Short scale bass with good sound, great playability and good looks at an insanely low price
$269.99 MSRP, $169.99 "street"
By Phil O'Keefe
Fender, the inventor of the first commercially successful electric bass (and Squier's parent company), has been making short scale bass guitars since 1966, and Squier has released a few different models over the years as well. Short scale instruments are often considered "student models", although they have also been used to good effect by many professional musicians over the years. Currently there are four Squier "Jaguar Bass" models, but only one that is a short scale bass. This model is officially called the "Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar® Bass Special SS (Short Scale)" (Figure 1), which is quite a mouthful, so we'll just refer to it as a Jaguar for the sake of brevity.
Long favored not only by students and younger players but also by adults with smaller hands, short scale bass models usually have a 30" scale as opposed to the standard 34" bass scale length; the shorter distances between frets means less finger stretching, and this makes short scale models much easier to play.
Figure 1: The Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass® Special SS (Short Scale)
PICKUPS AND ELECTRONICS
The Jaguar's passive electronics are fairly straightforward. A split coil Precision Bass pickup is located in the middle position, and a Jazz bass single coil pickup is located near the bridge. Each pickup is connected to its own 250K Alpha mini volume potentiometer, while a third 250K pot and a .050 microfarad capacitor function as a master tone control. (Figure 2) The control and pickup cavities are painted with conductive paint for shielding. Hum is not an issue with the P-Bass pickup, although the J-Bass pickup of the review unit does suffer from a bit of noise. Curiously, it is also noticeably weaker than the P-Bass pickup, measuring 4.65K compared to the P-Bass pickup's 6.54K. The lower output and close proximity to the bridge give the J-Bass pickup alone a bright and thin sonic character. Fortunately, the P-Bass pickup is a real star. It sounds throaty and full, with great midrange note definition and punch, and not a trace of mud. It also has much better note definition and resonance on the low E string--a weak area for many 30" scale basses--than any other short scale model I have tried. I can foresee even the folks who love to modify their instruments leaving this stock pickup alone--it sounds really good. The two pickups also sound good when running together, but the J-Bass unit just can't measure up to the sound of the P-Bass pickup when running solo, so if you rely on the J-Bass pickup as part of your sound, you will probably want to budget for a pickup upgrade. It doesn't sound bad, but it is pretty weak.
Figure 2: The Jaguar Bass uses 250K Alpha pots for the two volume controls and one master tone control
FIT AND FINISH
The Jaguar Bass (Short Scale) comes in three color combinations: candy apple red, silver, or black. Regardless of the color of the body, all three have a black headstock, black pickguard and rosewood fingerboard. Cosmetically, the satin finish on the maple neck isn't too bleached looking, but if you prefer a highly yellowed vintage neck tint, you may find the shade a little light. The neck inlays appear to be white plastic dots inlayed cleanly into the rosewood fingerboard. There are also white plastic side inlays to further help you find your way around. Generally, this bass looks really nice; even classy. But as you start doing a detailed inspection, little things show up. There is a "scuffed" spot in the satin finish at the very end of the peghead on the review unit. A small unfilled gap in the "skunk stripe" on the back of the neck. A small burr in the plastic near one of the nut slots. Fortunately, that never affected tuning, and none of these very minor blemishes are particularly egregious on an instrument at this price point, but they are part of the reason Squier can sell them so affordably; they're not using their best craftspeople to build them, nor are they using the finest materials and spending hours and hours sweating over the tiniest details of each individual instrument. And to be fair, these are really minor blemishes that in no way affect the playability of the bass.
Straight out of the box, the action was well-set; low enough to be comfortable and fast, but with none of the buzzing or fretting out that results from it being set too low. The tuners and top loading bridge are solid and tuning stability is very good. The truss rod was perfectly set and the neck was straight and true. The medium jumbo frets are really well installed. They are nicely crowned and have no sharp edges.The intonation was reasonably close too. Close enough that most novice players would probably never notice it was a touch out on two strings. The four saddle bridge can be individually adjusted for height and intonation, and along with the placement of the truss rod adjustment at the headstock, this makes fine tuning the "setup" (the action and intonation) a breeze. A pair of Allen wrenches for truss rod and bridge saddle height adjustment are the only accessories that are included with the bass. New and novice players are not likely to know how to adjust the action, truss rod and intonation, and they'll have to figure that out on their own. Unfortunately, there is no manual or instruction sheet included to help walk them through it, or to advise them on the care and maintenance of their new instrument.
The smooth, fast and comfortable neck is a joy to play. The neck's profile is somewhat reminiscent of a Jazz Bass or full sized Jaguar Bass in that it is very narrow at the nut (1.5" wide) and gradually gets wider as you move further up the neck towards the body of the bass--although it never gets quite as wide in the upper registers as a Jazz Bass, and because of the much shorter scale length, things are much closer together and easier to reach, even for those of us with smaller hands. The offset waist Jaguar body makes the bass very comfortable to play, whether you are seated or standing and using a strap. A forearm contour for the player's right arm, and a rear "tummy contour" further increase playing comfort. The balance of the bass is pretty good, which isn't always the case with short scale models. When hanging from a strap, it doesn't really want to "neck dive" so much as "neck level" - it seems to want to hang with the neck parallel to the floor.
PUT A BOW ON IT
It plays really nice, and sounds pretty darned good. And nit-picky little niggles aside, it's a good looking bass. I really like the matching headstock on the black review unit. About the only thing I think that would "add" to the look would be a tortoise shell pickguard, similar to what Squier uses on some of the other Jaguar Bass models. If you wanted one, you could always have one custom cut from one of the various aftermarket parts companies. Speaking of customizing, this bass would be a good platform for modifications. Different knobs, pickups, a custom pickguard, strap retainers / locks - the Vintage Modified series Squier models are affordable enough that you can buy in at a low price, and modify and upgrade the instrument to suit your tastes and preferences, and still do it all on a very modest budget.
It would make a great gift for a older child or teenager who wanted to learn how to play. As a student instrument, it's less intimidating than a full scale bass, and affordable enough that mom and dad are not taking a huge financial risk if junior's musical interests wane. Equally important, it's still nice enough that junior is actually going to be inspired to play it and want to practice. It is also of sufficient quality that he won't be handicapped in his efforts by a poor quality instrument that is difficult to play or that he'll quickly outpace. But again, I see this bass having broader appeal than just to novice players and students, and while the materials and workmanship are obviously not as nice as on a higher-end model, at this price point--an almost unbelievably low $170 "street" price; roughly the price of a decent stompbox--it's a very nice sounding and playing bass that guitarists, home recordists and those who just enjoy the fun of playing a nice short scale bass are going to dig. Even though I already have two other basses, I am more than a little tempted to purchase the review unit. It's just a really fun instrument to play. Chances are if you get one, you won't want to let it go either. Bravo Squier, Bravo!
Country of Origin: Indonesia
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.
Good point / suggestion about the leather strap. Leather or suede straps tend to "grip" your clothing better and therefore slide less readily than a nylon strap, which helps keep the bass where you positioned it.
I'm glad you're enjoying your Squier Jaguar Special SS bass, and thanks for your comments.