Fender Mustang Bass PJ A cool new approach to Leo's last Fender bass design
by Phil O'Keefe
Fender first introduced the Mustang Bass in 1966. The original run lasted until 1981, and it's been reissued a few times since then. It was the last of the classic Fender basses to be designed by Leo Fender, and was introduced to round out the "student line" of instruments with a bass model. With an iconic offset waist body shape and shorter 30" scale length it has remained popular with students, but can it appeal to pros too? Let's take a look at the latest version of this classic design and see what makes it different from earlier Mustang Basses.
What You Need To Know
Based on the original Fender Mustang Bass, the new Mustang Bass PJ is built in Mexico and is part of Fender's new Offset series, which also includes multiple Mustang and Duo Sonic guitar models.
The Mustang Bass PJ has a maple neck with a modern C-shaped profile that is capped with a rosewood fingerboard inlayed with white dot position markers. There are also white side dots on the edge of the neck and fingerboard. A walnut "skunk stripe" on the neck's rear is a fairly unusual feature that isn't often found on rosewood fingerboard-equipped Fenders; their truss rod installations are often done from the top (fingerboard side) instead of the rear as with Fenders with all-maple necks and fingerboards, so a skunk stripe isn't usually needed with them.
The back of the neck is finished with a smooth feeling, non-glossy satin polyurethane.
In contrast, the headstock face has a glossy finish and sports the traditional Fender Mustang Bass logo.
As expected, this latest Mustang Bass retains the 30" scale length of its predecessors, but the fingerboard is a little flatter, with a 9.5" radius. The neck of the review unit measures 1.505" wide at the nut, and is 0.833" deep at the first fret. The frets are also beefed up - the Mustang Bass PJ has 19 medium jumbo frets. The nut is synthetic bone.
The vintage style open gear tuners will be familiar to all Fender bass players. They look appropriate and the bass holds its tuning well.
The neck is attached to the body with four bolts, and the neck plate has a stylized vintage Fender F engraved on it. The neck pocket is nice and tight on both sides.
The Mustang Bass PJ's alder body is finished in gloss polyester, and comes in your choice of Sonic Blue, Torino Red or Olympic White. It has a "slab" body, with no tummy or forearm contours, but it is still very comfortable to hold and play.
Unlike earlier models, the Mustang Bass PJ has two pickups instead of just one. A split coil Precision Bass pickup is located in the traditional middle position, while a Jazz Bass pickup has been added closer to the bridge.
The P/J pickup configuration adds a lot of tonal versatility to the Mustang Bass platform. Alone, the P-Bass pickup has truckloads of bottom, but it's not just a mud machine - there's plenty of upper midrange detail and note definition. You can anchor the low end of the band with this just as well as with any P-Bass. The DC resistance of this pickup measures 10.78kOhm.
The J-Bass pickup doesn't suffer a big volume drop in comparison to the P-Bass pickup, but when you switch to it you'll notice the bottom drop off significantly, and attention turns to the mids and highs. When used by itself, this pickup can cut through a busy and dense mix. The DC resistance on this pickup measures 7.0kOhm.
When the two pickups are combined the J-Bass pickup's contributions to the sound are surprisingly significant, giving the tone a more mellow J-Bass vibe that's rounded out and tamed in the highs a bit by the P-Bass pickup.
There is no shielding in the control cavity, but there is black shielding paint under the pickups. Noise is not a significant issue, although there's a bit more when using the J-Bass alone or paired with the P-Bass pickup than there is when running the P-Bass pickup by itself.
The Mustang Bass PJ uses full-sized 250k volume and tone pots.
A three-way pickup selector switch is mounted on the pickguard near the lower horn and cutaway, where it is easy to get to, but out of the way when you're playing.
Some short scale basses suffer from Wimpy E String Syndrome (WESS) where the low E seems kind of dead and never seems to sound as articulate or full as it should. Shortscale aficionados will know what I'm talking about. The good news: The Mustang Bass PJ doesn't.
There is one master volume and one master tone control, so there's no way to adjust the relative volume level of each pickup. The controls are mounted on a chromed metal plate.
The bridge is a fairly standard top-loading four saddle unit. Setting up the action and getting the intonation accurate is easy, and it came well-adjusted from the factory.
The balance of the Mustang Bass PJ isn't bad; it hangs from a strap only slightly neck-heavy. It doesn't "neck dive" for the floor so much as it wants to hang relatively parallel to it. The weight of your right forearm resting on the body is enough to keep it positioned pretty much where you want it.
As on the Fender Mustang 90 that I recently reviewed, the fingerboard edges are pretty sharp and unrounded, although I noticed it less often on this instrument while playing than I did on the Mustang 90 guitar.
Diehard fans of the original Mustang might miss the visuals of the original, larger bridge assembly, but it can't be used because its size would intrude on the location where the J-Bass pickup has been added. Personally I'll take the smaller bridge and extra pickup (and the tonal options that come with it).
It's obvious that Fender put the money into the instrument itself, so it's not like they're shortchanging you, but you should be aware that no case or gig bag is included. Budget accordingly. An optional gig bag is available (Fender P/N 0991521106, $59.99 MSRP, $34.99 "street") or you can opt for a hardshell case ($249.99 MSRP, $199.99 "street").
I'm noticing a bit of a pattern here. Like its Offset Series stablemate, the Mustang 90 guitar (which I also recently reviewed), Fender has swapped the "normal" pickups that Mustang Basses have traditionally been saddled with and tried something different - and in the process addressed one of the more often heard criticisms of these ponies, giving them a bolder, more authoritative neigh. The tones you can get from the Mustang Bass PJ's split P-Bass pickup are far beefier than what you can coax from the old-style Mustang Bass pickup. Even the open E string rings out with power and confidence. Add in the extra versatility that comes along with the J-Bass pickup and you have the best-sounding, most versatile Mustang Bass model to date.
It's also the best-playing Mustang Bass model in my opinion. Unrounded fretboard edges aside, the Mustang Bass PJ is very comfortable to play. The neck is a bit wider and chunkier than the Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass Special SS, with more of a P-Bass vibe compared to the Jaguar's J-Bass inspired neck shape, but the 30" scale makes it much easier to get around on than your typical full-scale P-Bass, and it's less fatiguing to play, even with small hands. The satin finish on the back of the neck lets your hand glide over the surface effortlessly, while the front of the headstock is glossy and shiny for the audience. Think of it as sort of a reverse mullet for basses - all business in the back, party in the front.
And speaking of visuals, the Torino Red finish of the body looks sharp too, especially when offset (sorry!) by the mint pickguard and black pickup covers. Some players might miss the visuals of the large bridge plate or the through-the-body stringing of the original Mustang Bass, but sustain and tone seem unaffected by the change to the top loading bridge, and the added versatility of the dual pickups more than makes up for the slight change in appearance. With its sonic versatility and compact size this would make a really good "studio bass" for a guitarist's home studio. Yes, the PJ version of the Mustang Bass is still a good choice for students and players with smaller hands, but don't discount the model if you're a pro - it's not just for students. This cool looking bass is a blast to play, sounds great, and doesn't cost a fortune. That's going to make it attractive to a wide range of musicians. -HC-
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.