on 10-18-201304:50 AM - last edited
A long-discontinued classic returns with some interesting twists and an unbelievable price
By Phil O'Keefe
The Bass VI is an interesting instrument that has elements of a standard bass mixed with elements of a guitar or baritone guitar. Influenced by Fender's Jaguar guitar, it has shared some features with that guitar ever since the Bass VI was slightly restyled after the Jaguar's introduction in 1962.
Fender's Bass VI has never been a big seller, although it has had more impact on music than its relatively modest sales figures would suggest, having been used extensively by such players as Jack Bruce of Cream, Robert Smith of The Cure, and Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The Beatles also owned a Bass VI, and George Harrison or John Lennon would often play it on songs where Paul McCartney, their usual bassist, was playing piano or guitar. Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap famously never played his ultra-rare sea foam green Bass VI - and refused to let people even look at it for long.
Originally manufactured from 1961 until 1975 and briefly reissued by Fender a couple of times since then (most recently as the Fender Pawn Shop Bass VI), this is the first version of the Bass VI to be released under the Squier brand. Let's take a closer look.
What You Need To Know
Like a standard four string bass, the Bass VI is tuned an octave lower than standard guitar. The two "extra" (highest) strings are also tuned an octave down from the B and high E strings on a standard guitar. This makes the Bass VI a bit different than many other extended range basses; for example, most five string basses feature a low B string (below the low E) in addition to the standard E A D and G strings of a standard four string bass, giving them the ability to play lower than a standard bass. The Bass VI allows you to play as low as a traditional four string bass, but also higher; well into the baritone guitar range.
The Squier Bass VI has a maple neck and a rosewood fingerboard. The scale length is 30", as opposed to the more traditional 34" scale used on the Precision and Jazz Bass models. This makes it very comfortable for musicians with smaller hands, and the shorter scale length eases the transition for players who usually play guitar and who occasionally double on bass.
It's a matter of taste, but I think the bound neck and figured pearloid block inlays (first introduced by Fender to the Bass VI way back in 1965 and 1966) look fantastic on this instrument. The neck binding and inlays are skillfully done too. The fact that these labor intensive features are included on such an affordable instrument is pretty astonishing.
The color selection is a bit limited; white, black and three-color sunburst being your only choices, with the white and sunburst featuring tortoise shell pickguards, while the black Squier Bass VI sports a white pickguard. The gloss polyurethane finish on the basswood body is very smooth, even, and deep looking on this bass. It's a very nicely done finish, with no spots or blemishes.
The setup on this bass was on the mark straight from the box, and only a very small action adjustment was needed to bring the low E string into compliance with the rest of the excellent setup.
The pickups are three custom Jaguar single coils with the traditional Jag style shielding claws. The middle pickup is reverse wound / reverse polarity (RW/RP) which means that when you run the middle pickup together with either of the other pickups, it's hum-canceling.
The Bass VI features individual on/off slider switches for each of the three pickups. A fourth switch, commonly called a "strangle switch" is similar to the one found on Jaguar guitars, and rolls off a lot of the lows, giving the instrument a thinner, brighter tonality, regardless of which pickups are currently activated.
Master volume and tone controls work with all three pickups, and the tone control's range, along with the diverse selection of possible pickup combinations and the bass-cutting "strangle switch" provide a extensive variety of tonal colors, making this a very flexible bass from a sonic standpoint.
The added note range offered by the two extra high strings and guitar type tuning arrangement (albeit an octave lower than standard guitar) open new possibilities for you, such as the ability to hit the chord's tonic as a bass player commonly would, while simultaneously chording or playing counterpoint lines on the higher strings. You can cover a LOT of sonic territory with a Bass VI, and smaller groups and duos will appreciate its broad sonic range.
Guitarists will adapt to this instrument fairly quickly - it plays and feels like a somewhat oversized guitar - the tuning, longer neck and larger diameter strings certainly give that impression, while the comfortable c-shaped neck profile and shorter than standard bass scale length make it feel faster and more nimble than many other basses, and allow you to fly around the neck quite easily.
