New guitar in the barn. This time it's a bass, the Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass Special SS.
I don't have a video of it yet, but will eventually get around to that. Update: Made a video demoing it. Here it is:
This guitar comes in three colors: Black, silver and candy apple red. The best looking of the lot is black, and that's the one I bought. I personally think that's the best color since it matches the painted headstock, and the 3-ply black-white-black pick guard along with the big chrome tuners and chrome control plate keeps it looking "not too black".
"SS" in the model name means "short scale" and not "single single" in reference to its pickup configuration. The scale is 30-inch, which is a full 4 inches shorter than the standard Fender 34-inch.
To answer the quick question of whether Squier offers a standard scale Jag, the answer is yes and it's called the Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass Special. Same name without the "SS". Two things make the non-SS version really easy to spot. First, it has a natural-finish headstock (all SS models have black headstocks). Second, it has 4 knobs instead of 3 (the SS is 100% passive while the non-SS has a preamp).
But anyway, on to the SS.
Why I bought it
It's a short scale. I wanted one of these.
It's cheap. Under $200 new at the time I write this.
It has the offset-waist body style I like. It's a Jag shape, which means Jazzmaster-shaped, and I like that a lot. Much better guitar both for sit-down playing in addition to playing while standing. Insanely comfy shape.
It's a "P/J" pickup layout which is my most preferred bass configuration. A typical Jazz bass buzzes like crazy because both pickups are straight coils. A P/J has a split-coil in the front (no buzz) and a J in the rear for when you want extra "honk". Works well for me. I also like the fact a P pickup has that oh-so classic Fender bass tone to it.
Stupidly easy setup
Two volumes, one master tone. No string-through as it's a top-loader. Thin bridge, but the short-scale makes it completely usable and workable. The string saddles are deep-notched so there's no annoying string travel.
P pickup really sounds good
The P pickup, as in the split-coil, is positioned well and oh yeah, it totally sounds "Fendery" like a Precision Bass would. You'd swear you were playing a full-sized P bass because the tone of it really works well. Punchy and good.
Doesn't feel like a toy
The Jag SS Bass is small. However, the larger offset-waist shape gives it some extra size and there's some weight to it (I'm guessing a little over 8 pounds). It plays like a short adult bass and not a kid bass. Believe me, it is far and above better than a Bronco, no question about it.
Knobs are cheap and "plasticky"
The knobs are total crap. Yeah, they work, but that's about it really. Barely any weight to them and they just feel real cheap. I may swap these out with some metal knobs or Fender amp knobs if they fit right.
Tuners are a little stiff
Cheap guitar, cheap tuners. They are open-back with the gear exposed however, so the stiffness can be cured easily. Just pop off the tuners, lubricate generously, work that in, reinstall and you're good to go.
J pickup is worthless on its own
[Edit: After doing the demo video above, I realize now it's not that bad. But it still could be better.]
Really, really thin sounding. I know that the J in the bridge position is supposed to sound thin and a bit "honky" because of where it's positioned, but it's seriously weak. The P pickup overpowers it so much that it's ridiculous.
However, given the P pickup is so good and sounds so right, I'm okay with the J being as thin-sounding as it is. If you plan on using the J at all however, yeah, you'll need to upgrade to a better pickup.
The J on its own is awful. But when combined with the P it's good, and this is where the fact the bass has two volume controls comes in very handy. If this bass didn't have two separate volume controls, the J would be totally unusable.
How does it play?
It feels like a short Fender with really bendy strings on it that are much easier to hold down.
The entire reason most people buy a short scale bass is because it's easier to play compared to the full 34-inch scale. The frets are spaced closer, your arm doesn't get tired as much from stretching and your fret hand has a much easier time doing, well, everything.
How does it sound?
Very punchy, but I'm finding I have to change the way I play to get it sounding right.
The shorter scale means the strings bend a lot easier. But it also means there's more string "flop" as well, depending on how you play.
I'll describe some different playing styles to further explain this.
