Fender Jazz Bass (Three-Color Sunburst finish). (Click images to enlarge.)
Fender Precision Bass (Candy Apple Red finish).
Ask a bass player about electric basses, and chances are Fender is the first brand that he’ll mention. Over the years Fender bass guitars have made it into so many recordings that it’s hard to imagine a musical style that hasn’t been graced or improved upon by the sound of a Fender bass. Yet the cost of a new Fender American Standard bass has been out of reach for many aspiring musicians, while the lower-end Fender models didn’t always work for all players. Now, Fender has bridged that gap with their new American Special basses: two fantastic instruments that provide solid, American-made Fender quality at an affordable price.
According to Fender, these two new American Special basses—the American Special Jazz Bass and the American Special Precision Bass—were designed to fill a hole in the Fender product line. On one end of the American Fender bass spectrum you have the Fender Highway One series of instruments, which offer American manufacturing and basic features. The next jump up in price and features is with the American Standard bass line, which gives you more options yet at a much higher price.
With a price point under $1,000, the American Special Basses fit nicely between the Highway One and American Standard bass models. Both American Special bass guitars feature the same Alder body, 34" scale length, and solid craftsmanship found on the American Standard bass guitars. You’ll also find the same smooth, glossy finish that’s on Fender’s high-end bass models, which gives both of the American Special bass guitars a beautiful, professional look.
So how did Fender manage to reduce the price on these great basses? One way was to create a new Vintage 4 saddle (see Fig. 1). Unlike the High Mass Vintage (HMV) bridge used on the American Standard, the Vintage 4 saddle found on the American Special bass guitars is a top-loading bridge only. Yet while the American Special Vintage 4 bridge is a bit simplified, it feels solid and provides great sustain on both the Jazz and Precision models.
Fig. 1. Fender's Vintage 4 saddles were produced specifically for the Special series.
Another way that Fender was able to keep costs down was to provide the new American Special Jazz and Precision basses with more limited body color and fretboard choices. Like the American Standard basses, you can pick either Maple or Rosewood as your fretboard wood. The key difference is that you can get only the Maple fretboard with the Black or Candy Apple Red color, while the Rosewood comes on the Olympic White or Three-Color Sunburst color. This is a reasonable trade-off, as choosing your preferred fretboard wood is not an option with Fender’s Highway One bass line, either.
For me what truly makes the American Special bass guitars a joy to play is Fender’s incredible new “Slim” C-shaped neck. Both the American Special Precision and the American Special Jazz sport a redesigned neck style that is shallower from front to back, and an absolute joy to hold. You’ll still find the same great feel and Medium Jumbo frets that make Fender basses the standard to beat, but the new slim neck gives you even faster action. With less arching around the neck, my hand could effortlessly move up and down the fretboard with even greater ease.
Over a busy weekend I decided to try out the two basses, each in very different playing situations. Saturday night I brought the Candy Apple Red American Special Precision Bass to a gig with a rock and roll cover band. From the very first tune, heads turned when I pushed through tight, punchy bass, riffs thanks to the Vintage Style Precision pickups on the American Special Precision bass, which use an Alnico V magnet in the single pickup.
Sunday afternoon I put the American Special Jazz bass through its paces at a standards and jazz session. This tasteful tobacco-sunburst model performed like a champ, offering a variety of tones thanks to the two different Vintage Style Jazz pickups. One feature that was very impressive during this gig was the Fender Greasebucket tone circuit, which is built into both basses. Sometimes during a jazz set, I need to reduce the high end on my tone, but on most basses this means I also turn the bottom end into mush. Thanks to Fender’s Greasebucket, this is now a distant memory. Turn down the tone on either the American Precision or Jazz bass, and you’ll roll off the highs without losing the clarity on the bottom end.
Fender clearly has two winners with the American Special Jazz and the American Special Precision basses. If you’ve been waiting for a great American-made Fender bass, then you should definitely check out the new Fender American Special Jazz or American Special Precision bass guitar. Featuring incredible new necks and high-end options, both basses offer bass players a chance to get a solid American-made Fender bass at a great price.