For the Golden Anniversary of its Jazz Bass, Fender has decided to throw a year-long party; for the rest of 2010, the company’s Corona, California factory will be crafting a limited number of 50th Anniversary Jazz Basses. Rather than replicating a single incarnation of the JBass— which has seen a fair share of design tweaks in the past 50 years—Fender has chosen to combine some of the Jazz’s most beloved features. In doing so, it set out to design a limited-edition bass that would be appealing to players and collectors alike.
The 50th Anniversary Jazz Bass’s most immediately fetching characteristic harkens back to the early days of the JBass: a Candy Apple Red finish in nitrocellulose lacquer. First introduced in 1963, Fender’s Candy Apple Red has remained a favorite finish for its basses and guitars, and it’s easy to see why. The tasty red hue of our tester’s finish really popped through what seemed like a translucent silver overcoat, and the matching headstock—a popular custom upgrade back in the day—was the icing on the cake. Under stage lighting, the bass was pretty breathtaking. Vintage tone hounds have long sung the praises of nitrocellulose lacquer over heavier, more durable polyurethane finishes. Indeed, the Anniversary Jazz’s nitrocellulose lacquer seemed to give it more of an unfettered acoustic voice, compared to the polyurethane-smothered Jazz Basses in my personal arsenal. The more delicate finish comes at a cost, however; after just a few gigs and rehearsals, the bass started to show wear in the form of tiny scratches. So you might want to ditch that studded belt before strapping on this beauty.
The big and bold chrome pickup covers also pay tribute to the Jazz Bass’s early days. As a player who’s fond of bridgeposition palm muting, I was initially frustrated by the large chrome domes blocking my path. But shortly after mounting the included foam-rubber mutes under the bridge, my frustration turned to elation. The resulting spunky plunk was quite unlike any other sound I’ve heard, but the vibe-y, deadened thump had me trying to cop Jamerson’s “Bernadette” bass line like nobody’s business. The 50th Anniversary Jazz also ships with individual string mutes (like those found on the Music Man Classic StingRays reviewed last month), but since those required drilling to install, I left them in the bass’s hardshell case. The bass-side thumb rest—moved in 1974 from its original position beside the G string— provided an invaluable anchor for my thumb.
For me, a big part of the Jazz Bass’s overall appeal comes from the feel of its slim neck. In this department, the 50th Anniversary Jazz excels. I loved the neck’s lightly lacquered feel, and the vibe imparted by the fingerboard’s pearloid block inlays was practically palpable. As for the bass’s overall feel, I’ve always found the contoured body and balanced weight of Jazz Basses to be comfortable, and the 50th Anniversary edition was no exception.
For pickups and electronics, Fender chose to go with standard 3-knob controls (volume–volume–tone) and ’70s-style pickup placement, which puts the bridge pickup about a half-inch closer to the bridge for a punchier attack. With the controls wide open, the bass had a bright, clear voice that spoke as authoritatively as great Jazz Basses do. Trying to temper the treble via the tone knob revealed a boo-boo in our tester’s electronics. A few minutes of internal probing revealed that the tone control was shorting out because the metal case of the pot had become bent. Bending the tines back into place solved the problem in short order. Once repaired, the simple 3-knob control panel gave me every sound I would want out of a Jazz Bass, from bright and airy to dark and meaty.
Not everything about the 50th Anniversary Jazz is vintage inspired, since some of the Jazz Bass’s best design elements have been introduced in recent years. Borrowing from the 2008 American Standard Jazz (reviewed in June ’08), the Anniversary comes with a High-Mass Vintage bridge, which offers a through-body stringing option for increased sustain. From that same model, the Anniversary Jazz borrows lightweight tuning machines.
The 50th Anniversary Jazz Bass looks, plays, and sounds like a “greatest hits” of the venerable J-Bass. Will the limited-edition bass hold or increase in value in the collector’s market? I can’t say I really care. But as a player, I certainly found it to be a fitting—and fun—tribute to an instrument I’ll likely always consider a go-to gig tool.
FENDER 50TH ANNIVERSARY JAZZ BASS
Pros Combines the coolest elements of Jazz Basses past and present
Cons Tester required tone-pot repair
Weight 9 lbs.
Included Hardshell case, chrome pickup covers, vintage-style cable, foam-rubber and individual felt string mutes, hex keys for truss rod and addle adjustment
Made in U.S.A.
Warranty Limited lifetime