OK so I'm going to try my hand at reviewing this bad boy. Here we go... Pretend this is a magazine article.
SX SJMB - Vintage on the Cheap
The SX SJMB is SX's answer to the growing Jaguar body bass market. Having owned a Fender Jaguar in the past and a custom Jaguar one off bass now, I was interested to see what you could get from the new SX model. After 5 minutes on the rondomusic.com site and 149.00 + shipping, I only had to wait a few days to find out.
The answer, it turns out, is quite a lot, but also not quite enough, which is a shame because the SX comes so close to being the giant killer we all want it to be.
Armed with 2 Jazz pickups in a 70's configuration with a full size Alder body and 20 frets, it's basically a stripped down Fender Jaguar with Jazz electronics. To put it another way; if the Fender Jaguar were an F-15, with it's myriad of controls and capabilities; think of the SX SJMB as a Mig-21. Simple, limited in some ways, but effective. And real cheap. Sticking your neck out: This SX features a well appointed neck that clearly exceeds the asking price of the instrument.
SX went with a nice, slim (but not too slim) modern profile jazz neck, with a heavy vintage tint finish, that, while glossy, isn't particularly sticky. The faux pearl inlays aren't likely to fool anyone, but they are consistent in their construction, and look better than some other attempts out there. I personally find them less offensive to the eyes than the Fender version, which has so many swirls and twists in it, you know it's not real. A few very thin gaps exist between the block inlay cuts and the rosewood, but I imagine that in a few weeks those would fill up with 'mojo'. At any rate, it doesn't affect playability at all.
Neck hardware holds its own, SX deciding to go with decent tuners, very similar to that of Mexican Fenders. Not good enough to love, but not bad enough to replace, either. Fretwork is excellent, with no sharp edged frets biting into the hand. Was it the care of a human worker, or new CNC machines that deserve thanks? I'll never know, but I can say the frets are as good or better than any mid-range bass offering I've played with in the past.
Despite the high overall marks, you'll find that in communist China, you don't play strings, stings play you! And they play you pretty ruthlessly due to their biting windings, so it's best to replace them immediately, unless you want to develop glissando calluses.
The SX silhouetted against an ideal Jaguar body shape shows significant differences which you will feel when playing.
In many ways, the SX body is a story of what 'could have been'. Think of it like Elvis in his later years. Except green. But let's start with the positives. A nice pickguard, a kind of trippy interpretation of red-brown,tortoise, playing off the paint nicely. The finish is well laid, with only a few pinhole sized fisheyes in the paint. The body is a three piece, unmatched, alder block. This isn't much different than many mid range basses. At first glance, you might convince yourself you've bought a 500.00 bass for 149.00, but after taking a moment to adjust to the smarmy green paint job, a few inexcusable problems rear their head.
The obvious one is the pickguard cut, which is off center with the body and control plate. That causes a few problems, the first one being a skewed neck pickup, and the second one being a pickguard that doesn't quite line up with the neck pocket either. Considering a custom pickguard will cost you around 50 bucks and is a big headache to construct, this is a problem that SX needs to address at the factory. And this isn't a fluke, I've head from many SJMB owners having the same problem. I notified Rondo music and they are now aware of the problem. Hopefully they will fix it, and if they are feeling charitable, offer a replacement to current owners.
Another area of concern is the hardware quality. We all know it's low-cost, high volume Chinese manufacturing so there's a certain degree of leeway, but if the pickguard screw you are screwing doesn't have any threads, how about throwing it away and using a new one instead of shoving it into the body and shipping it out the door? The bridge is cheap as well, made of low quality metal along with a few of the string height adjustment screws which did not want to play nice with the allen key during setup. All in all pretty typical problems to expect from SX in my experience.
The body design is the last point of contention, and it's something you won't notice until you put a strap on and rock out. Neck dive is a big problem, not as bad as, say, an aluminum neck Kramer, but certainly worse than any Jazz or P bass I've ever used. The culprit? SX decided to shorter the upper horn of the body by approx. 2 inches, and as any piece of worthy internet spam will tell you, two inches makes a big difference. With the forward strap button that much closer to the body, the neck will always have a natural tendency to go for the floor. And though the body is full size, it doesn't help that SX went with a slightly thinner body profile than Fender. You might be able to correct it with a heavy bridge and some ultralight tuners, but those two upgrades alone cost more than the bass itself.
Interestingly, under the hood SX saw fit to rout out a *massive* area for the neck pickup, which leaves you with just about limitless options in the modification department. Perhaps there are plans for a P/J SJMB in the SX product line? Or maybe SX has no plans like that at all, and are just keeping their options open in case there's a worldwide shortage of jazz pickups...
It's Jaguar Jazz, man: The SX was compared to a variety of Jazz based designs.
Sonically, played against several different competitors, the SX holds its own. Though it's popular to trash asian guitar electronics [interesting since that's where most of the computer electronics we use daily come from there but I digress], they do the job, and if you are after the Jazz sound, there's really no reason to change them. Although I found the bridge pickup a little toothless, it really depends on your style. I rarely solo on the bridge alone, but I'm sure Jaco would have some unkind things to say. Overall the setup is identical to a 70's jazz bass, so no surprise that is pretty much the sound you are going to get. If you were hoping for the muddier, (or with active electronics) punchier sound of a Jaguar bass, think again: This is a Jazz bass that looks like a Jaguar.
The Jaguar body with the Jazz setup is a little tight though, playability wise. If you have big hands it may get on your nerves, depending on how you play. With the Fender Jaguar, there's just more space separating the control from the pickups, where fingers sometimes tend to rest.
In conclusion, the SX SJMB is a decent instrument all around. There's a few 'fatal' flaws (upper bout 2 inches too short, pickguard cut incorrectly), but when you factor in the price, it's hard to argue against it as a rehearsal space beater or seedy bar companion. I'm not going to use it to play that important gig next week, but there's definitely a few back alley joints it will get to know.