THE OLD ADAGE THAT “LEO GOT IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME” WITH THE
Fender Precision Bass is hard to dispute; the combination of styling, ergonomics, and tone
from that design forms the core of our consciousness as bass players. But was Leo actually
the first to get it right? It’s hard to say for sure, but we do know that as early as 1936,
the Seattle-based Audiovox Manufacturing company, led by player/builder Paul Tutmarc,
introduced its Model 736 electric bass guitar, a funky little number with a solid walnut
body, a magnetic pickup mounted under a steel pickguard, and a 30.5" scale length. Only
around 100 instruments were made and distributed around the Northwest. Had the bass
received wider exposure, perhaps we might have ended up with a different Founding Father
of the Electric Bass Guitar.
Leo Fender and partner George Fullerton settled on a 34" scale length after experimenting
with shorter (and alonger) scale lengths for the 1951 Precision Bass, but theirs was not
the only game in town for long. Gibson’s 1953 EB-1 was a 30.5"-scale affair, and the 1956
Höfner 500/1 had a 30" scale length. The production rate of Fender Basses—not to mention
their unbeatable tone—went on to set a 34" standard for scale length that continues
today. But if popularity of new short- and medium-scale basses hitting this year’s NAMM
Show floor is any indication, we may be experiencing a sea change in that department.
We’ll continue to review new 30"- and 32"-scale basses as they become available—we’ve
got orders in for the new Guild Starfire Bass, the Lakland Hollowbody 30, the Ibanez Artcores,
and the Blast Cult Thirty2, to name a few—but this month we check out three new
stumpy thumpers from Fender, Warwick, and Warmoth.
FENDER PAWN SHOP MUSTANG BASS
Much like the Fano Alt de Facto basses we reviewed last month, Fender’s Pawn Shop series
seeks to create “guitars that never were but should have been.” Of course, the Mustang Bass
did exist. (Introduced in 1966, it was actually the last bass designed by Leo Fender before
he sold the company and moved on to further revolutionize the instrument at MusicMan
and G&L Guitars.) As a bolt-on bass with an alder body, maple neck, rosewood fingerboard,
and 30" scale, the Pawn Shop Mustang shares much in common with the original. But while
the original featured a split single-coil (like a P-Bass pickup, only smaller), the Pawn Shop
Mustang Bass sports a big ol’ humbucker in its place.
|Fender Pawn Shop Mustang Bass|
Having a ’74 Fender Musicmaster—a close relative to the Mustang Bass—as
a go-to bass around the office, the contours and balance of the Pawn Shop Mustang
feel like an old friend (who’d had some work done). With a body size much
like an electric guitar and a short scale length, the Mustang is a breeze to play.
Without the mass to counterbalance the headstock, the bass neck tends to dive
when played while seated, but it’s not much of a problem on a strap. The polyester
finish on both the body and the back of the neck feels durable, but light enough
so as not to obscure the nice alder grain under the 3-Color Sunburst. (The bass is
also available in Olympic White and Candy Apple Red, both with a “competition
stripe” crossing the body above the bridge.) I dig the look of the “tug bar” finger
rest, but it definitely cramps my style when it comes time to slap. Not that the
Mustang is much for slapping; the short-scale’s low string tension makes for a
pretty flaccid slap attack.
Plugged in, the Pawn Shop Mustang Bass makes the added horsepower of
the humbucking pickup abundantly clear. Though Fender’s bass humbuckers—
for example, the neck-position “mudbucker” of the Telecaster Bass—can sound
dark and unfocused, the pickup placement here seems to make a big difference,
as notes are big, but not boomy. The Pawn Shop Mustang Bass is no Mini-
Me P-Bass; it’s got a rich, round character that’s all its own. The signal is much
hotter than with passive Precision and Jazz Basses, and what it lacks in singlecoil
shimmer it makes up with humbucking thump.
The Pawn Shop Mustang Bass’s overall vibe is undeniably old-school. Those looking for pianistic snap in their bass might want
to move along, but if it’s vintage thump and deliciously
loose booty you seek, the Pawn Shop Mustang
Bass is a pretty fly shorty.
FENDER PAWN SHOP MUSTANG BASS
Pros Huge bottom end,
super-easy to play.
Cons Tug bar finger
rest impedes slapstyle
Bottom line The Pawn
Shop Mustang is a
of an underappreciated
Scale length 30"
Width at nut 1.5"
Controls Volume, tone
Weight 8.7 lbs
Deluxe gig bag
Made in Mexico
WARWICK ROCKBASS CORVETTE
BASIC MEDIUM SCALE
Short- and medium-scale basses have a lot going
for them: there is less of a reach to first position,
easing strain on the wrist and shoulder; there
tends to be less wood (or other neck materials) on
the instrument, further easing shoulder pressure;
frets are closer together, shortening the stretch to
fight finger fatigue. All these benefits are amplified
when it comes to 5- and 6-string basses, a fact that
is not lost on Warwick. The company offers a limited
number of custom instruments out of its state-of-
the-art facility in Markneukirchen, Germany; for
those looking for custom-style specs on a budget,
Warwick’s RockBass offerings are bound to entice.
|Warwick RockBass Corvette Basic Medium-Scale 5-String|
While most of the other short- and medium-scale basses coming out this year have a vintage styling, sleek and modern is the way
for the new RockBass Corvette Basic Medium Scale 5-String. (In addition to
the 32"-scale 5-string, Warwick also offers RockBass Corvette Basic 4-strings
with 32" and 30.75" scale lengths.) The Basic Medium Scale 5-string is available
with either passive or active electronics. For testing, Warwick sent the passive
model, which boasts to J-style pickup and a control array of volume, blend,
neck tone, bridge tone.
