Just when you think Fender has explored every conceivable combination and configuration of electric guitar, bass, and amplifier, the mighty crew from Arizona drums up something unexpected.
At last January’s NAMM show, one of the funkier twists on an instrument was the “vintagey,” vibe-laden Jaguar Bass. Though some would argue it’s essentially a Fender Jazz Bass (dual single-coil pickups, slim neck) with ’60s Fender Jaguar-guitar appointments, for bass players, the Jaguar Bass has a few cool, interesting features.
Like its guitar progenitor, the Jag Bass has an offset-waist/offset-cutaway alder body. Our tester sported a Hot Rod Red polyurethane finish (reminiscent of Fiesta Red), a three-ply mint pickguard, slim (1.5″ at the nut) bolt-on maple neck, slab rosewood fretboard with aged mother-of-pearl block inlays, color-matched headstock, and plastic nut.
Vintage-style Jazz Bass pickups are the only electronic element the Jaguar shares with the Jazz. Instead of individual volume controls and a master tone, its upper treble bout plays host to a control cluster with on/off slider switches, while the lower treble bout has master controls for volume and tone. The upper bass bout has a series/parallel switch used when both pickups are engaged. Complementing its passive electronics, the Jag has a switchable active tone circuit with roller-wheel bass and treble controls powered by a 9-volt battery.
The bass has chrome hardware, including strap buttons, control plates, a vintage-style bridge with threaded-rod saddles that allow adjustment of string spacing, and vintage-style open-back tuners. The body seems slightly less bulky and its contours are more comfortable than a typical Jazz or P bass, though at about 9.5 pounds, the Jaguar weighs in roughly the same as a Jazz or a P.
The standard 34″ scale length/20-fret neck has a vintage Jazz Bass C shape, but with a more modern 9.5″-radius fretboard that gives it a smooth feel with low action. The quality of the fit and finish are, as expected on Fender’s made-in-Japan instruments, excellent, with flawless paint, a tight neck joint, and level, polished frets. Our only nit to pick was a short in the slide switch for the series/parallel function; every so often, it requires a loving tap before it would engage. Vintage Jaguar guitar owners are, shall we say, “familiar” with this phenomenon.
We tested the Jaguar Bass though an Ampeg SVT6 Pro head through an Ampeg 4×10″ cabinet, and an Ampeg 1×15″ 100-watt combo. With the bass in passive mode and both pickups on (in parallel mode), it produced the classic vintage Jazz Bass tone, with punchy lows, rolled-off mids, and articulate highs. In series mode, the sound was warmer, with more midrange growl and attitude – great for digging in with your fingers (or a pick) to get a full, round rock/blues tone.
To our ears, the parallel setting was ideal for jazz, funk, and slapping. The only thing missing on the passive circuit is individual volume controls for each pickup, which would allow a player to blend them instead of simply turning them on and off. However, the series/parallel switch definitely adds a new dimension to the Jazz Bass tone menu. Once we switched to the active tone preamp, the low-end gained a deeper fundamental tone and more aggressive high-mids. The active tone circuit didn’t noticeably change the overall output or add appreciable noise; it was subtle, but effective, and added a modern coloration.
The passive tone control also worked when the active tone control circuit was engaged, allowing for even more tonal possibilities – i.e. softening high-end response or dialing in a generous amount of the active low control, for a big, boomy, old-school tone.
The Jaguar Bass is an extremely versatile instrument capable of covering vintage Jazz Bass tones for jazz or funk, and a host of modern/active sounds for rock or blues.
Price $999.99 (retail).
Contact Fender Musical Instruments, 8860 E. Chaparral Road, Suite 100, Scottdale, AZ 85250; www.fender.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.