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

February 28, 2011

Fender Blacktop Series Review

Instead of launching the umpteenth reissue of a catalog instrument, Fender decided to innovate by mounting high-output passive humbuckers on a new series called Black Top. This new product range includes a Telecaster, a Jaguar and a Stratocaster equipped with the same pickup combination based on two humbuckers. The Jazzmaster gets a more original pickup combination with one humbucker (Hot Vintage Alnico Bridge Humbucking Pickup) and one P-90 in the neck position.

The Sonic Boom!

Originally, the humbucker pickup was invented by Gibson’s engineers to suppress unwanted noise by electrically and magnetically linking two single-coil pickups in series and out of phase. From the “practical” standpoint, guitar players know the properties of such pickups: a powerful, round and warm sound. As a consequence, humbucker pickups are the best solution for distortion sounds. Fender has a strong personality due to its single-coil pickups that provide a crystal-clear sound (they can be heard on many legendary rock albums). However, they could never really take the lead in the humbucker market — controlled by Gibson since the 1950’s.

Design

 

Fender Blacktop Series

The series is entirely produced in Fender’s factory in Mexico. All bodies are made out of alder with bolt-on maple necks with 9.5″ fingerboards and 22 medium-jumbo frets (except for the Jazzmaster). By standardizing the design and finish Fender can actually lower the price to a MSRP of $450! Most models are available with two different fretboards: maple or rosewood. The latter gives a warmer, rounder and more precise tone. Considering the price, we guess that the bodies are not made out of premium-quality wood but rather out of two or three glued pieces of wood. Just being realistic: with such prices, you cannot expect to get the same resonance as from a massive-wood, one-piece body. All guitars have a perfect skin: a polyurethane varnish with a faultless glossy finish. The neck finish is the same as on the Classic Reissue Series. It is very thick and protects the wood perfectly, providing excellent grip and optimal playing comfort while allowing to quickly access every point of the neck. The truss rod adjustment is accessible on the top of the neck, which is a modern and very convenient feature. The nickel/chrome hardware and the tone and volume knobs on all models recall the look of Fender amps. We must admit that this is a very original idea but it won’t be everybody’s taste.

 

You’re In the Army Now!

Let’s take a look at all new recruits of the Black Top Series.

 

Fender Blacktop Series

The look and sound of the Stratocaster is pretty well accomplished. The combination of the Candy Apple Red finish and the three-ply Mind Green pickguard looks wonderful and make the guitar a real eye-catcher. Two other finishes are available: Sonic Blue or Black with rosewood or maple fingerboard. The guitar has two Hot Vintage Alnico Humbucking pickups with chrome covers, a volume control, a tone control, a vintage-style tremolo, and a five-way toggle switch.

Position 1: full bridge pickup The sound is powerful and rich. It’s perfect for aggressive but precise rhythm parts.

Position 2: inside coils of the the two humbuckers. The response is hollow in the mid frequencies, the sound is lusty but not too wide.

Position 3: bridge and neck pickups in series. The low-frequency band is softened so that the mid range seems to be boosted, resulting in a flat and massive character.

Position 4: outer neck pickup. The most interesting sound among the five available. You get that unique Stratocaster sound without the sharpness.

Position 5: full neck pickup This setting produces too many lows, which results in a very heavy timbre. The tone is too heavy for rhythm parts but interesting for lead guitar.

Now let’s have a closer listen…

Conclusion

 

With the Black Top Series, Fender offers a very wide range of sound variations and finishes. The four different guitars use surprising pickup combinations! And their playability is almost perfect! The jewel of the family is the Jazzmaster, which is a really nice guitar aesthetically speaking but also provides a spicy expressive sound. The price in stores ($450) is very appealing and will surely attract guitar players who want a Fender without going broke.

