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Lukewarm about Fender Jazz

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by rogerbmiller, Aug 30, 2004.

  1. rogerbmiller

    rogerbmiller Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 16, 2003
    This post may seem like a bot of a rant, and well it is. But bear with me and you may get really into the topic.

    I recently bought a 1998 fender jazz bass at a pawn shop. I want to share my thoughts about this bass and Fender's in general. I would also be curious to know how others feel about them.

    Now here is the meat of the topic. I have for a long time been anti-Fender. I always thought you were paying high dollars for low quality-- you pay for the name and nostalgia at best, much the same way people plunk down small fortunes for Harley's.

    While my first bass was a Hondo Fame P-Bass copy, I quickly moved to bigger things, all with what I would consider a "High Technology" theme. My second bass was a Steinberger, my third a Fodera, fouth a honer headless, fifth a Heartfield, etc. So I have always been drawn to basses with forward-looking design, electronics, etc. As an American original Fender is by definition quite the opposite of that that, and somewhere along the way, I developed a very strong and perhaps somewhat misinformed (perhaps not) opinion that they were, well, crappy instruments. This was reinforced by occaisionally testing a few in the late 80's and all through the 90's.

    Fast forward to present day. I have discovered a new appreciation for the simple things in life. I bough a few Wishbass basses and loved them, and recently decided it would be time to go for the ultimate in bass "vibe"-- a fender jazz bass.

    So, my rationale for buying the MIM Jazz was that the MIM's are more basic than their American counterparts, and thus more like the original Jazzes that had the vibe I was trying to capture (and I was absolutely not going to pay K's for a vintage). Let's face it-- since 1996 MIA's are totally different basses than the originals. 1 piece bodies, graphite reinforced necks, P/S switchable electronics, strings through body-- nothing at all like the originals. And even though they are well-designed instruments, I could never justify spending $1000 on one when for about the same amount of scratch I could get another EBMM stringray, a low end Lakland, 2 G&L tributes, an S.U.B. and keep the change, etc. The MIM's are clearly the no frills version of the J bass, and they even have the vintage single coil electronics.

    Anyway, here I am with a Mexijazz and am reassessing my old opinions about J's. I have come up with the following observations, some positive and some negative:

    - MIM is truly like the original, and compared to anything and everything on the market at the same and lower price points, the quality of hardware and electronics is quite low. Not to mention, the holes in the bridge are so big, I cannot string my cheapie strings through them. This is negative.

    - This thing is heavy. The neck and body feel really solid and the thing responds as such. I dig that. I really dig that. This is a positive.

    - The pickups and the strings seem too disconnected from eachother. I am still tinkering with setups but I recall this being one of the things I did not like about J's. The bridge pickup just cannot be raised close enough to the strings where they meet the bridge (for my taste). This feels awkward to me. This is a negative.

    - Electronics do not seem too responsive. Very basic and unimpressive tone control, volume controls seem a bit awkward too. This is a negative.

    -The neck feels great. Reminds me of my G&L L-2000, perhaps a bit sweeter. I cannot give too much better a compliment. This is a positive.

    - The bass does sing. Given the bridge issue, I am playing strings that are deader than fried chicken, but the notes still do ring, and it is a nice axe to pop on. A very big positive.

    So I guess overall, I am now lukewarm about Fender J's. I see their merit (they are absolutely fine basses), I am certainy content with owning one and I see a lot of great things about them that I once did not see. But I dont know-- to me they are what they are-- the original players bass (originally it was called the Fender Deluxe). As such, you get "original" design. For vibe this is good. For getting any sound and any configuration you want out of an instrument, this has strict limitations.

    Anyway, I want to be clear that I do not intend to insult J-lovers with this posting. I am just being really open about my past prejudices and trying to give my personal assesment of a much talked about bass here on TB.

    What do you think about the subject?

  2. Well....I hate to be so pragmatic, but...

    Get new strings....tweak the bridge 'til you get the action you like...and then....LET 'ER RIP!

    BTW I just got a new wishbass about a month ago. I love it. I'm tweakin' the hell out of it, but it will soon be EXACTLY what I want.
  3. Arthur U. Poon

    Arthur U. Poon

    Jan 30, 2004
    SLC, Utah -USA-
    Endorsing Artist: Mike Lull Custom Basses
    Roger, nice post and great observations. I love the Jazz (and more so, the Precision) but I agree with you, it has it's plusses and minuses. I've tried a few MIM Jazzes, and they're a decent, no frills bass with some 'rough edges'. But for the price they get the job done very well IMHO.

    The 2 J's I own presently are an early 70's fretted and a Warmoth J-style fretless. I've upgraded the hardware, pickups, and electronics along the way on both. But over the past few years I've bought some different brands of basses that are IMO a lot more responsive and have more variety tone-wise than my J's.

    I've been thinking more and more about 'un-modding' my J's and making them as stock as possible so I'll have the classic Jazz Bass sound when I need it. There are times when nothing but a Jazz (or Precision) will do depending on the gig.

