IN MY EARLY YEARS AT THE magazine, the predominant topic of discussion among us BASS PLAYER editors, gear-wise, was the incredible quality of low-cost basses made overseas, mostly in Asia. It seemed like each month we were checking out a new sub-$500 bass that was nearly as good as its more expensive U.S.-manufactured counterparts. Fast-forward to now, and the same technology and trade climate that allowed for this proliferation has expanded exponentially. What was then a surprising new trend is now the norm.
The Squier Vintage Modified basses are exemplary of how value-packed inexpensive basses can be. The general concept of the line is to take elements of classic Fender basses and, through the monetary miracle of foreign manufacturing, offer these defining characteristics in affordable instruments that have some real vibe. Squier didn’t arrive at the low prices by skimping either; the basses each are blessed with solid-feeling components and serious pickups.
Though the Jaguar Bass doesn’t have the historical lineage of the Jazz and Precision, it seems like it should. Our tester was blessed with subtle details that added up to a seriously cool-looking, vintage-style instrument. Key visual ingredients, like the fingerboard’s block inlays, the tortoiseshell pickguard, and the color-matched headstock combine with functional touches, like the early-Jazz Bass-style stack-knob volume/tone controls to project a insta-classic aesthetic. Plus, its P/J configuration makes it the most sonically versatile of the bunch.
The Jaguar’s construction was excellent. The precision of CNC-based manufacturing has made haphazard fretwork and irregularly profiled necks a thing of the past. It’s nearly impossible to find fault with the instrument’s fit and finish. Sure, it doesn’t have high-end hardware, but what’s there was rugged and worked fine. Plus, if it were a real bother, a tuner or bridge upgrade is no big deal. Playability was a joy on the Jaguar. In fact, for whatever reason (perhaps the body shape), I found it the easiest to get around on of the Vintage Modified trio we tested.
Full disclosure: I haven’t always been the biggest fan of P/J-pickup-configured basses, but I do get the point. Having a legitsounding P-Bass coexist with the perhaps more-favored J-Bass bridge pickup is a conceptually great idea. What always got me was the fully blended tone, which seemed further afield from the classic passive-bass tone spectrum that I generally desired. Each soloed-pickup setting on the Jaguar sounded fantastic. The Duncan Designed pickups have some real color, tone, and dynamics to them—they aren’t at all your generic offthe- shelf cheapo stuff. Plus, kudos to Fender for resuscitating stacked volume and tone controls for each pickup on the Jaguar. For a P/J, this makes perfect sense. It’s cool to be able to instantly go from a dark and thumpy soloed P-pickup sound with its tone rolled off to a rich and authoritative J-style sound with its tone full up. The blended sound works, too. It’s certainly a bit fuller, with broader frequency response, than either pickup soloed, but it doesn’t have the bite and edge of a both-pickups-on J-Bass either.
Regardless, the Jaguar was an excellent sounding bass marked by genuine versatility and killing tone. One would be hard pressed to find a more overall useful bass for anywhere near the price.
The Jazz ’77 is evocative of the sort of axes seen in the hands of many a funkster back in the day. It also conveys the utilitarian vibe that made it appealing to hardcore punks, too.
Just like the other instruments, the Jazz ’77 boasts the same astounding quality-toprice ratio. It also has some distinguishing touches that help it transcend the stereotypes of its lowly price point, like the pearloid block inlays, neck binding, and Stratocaster-style knobs. And again, the aftermarket universe is over-saturated with J-Bass upgrade options, so take the money you save by buying this Squier and use it to slap in a preamp, a Hipshot Xtender, or whatever other mod suits your fancy.
There’s not much to say about the Jazz Bass’s tone, other than it sounded exactly like it should. The soloed-neck tone is barky and rich, the soloed bridge tone is midrangey and punchy, and the blended tone is big, booty-ful, and the right choice for slap. The Duncan Designed pickups were hot and well textured, and undoubtedly contributed to the period-appropriate personality of the Jazz ’77.
By this point in this review, it’s probably becoming a tired refrain, but the Vintage Modified Precision is just as solidly built and impressively not-cheap-feeling as the other two testers. I dug its look the most, too. Something about the groovy amber finish and the no-nonsense maple fingerboard just seemed to nail the P-Bass’s unique aesthetic appeal. Unlike its counterparts, the Precision has a maple body—a slightly unusual choice for a P-style bass.
Its playability was excellent, and it was surprisingly light and well balance, especially considering its maple body (maple tends to be a bit heavy when used in a body). In this sense, the bass doesn’t convey the whackyou- over-the head heaviness of some vintage P’s, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.
If there’s little to say that hasn’t already been said a million times over about the JBass, there’s even less to say about the Precision. Suffice it to say, it’s the definitive electric bass tone. Supportive and simple, yet surprisingly versatile if the player is sensitive to hand position and the intensity of attack. Our test Precision sounded just like a P-Bass should—basically, capable of cutting nearly every gig and sitting well in a band. It gets the job done, 99-percent of the time.
Squier’s Vintage Modified Series represents extraordinary value. Let’s say, for example, you always knew you should have P-Bass in your arsenal but were hesitant to spend too much or risk your money on an offbrand of questionable origins. Now, you’ve got an option. The Vintage Modified Series gives you access to genuinely well made, good-sounding instruments that are indeed evocative of essential voices in our instrumental lexicon. They’re not just good for the price. They’re just good.
SQUIER VINTAGE MODIFIED SERIES
Street Jaguar Bass, $299; Jazz ’77, $299; Precision, $279
Pros Rugged and detail-oriented construction for the price; Fantastic, definitive tones
Made in Indonesia
Warranty Five year limited