The Squier Classic Vibe Strat and Tele reviewed elsewhere in this issue have three bass brothers. Gareth Morgan wraps his mitts around a Jazz thats got the bass world buzzing
The long, tangled story of the great Fender copies – and the official Fender reissues they inspired – is worthy of a book. In the late ’70s and early ’80s Japanese guitar makers such as Greco and Tokai responded to the high price of USA-made Fenders by producing really good quality replicas, aided by lower production costs prevalent in Japan at that time. Though Fender acquired the Squier brand name in the late ’60s, they didn’t officially use it until 1982. Lengthy negotiations with Greco’s parent company gave birth to Fender Japan, who were initially sole manufacturers of a Squier range known as the JV or Japanese Vintage series, denoted by a ‘JV’ prefix to the serial number. Squier production has subsequently expanded to Mexico, Korea and now China, which brings us bang up to date in the form of the Classic Vibe Jazz Bass.
The CVJ follows the famous template pretty accurately. The body shape is right, there’s a forearm chamfer on the upper bout and a tummy-cut on the back, and authentic detailing that includes the tortoiseshell-style pickguard and a finger-rest stationed below the G string near the neck. This particular feature was originally included due to the prevalence of thumb-style bass playing in the early ’60s, and it’s our bet that the majority of players will grab a screwdriver and whip it off… or risk serious bruising.
The thickly-applied but cool-looking olympic white finish hides one of the modern truths of Far Eastern budget production: rather than alder or ash, the core is basswood. This may not affect the quality of tone but it does help bump the weight up to almost 4.5kg, which is a lot. They could have compensated by shaving a few millimetres off the overall depth, like the Affinity Strats, but they’ve chosen to stay true to the original despite the slightly shoulder-denting outcome.
The neck is a single piece of maple, beautifully crafted and finished with a vintage-tint gloss lacquer. The profile is a modern C-shaped contour which feels as comfy as an old pair of slippers, and the scroll headstock carries a white synthetic nut. The four tuners are the basic open-geared type and there’s the usual chrome string tree for improved downforce on the D and G. Rosewood is the fretboard material, and besides dots on the face and top edge the Classic Vibe carries 20 vintage-sized frets, with no fitting or finshing issues to report.
Follow the strings to the body and you’ll end up at the swanky (relative to traditional Fender bridges, that is) Hi-Mass bridge we first encountered on Fender’s new American Standard Series. The baseplate is chrome to match the rest of the CVJ‘s hardware, but the saddles are brass and have either been ‘vintagised’ or have become tarnished rather quickly. There’s nothing shabby about the pair of Custom Jazz Bass single coil pickups with Alnico 5 magnets, and nothing unexpected in the choice of passive electronics. The CVJ‘s controls, as always on a basic Jazz Bass, include two Volumes and a single Tone control of the treble roll-off variety although, as with all inexpensive passive basses you shouldn’t expect much in the way of blend level variety between pickups.
One of the time-honoured control settings beloved by all Jazz Bass players involves simply winding both Volumes and Tone up to maximum. Do this on the CV and it gives exactly what you’d expect – a lively sound with lots of harmonics and a pleasingly snarly crunch to the lower open strings. This is what Jazz Basses do best… give a superb full-range tone for all seasons. Move up the fingerboard and you’ll find a snappy clarity with plenty of body: it’s funky.
There’s a reassuring evenness of volume when you solo the bridge pickup. In sonic terms it’s a more lightweight affair, and though there’s that familiar burpy Jazz Bass bridge pickup element, it’s at a level which colours rather than swamps the sound. Lower registers speak with a clean, tight snarl and the highs are bright without being brittle, and although a little more width wouldn’t go amiss, there’s an underlying warmth that makes this offering nicely versatile in terms of contemporary pop and funk.
Next, the neck pickup. Though the Precision is more commonly associated with rock and retro styles, the earthy sound of the CVJ‘s neck pickup is definitely in that same zone: a gunning thud with a slightly rubbery core in lower registers. It sounds totally appropriate, and while the D and G strings have a pleasing acoustic zing, they’re certainly not thin. Overall, we’re talking full-range practicality – a tone which works especially well in retro soul, rock or blues.
Chopping the tone knob right back to zero sounds, as always, like you’re playing bass while loitering on the ocean floor. It’s pretty unusable, but easing the Treble pot just a shade away from full cut gives a silky, sweet sound that’s cool for dubby fundamentals. Twin-pickup mode on this tone setting is warm and clean – an excellent neutral recording sound – while the neck pickup sound is thuddy and weighty but still with the rasping quality we love. The bridge sound is equally silky, but too much treble roll-off affects the level too much to make it practical.
Moving the Tone control up to around halfway (the only other real variation available) is a better option, removing the excessive zing and adding a guttural quality to the bridge pickup. Likewise, a moderated level of treble on the neck pickup gives a clear, earthy, acoustic quality – a lovely sound that’s the nearest the Jazz Bass gets to, well, jazzy. Twin pickup mode is also just a little livelier, with highs that sing rather than snap and just enough edginess in evidence at the bottom end.
The Classic Vibes have been heralded in some quarters as the best Squiers since those lauded UK-edition JV's of 1982. Maybe - but of course they're not their equals. The old JV basses, poly finishes aside, were light, vibey and astonishingly vintage-correct with great US-made pickups and nickel hardware. Nevertheless, this Classic Vibe is an excellent effort: it doesn't attempt to be as close a reissue and our example is a little heavy, but it's an excellent Jazz with cool looks, a good neck profile, thoughtful detailing and, most importantly, all the tonal elements we know and love at a really competitive price.