    It's been quite some time since I've had a MIM Fender in my lap, but as far as comparing Fender's MIA Standard series basses to many other basses in their price range: IMHO they compare favorably to most other brands quality and cost-wise.

    A few exceptions I've seen are Lakland's Skyline series and G&L's Tribute series, these are incredible basses cost and quality-wise. I'm sure there are many more, too.

    Just my 2 cents, Art.
  4. I have been playing Fenders since the 60's and spent 10+ years with a '72 Jazz as my main squeeze. Currently, the only Fender I own is a fretless MIJ Jazz Bass. That having been said, I also own a Reverend Rumblefish XL which is essentially a semi-hollow Jazz Bass, a Hamer 2-TEK CruiseBass which is the king of the Jazz Bass clones (I also have a parts P-Bass). Clearly, I like Jazz Basses. I have to add that I got both the Reverend and the Hamer dirt cheap; they were offers I couldn't refuse. I bought them because they were outstanding bargains, not because of problems I've ever had with Fenders.

    I think Fender has, for some reason that I can't fathom, a terrible (and undeserved) reputation for poor quality. It is simply a numbers game; every manufacturer makes some lemons and if you make more instruments you'll make more lemons. It is as simple as that. To be perfectly honest, I also think this reputation has its roots in the experiences of inexperienced players (a lot of whom start on Fender/Squier basses) who don't know what to expect from a given instrument, or how to correct the "problem." All you have to do is go over to the Set Up forum and you will see the same things over and over: "How do I stop the electronic buzz on my Jazz Bass?" "My strings rattle all over the neck on my crappy Fender." They perceive the inherent single coil noise and the need for a set-up as Fender quality control issues!

    For the most part, I agree with your observations. Personally, I don't like heavy basses (my Hamer is an exception) but I appreciate the "solid" feel. I think the Jazz Bass is a good basic instrument with a lot of versatility. It is still, after more than 40 years, the benchmark by which 2 pickup basses are measured
  5. AlembicPlayer

    AlembicPlayer Im not wearing shorts

    Aug 15, 2004
    Pacific Northwet, USA
    7.5 lbs of MIJ Jazz bass

    I had to do a few mods to get it where I like it :)


    does it sound like a classic Jazz bass?
    NO...but now I can use it :D

    PS- SMASH, why no review of the Alembic Activators?
  6. FireAarro


    Aug 8, 2004
    That being said, I got a Highway 1 Tele mail order a while ago, and it had one pickguard screw missing and a knob was kinda floating. :p
  7. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I picked out two things from the long post ...

    So firstly - let's face it Jazz basses haven't been the same as the originals since 1966!!! :meh:

    So - there were lots of changes post CBS - floppy necks, poor quality control etc.

    And I think this is the crux of the problem here :

    There is nothing wrong with a "no frills" bass, if that is a good bass - in fact, I'd rather have a bass with no frills whatsoever, if it has great tone!!

    But the MIM basses are not just "no frills" versions - they are modified designs, optimised to be manufactured cheaply in vast quantities, by people with no expertise in the area of bass making.

    So that is very different from how Fender started off - a small group of enthusiasts making the best bass they could, from what materials and knowledge they had.

    That's why "boutique" basses like Sadowsky are so popular - so, many of these basses have no frills - but you know that like early Fenders, they have been made by people who know about basses and how to make them sound good - not a mass production factory, that is optimised for cost rather than quality or sound/tone.
  8. Alexander


    Aug 13, 2001
    Seattle, WA
    I love my MIA Jazz bass - it has a great neck, awesome open E string, etc. I think Fender makes great instruments for a decent price across all of their lines, really - they are very "musical" sounding and sound great live. I like the new S1 switching - although I rarely use it, it is great to have when my "regular" J tone isn't right in the situation.

    In terms of Fender quality control, I have to respectfully disagree with lonote's comments. The assertion that it is a numbers game is only true to a sense - quality control is measured not in raw numbers, but in percentages. If you have a boutique luthier that builds 10 basses a year and has 9 lemons vs. a large builder that produces 1000 basses a year with 100 lemons, who has better QC?

    When I shopped for my MIM P Bass last year, I tried probably 30 of them before picking one. Every neck was different, both in shape (i.e. being perfectly straight without twist or not) as well as the feel of the fingerboard (some had more of a glossy feel and others more of a worn feel, to me any way). Fret work seems to vary from okay to fairly good with fret filing marks on the sides of the fingerboards. I've seen lots of issues with finishes as well (mine has a fairly major blemish actually, but I liked the rest of it enough to purchase it). When I bought my MIA J Bass, I only tried a half dozen or so - the quality was higher across the board of course, but only the one was strong enough for me to put my money on (granted, I may be a bit picky). I don't think these are setup issues or relate to 60 cycle hum though...

