Fender USA American Jazz 4-String Bass Review – about the first of a few I’ve had, but still my FAVORITE

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Originally published October 11, 2006 – my first USA Fender and maple-fretboard Jazz. Wow, if I could go back in time and get this one back. The S1 circuit on this one was a gem, and the play/action/sound was something I’ve not seen just exactly the same – ever since…

Fender American Jazz Bass Review

There are many good and extremely good manufacturers of bass guitars in the world today. We have the luxury to access a huge variety of basses in all price ranges, lots of different styles and sounds, and a mind-boggling set of choices to make when shopping for a bass guitar.

When I set out to purchase a definitive bass for the majority of my bass playing (and recording), I wanted to have a great sound, a sound that fits many styles of music, and in a guitar that doesn’t require a second mortgage to own. I took several months to play lots of different basses from different manufacturers, and in lots of different price ranges. Although a musician like me wants to have lots of tonal/playing options for his guitars, I need a solid cornerstone instrument for my bass sounds: The Fender American Jazz fits the bill in a huge way. Our Fender American Jazz (“Count Bassy”), will be a member of the family – and a treasured heirloom for many years to come.

Quick Opinion: The Fender American Jazz bass is well-rounded, sonically rich, ultimately playable, and a joy in terms of playing comfort. If you need a long-term bass guitar – one that can fit almost any musical style – The American Jazz is just the prescription the doctor ordered.

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Playability: I played about a dozen bass manufacturer brands before settling on an American Jazz. After long days of playing many basses, the American Jazz felt at once comfortable and effortlessly playable. The particular Jazz I purchased felt like playing an old favorite guitar of many years (just shiny, clean, and new).

The neck is the signature for a Jazz bass – a great taper, an effortless profile, and a satin finish that always feels effortless (even when your hands get hot and sweaty). The neck and body profile make for easy access to the entire fretboard range. As a bass player who loves to use the entire fretboard, the Jazz feels right at home. It is obvious that the person who finished my particular Jazz neck paid attention to even the tiniest of details. (However, see my note at the end concerning the fret wire ends.)

The balance of the body and neck is outstanding for a full-scale (34”) bass. Even though my American Jazz is a tiny bit biased weight to the neck, it never becomes an issue for playing long hours in my home studio. The comfortable body contours for your ribcage and pick/thump/pluck hand arm make the guitar fit to the player like a glove.

Playing our Fender American Jazz bass is a comfortable and enjoyable experience. It’s easy to look forward to recording and playing sessions when one has one of these basses to play.

Features: Another place the American Jazz Bass shines is in its feature set. The vast majority of passive basses in this price range give you tone, volume, and some nice cosmetics. The Fender gives you nice cosmetics, and gives you the wonderful S1 switch. The S1 switch gives you additional sound choices, and can add lots of real-world punch to your sound to cut through even a big, loud band.
My only concern with most passive basses is that it is very difficult to get lots of bass frequency (without sending your equipment/recording gear way into the clip-red-range). The balance between signal volume and punch is a difficult thing to achieve, especially for recording. The S1 switch and the wonderful advanced-magnet pickups in the American Jazz make the search for sound MUCH easier to play, hear, and EQ.

The pickguard is a classy three-layer guard. The neck is a fabulous piece of maple (I chose the maple fretboard for its playability, sound, and looks). The tuners are accurate, easy to use, and simple to maintain. The included Fender hardshell case is wonderful for protecting your Jazz baby.

Sound: I could write a short novel about the sound of the Fender American Jazz bass. (Hey Fender, do you want me to write one?) There are lots of styles of music in the world, and there are lots of wonderful-sounding basses out there from a variety of manufacturers (even several different sounds from Fender). By far, the sound of the American Jazz bass fits more styles and sound qualities than any other bass I’ve had the pleasure of playing (followed closely by the Jazz’s cousin the Fender American Precision bass).

The sound is warm when you need it, it’s very vibrant and broad when you tweak it, and there’s not much out there that can growl, sizzle, spank, bite, or punch better than the American Jazz. The Jazz is loud (for a passive bass) without being intrusive, but can take a lead tone in an R&B or rock tune very easily.