Thumb playing - Dream come true here. Those who are thumb players will love the short scale Jag. Smooth, definitive notes.
Plucking - If you're looking for fret clack, this bass definitely has it, and in a good way.
Slap playing - The short scale Jag is fair at this. Not good, not bad. Just fair. The bendy nature of the short scale can work against you for slap.
Open picking - Good, but a tad buzzy, again because of the short scale. Might require bumping up a string size. Either that or switching to a medium-thick pick so the pick strikes don't slam the strings so much.
Muted picking - Perfect. You totally get that "thumm thumm thumm" noise and it sounds exactly how muted picking is supposed to sound.
Tapping - Awful. The frets are medium jumbo that are spaced closed together on a 30-inch scale neck with a 9.5-inch radius fretboard. Bad combo for tapping. But then again, I wouldn't know anyone that would tap on a round Fender fretboard, as that's much better suited for flatter boards with some length to them. In other words, tappers wouldn't buy this bass to begin with.
Is this bass a suitable replacement for a P?
You may be thinking why anyone would want to replace a Precision Bass with a short scale Jag bass.
There are three types of buyers for this Jag. Guitar players like myself who can get around easier on a short scale, people with short arms (kids and smaller adults), and older guys who due to age, injury or otherwise need an easy-play bass that still captures the Fender bass sound.
As for the first two classifications, those are easy enough to understand. But it's the older guys who would specifically want the Jag SS Bass as a replacement for a P.
The problem that presents itself is getting one that sounds like a P does. The Mustang is the closest thing to a P in a short version that's Fender-branded. As a side note, there is a Pawn Shop version of the Mustang that has a really nice sunburst to it for those interested. It has one big-ass humbucker in it and it's cool. If you want that bass with a regular Mustang pickup in that cool sunburst (with maple board!), Squier to the rescue once again. It is incredible that Squier makes the stuff guys actually want while Fender doesn't... but I digress.
Anyway, the thing about the Mustang is that there are some guys who just don't like it. I personally think the Mustang is a fine bass, but some older guys want something short scale that is as close to a P as possible in a comfortable shape.
The Jag Bass SS by Squier is that bass. There is no Fender-branded version, and as crazy as this sounds, the Jag Bass SS is the only thing out there that's short and sounds like a P should sound.
So yes, the Jag SS is a totally suitable replacement for a P for guys that want something short and P-sounding.
One final note for the older bass players out there: Remember, the Jag SS is real cheap. This means if the neck agrees with you but the sound doesn't, break out the tools, hack up the guitar and throw in a P/J set of Bartolinis. Feel counts first before tone as far as I'm concerned. If the Jag feels right to you but you want better tone, hack up the Jag and make it sound good. True, the pickup set costs more than the guitar itself, but it's worth it to have great feel and great tone at the same time.
A starter guitar pack means you get a guitar, an amp, gig bag and accessories, and it's usually all in one box. These packs are designed to give the beginner guitar player everything they need all up front so that nothing else needs to be bought.
Currently, these packs have a price range of $200 to $350, so you won't spend too much. And, fortunately, just about every classic electric guitar shape is available.
I'm first going to list 5 starter packs, from least-to-most expensive, and give my opinions on each. At the end I'll say which I think is the best for the money.
Click any photo below to see the price.
- Guitar in vintage sunburst looks cool
- Guitar is easy to figure out. One volume, one tone, 3-way pickup selector.
- The guitar has humbuckers in it, meaning no hum and good for rocker type of players.
- No vibrato (meaning no "whammy bar") means better tuning stability for new players.
- 3x3 tuners are something new players will find annoying to deal with, and some are guaranteed to install replacement strings the wrong way because of it.
- The fact the guitar lessons are a DOWNLOAD is stupid. It should have come with a DVD instead. And I'm betting that "free download" requires you to sign up for something, which is also stupid.
- Classic Strat look. Can't go wrong with a black Strat.
- Comfortable Strat shape.
