AS THE YOUNGEST BRAINCHILD OF LEO FENDER, G&L Guitars has had to compete with older siblings Fender and MusicMan for its place in the market, but many of its instruments represent the great inventor’s last word on the subject of electric bass—words worth listening to. G&L’s new MJ-4 takes the basic platform of its JB-2 model and adds a new powerplant to create a fierce competitor in the crowded “active J” category.
While the unique 2-band EQ strategy used in G&L’s legendary L-Series basses (bass/treble, cut only) has its fans and detractors, the M-Series essentially brings them into the fold with a standard 3-band bass/mid/treble preamp with boost/ cut controls. In the case of the MJ-4, the preamp was tailored to optimize its pairing with two split-coil J pickups. The shelving- type bass and treble controls offers boost and cut centered at 40Hz and 8kHz, respectively, while mids are controlled via a band-pass filter centered at 600Hz. The Bi-Coil Alnico V J pickups have separate coils—one for the G and D strings, one for A and E, wired in series. Designer Paul Gagon says, “Wiring the coils in series makes it easier to pinpoint the resonant peak of the pickup.” As split-coil J pickups can be mid-heavy, tuning the mid control to 600hZ is effective for adding clarity and articulation, without bringing the honk. The two pickups are placed in the ’60s J position, and wired together in parallel, giving the MJ-4 the unmistakable tone signature of the fabled Jazz.
The medium-weight swamp ash body of the review bass contributes to a very reasonable overall heft of 8.5 pounds, and the premium Honeyburst finish greatly enhances the attractiveness of the wood grain (standard and solid finishes are available with an alder body). G&L specs the MJ-4 with a hard-rock maple neck with a 1.5” width at the bone nut, and a 12” radius—the #8 neck in G&L parlance. However, my tester arrived with the quarter-sawn upgrade on a #12 neck, which has a 1.625” nut width—just like the “B” neck on ’70s era Precisions. The 21 medium-jumbo frets rest in a rosewood fingerboard (maple is optional) and are Plek’d to perfection, while the light tint on the satin-finished neck and headstock give the bass an aged vibe.
G&L Ultra-Lite tuners follow the classic open-gear design with cloverleaf keys, but their lighter construction helps a little with neck-dive. The Saddle-Lock bridge is standard equipment on all G&L models, and while it’s heavier, unified mass is known to increase sustain, the base plate has a protrusion that fits in a routed channel in the body’s end grain—further enhancing transfer of vibration to the wood.
I loved the feel of the satin #12 neck; it’s a great mid-point between the P and J profile, though a Jazz fan may prefer the originally spec’d #8 plank. Plugging in to my Genz Benz ShuttleMax 9.2/Uber 212t rig, there were initially no surprises. The bass sounded like a great active J with exceptional note clarity, punch, and a flexible EQ system. The Bi-Coil construction means you can roll off to either pickup without single-coil hum, and the bridge pickup in particular is stellar for achieving the aggressive burp that cuts through the fray. The front pickup gives you a tone more in line with the pre-1957 single-coil P Bass design, while the blend of the two has the focused depth that is quintessentially Jazz Bass. The preamp is powerful, and seems well tuned to the pickup response—the lows add girth without overshadowing the articulation, the mids are effective for adding detail, or even a mild scoop for slap. The highs are present, and while not the glassy, hi-fi top end you might expect from an EMG system, they bring the fingerstyle tone forward without being clanky, and add sparkle to the slap tone without being strident. For rootsier applications, the treble control works equally well as a cut.
I A/B’d the MJ-4 with my Badass II/J-Retro equipped ’74 Jazz Bass, and found common ground in many areas, but the MJ has a more pronounced midrange presence. And while I love the silky scoop I get from my modified Jazz, the MJ-4 has the voice of the J but with more cutting power—you won’t get buried in the mix with this bass. The perfect fit and six counter-sunk neck bolts give the neck joint a palpable solidity, and that translates into better vibration coupling with the body. This may explain why the MJ-4 exhibits a piano-like clarity in the low end, and a noticeable evenness throughout its range. But my surprise came when I realized that I was playing the bass without having tightened the Saddle-Lock bridge. Using a 2mm Allen wrench (thankfully the same size used on the saddles), I compressed the saddles together, making them a unified mass, and was shocked at the results. The E and A strings sounded deeper, more grounded, and the higher strings showed noticeably improved sustain. The bass now exhibited the “unified resonance” that I associate with high-end basses like Ken Smith or MTD.
The MJ-4 is an excellent addition to the world of active J basses, and considering it’s champion bloodlines and U.S.-built pedigree, the bass not only stands out as a bargain compared to imports of the same price (or higher), it gives its U.S. siblings a run for their money.
G&L GUITARS MJ-4
Pros Punchy active J-Bass tone, great build quality, competitively priced.
Bottom Line The G&L Guitars MJ-4 is a top-notch American-made J-style 4-string at a price that's hard to beat.
Body Swamp ash
Neck Quartersawn maple
Pickups G&L Bi-Coil Alnico V
Preamp 18v G&L MJ pre 3-band boost/cut
Controls Volume, blend, treble (±14dB @ 8kHz), midrange (±12dB @ 600Hz), bass (±14dB @ 40Hz)
Tuners G&L Ultra-Lite
Width at nut 1.625"
Bridge G&L Saddle-Lock
Frets 21 medium jumbo
Made in U.S.A.