Zone-10 is typically a photography-centric website, but we do occasionally write about other things of interest encountered in our other modes of life. For over 30 years, I've been involved in professional audio in live sound, recording and broadcasting. Through those years I've encountered more than my share of bass guitars.
The vast majority of bass players I've worked with have used some variation of the standard Fender Precision Bass. It produces the sound which works well with the genres of music I am around most. There are a few with Jazz bass guitars, but they are usually a little more difficult to work with because the sound tends to be a little thinner and the volume is harder to control as most lesser experienced players tend to vary quite a bit in how they activate the strings. If a bassist owns just one guitar, it's almost exclusively a P-bass. (P-bass is short for Fender Precision Bass).
The problem with a P-bass is how they work through sound-reinforcement systems. I'm not talking about million-dollar stage shows where almost everything you hear is dubbed in from studio sessions, but in systems typically found in houses of worship and any other fixed venue where no guitar cabinets are used, or if they are used, they are for the musician and maybe a pickup mike. What the audience hears comes from the sound-reinforcement system. A P-bass tends to be a bit muddy when played through a sound system. Actually, not a bit muddy, but usually very muddy. The tone is there, but it is rarely pleasant and lacks articulation. It just is a tone-generator for the most part. A J-bass (Jazz Bass) has a nice edge which gives the bass some breath, but then it lacks the low-end grunt and sustain which a P-bass is known for. Even though many J-bass guitars have dual pickups, the sound just isn't the same.
Enter the Fender Jaguar Bass Guitar. This instrument is essentially a Jazz Bass but with two sets of pickups. It has the standard J-bass pickup near the bridge, but the second pickup is a P-bass humbucker style pickup. Each pickup is fully controllable in volume and tone. By mixing and matching the controls you can achieve a sound which ranges from a P-bass to the J-bass and a blend of whatever you want in between. For example, you can primarily use the P-bass pickups and add a little bridge pickup to give the sound some edge. Or use the bridge pickup and blend in just enough P-bass to fatten the sound up as required.
But it's more than just tone or edge. By adjusting the volume of the individual pickups along with the tone for each pickup, the guitar takes on sounds not possible through other guitars. It becomes an unique instrument in its own right.
The problem is the Jaguar was not an inexpensive guitar, nor has it been readily available. Few bassist acquired them because of the cost. It was easier and less expensive to just have two types of guitars and switch between them as required.
Enter a division of Fender called Squier. What has been considered to be a low-end version of Fender (what Scion is to Toyota), is now becoming a standard in itself. These aren't just low-cost copies of Fender guitars, but have actually been innovative and somewhat original designs themselves. Not many originals, but the fact is, they've managed to establish themselves as a viable alternative to Fender and in some cases producing something that Fender doesn't.
Squier has been issuing guitars in the "Vintage Modified" line. These are essentially copies of the best Fender guitars through the years. These aren't just visual copies, but literally the same guitars. To keep the costs down, Squier does use lower cost companents in places, and may not get as fancy with paint and other things, but the design is true to the original intent and sonic character. This past year, Squier introduced the VM Jaguar Bass in two forms: The standard model and the "Special" model. The "Special" is less expensive and lacks the inlayed fretboard, has a lesser grade of pickups, different knob layout (four individual knobs instead of two dual-concentric knobs) and plainer looking pick guard. Otherwise, they are identical.
How does it play? It plays exactly like the legendary Fender Jaguar Bass. Everything the Jaguar did, this one does exactly the same. A player can customize the guitar with various component swaps as desired, but the basic guitar as it comes out of the box is unlike any other bass guitar. The often-referred to "growl" is present and is sure to raise eyebrows.
But my review isn't from the perspective of the bassist. My review is from the perspective of the sound engineer. This is of the most basic model, the "Special". There are four knobs, the front "P-bass" pickup volume, the bridge "J-bass" pickup, a tone-control and a bass-boost. The bass-boost is an active electronic circuit (9 volt battery required). By adjusting these knobs the bassist is able to achieve a desired sound for the music, but with a minor tweak towards the J-bass pickup or a tweak of the tone control, the guitar comes alive in the sound-system. Or if the bassist desires a J-bass sound, he can dial in the bridge pickup and add just a hint of the P-bass pickup along with a bit of bass boost. The sound suddenly emerges from the depths of the sub woofers and becomes an active percussive ingredient in the music, not just providing a bottom end.
Without a doubt, this is the easiest to mix for live-sound bass guitar I've ever encountered. Last year, I thought it was the Jazzmaster, but this one totally addresses the thinness that guitar has through sound-reinforcement systems.
The low-cost "Special" is quiet (but not as quiet as the regular Squier Jaguar Bass with improved pickups), but quiet enough for me. The P-bass pickups are in a standard humbucker configuration, which when combined with the J-bass pickup is responsible for that unique sound as there are various phase cancellations and shifts going on. But the humbucker pickups definitely make the guitar quiet enough for live sound. (sound systems below 50,000 watts). Besides, rarely do we run the guitar direct without compression, eq and noise-gating. Usually we are either running it through a processor (amp simulator) or miking an amp/cabinet itself.
I highly recommend this bass guitar to any bassist that plays in any venue where the sound goes through an installed sound-reinforcement system. Your soundman will thank you.
Best of all, this guitar is priced far below what it is worth. The standard model is available at Guitar Center, Musician's Friend and other similar stores for about USD $299. The "Special" sells for USD $199. Honestly, now, these are prices which make the guitar almost disposable. Don't assume that the price has any bearing on sound or playability. I'd be tempted to buy one to make it the "house bass" for the players to use.
For recording, most will prefer a higher quality guitar with high-end active electronics and maple body, but for stage use to be played through church or club sound-reinforcement systems, I would suggest that the Squier VM Jaguar Bass is the guitar which should be a requirement. It really is that good.
As with ANY instrument, I do recommend that you try the instrument before buying. The slab of wood used in the body is variable enough from one to the next and other manufacturing variances will make no two guitars sound exactly alike. Try, adjust and buy. Ours was setup, tested and heavily demoed at the Guitar Center in West Des Moines, Iowa. If there was a flaw in the sound, it would have been discovered and fixed or the guitar returned to the supplier.
Full-disclosure: We purchased ours at full retail price with no consideration given to promotion of Guitar Center itself.
Please login or register to add comments