- The neck is more beginner-friendly because it's rounder. Good for playing chords, which is what all beginners start with.
- Comes with a pick sampler (meaning different thicknesses) instead of just picks of all one thickness.
- Has a real-deal instructional DVD
- Kid rockers won't like this because of the lower-output pickups
- The tremolo system ("whammy bar") is useless and will instantly put the guitar out-of-tune when used unless you know how to set one up - which no beginner knows how to do, and I seriously doubt the DVD will tell you how since it is advanced Stratocaster setup.
- It's most likely true the bridge pickup has no tone control, which is traditional Strat wiring. Many beginners would probably mistake this for something being "wrong" with the guitar when in fact that's how it's supposed to be.
- Without question, the best-built, best-looking guitar of 5 mentioned here. The sunburst version in particular is gorgeous. It's also the only guitar of the 5 here with a maple ("blonde") fingerboard. Oh, and guess what? Alder body, just like the American versions.
- This is the easiest guitar to set up and play. One volume, one tone, no vibrato (no "whammy bar"), 3-way pickup selector and six-in-a-row tuners make this guitar ridiculously easy to tune and strum on.
- If for whatever reason you wanted to sell this later, this guitar would command the most value.
- Has real-deal instructional DVD.
- Not for kid rockers. Very "twangy", but that's how a Telecaster should sound.
- Not everyone likes the Telecaster shape.
- The most-versatile guitar of the bunch. Good for kid rockers and those who prefer the softer stuff, as it has a humbucker in the bridge, and two single-coil pickups after that.
- Sunburst Strat + black pick guard looks cool.
- Comfy Strat shape, which most people prefer.
- Has real-deal instructional DVD.
- It's a Strat, so it has a tremolo system ("whammy bar"). Not good for beginners trying to set one of those up as mentioned before.
- Doesn't have as high of a resale value as the Telecaster mentioned above would.
- That's it. Everything else about this pack is 100% OK.
- Kid rockers love it because it's black and it's Ibanez, a known guitar played by many famous metal players.
- Dual-humbucker, good for distorted playing.
- Comes with headphones for the amp, which is a nice touch.
- Good for "modding" if you like to tinker with guitars, upgrade them, etc.
- Weakest amp of the bunch, yet is higher in price.
- No instructional video of any kind offered.
- This guitar basically has zero resale value because it's not a classic shape others would want. Once you buy it, you're basically stuck with it.
Which is the best?
The Squier Tele pack, no question. Best-made guitar of the bunch and easiest to set up and play. Looks fantastic and has actual resale value. Comes with DVD that obviously requires no sign-up for anything, so you can pop in a player and start learning guitar fast.
I also know from personal experience that the guitar does not feel cheap, even though it is cheap in price. Surprisingly good tuners, good feel and even the wiring is good in the Affinity Tele.
The runner-up is the Ibanez, but only for one reason. Kids like it better because it's a black Ibanez. Is the guitar better than the Squier? In terms of build quality, no. What kids see with the Ibanez is a "cool metal guitar". If you're shopping for your kid, know this when buying the Ibanez pack: Once you buy it, you'll never get your money back if the kid plays it for a few months then gives up guitar. At least with the Squier Tele (and the Strat) there are people on Craigslist who would be legitimately interested in buying it. The one major flaw of the Ibanez is that it has zero resale value. Other than that, it's a good kid rocker guitar.
Other stuff I recommend buying along with the any guitar starter pack
120-piece pick sampler - 120 picks for cheap. Real cheap. And they're made of delrin material which is easier to grab. If you don't know what that is, it's a mildly textured pick instead of a smooth surface. If your fingers sweat at all when playing, you'll like these a lot. Has light, medium and heavy thicknesses so you can mix-and-match. The best part is that it will take you a long time to go through these. And if buying for a kid, I guarantee the kid will lose picks ALL the time, so you might as well stock up.
Guitar polish cloth - Paper towels scratch guitar finishes. This doesn't. Get one. 'Nuff said.