The sound of my American Jazz has inspired me to compose and record duets for bass, and has led me to intuitively play melody and counter-melody with the bass.

Value: The Fender American Jazz bass is well worth its cost, if not even a little more. The combination of quality, playability, and signature sound make the purchase of a Fender American Jazz a purchase you will long enjoy.

Wishes: My particular American Jazz plays like a dream – however, the ends of the frets have not been nicely dressed. I’m accustomed to American Fenders having all the little details done without compromise. If you run your hand down the edge of the fretboard against the edge of the fret wires, you can feel sharp, jagged edges. I used some fret polish paper to take a little of the bite off the edges of the wires – but they’re still not as clean as my American Telecaster.

Squier (by Fender) Affinity Jazz (the “J”) Bass Review – getting started with an inexpensive bass that actually plays great

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Squier Affinity J (Jazz) Bass long-term review Originally posted March 2006… A few edits here and there, but mostly the original review for this repost

Every guitar player should try playing bass. It’s a blast, and can really teach you something about fret stretches, silencing adjacent strings, and serious hand-strengthening. In another note, every bass player has to have a place to start. Sometimes getting a low-cost bass doesn’t mean having to get a cheap bass!

Jazz Bass, J Bass… You say Fender, I say Phendre.

Quick Opinion: The Squier Affinity and Standard Jazz Bass guitars are actually somewhat comparable to Fender Mexican-made Standard Jazz Bass guitars. The basic features and appointments are almost identical. It stands to reason that the Chinese-made Squiers are slightly less-nice Alder wood, and the finish paint is thicker and harder on the Squiers. However, the impression of the Squier I bought (and have played for more than a year when this was originally posted) is that it is a solid buy, and an excellent bass. Yes, the Mexican-made Jazz basses have nicer necks to an experienced player – but remember that the point behind the Squier Affinity is low-cost and beginner’s playability. Over time, I found that the Affinity is a good starter bass – consistent in quality and sound. If the player finds that he/she wants to play bass more often and has more budget, the step up to the Mexican-made bass is a good place to go…

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Playability: The neck is solid, and is nicely tapered. It is physically similar to Fenders costing much more… The maple neck and rosewood fretboard feel excellent and are easy to play. The bass is comparatively light and is fairly well balanced. The excellent Fender-designed double-cutaway body allows easy, full access to the entire fretboard. As a long-scale (34”) bass, the Squier Jazz Bass is extremely playable and is a joy to use.The bolt-on maple neck/rosewood fretboard comes surprisingly well finished. Only two or three of our guitar’s fret ends were a little sharp. The fret height is very consistent throughout the neck. Note that the Mexican-made Standard does have a smoother finish to the back of the neck – and that the Chinese Affinity Squier bass necks tend not to be arrow-straight (there are other manufacturer countries for different models these days – some with substantially better quality that rivals the Mexican-made basses)
For folks with small hands or less-than-average arm lengths, a full-scale bass like this might be a little tough to play (especially during quick, challenging passes). If you’re not comfortable with a long, 34” guitar, I recommend trying out the Squier Bronco, Squier Mustang bass, or, if your budget can accommodate, a Fender Mustang bass.

Features: The appointments and features of the Squier Jazz Bass are good for this guitar’s price. The pickguard is a well-made three-ply plastic guard (white-black-white on our Red Metallic bass). The pickups are two “vintage-style” pickups (bridge and mid). The guitar features two larger volume knobs and one smaller tone knob. The two volume knobs allow you to choose the tonal variety by selecting the volume for a specific pickup. The tone applies to the entire sound output (the Squier Jazz Bass guitars are passive, in that they have no equalization or boost electronics or batteries on board). As with pretty much every Jazz Bass guitar, the Affinity’s neck is bolt-on. In the case of the Squier Jazz Bass, the neck truss rods are adjustable via an allen wrench in the headstock (no need to unbolt the neck and unscrew the pickguard). The chrome tuners are the enclosed variety, and are fairly accurate – I do like the “open gear” variety used on the up-scale Jazz basses better, but these do hold pretty well to normal play styles. The Squier Jazz uses a round string tree in the headstock for the two highest strings.
The Squier Affinity Jazz Bass has top-loaded strings (means that the strings are not fed through the body, but are fed through the end of the chrome bridge).

