Fender Bass guitars offer an iconic sound. For many decades, pro-bassists have used them in concerts and studio recordings of the highest level. They produce the tones heard in countless hits and studio recordings.
Fender is the undisputed gold standard of bass guitars. Their reputation, craftsmanship, demand, availability, resale value and tonal qualities make them an excellent choice for bassists at any stage in their career.
You can’t go wrong with a Fender bass even in the early part of your bass career. It is a work horse that can rough it out with you. It is an industry standard that is acceptable to any genre, mixing engineer or artist you play for. It is the yardstick since almost 70 years that others have tried to emulate or build upon.
A Fender bass is capable of being a life-long companion due to its excellent craftsmanship, rock-solid construction and world-class QA. Used Fenders are in high demand and have great resale value.
Do Fender bass guitars deserve the hype?
Leo Fender unveiled the P-Bass in 1951 and not much has changed in terms of looks, design and hardware in 2020. This shows that Fenders are a timeless classic from a company that got it right the first time.
Fender’s Precision vs Jazz bass have been a topic of heavy discussion in studios, bars and online forums through the ages. They have their cult following.
Is the Fender P-bass worth it?
The Precision Bass (or P-bass) is literally the first electric bass to hit the music scene and it is still one of the most sought after bass guitars today. It has been a staple of rock, old school funk, reggae and countless other genres.
There are 16 versions of the P-bass with variations in pickups, electronics and hardware. No matter which bass you choose, it is a simple and straightforward instrument that does exactly what is expected from it.
A good P-bass does what it does better than anyone else. If you like the way it sounds it is a classy looking, hassle free, two knob, one split pickup, plug and play bargain.
Bass legends like James Jamerson, Steve Harris and Duff McKagan never found a better instrument to replace it with.
Is a Fender Jazz bass worth it?
The J-Bass (Jazz Bass) is the more versatile and sleeker cousin of the P-bass that came to the scene a few years later.
The two single-coil pickups, detailed high-end and tonal versatility made it an instant hit among funk, rock and reggae players.
When you dial in the right sound, the Jazz bass can growl like no other. Many companies went on to clone the J-Bass since the 70s but were unable to improve on the sound or design in this price range.
The J-Bass is associated with funk and slap players like Larry Graham, Flea and Marcus Miller, but also with Geddy Lee, Adam Clayton and Jaco Pastorius.
Fender bass build quality
Though none of the Fenders are as upscale as Sadowsky or Roscoe, they’re generally a lot more affordable.
Fender has a wide variety of instruments at different price-points, from the cheap Squire and Squire Affinity Series to the moderate American Special and Player series, all the way to the top-of-the-line Deluxe and Custom Shop bass guitars.
Fender has four manufacturing bases which produces these different product lines.
Fenders made in China
Squire, Squire Affinity and other China-made basses are entry level. They are modestly priced as a good bargain for beginners/students but their construction and electronics are not as good as other price brackets.
Fenders made in Mexico
MIM (made in Mexico) models like Modern Player series are a balance between price and quality. They can be bought cheap (especially used) and upgraded to sound like a top-notch bass. More detail on this below.
Fenders made in Japan
Contrary to popular belief, Fender still continues to produce high quality instruments in Japan but not too many are exported to Europe or North America.
These are highly sought after and rare to find. The Vintage ‘60s (2019) and Heritage Series (2020) are MIJ (made in Japan).
Fenders made in USA
American Standard/Ultra, Custom Shop and Professional Series are all high quality instruments made in America.
They come loaded with graphite re-enforced necks, excellent electronics, hipshot tuners and hi-mass bridge, and rarely need any upgrade.
If you find a high-end model that suits your taste, you will likely keep it forever. There are innumerable cases of players who have owned and played the same bass for 30 or 40 years, and then passed it on to their sons and grandsons.
Fender bass spare parts and upgrading
One great thing about a Fender bass is that you can replace or upgrade almost any aspect of the build and electronics.
