1967 Airline 7289

Valco never really found their groove when it came to bass guitars. They had been building them since 1960, when the Supro Pocket-Bass was introduced, but the 25”-scale basses bearing the National, Supro and Airline brands were not embraced by professional players. They were borne of Valco’s philosophy of limiting production costs by re-using existing parts, and their appearance belies the fact that they were really just guitars with four strings. Even the expensive National model 85 bass was just a Val-Pro 84 guitar with a few modifications.

Valco did begin to face up to the fact that basses should have longer necks, but this only occurred shortly before the company went bankrupt. The first 34”-scale Valco basses were introduced in mid 1967 using parts from the newly-acquired Kay factory, and the combined Valco/Kay company ceased production barely a year later. This was long enough to build several models of long-scale bass: the hollowbody National N850 and Kay K5940, the offset-body Supro Taurus, and the vaguely Fender-esque Kay K5991. All featured bodies and necks by Kay completed with Valco pickups and bridges.

Two long-scale models were also produced for Montgomery Ward department stores. Both Valco and Kay had built instruments for Ward going back to the 1930s (possibly longer for Kay), so the new bass models were a continuation of the Airline brand that started long before. As with its guitars, Valco offered Ward a totally different body shape than anything sold under other brands; if Ward didn’t build their own instruments, they at least sold unique ones. The violin shape was clearly inspired by the Hofner 500/1, though the solid body, longer scale, and radically different pickups meant that the comparison started and ended with the instruments’ silhouette.

The cheaper model 7288 featured a black finish, a white pickguard, and a single Valco pickup in the middle position. The more deluxe model 7289 did away with the pickguard, moved the pickup a little toward the neck and introduced a second pickup in the bridge. This bridge pickup – often incorrectly called a piezoelectric pickup – consisted of two poles suspended from the saddle into a coil embedded in the base. It was intended to give a “bass viol tone”; this is a dubious claim to anyone who has heard the pickup, but at least it did add some variety. The model 7289 also featured a sunburst finish and thumb rests to distinguish it from its cheaper alternative. Although it was built using similar components at the same factory, the 7289’s price tag of $119.95 made it considerably more affordable than the Supro or Kay equivalent models.

In addition to the bridge pickup, the Airline 7289 offered a large dose of Valco’s usual quirkiness. The neck was filled with a massive magnesium core to prevent warping. This construction method had already been phased out on most Valco guitars in favor of an adjustable truss rod, but the earlier system often proved to be more stable in the long term. There is no pickup selector on this bass because the tone knob blends between the two units. A zero fret evens out the tone between open and fretted strings. The only obvious indication of Kay’s involvement is the 4-bolt neck joint.