Fender has tried more than once to market basses with a low-budget vibe. And while the idea is laudable, most of the offerings never really caught on.
In the early ’80s, Fender – then owned by CBS – was on a downward slide thanks in part to quality-control issues and uninspired products. And while the Bullet guitars and basses introduced in 1982 seemed like a solid idea, the masses weren’t buying it. So, domestic production of the model was discontinued the following year and production shifted overseas.
The Bullet Bass was offered in two versions; the B-34 had a standard-sized body and 34″ scale, while the B-30 had a 30″ scale with a slightly smaller body. Both had a classic silhouette and were made of alder.
The B-34 had a vintage-inspired headstock on a maple neck with 20 frets. Its split-oval pickups resembled those on a Mustang Bass (which had been discontinued the previous year), and it had a Precision-style bridge/tailpiece and Strat-like Volume and Tone knobs – nothin’ fancy.
In 1985, Fender changed ownership for the third time, and by the end of the decade had re-established its place in the market. The JP-90 debuted in 1990 (the number making obvious reference to the decade) and was one of the earliest collaborations between Fender’s factory in Corona, California, and its then-new factory in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico; bodies and necks were made in Ensenada, then shipped to Corona for assembly.
The JP designation intimates at its connection to the Fender Jazz and Precision basses (J was listed first because its appearance owed more to the Jazz). The headstock was slightly smaller than its namesakes’, and topped a slim maple neck (like the Jazz) with a 34″ scale and a rosewood fretboard with 20 frets. The poplar body had a Jazz-inspired silhouette distinguished by two subtle incongruities Fender used to give it modern flair; the cutaway horns are slightly more pointed than those on the Jazz and Precision, and the beveling on its edges wasn’t quite as rounded. It did, however, retain the forearm bevel on front and “belly cut” bevel on back, and was offered in three colors – Arctic White, Black, and Torino Red.
The JP-90’s no-frills concept carried over to its electronics, which consisted of two pickups in the “P/J” configuration; one offset, as on the Precision, one straight, as on the Jazz. Controls included simple Volume and Tone knobs and a three-way mini-toggle for pickup selection. The array was set in a black-plastic pickguard.
The JP-90 initially caused excitement among the Fender sales force because it was American-made and listed for $499 retail. But sales were slow despite its pricing, and it was discontinued by ’94.
Apparently, Fender bass players were (and are) traditionalists, favoring the Precision and Jazz and their numerous variants. But the good news for the Bullet and JP-90 is that in the used-instrument market they are today appreciated for what they are – simple, easy-to-play, American-made Fender basses, available at a decent price.
Fender Bullett Deluxe/JP-90
This article originally appeared in VG August 2011 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.