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When Is a Fender Bass Guitar Not a Fender Bass – When It’s a Fender Squier Bass!

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Fender Squier Bass

Fender Squier Bass

It’s now well over 20 years since Fender tried to move away from its rather troubled times in the 1980s and develop a more stable range of brands that would allow bass players and guitarists to make sensible choices about Fender’s the value-for-money and heritage offered by each brand.

One outcome of this process was the introduction of the Squier brand, that initially included a number of guitars that looked a lot like Stratocasters, Telecasters, Jazz Basses and Precision basses, but had slightly altered names, such as Strat, as if this would throw would-be buyers off the scent and convince them that they were not buying a Fender product. In reality, over the years, Fender has brought the guitars and basses under the Fender (of which there are many variations) and those marketed under the Squier brand into very close alignment.

This has actually made both brands increasingly successful and established the Squier products as worthy in their own right, instead of being poor versions of the real thing. If we take the example of Jazz Bass, the Squier versions start at entry-level with playable instruments for beginners and end in the middle of the bass guitar market with good quality guitars that are more than adequate for gigging bassists. By contrast, the Fender Jazz Basses start at the semi-pro level and now extend all the way to what are virtually custom basses made to order by Fender.

If we take a closer look at Fender’s ‘volume’ offering from Squier, there are still more versions of the Jazz Bass under the Squier name, than many manufacturers’ bass guitar ranges manage in total. In fact, the last time I checked their UK listings, I got to 8 models of the Jazz and stopped counting. By contrast, a serious guitar name like Schecter only sports 5 models of bass guitar in total.

I should have pointed-out earlier the differences between the Jazz Bass and its rather more well-known cousin, the Precision. Firstly, although it was designed originally in 1960 with double-bass jazz and big-band bass players in mind (those things are really bulky!), it’s a very versatile instrument that gets used in all genres of music. In fact, the key differences are double stick pick-ups to offer a more versatile sound and a narrower neck profile to make for faster playing. The body shaping is slightly different, but the differences between the Precision and Jazz are mostly in tone and feel.

Squier Jazz BassIf you’ve got this far, I’m going to assume that you have more than a passing interest in bass guitars, so what does the Squier range of Jazz basses actually offer the discerning bassist (because we’re all discerning, aren’t we?). Well, although it’s now a little long-in-the-tooth by the rules of modern marketing, we still have the relatively standard Squier Jazz Bass as a bona-fide workhorse guitar, but we then top-out with machines right up to high spec’ed Artist instruments, including the James Johnson J-Bass.

I mentioned the ‘standard’ Squier Jazz before, but there is also the entry-level Affinity Jazz which, I suspect uniquely for a beginners bass, comes in both 4 and 5 string versions. 5 string basses are popular in more challenging musical genres as they usually deliver at least another octave in range. The Affinity models do cut some corners, but mostly in using less-recognised, and therefore cheaper, ‘tone woods’. In this case, it’s a alder body with 2 quite punchy pickups.

For many years, Fender has offered a variety of ‘vintage’ formats in all its key models and this has been extended over time into the Squier brand. The headline act is probably the very popular Modified Vintage Jazz, but players wanting the most traditional representation could do worse than Squier’s Classic Vibe Jazz Bass ’60s. With an offset waist, a narrow fast-action maple neck with rosewood fingerboard, two custom single-coil pickups and the usual 3 knob control arrangement, the look is pure Fender (or pure Squier) as it features a classic Olympic White finish on a basswood body finished with a tortoise shell pickguard. In other words, it doesn’t say “I’m shy”!

The marketing bumpf with it also says it has a thumb rest and “HiMass” bridge with brass barrel saddles, a vintage-tint gloss-maple neck, rosewood fingerboard and 20 vintage-style frets. What I do know is that it’s punchy and pretty fast to play..

At the top of Squier’s offering is the Artist range. James Johnston from rock band Biffy Clyro is the only bass player to have a Squier Jazz Artist Model at present. It’s based exactly on a Fender American Jazz Bass, but with quite a few signature touches: lake placid blue body with matching headstock, James’ signature on rear of headstock and Biffy Clyro band logo on front, 3-ply mint green pickguard.

Squier Jazz bass with 5 stringsAway from the marketing hype, there are two very credible models that focus very much on player needs, rather than style. Both the Deluxe Jazz Bass IV and V string Actives are perfect for bassists who like the tone-shaping capabilities of active electronics. I was very fortunate to start playing an active bass in the 1980s when the Westone Thunder 1A was probably the first affordable one on the market and I always use an active for gigging because it adds a degree of musicality to the bass sounds that a passive can’t achieve. The key elements of the 4 and 5 string versions are an active three-band EQ with slap switch and a one-piece maple neck with ebonol fingerboard.

Finally, we have the aforementioned Vintage Modified that mixes some aspects of the vintage models with features that are decidedly modern, including a fretless version (definitely the preserve of jazz musicians) and some lovely Seymour Duncan-designed pickups.

As you’ll have gathered by now, there are even more models in the range, although they tend to get a little specialised in intent. What is striking about the line-up in my mind is the clever way in which Fender manages to segment bass players not just two brand segments, but also multiple model version choices within these – and does it very successfully while offering appropriate quality at every level. You are left wondering whether other manufacturers attract musicians mainly because they’re NOT Fender or Squier!

Andy Atkins is a regular writer and commentator on contemporary music from the musicians perspective, and has written articles and reviews for the likes of Fender, Korg, Soundslive and I Do Music. He plays rhythm guitar and bass (badly) in a covers band that has reformed on and off for over 20 years! His current favourite musical ‘toy’ is the TC Helicon VoiceLive Play, as it makes his vocals almost listenable. More from Andy at Google+

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