The medium-scale Corvette Basic is undoubtedly one of the most comfortable
5-strings I’ve played. By shaving just two inches off the reach, the lowest
notes on the B string become much easier to grab. The Warwick’s small body
feels more manageable than a bulky old full-size 5-string, and its extended upper
horn keeps it from feeling toy-like. Both unplugged and amplified, the Corvette
cops the trademark J-style snap—with the Basic’s basic electronics and with
simple technique adjustments, the Corvette can bark and growl with the best
of them. Though passive, the MEC single-coils give the Corvette a lot of its bite.
It seems this 5-string has lost little of the spring in its step from a slightly lowered
string tension. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the Basic’s B string disappointing,
but it does sound a bit flabby when compared to, say, the clarion ring of the
35"-scale Ibanez we reviewed last month. Especially when played gingerly, the
Basic’s B string still brings all the low-end info needed for notes to speak clearly.
From headstock to tailpiece, the Corvette is well built; it even features such
fancy accouterment as Warwick’s Just-A-Nut III bridge, security locks, and fully
adjustable, locking saddles. The Corvette’s cutaway offers easy access to the first 22 of its 24 frets (not that you have any business
playing that high), and the four-piece maple neck’s
shallow “C” profile and smooth satin finish and bring
comfort and class to an instrument that performs
well beyond its class.
With the benefits of a 32" scale length intensified
on 5-strings, it’s a wonder there aren’t more direct
competitors on the market; we’d bet our bottom
dollar there soon will be. In the meantime, Warwick
has set the bar high with the RockBass Corvette
Basic Medium Scale 5-String. Add to the mix
the fact that the bass is available left-handed and/
or fretless free of charge, and the bass more than
merits an Editors Award.
WARWICK ROCKBASS CORVETTE BASIC MEDIUM SCALE 5-STRING
5-string with scrumptious
Cons B string is more
tubby than taut.
Bottom line Easy on
the hands, wrists shoulders,
eyes, ears, and
pocketbook, this shorty
5-string is hecka hip.
Scale length 32"
Neck Maple with
ekanga veneer stripes
Width at nut 1.77"
Pickups Passive MEC
blend, bass, treble
Weight 9.3 lbs
fretless with tigerstripe
ebony fingerboard (no
Made in China
WARMOTH SHORT SCALE SERIES
For years, Washington’s Warmoth Guitars has been
offering high-quality, American-made parts for
Fender-style bass builds, as well as a number of its
own designs. While short-scale bodies and necks
aren’t new to the company’s catalog, it has recently
redoubled its efforts in that arena, citing growing
interest among players. Warmoth does not sell fully assembled instruments, but it sells all the requisite parts (minus strings).
To show what’s possible, Warmoth sent a customer-built J-style shortscale
body along with two of its Warhead necks: a 30"-scale, and a 32"-scale.
|Warmoth (32" scale)|
With its dual single-coil pickups and iconic silhouette, the inspiration
for Warmoth’s Short Scale J Bass Body is no secret. The bass arrived in its
32"-scale neck attached, so I wasted no time getting the feel for that configuration. The body contours and pickups felt familiar and sufficiently
J-like, but the smaller size made the Warmoth feel somewhat like a cross
between a J-Bass and an Ibanez SR-series bass. With both necks, the bass
was remarkably easy to play, and it balanced very well both strapped and
lapped. For tastes like mine, props to the customer who chose the individual
components of the bass; the body/pickguard scheme and Seymour
Duncan Antiquity II pickups are classic, and the Gotoh G201 bridge and
Schaller BML tuners are worthy upgrades. High five!
Fit and finish were excellent on both the body and necks, though the
knobs were a source of consternation, as the J-style knobs were mismatched
with the pot shafts; without set screws to tighten them down, they would
grip and spin the shaft, but would slip and stutter past the pot’s zeroed
and dimed positions. Grr. Sonically, both the short- and medium-scale configurations split the difference between a snappy J-like attack and a more
woofy, traditional Fender-style short-scale bass.
Subtle differences between the two necks help illustrate Warmoth’s
range of options. The two necks had a lot in common—maple neck shafts, ebony fingerboards, 10" fingerboard radii, 1.5" widths
at the nut—but the vintage tint gloss finish of the
medium-scale neck contrasted with the clear nitrocellulose
satin finish of the short-scale. Rather than
run-of-the-mill maple, the 30" neck boasted a beautiful
birdseye figure. I’d be full of it if I claimed it had
an impact on the sound, but I have to say that the
upgrade made the playing experience different in a
meaningful, if purely subjective way.
|Warmoth (30" scale)|
I’d be hard-pressed to choose a favorite between
the two scale lengths; the beauty in the case of the
Warmoth is that a single short-scale body accommodates
both, and a neck swap requires mere minutes.
Is a full-blown short-scale revolution upon us? Time
will tell if players on a large scale will embrace what
was once seen as the stuff of student models and toys.
If shorties got a bad rap in the past due to shoddy
materials and slapdash build quality, those paying
attention will realize that perception is indeed outdated,
and that there’s a growing number of superhip
short- and medium-scale basses. Look for more
reviews in the coming months.
WARMOTH SHORT SCALE SERIES
Pros Wide array of
Cons Minor assembly
Bottom line The
beauty of the Warmoth
short scale basses—
aside from the fact that
you get to assemble
them yourself—is the
wide range of options
Scale length 30" and
Width at nut 1.5"
Pickups Seymour Duncan
blend, bass, treble
Weight 30"-scale, 8.5
lbs; 32"-scale, 8.6 lbs
Options Many; see
Made in U.S.A.