Fender is a global brand and no matter where you go, you can always source original or aftermarket parts and get your bass fixed/repaired or replace a tone knob or tuning peg.
Fender itself offers a good selection of active and passive pickups with both vintage and modern tones.
There’s also a huge marketplace for aftermarket parts for Fender bass guitars.
How to choose a good Fender bass
Like every company, Fender has good and bad years. Quality and tone can even vary among models of the same series.
For this reason, it is important to play a bass guitar to ensure it sounds and feels right ‘to you’ before you make a final decision.
If you’re on a budget, start hunting for new MIM Fenders at local music stores.
Quality and performance can differ from model to model, but with some testing you can end up with a bass that is every bit as good as an American Standard for half the price after making some upgrades to the bridge and pickup.
If you like the Jazz and Precision sound, or you’re a session bass player who needs high versatility – the Fender P/J models are a good option as they offer the best of both worlds.
Be aware, however, that a P/J won’t sound 100% like a P-bass or a J-Bass.
The Geddy Lee Jazz Bass (new or used) is also generally considered great value for money.
Are used Fender basses a good option?
With a little luck and persistence, bass players are often also able to score great used deals online.
Some MIMs are similar to the high-end Player Series in terms of performance and sound. You can find used MIMs as cheap as $250 to 350 on Talkbass, Craiglist or online re-sale platforms.
Let’s say you’re able to score a used Fender MIM P-Bass in near mint condition for around $250 on the internet. You might replace the stock pickups with better ones (see table below).
You might also swap the strings for some LaBella Flats, Thomastik-Infeld Jazz (flatwounds), Rotosound RS66 or D’addario ProSteels (roundwounds).
If so inclined, you can also change the bridge for a hi-mass bridge or Badass II. If you find the neck too chunky, get a used or new Fender Jazz neck and slap it on.
If the tuners are cheap, you can upgrade with Hip Shot tuners.
The result is a completely customized bass for the fraction of the cost. You can continue to test different configurations until you are happy with everything. Very few other bass guitars allow for so much trialing.
Split Coil For P or PJ
Original P-bass Pickup, Pure Vintage’63 Custom Shop ‘62
EMG Geezer Butler Seymour Duncan Quarter Pounder or SPB-4 Bartolini 8S Di Marzio Model P
Single Coil For P or PJ
Original Fender J-Bass Pickup Gen 4 Noiseless Pure Vintage ‘74 Custom Shop Custom ‘60
Lindy Fralin J Pickups DiMarzio Model J EMG JVX Seymour Duncan SJB3
Fenders are keepers and don’t degrade easily with use. At that price you can easily find an instrument in good condition and upgrade it. You will save money and get a lot of value.
Are high-end Fender basses worth it?
The MIA models are a safe bet because the quality is consistent and the value remains steady.
If you have the money, opt for an American Ultra or USA Jazz Deluxe, these basses have an incredible tone and their playability in itself justifies the price tag.
They have active electronics (you can toggle to passive as well) which makes them among the most versatile basses on offer.
If you are lucky you might find the mythical MIJ (Made in Japan) bass in the used guitar market. They have a solid reputation for high-quality construction and playability. Some players even find them better than the MIA models.
You may come across naysayers who scoff at Fender and tout other ‘more value’ options. It may be that Fender guitars just don’t cater to their tone preference like other brands might.
These are highly subjective matters and you must experience the joy of playing a Fender before you put down $1,500 to get a high-end one.
It takes years of bass playing before you develop a firm idea of ‘your sound’. At that point you can always move on and explore ultra-high-end bass guitars or consider a boutique or custom bass build.
Until then, a good Precision or Jazz bass will likely serve any purpose an up and coming bassist may have.
(1) “Think-Floyd-046” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Andrew_D_Hurley
(2) “7e1_7156758-my-bass-guitar” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Wolfgang Lonien
(3) “Fender Marcus Miller Jazz Bass (Japan) a” (CC BY 2.0) by Sebastiaan ter Burg