AF’s Weblog

February 7, 2012

Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass & Telecaster Bass Review

When I went to pick up these beauties at AudioFanzine’s editorial office, I asked myself how many Jazz and Precision basses I had already reviewed in my life as an editor. From Standard to Deluxe, Vintage, Special and Classic versions, from US to Mexican and Japanese, not to mention the Korean Series and Squier — Fender’s offer is very wide and almost confusing.

I actually decided to count them for you (and a little bit for me too) and here is the result: Fender’s catalog includes not less than 50 JB and PB versions (without taking the different finishes available for each model into account), but only two Jaguar and one single Mustang basses. Imagine going to a car dealer to buy a new car and having to choose from four dozen variations of the same car, a tricycle and a golf cart! Fender’s fidelity to its bass guitar classics is obvious. However, this review does reveal something new: first of all, although both basses feature the Fender label, their country of origin is China. Moreover, they don’t use their standard pickup combinations, which certainly is a very important point considering that both instruments got their name from their respective pickup sets. So let’s put our hands on this new Chinese girls!

A Bit of History…

In former reviews dedicated to Fender (60th Anniversary and American Specials series), I told you about Leo Fender’s story.

Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass

Let’s pick up from where we left off: we were in 1951, a very important year for us since it saw the consolidation of the Precision Bass as a successful instrument in the bass guitar market. Leo Fender had already understood that the success of an electric instrument relied on amplification, so he launched a bass combo in 1952 that was able to withstand the signal of the Precision Bass. This 35-watt amp was called Bassman. The success was almost immediate, especially among jazz musicians (Lionel Hampton’s orchestra was the first to include this instrument). In the meantime, pop and rock musicians would still prefer rockabilly-style double bass for several years. It’s interesting to mention that guitar players also loved the Bassman, mainly for its high output power.

And when it came to six-string guitar, Leo would listen to the needs of musicians for more sound versatility (the bright Telecaster sound isn’t for everyone) and improved ergonomics (the angular Telecaster body is not the most comfortable), and was about to present a new legend in 1954: theStratocaster. For this project, he worked with Freddy Tavares and Bill Carson starting in 1953. The shape of the Stratocaster was based on the ’53 Precision Bass whose roundness was in turn inspired by the design concept used by theautomobile industry in the 1950’s. The top of the body included a new bevel edge for the right arm, three pickups and a tremolo bar to compete with the Bigsby system introduced in 1952.

Fender Modern Player Precision Bass

Right away, the Stratocaster became a standard and still remains the most copied electric guitar to date. In 1957 came the turn for the Precision Bass to take the Stratocaster as a model: its shape was improved and the single coil replaced by the famous split-coil pickup still used today. In 1960, that is to say nine years after the launch of its first bass guitar, the manufacturer presented its last legendary instrument, the Deluxe Model which would be quickly renamed Jazz Bass. The neck is thinner at the nut than the Precision Bass, the shape of its body is inspired by the Jaguar and Jazzmaster developed a bit earlier. But it was mainly the pickup combination that made the personality of the Jazz Bass stand out: a pair of parallel single-coils using two coils for each string. The sound was tighter than that of the Precision, because the main asset in those days was to avoid damaging the low-quality speakers of bass amps. This particular sound would become later a real signature thanks to great musicians like Jaco Pastorius and, of course, Larry Graham. By the way, while doing my research for this review, I found a classified ad that could be of interest for rich fans of Jaco. After all, even bass players can win the lottery!

China is The Place To Be

Until now, Chinese manufacturing was limited to Fender’s main sub-brand Squier. With the Modern Player series, and following the success of the recent Squier Vintage Modified series, the “Made in China” label enters Fender’s catalog. A new production line is born — a new challenge for the brand, because Chinese manufacturing of musical instruments isn’t well received by demanding musicians. And to fight this prejudice, Fender will have to be convincing…

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Personally, I find these new Fender bass guitars under $600 really appealing, especially the blonde one. If I had the money, I would buy and upgrade it with a pair of Darkstar pickups and a Badass bridge, just for fun. That’s the reason why I assert that Chinese people are beautiful (easy for me to say since part of my family comes from Guandong) and that they always make everything better! And this is proven by the intrinsic value of the two bass guitars we reviewed today! The value for money is amazing and you get more than only standard features. In short, a fresh concept showing respect for tradition.

