Modern bass playing was invented and continues to be re-invented by players with their eye on the essence of style. Slap techniques may have become gaudy in the hands of pale imitators, but came to life firmly in the hands of people who lit up rooms with it. The name ‘Lemmy’ may be synonymous with gruff power, but he played like he had a job to do and would let nothing get in the way of doing so. It takes a particular type of player with their eye on a particular prize to excel in a field where you are building foundations upon which other people drop houses. The more instrument makers are aware of this concept, the better. Bricks and mortar, bread and butter, meat and two veg, learning your ABCs – the low end of the frequency spectrum is the absolute bedrock upon which everything we listen to these days is formed and grown. Fender’s new Player Series basses are thoroughly and thoughtfully abreast of the duty they are designed to perform.
Six strings or four, the above is true of all Player Series instruments. I’ve written about the Strats and Teles in earlier editions of this here periodical and very much appreciate the careful tweaking Fender has done to the first few pages their catalogue. On the whole, they are closer to their more expensive American counterparts both tonally and in build quality, and it is a gracious act on Fender’s behalf to make every single guitar in said catalogue exactly what its prospective owner is looking for, no matter what budget.
I’ll start with where it all began, the mighty Precision. There is a very good reason that designers and players alike always come back to this tried and true workhorse for a blueprint. The girth of the neck, the heft in the single rail of pickup, and the simplicity of the visage are the Rome that all roads lead back to. Sunburst finish with a maple fretboard is where it begins and ends for me with Ps; that smooth fret-hand feel and classic curvature is the natural choice every time. As with the guitars, Player Series basses come replete with a voicing that is considerably closer to American openness than their predecessor. Gone is the sock-over-the-mic dullness that some of the old Standards were shamefully guilty of, instead replaced by the clarity and punch you’ve been searching for. This is particularly prominent in the Precision thanks its barebones, no-nonsense circuit diagram.
The Jazz Bass ticks just as many boxes. Often favoured for its vintage warmth and incredible versatility, the Jazz is less the Clydesdale that the P is and a little more the race day drawcard. As above, the pickups have more of what they promise with none of the fluff, and the extra fret means that you can wander all the way up high like Jaco did. The neck on this one is a little more player-friendly, too – true to the original, it’s narrower across the span of the 9.5” radius. I’ve played a few of these Jazzies now, but none that I enjoyed so much as the Sonic Red with Pau Ferro fretboard one that hangs where I work today. There’s something in the woodiness and noonday warmth that really lets the tonewood do a lot of the talking for you and allows to you languish in sound a little longer. It definitely clicked with me.
Finally, we come to the hipster bait. The flashy yet competitive younger sibling of the trio is, was and always will be the Jaguar. This simpler understudy of the Jazz bass is notoriously bratty, but just as keen to get to work. Only thing is, it doesn’t feel like work here. The one I played was Sonic Red again, but I feel like some of the cooler blues and greens would really pop on stage with the Jag in particular. Again, the voicing is lively and versatile; however, this variation on the offset theme is a little more fun and less studied than the other two, and that absolutely works in its favour.
I’m undeniably a massive fan of Fender’s Player Series. True to the name, they are designed to turn more dreamers into players and do so simply by making it easier to get your hands on an instrument that you’ll adore for decades, further closing the gap between Mexican and American builds in one big leap. These instruments are packed with the absolute essentials that make Fender basses the benchmark of the industry, which makes the whole range ready for stage or studio right out of the box.
Hits and Misses
Voicing and build quality closer to American builds without pushing the budget friendship
Options like block inlays or binding would blow the lid off the entire range