Sound:The Squier Jazz Bass guitar has a consistent, vintage sound. The pickups are pretty noisy – a bit more so than standard Jazz single coils, and the output isn’t very strong. The quality of the sound that does come out is all Fender, though. With the right amplification and EQ-tweaking, you can get the Squier to growl, rumble, and thumb-slap-“splank” without too much trouble. If I was to make this guitar my full-time bass – I might take the time to upgrade the pickups to Fender SCNs, or some type of high-output noiseless.

Value: This is a $299 guitar in value (not ‘retail’, ‘street’). The sound, quality of make, and appointments are good. Many other low-end guitars have badly twisted/warped necks, poor sound, and extremely cheap parts – the Squier Jazz Bass is very much a cut above the average low-end bass (no pun intended!). You would have to buy a much more expensive Fender bass to get better sound.

Wishes: I really wish these were offered with maple fretboards (a matter of personal preference, yes, but still something that would be good to offer). The pickups really should have more output. I wish these had more consistent necks and more consistent fret-finishing. These should all come with open-gear tuners – I don’t think Fender will lose much (if any) money on using nicer tuners.

The Epiphone EB3 Bass Guitar Long-term Experienced Review – Still rockin’!

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Epiphone by Gibson EB-3 “SG” Bass Hands-on in-depth review

I like to have different sounds in my daily guitar/bass playing. I also like to hear different sounds in my myriad recordings… I find it inspiring to have different instruments from time to time as I grow as a musician and an artist.

I could enjoy having one super-killer bass and one of each kind of guitar, but… I’m totally psyched when I pick up something different almost every day.

My basses are no exception. I really like picking up something different and recording what comes to heart – fretless, fretted, long-scale, short-scale, beautiful, bizarre, humbucker, single – you name it… If it is a bass that plays, I generally enjoy it.

With that said, I sometimes have a strong hankering for a particular feel or sound. To wit: there’s nothing like the feel of an EB bass (be it EB3, EB0, or other!).

The EB3 looks like a really long EB3 with a couple of funky humbucking pickups and giant clover tuners. It has a super-slim neck that sits in the edge of its o-so-familiar body. These are a gas to play. And my Epiphone EB3 fits the bill and then some! Great bass!

I play D’Addario Chrome flatwounds on my EB3 and enjoy the thrill of the old 60s-70s bass sounds and can still get that flatwound “mwah” if I play the strings just right. Love it. I do enjoy roundwounds on these, but I’ve got a Thunderbird for the smashing growl sounds when I need them.

Quick Opinion: The Epiphone EB3 is a modern implementation of a decades-old design that stands the test of time. It’s easy to play, relatively light, sounds great, and is really inexpensive. It even looks really cool.

The Epi EB3 is an unsung hero for bass players, and is a real treat even for beginners and pros alike. In most cases, other bass and guitar players have smiled when they pick up my EB3 (cherry gloss). I keep it well-adjusted and clean, ready to play… It often gets a coveted spot on one of my Hercules auto-grab guitar stands in one of my recording spots in our house.

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Playability: The Epiphone EB3 is a pleasure to play. I could end this part of the review with that one sentence… but it would be nice to talk a little more about why…

I haven’t played too many basses that aren’t neck heavy or don’t neck dive a little. Bass players the world over like to argue about “your bass neck dives and mine doesn’t.” Truth be told, almost all of them do. With that said, the neck and headstock on the EB3 is light enough that it actually is one of the more playable models. If you add a strap button to the tip of the upper horn and hang your strap from that, it gets VERY comfortable (don’t alter your guitar based on my advice… YMMV, I’m not responsible for errors you make to your instrument, etc. Please.). I am used to the way my EB3 hangs and plays, so I find it to be just right…

The neck is thin in width, more so than a Fender Jazz. But it is also thick-ish so it is easier to get a good grip. If you have small hands, this might be a good bass for you (as opposed to something like a metal bass or a P Bass – another alternative is the short-scale EB0). I have huge paws, so in my case, the neck is a delight – kind of like a big long Tele neck in most ways. The profile feels like a “D” to me.

