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Anatomy of a P bass?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by mrcbass, Nov 28, 2018.

  1. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    If there is already a thread on this, please let me know - did not know how to search for this...

    So I'm still trying to wrap my ears around the "big deal" about the P bass. I've never experienced the difference between the Jazz and P - my tendencies tend to lean towards how does a bass feel/sound vs. how it is labeled and so far I've gravitated exclusively to the jazz. But I hear so much about the "need" for P basses in certain situations and just finished watching a course on SBL where the artist talks about bringing 7 basses to a recording session to get that "proper" tone and that P basses are his bread and butter. I hear that so much that there must be something to it, so I'd like to really explore the idea.

    This thread is not about which is better or when one may be a better choice or any of that - it's about "what is a P" bass"? Even after 3 years into bass playing, I still feel like a newbie when it comes to identifying a bass by the style. If I'm gong to walk into GC and poke through their selection, I'd like to know that I'm actually on a P bass.

    To the best of my knowledge a P bass consists of:
    A single, passive split coil pickup
    Different neck configurations than a J
    A specific body style (?)

    Other than that, what makes it a P bass?
    Who else makes a suitable P bass besides Fender?

    It was suggested in another thread that I need to hear a P bass in a group setting through a tube amp to really appreciate the difference. That scenario is just not a realistic probability for me in any near future. Is there another way to really hear how a P bass stands apart from a jazz? Will a tube DI run through a D class of FOH

    equill and Relsom like this.
  2. You are talking about the Fender Precision bass, they have a thick sound with a lot of bottom, they were the first successful electric bass made. 90% of 60's and earlier 70's records were done with a P bass with probably flat wound strings. They have always been known as being able to lay in the groove when recording, they are probably the most recorded bass in history, at least electric bass. You would probably have to play one to realize the difference between them and Jazz basses. My first good bass when I was young was a Fender Precision and I still compare all others to the P bass. Try one out in a store through a good amp that is able to reproduce all the tones of a bass and you'll probably be surprised at the presence of it.

    FenderBassist, Dgl44, dagrev and 12 others like this.
  3. solderfumes


    Mar 16, 2016
    IMO when people talk about *that* P-Bass sound, they're referring to the P tone's strong emphasis around the 800Hz-1.2kHz range. The most important factors that go into this are the split P pickup (which would probably compare best tonally to a heavily overwound Jazz Bass pickup, but there are some other factors that go into its tone such as the fact that the coils are short and fat rather than tall and thin) and where it's put on the bass -- honourable mention goes to the simple volume/tone wiring too. I think you'll get a perfectly good P sound from lots of basses so long as they nail those two (or three) factors.

    I don't think you need to necessarily run it through a tube amp or anything to distinguish it from a Jazz Bass, the difference is fairly clear and will show up well through lots of clean amps. For me what really makes a P great is how it sits in a mix.
    RexxRokket and oren like this.
  4. twinjet

    twinjet AJ, you're the MAN! Staff Member Supporting Member

    Sep 23, 2008
    Yep -- two great examples here.
    Fender Precision Bass

    Fender Jazz Bass
  5. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Again, I don't need convincing about "will I like it" - how can I identify a P bass by looking at it?
  6. ejaggers

    ejaggers Supporting Member

    Aug 18, 2009
    Fort Worth, tx
    A specific body style (?)

    Yes, the Fender P has a rounded bottom body where a J is kindda oblong.
    And the neck is generally thicker than a J.
    P's have dot fret markers where J's have bar markers generally.

  7. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    (Unless it's a forgery) it will say "Fender Precision Bass" on the headstock.

    Another visual indicator is the distinctive split-coil pickup.
    dagrev, Cheez, dmt and 2 others like this.
  8. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    So only Fenders make "P basses"?
  9. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Lots of companies make adhesive bandages. Only Johnson & Johnson makes Band-Aid Adhesive Bandages.
    Lots of companies make facial tissues. Only Kimberly-Clark makes Kleenex Facial Tissues.
    Lots of companies make P-bass clones. Only Fender makes Precision Basses.

    Can you dig it?
    96tbird, dagrev, gfen and 23 others like this.
  10. JakobT


    Jan 9, 2014
    Oslo, Norway
    A P-type bass has the tell-tale offset split-coil pickups. Depending on the manufacturer, there may be many different distinguishing features, but that is the lowest common denominator.
    HolmeBass likes this.
  11. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    So are all split coil basses p basses?
  12. JakobT


    Jan 9, 2014
    Oslo, Norway
    Basically, yes. Though I personally prefer to refer to P-basses not manufactured by Fender as P-type basses. In fairness, there are some P-bass types that are not split-coil, as they are based on earlier versions of the P-bass that had one single-coil pickup. The split-coil pickup was introduced in 1957 (I believe), and has been the distinguishing feature of P-type basses ever since.
  13. ejaggers

    ejaggers Supporting Member

    Aug 18, 2009
    Fort Worth, tx
    No but most do.
    A '51 P for instance does not.

    JZQuantum and Ghastly like this.
  14. JakobT


    Jan 9, 2014
    Oslo, Norway
    While this is certainly true in a both a technical and historical sense, I’d still venture the opinion that it’s also only true in a technical and historical sense, in that what we regard as a P-type bass today bears only a slight resemblance to the early 50’s versions.
    bassboysam likes this.
  15. bassboysam

    bassboysam Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2001
    Ottawa, Ontario
    P bass has 1 pickup that is split into two parts and they sit somewhere near the middle of the body.
    J bass has two long pickups. 1 near the middle of the body and another closer to the bridge.

    generally Js have more narrow necks than a P.

    Blue bass is the J, red bass is the P. look at the pickups.

    there are variations like a P with a J pickup near the bridge. or a P with 2 split coil pickups and other combinations. but when someone says P or J what they are referring to is what is being shown in the video
  16. jd56hawk


    Sep 12, 2011
    The Garden State
    Of course not...and not all P basses have split-coil pickups.
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2018
  17. saabfender

    saabfender Banned

    Jan 10, 2018
    No. A lot of the tonal voicing comes from where the pickups are relative to the bridge. There’s a particular placement required for the sound.
    Adam Wright, Marko 1, sears and 2 others like this.
  18. I thought i was a jazz guy for a long time. They feel good and sound good at home. But then i started gigging regularly with a cover band. So many gigs i had problems getting it to cut, not sound like mud.

    Then i got a P bass, everything changed. Cuts like a hot knife. And its not just me, i get compliments all the time.

    I hear one can get a jazz to cut, but it takes more tweaking. So.... i think the appeal is a combination of simplicity AND effectiveness.

    Personally im in limbo, i miss the jazz feel. My plan A is a P bass with a J neck and my plan B is a J bass with dual coil J pickups. My plan C is both ;)
  19. Chrisk-K


    Jan 20, 2010
    Maryland, USA
    The most recorded and the most heard bass tone in history is the P bass tone.
    leto, retslock and bobyoung53 like this.
  20. Stackpole


    Mar 20, 2016
    About a year ago I got a ‘73 Precision with an “A” neck. Truly the best of both worlds.

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