Advantages: 
  • Finish
  • Original and powerful pickup sets
  • Neck playability
  • We like new things
Drawbacks:
  • Gig bag = Cardboard box. Every time a bass guitar is sold in a cardboard box, a fairy disappears…
  • Slight level difference between both Telecaster pickups

To read the full detailed article see:  Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass & Telecaster Bass Review

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September 7, 2010

Ibanez BTB 700DX Review

Filed under: Bass — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:56 am

The BTB (Boutique Bass acronym) represents one of the nine IBANEZ bass families. It was conceived to provide features of a boutique instrument at an affordable price for the masses. Now, if I can only decide on the red or black finish..

Ibanez BTB 700DX

Need I present Ibanez?

That was a rhetorical question. I have never talked about Ibanez on this site, hence, I will briefly summarize the brand’s history for the curious ones amongst you.

The HOSHINO SHOTEN company was founded six years after the first World War, in the land of samurai soldiers. In those days, the company sold scores and music paper (“Shoten” means bookstore in Japanese). During the following years, the founder and his successor (Matsujiro and Yoshitaro HOSHINO, respectively) gradually changed the activity of the company to importing musical instruments. In 1929, the company HOSHINO GAKKI (which means musical instrument) was created for this purpose. They imported Spanish guitars by SALVADOR IBAÑEZ (which is the name of the craftman who created the workshop, as well as the first double-neck guitar). Some time later, a civil war devastated the land of castanets. The workshop of Salvador’s two sons was destroyed and some members of the staff were killed during violent clashes in the streets of Valencia. Due to this tragedy, the Japanese importer lost its main supplier so they bought the brand to manufacture the products in Japan (in the city of Nagoya). In 1962, Junpei (Yoshitaro’s son) took over the family business and inaugurated a new production facility called Tama Seisakusho Factory. The company manufactured guitars and drums until 1966. From this year on, the company subcontracted most guitar manufacturing and concentrated on drums (under the brand STAR, which later became TAMA).

At the beginning, IBANEZ was exclusively influenced by European instruments, from traditional Spanish guitars to EKO and HAGSTRÖM replicas. Later, the brand followed the trend of American instruments and started manufacturing GIBSON and FENDER replicas. The business flourished until the end of the 70’s when the manufacturer had to face a trial initiated by a parent company of GIBSON. But this setback was positive because it forced the manufacturer to produce its first own instruments (called “modern”): thus the Iceman and Roadstar electric guitars and basses were born. Encouraged by this success, IBANEZ started developing original designs and new concepts (slim neck-through body, two-octave fingerboards, active electronics) to become the reference brand we know today.

Slapper’s Small Shop

The new BTB (Boutique Bass acronym) looks like its grandparent while offering different electronics. Neither Japanese nor Korean, the bass is made in Indonesia, the land of Orangutans and Java.

I have always liked Ibanez necks. In my humble opinion, they are the main reason for the success of the Japanese company. So I’ll start with this component, which I’ll compare with the neck of an SR model (one of the manufacturer’s classic products).

Ibanez BTB 700DX

The first thing worth mentioning is that all necks of the BTB series are neck-through. You’ll either love it or hate it, it’s all a matter of taste! The basis of the concept is sustain, so the neck is made out of five (three maple and two bubinga) plies. The BTB neck has slightly increased dimensions, compared to the SR:

* The scale is 35″ long (instead of 34″)

* The fingerboard is wider at the nut (41 mm instead of 38 mm)

* The neck is wider at the last fret (64 mm instead of 60 mm)

On the contrary, the thickness of the neck has been slightly reduced; the back of the neck is a bit less round than that on a Soundgear (a half millimeter at the first and the 12th frets) — it’s not much but you can feel it. The instrument has 24 frets, which makes two octaves. The neck/body junction is somewhat original: the last fret is cut so that only the G and D strings are over the fingerboard. It looks nice but, honestly, I don’t understand the usefulness of it! A lot of effort has been invested in suppressing two notes (A and E) out of four, that could actually be useful.