Thanks to the shallow set-in of the neck and the double cutaway, I can reach any fret on all four strings. It’s easy to play the high notes, and the low notes are all just a stretch away… With the strap button in its factory position (the back of the bass at the neck/body joint), the body seems to push forward a bit on my strap, but it’s really nothing different than any of my SG-shaped instruments… This is largely true whether you’re playing an EB3 or a Viper or a Samick “SG bass.”

My EB3 is nicely finished, so it feels great in my hands – I really like the smooth finish and the “new” feel it has kept. If you like a satin finish (particularly on the neck), Epiphone (as of this writing) offers a “faded” satin version of the EB3 for the same price…

Epiphone EB3 Cherry Bass Jim Pearson

Sound: Here’s one of the many places the EB3 shines: It sounds great. It has a quiet humbucking nature with a mixture of strong thumpin’ and mild warm funky vintage sounds. It has a pair of very different pickups, with the bridge pickup being a tiny mini humbucker and the neck pickup being a giant heavy big-box humbucker. These sound resoundingly different than Thunderbird pickups, Fender singles, Stingray big-slug humbuckers, or Rickenbacker pickups… These are in a class of their own.

You get a nice mixture of that old warm thumpy sound you get from upright basses and that jeans-ruffling blowback THUMP of a humbucker-bred P Bass. Nice. The three-way dial pickup selector lets you choose between the two or a blend of both… It works like it should and it doesn’t disappoint.

I am a person who likes to upgrade or fiddle with his less-expensive instruments – generally to make them sound better. To tell you how I feel about the sound, I’ve left my EB3 alone, even though I’m a tech and could pop some real Gibson or DiMarzio replacement pickups in it. I like it just like it is.

The first time I plugged it in to my combo amp, I was pleasantly greeted with a sound I’ve been hearing for decades. Wonderful. Once I fed it through my tube preamp into my computer-guitar interface, I was blown away! The benefits of a 12ZX7 and a little dialing are huge! It does sound fine on its own, but with a little help it rivals my Gibson experiences.

Quality: My Epiphone EB3 bass is flawless. I have one of the older ones, and have played many of the recent makes as well. Every single one I’ve played or owned (I’ve owned two and played many more) has been pretty much perfect. The neck is solid, the body is good, and the hardware and electronics are above par.

I do wish Epiphone would stop making so many of their guitar bodies from a zillion pieces of wood and veneering the body with thin sheets… My particular bass isn’t too bad, but it still has that funky composite body. I guess that the price of the guitar is reflective of how it is made… Don’t get me wrong: the sound and heft of the bass guitar is great. It just isn’t a nice slab of mahogany.

The hardware is, in particular, top notch. The bridge works great, came almost intonated, and is nicely adjustable. The nut, tuners, plastics, and metals all are as good as most $500+ guitars. The electronics are fine, with the usual chicklet tone cap and the typical Asian pots and switch. For the most part, the guitar is reliable and is wired as good as or better than the vintage classic Asian guitars. The pickups are excellent and very consistent from individual instrument to individual instrument.

Value: This guitar is easily worth $399 or more street. I think they are under-priced in general. They are an excellent bargain at the current street retail ($299 as of this writing). You can plug it in and play it on day one without spending another nickel on it for a long time. This instrument delivers on value and bang-for-the-buck.

I have had two and will probably buy a third…

Features: The neck is a real feature on this instrument. It is a pleasure to play, and is actually a real selling point for this bass. I love my Jazz, Thunderbird, Precision, ESP Surveyor 404… but this guitar is a treat to own and play.

I like the rotary pickup switch. I don’t often have to do a blinding-fast pickup switch flip, so the rotary works fine for me. It is like it should be, and the chicken-head knob is easy to grab when you’re gigging…

The guitar’s tuners stay in tune very well, the hardware stays adjusted just fine, and the guitar has just what it needs.

Wishes: I don’t really have any wishes for this guitar. I like it pretty much just like it is.

If I were to be able to make minor adjustments to the guitar, I’d say that the body could be made of better wood construction and that the bridge pickup could be wound a little tiny bit hotter.

That’s it for now. Rock on. Buy one if you want a nice bass! It’s a plus that it is inexpensive, too!