    To be perfectly fair, this issue isn't proprietary to Fender - the issue is pretty widespread to one degree or another. I went through four G&L Tributes that had electronics that didn't function properly before I got mine (scratchy pots that couldn't be fixed by blowing them out and had to be replaced, a preamp that didn't function and a cracked neck heel). Don't even get me started on the issues I had with my Warwick Thumb bass - if I knew then what I know now, I never would have touched that bass... I am very reluctant to buy basses online for this very reason.
  9. Alembicplayer that is a sweet looking jazz, I love those knobs really classes it up.

    I like the observation that Fenders have always just been what they are, mass produced instruments for the masses. The are flexible, affordable, interchangeable. A totally modern incarnation. Boutique guitars are clearly post-modern where old rules don't apply and bit of modern elements are taken or left behind; creating something new that has multiple purposes and meanings. This isn't a slam on finer instruments at all, and I've definitely sent some fenders packing, but I like the grittiness of a fender I like the potential and the history.

    As far as playing, i'm into putting together my own Fender copies. They are not exquisite in any way but I still feek like I'm honoriing the jazz bass tradition of simple, great sounding, easy playing, instruments.
  10. AlembicPlayer

    AlembicPlayer Im not wearing shorts

    Aug 15, 2004
    Pacific Northwet, USA
    thanks! A guy on a forum I moderate makes them. They're made from stainless steel, and he'll inlay just about anything you want in them.


    SMASH, thanks I'll do that.
  11. that's some interesting math.
  12. I REFUSE to buy ANY instrument online for those reasons! I totally agree also, that you can play a wall of identical make/model basses and no two will be completely identical. My guitarist recently bought a new Dodge Viper, it's been in the shop more than it has been on the road. He's finally getting out from under it thanks to our "Lemon Laws"...haha. Are the Vipers bad cars? Not at all! You can get a "lemon" with anything, and therefore should check things out thoroughly. And online buying? Well people on Ebay can say anything and show you a great picture. Im not saying that people dont find great deals and really luck out there, but even with Musicians Friend or a smaller online "Custom" dealer, I'd personally have to have my hands on the instrument before any money goes down on the deal. Having said all that, lol....I brought home a used but perfect condition MIM Deluxe Jazz today. Needs a setup, but Im particular to having things set to my feel, as we all are. And all things considered, I couldve gotten a new basic MIM J for the same price, but this one had that great feel and playability and tone that I have been long chasing around here (Denver). I was perfectly willing to buy a MIA, but bang for buck, I think I found "The One", hehe...I'm off to set her up and I'll let you know how things turn out!

    Oh and someone mentioned swapping out parts and pickups and such to make their J the way they wanted it...even Geddy Lee changed his bridges out for Badass Bridges... ;)
  13. rogerbmiller

    rogerbmiller Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 16, 2003

    Granted I am rounding a bit, but I am not far off. A MIA J is $989. An entry level 'Ray is about $1150. G&L trbutes are about $550. S.U.B.'s are about $700. Skylines are about $1100.

    My point is, fully recognizing my bias towards contemporary design and technology, using relative valuation, MIA J's seem way overpriced, or in other terms the least value for the money.

    Anyway, I have to emphasize again, I am not disrespecting Fenders or fender owners. I am now a proud MIM J owner myself and I have always thought that they are beautiful instruments the same was as a model T Ford is a beautiful car. I am just looking for some honest and deep discussion about Fender's and J's.

    I really appreciate everyone's insights and I hope folks continue to share their honest thoughts. This is truly a great and informative discussion that digs into an aspect of Fender that I have not seemed discussed too much yet on TB.

    And someone wanted to know about the small holes in the bridge problem I experienced. Basically, I bought some cheap generic strings and the balls at the end are closer to guitar sized-- they are quite small. So they are going right through the bridge-- i.e. I cannot restring my bass with them. So I have to go out an buy cheapies (cause I own too many basses and make too little money gigging these days to justify spending $40 per set). Any suggestions? If nothing else, I can string tiny washer through them!
  14. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Order them online. OTOH I buy DR, Dean Markley and SIT 5 string sets locally for less than $30/set.
  15. You can use a small washer, and ask your bass player friends to save you the ball ends off their old strings too, then you can slide those on. You can also use PC board spacers (Radio Shack). Note: This is also a good fix for low "B" intonation problems, I fixed my 5 string right up by adding a PC board spacer to the low B cause I could NOT get it to stay in tune or intonate at the bridge, turns out it needed a bit more scale length and string tension.

    As for my MIM Fender Deluxe Jazz....the operation was a complete success and I must say it is now my best playing, best sounding bass! ( ok,,,in my opinion at least). :D
  16. AlembicPlayer

    AlembicPlayer Im not wearing shorts

    Aug 15, 2004
    Pacific Northwet, USA
    you could try loading the string in reverse and looping the string thru the ball and wrap around the bridge.

    should work if all else fails..
  17. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Is buying a real set of strings that big a deal? Go to GC and you'll most likely find something cheap with ball ends made for an electric bass. This is hardly a Fender problem.
  18. i see, it sounded like you meant all of them combined.
  19. Uh...good point, lol!