Ibanez BTB 700DX

If this feature is for aesthetical reasons, the choice might prove ungrateful. However, considering its place on the neck, it won’t disturb many musicians except for a few solo bass players. In summary, you get a slightly wider and slimmer neck. You have more space to move your fingers without hindering the movement of your left hand. The wide cutaways allow an easy access to the upper frets. The slightly longer scale poses no problems and my left hand feels very comfortable on this neck.

The headstock design matches the body and the fingerboard design at the last fret. The headstock hosts Gotoh-type tuners (I emphasizes the word “type”) which are quite basic sealed lubricated machine heads. To be honest, I personally find they don’t quite reach the level of a “boutique” bass guitar. On the contrary, the bridge provides four independent saddles to make you feel confident. The ash body feels very comfortable. Its shape supports the right arm really well and it gives the instrument a light weight considering it has a neck-through body design. The fret work is not exceptional but it’s alright. The bass is provided with an Elixir string set, like most Ibanez instruments.

Now let’s take a look at the electronics…

A Place to Call His Own…

Compared with its direct competitors, this bass guitar ranks in the higher end of the market. It features a neck-through body, a semi-parametric EQ and a good pair of pickups for about $1,000. The BTB is a nice-looking and affordable active bass. Now it’s your turn to test it!

Advantages:

  • Neck-through body
  • Original EMG pickups
  • Ergonomic body and pleasant neck
  • Integrated electronics
  • Available as five-string version

Drawbacks:

  • Tuners
  • Battery compartment and cover
  • Not available for lefties
  • No gig bag included

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Ibanez BTB 700DX Review

August 17, 2010

Schecter Ultra Bass Review

Filed under: Bass — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:59 pm

I was very curious when I started this review. In spite of all the years in the guitar world, I have to admit that I had never had the opportunity to test an instrument by this manufacturer. This company’s story reads like an American fairy tale…

In 1976, David Schecter gave his name to his newly founded company: Schecter Guitar Research. In those early days, the company was a workshop that provided everything to build a guitar (body, neck, pickups, bridges, etc.); it was dedicated exclusively to spare parts.

At the time, the manufacturer supplied two of the most important electric instrument manufacturers (can you guess who theses giants were?) and only ventured in the instrument manufacturing industry in 1979. The workshop became a “custom shop” that produced high-class instruments inspired mainly by Fender concepts. Within four years, the manufacturer became very successful and was bought by Texas investors. The custom shop then moved and started production in series of instruments still largely inspired by Leo (you could say they were Fender copies).

The company came back to its roots in 1987, when it was bought by Hisatake Shibuya, owner of ESP. He moved all manufacturing back to California and transformed it into a custom shop distributing prestigious guitars.

In 1996 and thanks to its new manager, Michael Ciravolo, who wanted to stress the corporate identity of the company, the brand finally drops its obsession with Fender designs.

He also expanded production to Asia (in Incheon, a province of South Korea) where he subcontracted the production of an instrument series conceived for the masses.

In Incheon is also the main factory of a well-known manufacturer called CORT, whose makings can be found in the catalogs of numerous brands out there…

Now, let me introduce the instrument we want to test today: the SCHECTER ULTRA is a bass guitar with a hybrid and original look. It is made in Korea and equipped with standard passive electronics.

Don’t Forget Your Roots

Schecter Ultra Bass

The design of this bass guitar is a mix of a Telecaster and a Gibson Thunderbird. The Thunderbird heritage is present in the headstock and the bottom part of the body, while the top of the body (the part close to the neck) reminds the famous Fender guitar.

The shape of the body lets you rest your right arm on it, which gives the instrument a very personal touch somewhere between rock, vintage and psychedelic.

The neck-through body includes three maple plies and two walnut plies. The neck is 34″ long (22 frets), 38 mm width at the nut and 62 mm width at the last fret. The fingerboard is made out of a dark purplish rosewood (probably Indian rosewood).

Handling and playing comfort remind a Jazz Bass, except for the back of the neck that has a glossy varnish.

Our test instrument has a two-color sunburst finish from headstock to body. The headstock is inspired by the Thunderbird with a center part raised 2 mm above the rest. It looks nice and well manufactured!