Behringer UM300 Heavy Metal Distortion Pedal - This is for kid rockers. The first thing the kid will do is complain he hasn't enough distortion. The UM300 is the cheapest distortion pedal you can buy. It gets the job done.
Behringer VD400 Vintage Delay Pedal - This is for the adults. It's a cheap delay pedal, and delay is fun to play around with.
10-foot guitar cable - If you get a pedal, you're going to need another cable. This is another 10-footer. If you want something better and longer, get this 18-footer with the tweed jacket. Looks cool and you get an extra 8 feet.
Video Home System, as in VHS, is something I used a lot from the time I was a little kid all the way up until the 2000s.
In the early 80s, the family did start off with Betamax, but that didn't last long because it was obvious that VHS was taking over, and the switch was made to VHS. That's the format I used for a really long time to watch my movies on.
A brief history of me and the crazy crap I did with VHS back in the day
I would routinely test the limits of the technology.
In high school I actually did do deck-to-deck editing with it for a school project. This was called "cuts only" editing. I didn't even know it was called that at the time I did it. All I knew is that it was possible to edit shots together, and with some crazy-ass setup using two VCRs at home, I made it work. Don't even ask me how I got it to work, because I don't remember. The point is that yep, I got the job done. I was even able to add in sound effects. Again, don't ask me how I was able to pull that off, but I found a way.
The longest-run tapes I ever used were the six-hour type, as in "standard grade" in "extended play" recording mode, commonly shown as "EP" on the VCR's display panel. You had SP (Standard Play) for 2-hour, LP (Long Play) for 4-hour and EP as I just mentioned.
Enter the 10-hour tape, the T-200
There were in fact VHS blank tapes available that could record up to 10 hours. Most have never heard of it, even for seasoned VHS users. The longest-run tapes they know of are usually 8-hour.
I tried seeing if the 10-hour blank tapes were still available. On Amazon, the longest-run blanks you can get are the 9-hour tapes, the T-180 format.
On eBay, yes the 10-hour VHS blank can still be bought, if you know specifically what to look for - the T-200. eBay as far as I know is the only place that has these for sale. Amazon doesn't even have any. That's how rare T-200 tapes are.
Several companies did make the T-200. Memorex, Maxell, FujiFilm, etc. All the standards as far as VHS blanks were concerned. They're out there, but they don't show up often as the T-200 is the toughest-to-find VHS blank. Sure, you can get 8 and 9-hour blanks easily, but the 10? Only on eBay, and only when anyone has any to sell.
To put this in perspective, you can fit the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy on one 10-hour tape. All three movies put together have a run time of 9.3 hours.
Why would anyone bother with VHS these days?
There are three reasons.
First, there is nothing easier than VHS to record video with. Decks are still available brand new.
Second, there is nothing easier to record a very long amount of video with than VHS. Even if you can't get the T-200 and have to get the T-180, that's 9 straight hours of recording that can be done, all at a quality level that's acceptable. To do the same with DVD would require a ridiculous amount of file compression, making the video so blocky that it would be nearly unwatchable.
Third is something most people don't think about. Longevity.
VHS when properly cared for can last for 30 years before degrading of the slack starts. And even when it starts degrading, it's still watchable.
Commercial-grade DVD or Blu-ray has at most about 15 years before bit rot sets in. And even the slightest amount of rot can ruin the whole disc. With consumer-grade optical, it will be about 10 years before the disc fails completely due to bit rot.
If you bought a new deck and transferred some video to a brand new T-180 or T-200, then put it in its sleeve, then in a safety deposit box for 30 years, three decades later you could come back, pop that in a deck, and it would play without any problem at all.
If you did the same with optical, you'd see bubbles formed and the disc would be ruined. If you tried flash memory, it would be eroded on the inside and unusable. The moment electricity would be applied to the memory, it would probably bend and crack on the inside nearly instantly.
There are only two media formats that can last a ridiculously long time. Tape and vinyl. That's it.
