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3 Music Man Stingray

There’s a reason why the Stingray sits between two iconic bass guitars: it shares many of the values that the co-creator of all three of them, Leo Fender, believed were important when it came to musical instruments in general and the lowest frequencies in particular. The build is of extremely fine quality; the tone is individual and applicable in multiple scenarios; and the bass is immensely playable. These add up to being one of the most usable bass guitars ever invented, in any of its formats or variants.

Music Man was formed by ex-Fender employees who weren’t best pleased with the way that their new owners CBS were running the company after Leo Fender sold it to them. Setting up the new company and joined after a year by Leo himself (who had to stand back for 12 months as he’d signed a non-competition clause with CBS), the new firm designed and released the Stingray to market in 1976, a worthy successor to the Precision and Jazz basses which Leo had designed two decades before.

The Stingray was and remains a highly distinctive instrument that fulfills a particular job with enormous panache, hence our fondness for it. Sure, its looks are obviously based on a Fender, but cosmetic details such as the egg-shaped scratchplate and the three-over-one headstock remind us that no, this isn’t a P-Bass. Dig deeper, though, and it becomes obvious that the Stingray is an individual, with that powerhouse pickup (close to the bridge for maximum honk) and that famously wide neck. If any bass can really compete with Fender, this is the one.

Well, apart from our number one choice, of course. But before we get there, behold just one more world-class bass…

2 Fender Jazz

We’ve made a list of reasons why the Fender Jazz is so important to bass history. Want to see it? Well, it goes like this: Adam Clayton, Tim Commerford, Chris Wolstenholme, Darryl Jones, Dave Pegg, Flea, Geddy Lee, Greg Lake, Guy Pratt, Jaco Pastorius, John Paul Jones, Larry Graham, Marcus Miller, Noel Redding, Sting, Verdine White and Victor Bailey. And that doesn’t even cover the tip of the iceberg: as much as the Fender Precision is the world’s best-selling bass and a treasure of which we should all be proud, we (and a lot of other people, evidently) reckon that the Jazz just shades it over its older sibling.

Of course, the old Jazz-versus-Precision debate is very much a matter of personal preference. The two basses sound different, play differently and balance differently. The Jazz has a smaller, thinner neck, which explains its popularity among slap and funk players, and thanks to its two pickups it offers the player a wider choice of tones. The body shape is little snazzier, too – we’ve always been suckers for that stuck-out bottom hip – and those concentric controls, reducing in size as they head towards the floor, reveal that Leo Fender was thinking about form as much as function when he first marketed it in 1960, nine years after the P-Bass.

Evidence of how popular the Jazz has always been came in the 1980s when a ‘P-J’ pickup configuration first appeared. The combination of the Precision’s split neck pickup and the Jazz’s bridge unit was just what players needed, it seemed, and in fact that iconic configuration forms the basis of many pickup combinations to this day.

An amazing bass, we’re sure you’ll agree. Now, what could possibly be better?