Schecter Ultra BassThe three parts of the body are made out of mahogany and the two-piece bridge includes a tune-o-matic and a tailpiece. The nut is made by Black Tusk (synthetic ivory) and the sealed, lubricated tuners are Grover (and look a bit too cheap).

The electronics includes a pair of passive EMG HZ humbuckers, two volume and one tone control. Nothing prestigious, the American brand’s HZ Pickup Series is made in Korea.

When it comes to finish, the instrument I hold in my hands is irreproachable.

The two-color paint and the varnish look very clean. There are no knots to be seen in the wood, the fret work is very clean and the body shape is perfect.

The overall weight is ok which is surprising considering the size of the body and that it is neck-through.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Price

Let’s end this review taking a look at the price tag: about $1,400. It’s a bit painful, for a bass guitar made in South Korea!

But there are also top Korean instruments by similar brands: Fender, Lakland, Tom Laulhardt, TUNE… The question is: is the Schecter Ultra worth its price?

Good finish, nice sound, neck-through body, original look (although inspired by two other brands), and a perfectly adjusted instrument. So far, so good! But for about $1,400, we expected more from a standard instrument made in a country where manpower is inexpensive: better pickups than these EMG licensed models, better machine heads or at least a flight case or a gig bag…

Instead of the wonderful cardboard box this not-so-cheap Schecter comes in! Yes, that’s not a joke and it makes the price seems even higher. This is my personal opinion and not a negative judgment. I am confident this bass will be of interest to lots of musicians all over the world, regardless of its price.

Advantages:

  • Neck
  • Finish
  • Look
  • Effective overall sound

Disadvantages:

  • Cheap pickups
  • Tuners
  • Sold in a cardboard box

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Schecter Ultra Bass Review

March 17, 2010

TC Electronic PolyTune Review

When it comes to guitar tuner pedals innovations don’t come by everyday, so when TC Electronic announced the PolyTune, a pedal that allows you to tune all strings at once, we got curious…

TC Electronic PolyTuneIn the beginning, there was the tuner. It is pretty easy to use: just strum a string and it will show you if it is is too high or too low; tune the string and repeat the same procedure for the rest of the strings. The stompbox format has been readily adopted by live guitar players because it allows them to easily tune their guitar between songs. In fact, when you are playing live on stage the less you spend time tuning your guitar, the more your show gains in intensity. A gig without good mood is like a cake without the icing!

As soon as the new TC Electronic PolyTune stomp box was announced, all guitar players started to imagine how nice it would be to be able to check the tuning of all strings simultaneously. Most of the time, only one or two strings are out of tune and with a standard tuner you always have to check the strings one by one to know which one of them is slightly out of tune. Hence you lose time checking five perfectly in tune strings. With the PolyTune, you only need to strum all open strings just once and you immediately know which one needs to be adjusted. So, in the end, if you think about it – it takes you six times less time to tune your guitar than with a standard tuner. That’s a lot of time saved, especially for those musicians for whom tuning isn’t instinctive…

But let’s check first how this miraculous stompbox works…

Conclusion

TC Electronic PolyTuneTC Electronic incredibly managed to launch a totally new product in the tuner pedal market, which is quite a feat. The polyphonic mode displaying all six strings at once saves guitar players lots of time on stage. The manufacturing quality is impeccable and the product is packed with clever ideas like the auto adjustment of LED intensity, the power output and the dual needle/caterpillar display in monophonic mode. One thing is for sure: all competitors suddenly look a lot older and the PolyTune offers much more for the same price (about $100).

Advantages:

  • Polyphonic mode
  • Two display views in monophonic mode
  • Power output
  • True bypass
  • High-quality footswitch
  • Accurate and easily readable LED display
  • LEDs with automatic intensity adjustment
  • Easily accessible battery
  • Nice design
  • For guitar and bass
  • Drop tuning up to five semitones

Drawback:

  • Not compatible with open tunings in polyphonic mode

To read the full detailed review see:  TC Electronic PolyTune

January 18, 2010

[NAMM 2010] Vigier Excess 5 String Bass

Filed under: Bass, NAMM 2010 — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:17 am

Watch this and other videos/news from NAMM 2010 here.

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