Let's duel: '05 SX SPJ-62 vs '85 Fender Jazz Bass Special

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by dave120, Mar 14, 2006.

  1. dave120


    Jun 27, 2005
    Central Florida
    Alright, with all this SX vs Fender talk, I decided to spend the afternoon with my basses and A/B them side by side continuously and see how they matched up.

    Today's battle:
    '05 SX "Jazz Bass Special" (SPJ-62) vs. '85 Fender Jazz Bass Special

    A little background on the contestants: My SX bass is far from stock. In fact, besides the nut, body, and neck, every piece has been replaced on this bass with higher quality stuff. Considering most people here on TB mod their SX's anyways, I figure this is ok since most arguments are how well a modded SX matches up to a stock Fender. More or less it brings the SX up to par with the quality components you get on a (MIJ) Fender, with the exception of the pickups, which are SD and so are technically higher quality than the Fender ones, but let's get on with it.

    Cost of Fender: $400 w/HSC, so figure maybe $350 is about the average of what I've seen them go for on eBay. About $80 less than a new MIM Fender, and about the same as a lot of used MIM Fenders.

    Cost of SX w/mods: Assuming you were starting from scratch and paying new prices for components, about $280. This includes replacing pickups, pots, cap, jack, bridge, tuners, etc. I'm not counting cosmetic mods in here because they don't change the sound/playability to any real extent.

    Granted this Fender is 20 years old, but the hardware on it is better than what you find on new MIMs, IMO, so with the SX upgraded hardware matching up with this, you'd be a step above MIM hardware, and especially on pickups since these MIJ pups sound better than MIM ones that I've had experience with.

    Let's start by comparing each piece.

    Bridge: With my SX having a "vintage style" Fender-type replacement bridge, it actually seems to be a little better than the one on my Fender, since the springs on the Fender one are kind of loose and rattle a bit. Could just be because of age, though. They appear to be nearly identical other than that.

    Pots: My SX is equipped with CTS 250k pots. I'm not sure of the rating on the Fender ones, but they are the big style pots and not the cheapo small import ones you normally see on lower end basses and guitars. They appear to be very similar in functionality and smoothness, though the Fender ones are a little scratchy which I attribute to age and so I assume they would be pretty good when new. The Fender has an unusual tone control which has an indent setting in the middle of the range which I believe to be "full on" and when turned counter-clockwise acts like a normal tone rolloff. Turn it clockwise from that indent and it changes the sound in a different way. I haven't played with it enough to really be able to describe exactly what it does. The Fender also has a pickup selector switch, which I'm starting to like a lot. So much in fact that I'm considering rigging up my Sx with one. You can get a lot of different sounds out of each pickup with the other cut out of the circuit completely that you can't get just by turning one all the way off.

    Knobs, strap buttons, etc: The ones I put on my SX are better than the Fender ones. It's also installed at a slightly different angle, making it less of a problem for the strap to possibly come off. The ones on the Fender are more or less equal to the stock SX ones.

    Tuners: My SX is equipped with Mighty Mite black tuners. The ones on the Fender are actually even a bit better than the MM ones. They're a little loose without tension on them but slightly more smooth under tension. Overall though both styles work great and stay in tune just fine.

    Neck: Here's one of the ones everybody really wants to know about. My Fender has the all black lacquered neck and so it feels almost identical to my SX with the lacquered neck. Width wise they are very similar across the neck. The SX is slightly wider at the heel, but not by a lot. The SX is thicker front to back though. I happen to like this as it fits my hand a little better, but I actually like both of them almost equally. The Fender one actually feels slightly thicker than most new Jazz necks I've played. I'm not sure what year Jazz neck Fender modeled it after, but it feels good to me who likes it a tad thicker. The fretwork on both basses is pretty good. I don't know the history of this Fender so I don't know whether it's been worked on at any point, but it's got very little wear on the frets. The Fender's frets/fingerboard are slightly more radiused than the SX's. The action on my SX after some setup work is pretty much the same as it is on this Fender. Medium-low with no buzzing. Actually the Fender buzzes a tad bit but I haven't really finished setting it up completely yet, as I changed the strings and so the tension is a little different than it had with the old ones, but it's not enough buzzing to bother me (which means it's VERY little).

    Body: The Fender is made out of Basswood, the SX is Alder. I'm not completely sure of the tonal differences of these woods besides the Warmoth descriptions. The edges on the Fender are slightly more rounded, but this seems to be a trait on these 80's MIJ Fenders and not so much of the new MIM ones. Routing on the Fender is definately nicer. It has to be as it has no pickguard to cover anything up. The neck pocket fits a little tighter but the SX fit isn't bad by any means. It's actually quite good. I'll refrain from commenting on finish, because the Fender is 20 years old and so has some nicks/scratches on it from being played. My SX actually has a couple too so it's character is coming along also.