Likewise, the Bass VI is great for bass players who want to solo; the extended upper range and nimble handling making it well suited for this application. Why let the lead guitar player hog all the soloist glory?
As the Vintage Modified part of the name suggests, Squier has made some changes compared to vintage Bass VI specs, and they really do improve the instrument's playability. The neck has a comfortable, modern C-shaped profile, and the fingerboard radius is now a flatter 9.5" instead of the vintage 7.25" radius. This does make the somewhat tricky task of setting up the Bass VI noticeably easier, and it also makes it less likely to buzz. Bending strings is still much more challenging than it is on guitar due to the much larger strings, but they're now less likely to fret out if you do attempt it. Bending and playability are further improved by the 21 well-dressed, larger than vintage sized medium jumbo frets.
As with the vibrato tailpiece used on the current Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar and Jazzmaster models, the Floating Tremolo (actually it's a vibrato, but that's what Fender has always called this particular bridge / vibrato design) on the Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI uses an unthreaded bar, and lacks the "trem-loc" button found on their Fender cousins. The vibrato system works well and returns to pitch consistently, but it is limited in the amount of pitch variation it can offer. This is not Squier's fault - it's just the nature of the design, along with the effects of the larger, lower-tuned strings. While not something I'd use all the time, it's a fairly unusual feature for a bass, and a lot of fun when used tastefully.
The string spacing on a Bass VI can be a bit annoying for some bass players, or for players with larger fingers and hands. Playing with your right hand fingers (as opposed to using a pick) can be challenging due to the close string spacing. With a 1.650" neck width at the nut and six strings, it feels more like a guitar with really big strings than a bass.
The stock strings are thinner than what most bass players would use on a four string bass. In fact, the stock bottom E string could stand to be a touch beefier in my opinion. String gauges (per Squier's site) are listed as .025" to .095", but they felt lighter to me, so out came the calipers - and they actually measure .024" to .084" on the review unit. Some players may prefer heavier strings, such as the gauges that Squier lists on their Vintage Modified Bass VI web page. Heavier strings would also affect the playing feel and string tension in a positive way - particularly for the low E string, which can be a bit floppy feeling compared to the rest of the strings.
It may be tempting to think of the Bass VI as an overgrown guitar, and to play bass parts guitaristically, but that's a matter that is ultimately a question of style and musical taste. In fact, some players may decide to modify their Bass VI for higher-pitched, baritone guitar type duties, and the Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI would serve as a great platform for such modifications; it would require minimal work to convert it for use as a B-B or A-A tuned baritone guitar.
I wish there were a few more custom colors offered - the Bass VI has always been a bit of a rare breed, and custom colored ones like the vintage sea foam green model shown in the movie Spinal Tap are even less common. Don't be surprised if you start seeing some people refinishing these in their favorite vintage Fender custom colors.
It's hard to describe just how enjoyable and fun this instrument is to play. It sounds like a bass… and a baritone, and it plays nearly as nimbly as a guitar. For guitarists who want or need to occasionally "double" on bass, or who want to have something around that they can use to lay down a quick bass part on their demos with, the Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI is terrific. Some traditional four string bass players may lament the close string spacing, but it still offers the modern bassist extended range for soloing and chording, as well as its own unique palate of tonal textures.
The Bass VI is one of those highly desirable, but rare beasts from history that, until recently, most people could only dream of owning. If you try a Squier Bass VI, you're probably going to want it. Because of the utility of this instrument, the fun factor, the unbelievably low price, and excellent all-around build quality, I predict that the Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI will become, by far, the best selling Bass VI model yet.
It's great to see a long-discontinued instrument that has such tremendous appeal and flexibility being offered at this price, and with these useful modern improvements - and yet it still maintains the classic vintage look and vibe of the originals. Kudos to Squier for such an outstanding reinterpretation of the Bass VI, and for bringing back this classic bass at a price that nearly anyone can afford.
Harmony Central Squier Bass VI Review Preview video
Squier's Vintage Modified Bass VI YouTube Demo
Here's a few additional pictures of the Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI
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.