Hall of Fame did their appraisal, and said it was somewhere in the area of $50,000-$60,000. So that was like, ‘OK! We need to retire this baby!'” Berry Jr. brought the instrument to the Custom Shop’s Master Builder Todd Krause (who has built signature and custom instruments for artists ranging from Marcus Miller, Roscoe Beck and Stu Hamm, to Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Bob Dylan) and Market Development Coordinator Alex Perez to see whether the instrument could be replicated. “They took the original completely apart and took tons of pictures-back, front, sides, and of the wiring. So, in essence, they made a blueprint of their own in one day, and Todd basically worked off the pictures.” The result? Well, you try and tell the difference!