So here it was...Steve Bailey jazz bass ...6 string..gorgeous looking, massive..and i was so stoked to own one only to be disappointed after i rang my local dealer who informed me that this bass is out of stock and Fender aren`t making them anymore. I tried to find it many smaller and bigger shops but the result was the same: either it was out of stock or they never heard of such bass.
I forgot to mention that i live in a small country at the Balkans..we have our Fender and Yamaha official dealers, but anything rare and exotic and off the catalogue is simply unavailable for us. I don`t know why or how i opened our local musical instrument ad webpage (which is usually full of average or cheap instruments) and...there it was!
I couldn`t believe my own eyes that this bass was in a local ad in my home country ...posted by a guy i know, living 10 mins car drive from my home. It was surreal!
The bass was sold with a deluxe vintage hardcase, fender leather strap, fender cable and with all the stickers, and owner registration sheets.It even had the plastic and stickers protecting the pickguard.
It took some time while i settled the payment ( 2600$ is a lot of cash for a bass in my country) but at the end here it was..in my hands...waiting to be played.
The very moment i started playing it inspired to become even better musician then i ever was...I needed a self justification for owning this piece of art. So i started practicing even more..hard...hours..days..weeks..
I cannot say it was hard because i had my practice routine developed years ago as i always played six string and had well over 1000 gigs of any kind under my belt.
I decided to record some of the more demanding jazz standards playing the melody and solo improvisation (without editing) using this bass only and a backing youtube track.
I didn`t use any fancy recording gear.I just plugged in the bass via soundcard and tweaked the built in EQ that Cubase has...and BOY it sounded good. It took me less than 10 mins to find that sweetspot and my own tone i was looking for.
Anyway, the final result of that effort is on the link below with detailed description for each tune.
(Feel free to comment, criticize or whatever..)
Being such an easy bass to play i must stress that each of the compositions are recorded in a single take...and many of them on the first and only take.
Such composition was Ray Noble`s Cherokee:
I got up in the morning, plugged the bass in and recorded it..uploaded it and that was it. I was in for a big suprise when Anthony Crawford ( plays with Allan Holdsworth band &Virgil Donatti) complimented my playing on youtube. ( you can check it in the comments section). Furthermore, he wrote me on my fb account asking me what gear i use, what kind of bass is it, admitting he loved the tone.
Fastforward...after hours, days and months and of practice, playing, recording and a couple of sweaty gigs the bass showed its first signs of wear on its back side. It is small wood coloured thin line of worn nitro finish and colour...but its there...
Here`s a small clip of me playing it on one of the biggest jazz festivals in Eastern Europe ( Nisville jazz festival)...and yes, it was really hot summer..
The bass did the job perfectly...both in groove and solo...
People from other bands and bass noobs from the audience were gathering around ..asking is that a Fender? Six string? WTH? They never saw a 6 string jazz bass before...Fun times anyway.
As i said..its a rare, gorgeus design,exceptional playability and tonal versatility: depending on the pan, you have a rocking P bass with pan on the neck pickup, Marcus Miller bass with pan in the middle and Jaco tone on the bridge pickup. Easy as that..
And it has HUGE signal response and the tone itself was cutting through like a knife through butter even in a jazz sextet with 3 horn players, drummer, guitarist...not to mention small gigs with piano and drums only. Each member said they heard EVERYTHING i play, groove or solo, loud and clear like never before. ..and my treble and cut was never past 50%.
I did many funk gigs requiring slap & pop and yes...it cuts like every jazz bass does.
Once (just for fun) i used a pick on one (rock) song...and boy it sounded like a roaring beast..
So yes..This bass does the job very well on stage and in the studio in any musical style. Simple as that.
During the winter i didn`t have many gigs with it but what i noticed one day fraked me out:
Small fretboard crack from the 21st up to the 24th fret.
I had many basses before and THIS has never happened to any of them. The advice i had from luthiers in my town was not to touch it or try to repar it unless it progresses further up the neck.
3 years later and the small crack is still there , it didnt progress so the bass is still fine, but it bothers me how this can happen to a 2600$ instrument. I adjusted the truss rod once or twice but it was very mild ..
Other thing that bothered me was the hexagonal plate over the screw around the jack input that kept unscrewing itself and at one point it was so lose it could fall off. Again..this is NOT something you`d expect from a Fender artist model instrument.
And then there`s the pickup noise which varies from gig to gig depending on where i stand...
Don`t get me wrong..the tone itself, the punch, the clearness is huge and monstrous....BUT...because Steve Bailey wanted 60`s single coil jazz bass pickups (still don`t know why he didn`t use spit coils), that awesome sound is companioned many times with a blend of irritating noise (especially when the pan is not in the center position). This is also something you don`t want from a 2600$ instrument.
Hey..my 400$ Squire vintage modified jazz bass is noiseless anywhere i play it..right?
That`s pretty much why i was very harsh and strict about this instrument`s build quality and gave it an average 3 stars and this is why the tone didn`t get all 5 stars.
This bass uses active pickups powered by two 9 volt batteries and that`s all fine.
But the way you need to replace the batteries is a nightmare:
-Yamaha basses use a simple plastic cover for the battery compartmnet which (in case of need) you can remove with your fingers, replace the battery and cover it in less than 30 seconds.
-The battery compartment on Steve Bailey Fender baass also uses a plastic cover , but you cant simply pluck it out like you can on a Yamaha bass because it`s screwed down with 2 verrry small screws which can be removed only with a proper screwdriver andon top of that the batteries are placed on top of eachother so the one sitting lower is almost impossible to plug in.. Now, imagine an urgent situation before (or during) a gig in a dark club where you need to replace the batteries immediately and you`ll get the picture..
CONCLUSION: This is still one of the best 6 strings i ever played and it will stay in the top 3 picks on my wishlist forever.
I believe that all I`ll ever need is this bass and the sunburst fretless version of it and i`m setlled for life with a couple of cheaper Fender Mexico and Squier jazz basses because not every venue or gig deserves a 2 K instrument...
Designwise its one of the most gorgeous looking basses out there. Period.
Tonewise its still a Fender jazz bass, with an expanded range but can compete with basses that cost twice as much. (John Patitucci`s signature Yamaha costs 5K, Steve Bailey`s Warwick is up to 10K and i highly doubt they are THAT much better instruments).
Yes, Fender could have done a better job with dual truss rods and split coils and yes it`s very (kinda) fragile instrument , but nobody`s perfect.
Finally, paying 2600$ for this instrument was a good decision although its far more than an average gigging bass player will ever need...and i expect it to cost a lot more in the future becuase it`s very rare and exeptional.
I`d recommend it to any bass player willing to expand his range as well as players who already shred solos on 6 string basses.
It is THAT easy to play and its THAT easy to find your own tone of expression that i broke my own Donna Lee BPM record
As Fender (kinda) put it in their ad: It`s a marriage between art and technology providing silky cello like high tones and thundering bottom end.
And they are right.