    Pickups: My SX is fitted with SD "Hot for P" and "Hot Stack J" pickups. The Fender has the stock MIJ ones. Overall these basses sound very similar! The SD's are slightly cleaner but that's kind of expected given the cost of them and considering they are an "upgrade" from MIA Fender pups sometimes. The Fender has a bit of a fatter sound to it with the P selected than the SX does with just the P volume up. The Fender has that typical single coil hum from the J pup, which the SX does not because it's got a humbucker in there right now. It definately did with the stock pickup though. With both basses in dual pickup mode they sound a LOT alike. Running through the same rig and using the same strings would account for some of that. Output on the Fender is a little higher in dual pup mode, probably due to the J being a single coil. In P only mode both have about the same output. The balance of the pickups is slightly better on the Fender, as the output stays the same whether it's in P, J, or PJ mode. The SX output drops a bit when both pups are on full, and the output of the Hot Stack isn't as high as the Hot for P when each is running on by itself. I guess a SD QP would be a better match for the Hot for P but it's not humbucking which I wanted. The output drop and all is typical of almost all P/J configured basses, such as the Fender P deluxe. This Jazz Special seems to get around it somehow. I usually replace the pickups in most anything I get, but I'm probably just going to leave this one alone since it sounds great the way it is!

    Overall? for the $70 difference between the basses, I'd probably go with the old MIJ Fender again before modding another SX to this extent. A lot of that is just because I like the no pickguard look, which I attempted to get close to with the SX as you can see. However, given that this modded SX matches up to a MIJ Fender (which most agree is comprable to a modern day MIJ, better than a modern MIM) pretty well, I'd definately mod a new SX before buying a new MIM if I wanted to go the new route, as I'd probably have to make all the same mods to a MIM and be at a substantially higher cost for the same results.

    I hope some of you found this comparison to be useful. I know it's not exactly Apples to Apples, but it still gives you an idea of what you can do to the SX basses that are held in pretty good regard here on TB. They ARE pretty good, especially at the price point. If I can sit here and compare it side by side with a MIJ Fender that's really nice and not think the Fender completely blows it away like some people say, The SX can't just be cheap junk that will never be a decent bass.

    My playing time for these things is likely to be almost equal. I may just use one for different tunings, or switch off as I love playing both. I can get "my sound" out of both of them pretty well.

    Fit and finish on an SX isn't perfect out of the box in most cases. But with a little work it can be a pretty damn good bass with a small investment. It will never be a Lakland or Sadowsky, but it can compete with middle of the road Fenders and hold its own.

    Attached Files:

  2. IotaNet

    IotaNet Supporting Member

    Dave -

    Thanks for taking the time to provide all this info!

    Your post pretty much confirms my thinking that ...

    1) SX's are a great deal for the money.

    2) An "off the shelf" SX is equal to/greater than an MIM Fender. (And that comes out to be a loss for the Fender when you factor in the $$ difference)

    3) An "off the shelf" MIJ/CIJ Fender will be better than either of them but you can mod an SX to approach it's level.

    4) SX's cannot be beat as a customization/experimentation platform.

    5) With an SX, a little bit of money can potentially cure a whole lotta GAS!

    Again, nice job on the post!
  3. ElBajista


    Dec 13, 2005
    Sebring, FL
    This is a great post! Highly detailed and well thought out. as Iotanet said, this helps to confirm the fact that an SX bass can be an incredible "blank canvas" for those of us who love to customize our basses.

    Props to you!
  4. bassksun

    bassksun Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2004
    Las Vegas,NV

    Great post. Much appreciated.
  5. draginon


    Oct 4, 2004
    interesting post. Im glad someone decided to actually compare both basses. I realized they were similar when I brought my SX to GC and played it through different amps and then played MIMs through the same amps. I'm sorry but tonally there isnt much difference between them. Not to mention my SX is totally stock.
  6. I also have an SX (J-Bass style), and I don't think its worth changing the knobs, tuning keys, pots, strap buttons, pickguard, etc...;I think they're pretty good and I don't think it would make a huge difference if you change those. Maybe the bridge and the pickups, but I think the stock ones are pretty good. The only thing I have changed in my SX are the strings, I just bought a set of D'Addario EXL160 (Medium Gauge), which are amazing and sound much better than the stock ones, but besides that... I don't know...
  7. dave120


    Jun 27, 2005
    Central Florida
    I forgot to mention about the weight of the basses. They really weigh almost the same. I don't notice a huge difference going from one to the other. The Fender might be just a bit lighter, which can be expected since Basswood is normally known to be a little lighter than Alder. Thanks for the replies guys, I'm glad some of you found it useful.
  8. mattvon


    Jan 22, 2006
    Minneapolis, MN
    Great thread! I've got a fretless SX J copy...I really like it.

    I had some typical single coil hum, so I swapped the stock pickups out for Fender "Noiseless" ones, couldn't be happier.

    It's not as nice as my MIA P, but it's close enough...great bass for the money.
  9. nastynateTPC


    Nov 11, 2009
    thanks for this thread. ive been thinking a lot about a 5 string SX to mod vs a MIM fender 5