Younger players may not be aware that G&L Guitars was Leo Fender’s final contribution to the electric bass revolution he began in the early 1950s, but the father of the modern electric guitar worked in his office at the G&L factory up to the day before he died in March 1991. While G&L has faithfully carried on the legacy of Leo’s later designs, like the famed L-2000 bass, the company has also introduced many new instruments to the lineup. Now, G&L puts its distinctive stamp on the modern 5-string J-bass platform, and the result is the new MJ-5.
Many G&L basses, such as the L-2000, L-2500, and ASAT models feature the unique “cut only” active bass-and-treble circuit that has cultivated a sizeable fan club since first introduced in the early ’80s. But recognizing that 3-band, boost/cut EQ circuits have become the default modern standard, G&L introduced the M-Series instruments in 2011, starting with the M-2000 and M-2500. Next came the MJ-4, the active version of its well-established JB-2 model, essentially a J-Bass with the classic G&L body style. The MJ-4 quickly became known as a high-quality, U.S.-built active J-bass with a versatile preamp and dead-quiet split-coil J pickups.
OLD MEETS NEW
It made perfect sense to release this model in a 5-string version, but first the pickups had to be developed. Designing a single-coil pickup for 5-string is fairly straightforward, but to make an effective split-coil, careful attention must be given to the balance between the two coils. A 4-string pickup can be easily split in half, but the uneven 3/2 split of the fiver requires a little more work. Once the pickups were perfected, it was a simple matter of setting them into the G&L body. True to Leo Fender’s utilitarian vision, G&L uses the same body for 4- and 5-string models, and offers one 5-string neck profile, making the MJ-5 G&L’s third model using the same body/neck parameters. Utility aside, it also allows hardcore L-2500 players to expand their sonic horizons while staying with their preferred platform.
Like all G&L instruments, the MJ-5 is available in a variety of woods and finishes, but the review bass followed a time-honored tradition with an ash body and quartersawn maple neck. The EQ provides ±14dB centered at 40Hz; the midrange gives ±12dB at 600Hz, and the treble is ±14dB at 8kHz. The active-only circuit runs on two 9-volt batteries housed in a separate compartment around back. My one complaint concerns the relative pain-in-the-butt of unscrewing the cover, digging out the tight-fit batteries with some sort of tool, and trying not to break the cheap clips that flex as you pry them off the battery terminals.
The G&L 5-string neck profile is comfortably rounded, and fills the palm nicely, while the 12" fingerboard radius provides a vintage feel around the front. The strings spread to 2.75" at the bridge (with 17.5mm spacing), leaving plenty of room for slappers while maintaining a compact feel on the fingerboard. The G&L neck joint is rock-solid thanks to a tight-fitting neck pocket and six countersunk bolts. Like all G&Ls, the beefy Saddle Lock bridge contributes to the MJ-5’s clarity and sustain. A metal protrusion under the massive bridge platform fits into a channel routed in the body’s end grain. Coupling with the body is further enhanced by the locking mechanism that compresses the chrome-plated brass saddles together. Typical of my experience with 34"-scale 5’s, I had to try a few different types of string to get the best response out of the low notes, and in this particular case, the winner was the Dean Markley Helix SS Medium LT5 set. The low B on the MJ-5 is thunderous and clear, but well-voiced with the top four strings.
The Bi-coil Alnico J pickups are in ’60s J position, and have great string-to-string balance with an open, airy quality that borders on single-coil turf—without the dreaded 60-cycle hum. The individual pickup coils are wired in series, and the pickups are wired parallel to each other. But as the bass is strictly active, it is hard to evaluate the pickups without the influence of their 18-volt power plant. The preamp provides plenty of juice, but I found treating the MJ-5 as if it were a passive bass gave me the most freedom. The implementation of the chosen frequency ranges seems almost subtle; this could lead to over-boosting the EQ to create “loudness” when using an amp’s active input jack. Instead, cranking the input gain at the amp allows you to set the onboard EQ flat and harness its full power. Dialed in this way, the MJ-5 has a flexible J-style tone palette that can take full advantage of each individual pickup, or the blend.
TAKING IT TO THE STREET
In my day-to-day gig life, an active 5-string J-style bass is a very useful thing to have, and I have several. I also own two other G&L 5’s, so the MJ-5 felt immediately comfortable. The versatile nature of this beast meant it accompanied me to rock, country, blues, jazz, and fusion gigs—and killed on every one. I particularly like having the option to use the neck pickup solo without hum—it comes very close to P-Bass territory, and the EQ can make it go from grinding Entwistle to thumpy Jamerson in a heartbeat. The bridge pickup easily fulfills the requirements of the Jaco-obsessed, with a tight, punchy bite that commands attention, but deft EQ can also call up a slap solo tone, or make it an angry driver of heavy distortion. The pickup blend is one of the most versatile bass textures around—is there any gig you can’t play on a J-bass? The MJ-5 has a full-throated voice that can anchor a hard-hitting groove, or speak with melodic fluency. With very little coaxing, it can turn into a raging slap machine as well, with all the earmarks of the modern/active tone we funksters drool over. After several weeks of action, this bass has proven itself in a wide variety of settings—and always with the cutting power and clarity that I have found typical of G&L basses.
G & L GUITARS
Pros A great addition to the active J-style 5-string genre
Cons Cheap battery clips are a potential problem
Bottom Line The MJ-5 offers a new twist for G&L followers, and will appeal to any 5-string J lover.
Body Ash (as reviewed)
Neck Quartersawn maple
Fingerboard radius 12"
Neck width at nut 1.75"
Bridge G&L Saddle Lock
Scale length 34"
Pickups G&L Bi-coil Alnico
Electronics 3-band boost/cut
Hardware G&L Ultra-light tuners
Weight 9.0 lbs
Made in USA