Advantages:

  • Finish quality
  • Originality
  • Unbeatable value for money!
  • The Jazzmaster is especially appealing
  • Versatility of the Stratocaster

Drawbacks:

  • No gig bag
  • The Telecaster is a bit disappointing
  • Jaguar without a tremolo bridge

To read the full detailed article of the series with all sound samples see:  Fender Blacktop Series Review

July 9, 2010

Fender American Special Telecaster Review

What’s left to say about the Telecaster? It’s contribution to the world of popular music is without doubt. For those still in the dark, some of the music history’s most memorable riffs were concocted on this divine piece of wood: “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones “I’m a Man” by Muddy Waters, “Every Breath You Take” by the Police, and “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen…

Even if the overall Telecaster shape has not greatly evolved since its conception in 1949, Fender cleverly knew how to modernize its model to adapt to changing musical fashions.  In addition, Fender needed to try to cope with, as best as possible, the burning needs of musicians who embraced technology.  Consequently, it’s not that easy to figure out what’s available from Fender considering how many versions of this model there are. There is something for all tastes and all purse sizes!  Between the Reissues, the Classic Series, the Custom, and Squiers, the Custom Shop Designed and so on, we find ourselves faced with a plethora of guitars with prices ranging from affordable to sick or even more in some cases …

A Body to Die For…

Unveiled for the first time at the 2010 NAMM show, and available to the public since January 2010, the “American Telecaster Special” is available in only two colors: “Olympic White” (the model to be tested) or “3 Color Sunburst”, both with a black three-ply plaque (black / white / black) and 8 nuts.  The alder body has a contour based on the body shape of 1970s’ Telecasters.  The gloss finish is urethane type.  For those unfamiliar with the world of guitar craftsmanship, urethane finish is widely used now on most electric guitars.  It is very thick and very resistant to shocks.   Only problem, it does not leave much room for the wood to breathe.   The color “Olympic White” is reminiscent of the original color of the first Telecasters in the early 50s. Like all American Standard models, adjusting the neck with Truss Rod screwdriver will be at the head of the instrument in front of the saddle.  Not aesthetically pleasing to my taste, but oh so handy!

The neck has a “C” profile with a pitch of 25.5 inches (648mm) and it has a radius of 9.5 inches (241 mm).  One piece only, the neck is of solid maple wood without an attached fingerboard.  22 jumbo frets adorn the neck.  Its finish, satin, is applied in very thin layers. Yes, comfort is optimal.  While ordinarily I do not like this type of finish, I must confess that this finish’s soft attribute is very graceful.  As a result, the hand glides and strokes the full length of the neck effortlessly.  Dare I say that we found almost the sensation of nitrocellulose lacquer worn out by time and polished by the countless hand strokes while playing over the years.   To see how it will age, and whether or not the neck finish remains velvety, only time will tell.  The Fender motifs  is of Fender Vintage Seventies style.  The guitar is fitted with 009/042 string gauges, but deserved a 10-46 pulling power to purge out everything it has in its stomach. The “Fender Standard” mechanics play their part, but in any case I cannot guarantee a perfect pitch if you start to torture the guitar with the most diabolical “bends”!

Now let’s strip the guitar…

Conclusion

This new American Special Telecaster guitar today shares a lot of traits with its cousins “Highway One” models, “Reissue Classic”, and finally, the famous “American Standard Series” fer-de-lance catalog mark hailing from the city of Fullerton.  Its ergonomics is simple, its finish clean, it is light weight with perfect mass load distribution. What else can we ask for with the price tag of $1099 for an instrument born and raised in the USA?

If you are looking for a Telecaster with a more “roots” sound in the same price range, move over to the more affordable Baja model, or the Classic Series models, both made in Mexico featuring pickups which offer more sonic dearth. If you opt more for a guitar with a less typical “retro” sound, then you’ve come to the right place.

Advantages:

  • Fender Deluxe Case
  • The price is very affordable for a USA made
  • Reliability
  • Quality pickups
  • Finish

Drawbacks:

  • A lack of color choice (only two)
  • No hard case (probably to reduce costs)

To read the full detailed review with sound samples please see:  Fender American Special Telecaster

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