Early this year, I purchased a Fender Jazz Bass for $175 from a local pawn shop. To my surprise, Jaime took interest in learning how to play.
I had been tuning it for her, but a couple of weeks ago, I was busy. She tried to tune the bass, and soon realized that her small size was not a match for a full-size, 34″ scale bass. She needed a short scale bass.
We decided to get her a bass, and the timing worked out that it arrived just a few days before her birthday.
We ordered a Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Short Scale Bass in metallic silver from Sweetwater. We ordered it on a Thursday, and it arrived the following Tuesday. Sweetwater was excellent, as always.
Here is my review on the bass. As background, I am a guitar player. I have played for 20 years. I am not a bassist. I do, however, own a bass. And, I setup all of my own instruments– 7 by my count. I’m probably an advanced amateur in terms of skill level, with a strong understanding of the electrical side of things.
I am going to nitpick here, but overall, the bass is nicer than I expect at $170 delivered. I would buy it again in an instant. It is made in Indonesia and, like the Ibanez I bought about 9 years ago, they did a good job.
From the headstock down… The headstock is very glossy, which Jaime likes, but I do not. The truss rod hole had some residue in it, and is not fully painted. No big deal. The tuners, while cheap, do feel solid. Each tuner has four screws, and each tuner had at least one screw that was either not fully seated, or screwed in on an angle. The E string has two misaligned screws that were not even in contact with the tuner, and the tuner easily flexed away from the neck. I tightened them down even though they were slightly crooked, and they are now stable.
Jaime complained that it feels like it sticks a bit when she is tuning. This may be partly caused by the strings, which will be replaced soon, or the nut, which I will replace with a Tusq one in the next couple of weeks, or the string retainer, which is so cheap to replace that I might as well do it.
I emailed Fender to ask what the nut is made of, and they said that it is simulated bone. They sent me the service manual (thanks Fender!), and it says the nut is part number 0994920000. I don’t think so. Those parts are definitely white-ish. This nut is gray. Anyway, it is very low quality, and it isn’t molded/cut very well. It doesn’t render the bass unplayable, though.
The fretboard seems to be of a nice rosewood. It was, however, very dry, just like my Agile AL-2000. I think this is pretty common on guitars that come over from Asia on a container ship. It is a cheap and easy fix– a $5 bottle of lemon oil from the grocery store will last you the rest of your life. One application made a huge difference. The board is now much darker, and feels better.
While I wouldn’t call the edges of the fretboard sharp, they were sharper than I like them. Jaime has small hands, so that will likely be a friction point for her. I very carefully used some sandpaper of ascending grit to very slightly soften the bottom fretboard edge. It took a while, but the end result is a smoother, faster neck. Nice.
The maple portion of the neck is nice, with some nice grain. There is some cool looking grain in spots, and one funky spot by the pocket end of the neck. It’s almost like one spot of heavy flame right where the heel curves to the back of the neck. If I were looking at this in the store, I would have moved on to the next instrument, but now that I have looked at it a bunch of times, I kind of like it. The maple on the bottom edge from around the nut to the the third fret has a slight amount of ripple in it. On a more expensive instrument it would be unacceptable, but for this price it isn’t an issue. It could easily be sanded smooth. It doesn’t impact playability. The finish is almost non-existent, almost a matte finish. The neck-body joint is very solid. The neck feels great.
The frets are well seated, and nicely done. There were no sharp edges. The ends had a nice, smooth, slight angle to them. There are no obvious high spots on a visual inspection, although I won’t know until after I’ve done a full setup. The frets themselves, however, were tarnished, probably from taking a slow boat and then sitting in a warehouse. No big deal. I taped off the fretboard and polished them, and they look great.
The body is nicely finished, although a bit heavier than I expected. Overall, the bass seems to weigh about the same as my jazz bass. The finish seems to be of a similar type to that of my 93 Am. Std. Strat. The sparkle is nice. There are a couple of slight discoloration spots that are over the paint but under the clear. They’re both on the back, and not an issue. It is very hard to pick out the join lines under the paint. The paint around the J pickup has some overhang that is indented and cracked. I’ll slice it off, and it will easily be sanded out and look as it was intended. No biggie.
The pickguard is nice, but the edges are jaggy and the round cuts have checking on them. It was overtightened, although the screws are all inserted properly. Fender says there are no plans to make any different pickguards for this bass, so it’s this or a custom job, at about 1/4 the cost of the bass. I took it off and used 1000 grit sandpaper to smooth the edges, and it looks better now. There is no foil backing, so I will be adding that when I upgrade the electronics. The metal control plate seems to be of good quality. The knobs look and feel like cheap. They need to be replaced.
The wiring looks well done, but employs the typical back-of-the-pot grounding scheme that I usually eliminate. The pots are all 250kA Alphas with spline shafts– cheap, but okay. I will replace them with a master volume/pickup balance/master tone configuration using Bournes solid-shaft pots. The jack is cheap, and will be replaced. The control cavity is painted black. I have heard it is shielded, but I haven’t tested.
The pickups are mixed. Like most reviews, I find the P pickup to be nice. I won’t fill the post with unnecessary adjectives to describe tone. It sounds good. The J pickup, though, definitely has a weaker output. At full volume, the pickups aren’t balanced. This could be caused by pickup height, but that seems unlikely given the other reviews. I will replace the J pickup with the bridge pickup from a MIM Jazz bass, available for about $20.
The bridge seems adequate. It’s a bit thinner than the bridge on my jazz bass, but again, $170. No need to replace it. The strap buttons seem fine, although a bit sharp. Straplocks will be installed, so who cares. The neck plate seems like every other neck plate. It does the job.
So there you have it. I think I covered everything. We went into it hoping to get a bass that Jaime could play right now, but would also serve as a good platform for upgrades. I don’t have a problem spending money upgrading such a cheap instrument. The neck and body are the important components, and on this bass, they alone are worth the $170.
Replace J pickup w/ Fender Standard Jazz Bridge – $24
Replace Nut w/ Tusq – $10
Replace Pots, Jack, Wiring – $10
Replace Knobs – $10
Fit and Finish Completion – $5 (sandpaper, lemon oil, tape, q-tips, foil, adhesive, etc)
About $60 in upgrades will make this thing sound and play much nicer. Further upgrades, like new tuners, may be necessary down the road. Still, at $170 + $60, this is a great bass for $230.
It was playable out of the box, but tuned down about a whole step. I brought it up to tension, and want to let it sit for a couple of weeks before doing a full setup. The weather is much different here than in Indiana or Indonesia, so some settling time is in order. From just playing and inspecting it, though, I can tell that everything is very close to where I think Jaime will like it.
If you have any questions, let me know!
That is all.