This is a vintage late-1960s Harvey Thomas Custom Musical Instruments Swastika electric bass guitar. Known for his outrageous solidbody creations, including; the Maltese Falcon, the Riot King, the Mandarin, his crazy custom Triple-Necks, and the iconic Mosrite-inspired C-model, Harvey Thomas is also infamous for having made some wacky one-offs that have since become the stuff of legend. According to folklore, and one undated photo from the period, it was said that Thomas had manufactured a single Swastika guitar in black. However, there was no mention of a Swastika bass in white, and since the Swastika guitar had been dismissed as potentially having been destroyed, there was no real interest nor inquiry into the existence of other such models. That is, until Guitar Crazy (Portland, OR), also within the confines of the Pacific Northwest, and approximately 2 hours away Thomas’ hometown of Midway, WA (near Tacoma), discovered this incredibly unusual Harvey Thomas Swastika bass!
While both abhorrently shocking and caustically humorous, it is certainly no surprise Harvey Thomas would cut the body of an electric solidbody instrument to resemble the symbol universally associated with Nazi Germany. Surely, those who have even the most superficial grasp on antiquarian ornaments and the history of civilization would recognize the use of the Swastika throughout. Yet, it can be guaranteed that Thomas intended on his Swastika guitars to evoke an immediate correlation with the right-facing rotated icon employed by Hitler to represent Nazism and the Nazi party.
Given the above preface, this is really one of the coolest luthier-built custom instruments of the ’60s. This one-of-a-kind piece is so extreme, so interesting, and so unique, that it immediately captivates. With regard to imaginative and progressive designs, Harvey Thomas was like the Salvador Dali of guitar construction: unabashed and uncensored, Thomas made whatever he or a customer wanted. Thomas’ groundbreaking approach would later prove to be 20 years ahead of it’s time, as highly crafted guitar bodies would eventually become better associated with 80’s craziness.
As is the case with most of Harvey Thomas’ projects, this bass features a combination of homemade custom parts, as well as, accessible catalog-ordered hardware. The tuning machines are reverse Klusons, it has a Schaller “Made in Germany” tailpiece, (2) black Bakelite cupcake knobs, (2) DeArmond style single-coil pickups, a custom-made pickguard and control plate, custom-ordered over-sized soft case, and other Thomas fabricated hardware. The bass appears to be finished in an original creamy white color, which has since faded, with a dark red/brown undercoat. As determined during the initial inspection, this bass was originally intended to be a guitar, as there are (6) dowel marks along the edge of the headstock where holes were drilled for guitar tuners. Though tuning machines were never installed, it is interesting to see that Thomas utilized the neck regardless.
Interestingly, the bass plays surprisingly well, and sounds really great. It’s not the most comfortable bass to play while sitting down, and even using a strap is a bit of a challenge, as illustrated by the re-positioning of the strap pin placement. But considering the bass looks like more of a novelty than a high-quality instrument, it sure is remarkable how well it plays ’til this day. Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople is perhaps the best known owner/player of an original Harvey Thomas instrument.
The following link forwards to a highly educational website about the life and times of Harvey Thomas- http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=10304