Take the groove-goosing confidence you get from gigging with a real “player’s” bass, add the reliability and comfort of playing a new, pro-quality instrument, subtract the anxiety of schlepping a collector’s item that costs more than what you drove to your gig, and what do you have? The new Road Worn series from Fender. For years, Fender’s Custom Shop has been producing top-of-the-line replicas of the vintage basses favored by players like Jaco Pastorius and Pino Palladino. Built with exacting detail of visual cues, like each cigarette burn, dent and ding—as well as tweaky tech stuff, like the tone-control capacitor’s resistance— these masterpieces are phenomenal, but their price tags are downright depressing to most of us. The Road Worn basses take this essential concept to the masses. Each bass is modeled after the most popular designs from the ’50s and ’60s. I just took Fender’s Road Worn ’50s Precision and ’60s Jazz Basses out for a spin, and my heart is still pounding. Here’s the lowdown.
With its 1957 redesign of the trailblazing first-generation P-Bass, Fender took a pop- ular path and paved it in gold—or at least capped it with an anodized aluminum pickguard. Further pimping the original Precision with a split-coil pickup (to battle 60-cycle hum), Fender hit design paydirt with a road-worthy recipe that’s as tasty today as it was in the Fabulous ’50s. The Road Worn ’50s Precision Bass is a sweet spin on the kind of hot-rod four-banger Duck Dunn used to cut so many legendary tracks at Stax, and picking up this Fiesta Red 4-string, it was hard not to let loose with the kind of Southern-fried funk I could only hope Duck would dig.
Fender took pains to scuff the neck so that it felt worn, and the bass really did feel like it had earned its stripes with serious stage time. Though I tend to prefer the svelte neck profile of a Jazz Bass to the thicker feel of a Precision, I found the Road Worn Precision’s shallow-C profile quite comfy. The bass’s light weight felt right, and I dug knowing that the porous nitrocellulose finish (as opposed to thicker, more durable polyurethane) would ensure that the body would only get more resonant with time. The distressed hardware seemed to tell tales of long nights and epic jam sessions. All these elements combined to make the Road Worn P-Bass one seriously vibe-infused machine that I couldn’t wait to test-drive.
Plugged in, the Road Worn Precision spoke in a husky, smoky midrange. With the tone knob dimed, the P-Bass sprang to life with considerably more sparkle than I would expect from a vintage-style bass, making its mid-heavy bark really project through a vintage Ampeg SB-12. In the low-end department, the Road Worn PBass was leaner than the other P-Bass we happened to have on hand, the American Standard P-Bass we tested last year [June ’08]. This should be expected: The Road Worn's lightly finished body, vintage-style bridge, and thin neck are nothing like the American Standard's all-around chunkiness. Nevertheless, the Road Worn had the kind of vibe-y thump that would sit right in just about any stage or studio setting.
First introduced in 1960, the Jazz Bass was Fender’s attempt to widen the bass superhighway, essentially offering more sonic control and a sleeker, slicker feel. The debate over which is a leaner, meaner machine—P or J—will likely rage until there’s no more alder or ash to harvest. With these two Road Worn contenders to spec, the debate suddenly seemed moot—they’re equally awesome. While the Road Worn P-Bass took top marks in the raunchy thump department, the Road Worn Jazz was unbeatable in terms of versatility. Plus, there’s something so right about that sexy body shape, those perfectly placed pickups, and that lovely neck nape. Playing this Road Worn specimen, it seemed clear why the Jazz is the axe of choice for so many fleet-fingered finesse players.
For Fender purists seeking a vintage look and feel without the worn frets, scratchy pots, and tweaked necks that sometimes plague “real McCoys,” the Road Worn ’50s Precision and ’60s Jazz Basses are a real boon. Sure, you might have to sheepishly admit it’s not a true ’57 or ’64 to the odd hawkeyed gearhead who corners you after the gig, but that won’t take anything away from the blast you’ll have playing these neo-vintage beauties. The best part of all: you won’t have to take out a second mortgage to fund your fun.