The years have not been kind to Fender. The infamously uneven quality control on the company’s US-made instruments has long prompted some players to claim that your best bet for a new Fender is a Japanese model.
Now, I’ve played some very nice US Fenders. But still, a lot of other companies have been paying the rent by flogging fabulous Jazz Bass clones to players who don’t have enough patience (or local music stores) to try out a half-dozen Fenders in search of a good one, whether the oft-mentioned quality control issues are real or ersatz.
Well, Fender’s got its groove back. The 2008 overhaul of the American Standard Series swept QC concerns aside and brought the company’s flagship line a few cool features—and a five-string Precision Bass. These changes have brought a little shine back to the almighty American-made Fender.
SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW…
When you open up the flight case, the first thing you’ll notice is… well, not much; it looks like a P Bass. About a split second later, you’ll twig onto the big, brash new High Mass Vintage bridge, which is one of several cool new touches that improve the bass in subtle but noticeable ways. That bridge is designed to improve sustain, and gives you the option of stringing through the body. I personally think that the difference in tone or performance between a string that’s anchored in the bridge and one threaded through the body happens mostly in the bassist’s head, but I always string through the body anyway. Whether the effects are palpable or not, the new bridge is a solid improvement over the older bent-metal one. Fender players who tend to replace their bridges with Badasses can leave their wallets in their pockets this time ’round.
Moving north, the pickup is a 5-string take on the traditional alnico Fender split coil. The asymmetrical look of the two coils makes some players’ heads spin, but I like it. Roger Sadowsky (among others) has been known to say that a fully symmetrical split setup is the only way to guarantee the best hum-cancelling performance, and if Roger says something, you can usually take it to the bank. Nonetheless, the pickup on this bass is dead silent.
FIT AND FINISH
The bass I received is finished in Fender’s Candy Cola hue, and has a new, thinner finish undercoat that is supposed to help with resonance. I don’t know if that’s true, but it does look like molten sex. The deep red plays well with the 3-ply parchment pickguard and maple fretboard, and the result is a bass that would be as at-home at a black-tie event as it would strapped to a jackbooted Gothling or a prog-rock muso.
The bass’s C-shaped neck boasts graphite reinforcement rods for stiffness without undue weight, and is finished in a comfortable satin urethane, while the 9.5″ radius fretboard is as glossy as they come. The 20-fret neck is hand-friendly, and the rolled fretboard edges are a total win for anyone who migrates up and down the neck a lot. Why more makers don’t roll the edges is frankly beyond me. Unlike Fender’s 4-stringers, the Precision and Jazz 5vers share the same nut width. That’s good news for switch-hitters who like to have one of each onstage.
Overall, the bass is extremely well put together. The frets are nicely crowned and the neck joint is rock solid. At the headstock, the dual disc string trees look weird but work just fine. It’s not clear just why Fender opted not to use the same Hipshot top-load string retainers that are on the Victor Bailey or Marcus Miller five-stringers, but it shouldn’t keep you up nights, either. The 4-over/1-under headstock has shed weight since the last American Standard, due to Fender’s lighter new machine heads; As you can expect, head dive is nonexistent. In fact, the bass balances perfectly, whether it’s on the lap or on the strap. And that counts for a lot halfway through the third set of a sweaty bar gig.
SOUND AND FURY
So, how does it sound? Honestly, there’s not much to say; it sounds like a P Bass—and that’s a very good thing. Played through both an Ashdown EVO II 500 and 210 cab, and through three different PA systems, the bass spoke with the familiar Precision authority. The 34″ scale doesn’t hurt the B string, with either the stock Fender tapercores or Ernie Ball Slinkys. This surprised me, as I usually quote scripture from the Lākland Book of Long-assed Necks. My small hands were good with the stretch between frets, and it was good to hear such punchy basement notes from a 34″ bass. That’s with a honkin’ big .130 B string, though. Your mileage many vary.
I’ve often said that if you want nuance and poetry, buy an F-Bass; if you want a big, greasy ball of thunder, buy a P. The P5 bears this out, with the bonus of a B string that can only be described as ‘seismic.’
If you accused me of liking this bass, you’d be bang-on. First, there’s the Zen aspect of having one volume knob, one tone knob, one pickup and no batteries. Then, the fit and finish, the subtle new appointments and the iconic Precision whisky-and-cigarets voice make this axe an excellent addition to any player’s toolbox.
I feel that a bass that costs north of a grand should come with strap locks pre-installed. Most gigging players end up putting them on anyway, and a totally unscientific survey of bass players I know shows that I’m not the only one with a pile of unused strap buttons sitting in a box. I’d also rather have seen a different string retainer setup, but neither of these are really make-or-break issues. More difficult is the godawful glue reek that came wafting out of the case when I first opened it, and which had seeped into the bass, the strap and the case candy. A helpful SKB employee told me that tossing a dryer sheet into the case usually helps, and it mitigated things for sure, but there’s still a slight gassy whiff to the bass, case and works. But these are relatively minor quibbles. All in all, this bass makes it easy to own a Fender.
MSRP US$1949.99 > street About C$1240.00 (US$1300.00) > pickups 1 split coil > controls Volume, tone > strings 5 > scale 34” > width at nut 1.875” > made in USA
(This post appeared in the July 2015 edition of the Solo Guitaristas: Noticias y tips newsletter)