Personally, I don't own a VCR, nor do I have any blank tapes. But at some point I will go ahead and buy a new VCR while they're still being made along with blank tapes specifically for archival purposes. It's the easiest and cheapest way to get truly long-term media storage that actually works with no fuss.
True, the video quality isn't anywhere near that of a DVD. But the point is that the video will survive the test of time.
And if you're thinking if anyone will be selling VCRs in 30 years, no, there won't be any. However, given the fact there are retro enthusiasts that are fixing up radios from the 1940s 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s now, there will be enthusiasts who will be restoring VCRs for tape playback in the 2040s. I've no doubt of that.
The VCR will survive and the tapes will be able to be played. As for optical, anything "burned" today will most likely be unusable by 2020. And that's truly not a long ways off from now.
Pictured is what the Motion Pictures Association of America, a.k.a. the MPAA, used to use for its rating system. It's at the bottom. The "X" rating. This is what used to be used before the introduction of NC-17.
NC-17 replaced X in 1990, along with agreeing that R-rated movies would then be accompanied with short descriptions instead of just "RESTRICTED".
Why was the X dumped? Because the adult movie industry, as in the porn industry, pretty much made X synonymous with porn. What porn movie makers did was purposely advertise the fact their movies were X-rated just to get more sales. And it worked. NC-17 was introduced in an attempt to get movie houses to feature adult-themed movies that were not porn.
Did it work? Nope. Movie houses instantly recognized that NC-17 was "just another X" and refused to carry movies with that rating, and wouldn't even accept promotional posters for them either.
Even now almost a quarter-century later, when someone identifies something as "Rated X" or "X-rated", you know it's either porn or at bare minimum know it's "forbidden".
I'm actually old enough to remember the days before PG-13, which was introduced in 1984. And why was that one introduced? Because of movies like Gremlins and Clash of the Titans. These were movies that got PG-approved, but scared little kids and gave them nightmares because of certain content. The MPAA, of course, got yelled at for that by "concerned parents", so they decided to introduce an intermediate rating between PG and R, which is PG-13.
PG-13 had a legitimate reason to exist. But NC-17 never really did, and has always been dopey. X was just so much better.
Should the X rating come back?
Yes. It's been over two decades and a lot of people would really like to see it again. If it came back, I guarantee you that the first movie to receive an X rating in over 25 years will sell out movie houses across the country just because it got the X.
What should the first new X-rated movie be? Not porn. It should be a gory, nasty horror movie unlike anyone has ever seen. I'm talking about something just unbelievably grotesque.
Would I go see it? Hell no. But a ton of people would. The advertising line of "The first officially X-rated movie in 25 years" alone is enough to pack the theaters.
I can even envision the television commercial for it, with the last 2 seconds of it having nothing but this:
Just imagine how many people would get excited over seeing that. "Wow! An X-rated movie!"
Would the porn industry commandeer the X rating all over again?
No, because nobody would pay to see a porn movie in a movie house these days, combined with the fact almost everyone gets their porn off the internet now.
If X returned, I'm pretty sure the horror genre would command it easily. While there would be a few major-production porn flicks, I seriously doubt they would overtake the X like they did before.
Times have changed. Like I said, nobody would pay to see porn in a movie house, but they would pay to see a truly grotesque horror flick in a theater. Why? Because it's fun and entertaining.
NC-17 is obsolete and it's time to let it go
The X rating is a part of American culture. It's time to dump NC-17 and kick it to the curb because it was always awful and just plain stupid. X was better, if for no other reason than it just sounded cool.
If the MPAA wants a real reason to bring back X, read what I said above. It will pack movie houses. Count on it.
The pedal effect a.k.a. the stomp box is something that's been around a long time, taken many different forms and utilized many different technologies. One of the latest are the new offerings from BOSS such as the Multi Overtone (pictured). It has two outputs so you can create one seriously cool-sounding stereo effect. Cool pedal to have. If you're wondering what the Multi Overtone does, it's probably the best "enhanced chorus" you could ever have. You can detune just ever-so slightly, mix and match how much direct vs. how much effect is heard, and when using two amps... wow. It may not look like much, but it's an amazing effect. It would even work wonders just plugged into a mixer using two channels.
