Roger Waters has toted his black Precision from tiny psychedelic club gigs to the world’s
biggest stages. Will Fender meddle with a winning formula? Review by Gareth Morgan
Fender’s Artist Series has an impressive roster of endorsees including Sting, Duff McKagan and Marcus Miller, to name but a few. The latest addition to this roll-call is further indication of Fender’s willingness to choose players who aren’t necessarily only known for their chops. Awarding this particular signature bass accolade is a shrewd move on Fender’s behalf; Waters is mid-way through world-touring his Wall set, a stadium-hopping jaunt that may well be the 66-year old ex-Pink Floyd supremo’s last of serious magnitude… yet it’s also a slightly strange choice. After all, Waters seldom discusses the gear he uses on stage or in the studio, and has even been quoted as saying ‘I would play bass because I sometimes want to hear the sound I make when I hit a string… but I've never been interested in playing the bass.’
Fender describes this Mexican-made Precision as being ‘as tastefully tailored as Waters’ own simple-yet-sophisticated bass work.’ Translation: black. The alder body is a sea of black, reinforced by a single-ply black scratchplate that’s virtually invisible when looking straight at it or under stage lights – dead cool, though. Adding black hardware is an unusual move; though the knobs are of the basic knurled variety and the bridge is the standard foursaddle unit, altogether they contribute to creating the perception that this is a very serious instrument and one that the bassist of any self-respecting Floyd tribute band would be delighted to sling around their neck. Elsewhere, all build details are present and correct from the even rear bouts to forearm and ribcage chamfers to the offset horns. The P-bass really is a piece of near-perfect design.
Certain features are based on details from a selection of decades. The maple neck has a ‘thick C-shaped contour’ which puts it somewhere in the ’70s, although in practice ‘thick’ means that it’s only a millimetre greater in depth than you’d expect. The headstock is adorned with a ’50s spaghetti logo decal… less fussy and intrusive than it was to become. The neck is bolt-on and the neck plate is cushioned by a rubber spacer (Fender literature describes this as being ‘gasketed’, which sounds rather painful) and, in recourse to mid-’60s detailing (and, presumably, to fill in the missing decade), Fender have retro-stamped the plate with a fl owing ‘F’. Nice. Other details of note include a vintage-style slotted truss rod nut with access at the bottom of the neck, Waters’ preference of maple fingerboard (with 20 medium jumbo nickel frets), a brass nut (a detail not seen on Fender basses or guitars since the early ’80s), and four Vintage ’70s Fender stamped open gear tuners. The tuners’ chrome contrasts to all the black at the body and gives the bass a yin/yang aspect in the hardware department. It all works rather well.
The pickup is a split-coil Seymour Duncan Basslines SPB-3 Quarter Pound, a unit known as being both versatile, fairly high output and good for blues and classic rock, with a fat, full, punchy tone. In playability terms the weight is reasonable and the balance as good as you’d expect; the only possible negative is wide string spacing. We’re only talking an extra millimetre, but this can make a huge difference to how comfortable or familiar a bass feels to play.
So does the Roger Waters Precision enable us mere mortals to sound like the man whose signature is scrawled on the back of the headstock? The conundrum with any Signature Series P-bass which has unmodifi ed controls and comes with generically similar pickups – even where they’re superior to Fender’s own units – is whether getting the sound justifies the instrument, where any other similarly spec’d bass is going to do the same job (and more than likely come in cheaper).
Plugging in is a rewarding experience. Roll the tone control to full just like Waters does most of the time and you’ll instantly get a fat, snarling tone with a pleasing crunch. Where certain old Precisions have a slightly hollow feel in the midrange, here it’s as solid as a rock with plenty of weighty impact and a surfeit of low mids. The highs are fairly bright and zingy – probably a combination resulting from the Seymour Duncan pickup and the brass nut. The ultra-low action means that if you’re aggressive at the D and G strings the tone does take on the clanky element you associate with using a pick and with much of Waters’ work, but your notes do tend to choke a little.
When a less edgy sound is required, you’ll need to back off the tone control. This provides two or three audibly different shades of smooth with lows that have more thud and a less forward midrange. Thinner strings gain more body, making them a more practical proposition in general background playing terms… fairly standard stuff with any Precision, as is the woolly sub-bass rumble when Tone is on full cut.
If you can deal with the thicker neck and slightly wider string spacing and you love Precisions, then you’ll like this bass. The brooding black fi nish sets it apart, and the Seymour Duncan delivers a tone that’s got a little more harmonic life than P-bass afi cionados might expect. With or without pick in hand, it’s easy to get sounds that hark back to the sort of playing Waters delivered with Floyd and continues to deliver as a solo artist. And with a sensible price (given the thought that’s gone into its production) it has defi nitely got to be on the ‘check it out’ list.