The ’50s Precision is a handsome-looking instrument, although in this instance Fender seems less interested in trumpeting many and varied vintage appointments, describing it simply as delivering the ‘look, sound and vibe of Fender’s first basses’ (undoubtedly using modern materials and updated construction methods).
Description: Solidbody bass. Made in Mexico
Price: £862.80 inc. case
Contact: Fender GB&I – 01342 331700 – www.fender.com
Alder lurks beneath the black urethane top coat, and the body still has the outline and contours we love. The feature that really draws the eye is the gold anodised pickguard, a spot-on period detail from 1957 to 1959, although this usage didn’t last long as the original aluminium versions rapidly became blotchy and discoloured by sweat. It looks cool, though, and we’re assured this modern repro is made of much sterner and more sweat-resistant stuff.
All finish options come in a maple neck and fingerboard configuration – this time with a skunk stripe around the back – but it would seem that ’50s design was more directly focused on ease of playing as the contour is of the slim C variety, making it smooth, fast and ultra-comfortable to play. The recessed headstock is fitted with a set of American Vintage Reverse Open Gear tuners along the top edge, in chrome to match the rest of the hardware, plus a string tree for D and G strings and a synthetic bone nut, all of which should all contribute positively to making this bass sound the business.
There are 20 medium nickel frets on the fingerboard, which Fender also describes as ‘vintage-style’, and a set of black dot markers which, interestingly enough, were inserted onto Precision necks from ’51-’59. More dots line the top edge and you also get a traditional-looking four-saddle American Vintage Bass bridge; adjustments require the old-school combination of Phillips and thin flathead screwdrivers.
Early Precisions had a one-piece single-coil pickup but that was replaced in 1957, a year of many changes, by the split-coil unit in place here. This one is a Vintage Split Single-Coil Precision Bass model wired, as ever, in humbucking mode and centrally located, and as always it’s hooked up to one Volume and one Tone control.
Reverse-action tuners are quite easy to get used to
The pickup on the ’50s P Bass is where it’s supposed to be, so what you get is quite simply a really good-sounding Precision. Wind the tone control right up and the reward is a fat bottom end with pleasing growl that combines plenty of aggressive intent with excellent clarity. This earthy feel is supported by a midrange that’s clean and even, while erring on the darker, low-mid side for just enough stature and impact – a nice big tone with plenty of punch.
Though the well-realised highs have always contributed to the Precision’s clear-speaking character, they’re nowhere near explosive and even feel a little compressed if you really lay into the D and G strings – but they’re certainly not brittle, having plenty of substance and practicality. As always, backing off the tone induces a more polite sound with blurred edges, creating a sound that feels progressively more controlled. Some would call this removing all the fun from the P-Bass sound, but we couldn’t possibly comment.
It’s not quite the tale of two basses, but the ’50s Precision is the undeniable shining light of the two. The retrofication hasn’t impinged on excellent playability; it really does sound like a good Precision, and the cosmetic variations – the black dots, the anodised pickguard, the rationalised headstock – all contribute to create a character close to that of its forebear. It’s sensibly priced and if you don’t expect it to impersonate an actual ’50s P Bass, you won’t be disappointed. With the Jazz, there’s a head-on collision between the good aspects (the looks, the slightly beefier sound) and the not-so-good (the inflated price, plus the pointlessly chunky neck profile) and the ‘so what?’ (the relocated bridge pickup). It’s not that the ’74 Jazz is a bad bass, but it feels harder to play than any other Jazz in the catalogue and doesn’t sound any better. A shame, because from the front it looks like a belter.