Anyway, aside from all that, there are certain things about pedal effects that most guitar players aren't aware of. These are the top 5.
1. If it's plugged in, it's on even if the light isn't on
Unless the pedal has an on/off switch, which most don't, when you plug a cable into the pedal, it's on.
"Doesn't the pedal switch count as the on/off?"
No. All that does is toggle whether the effect is on or not. If it were a true on/off switch, you would hear a soft "thump" every time you engaged the pedal. But you don't. When you stomp the switch, the effect instantly engages or disengages. Why? Because if a cable is plugged in, it's on.
Yes, this does mean if you want to save battery life, UNPLUG THE CABLES.
2. "True Bypass" is BAD
The supposed benefit of true bypass on a guitar effect pedal is the "cleanest" possible signal when the bypass is engaged.
Is this true? Yes, it is.
But there's a downside and a rather large one. You might lose so much signal that you may barely get enough of it to your amplifier to be usable.
Think of it this way. Let's say you have a 20-foot guitar cable connected to 5 pedal effects on a pedal board all with true bypass, and each of those chained together by 1-foot cables. And at the end of the chain you have a 10-foot cable going to the amp. That is literally like having a guitar connected to a 35-foot cable (20 feet + 5 feet + 10 feet). When all the pedals are in true bypass, your guitar signal has to push through all that distance to get to the amp with no "help" whatsoever.
The "help" I'm referring to is what a pedal does when not in true bypass but not engaged. What happens is that when non-bypassed, more often than not the signal going in is THE SAME (or close to) the signal going OUT. The pedal is "helping along" the signal through it so that it can "reach" its destination, that being the end of the effect chain to the amp.
When true-bypassed, signal going out is WEAKER because its traveling through more distance before the end of the chain and then to the amp.
To put this in really simple terms, an effect pedal that is true-bypassed acts as nothing more than more distance for the signal to travel, the same as if you outright replaced the pedal with a 1-foot or 2-foot cable. And as you know (and if you don't, now you do), the more distance the signal has to travel, the weaker it gets before it gets to the amp.
In other words: Don't buy into the "true bypass" nonsense. As long as an effect pedal is properly constructed with good shielding and good wiring on the inside, your signal will be more than "clean" enough.
3. Batteries are always better than AC adapters when you want less noise
A 9-volt battery in a guitar effect pedal is a direct, "clean" power source.
An AC adapter connected to a pedal is an external power source that can very easily be "dirty" and cause signal interference.
If you're encountering the situation right now where you get buzzy and/or scratchy noises from your pedal effects, and you are certain the pedal is in good condition, switch to batteries.
Forced to use AC adapters?
Get a power strip that's up to the job:
The above is a Furman SS-6B Steel Power Strip with 6 outlets and a proper 15-foot cord. It's not as expensive as you think it is. Notice how the outlets are wide apart, perfect for big AC adapters that most effect pedals use.
Heavy-duty construction? Yes. Built-in circuit breaker? Yes. EMI/RFI noise attenuation? Yes. Power switch lights up? Of course.
For small, sturdy and compact, you can't do any better.
4. Industrial grade 9-volt is the only battery worth using on an effect pedal
There's a bit of confusion concerning what "industrial grade" means, so I'll explain it.
Industrial grade DOES NOT mean "lasts longer". Not at all. It means "consistent drain rate".
A consistent drain rate means you can trust each battery to last a specific amount of time before dying on you.
With consumer-grade batteries, you never know what the drain rate will be. I guarantee you have bought batteries before in the store, and some will last for a good long time while others die on you the day you bought them. That's an inconsistent drain rate. You have no idea how long they will last.
When using industrial grade however, they are far more predictable as to when they will die on you. After using them for a while, you'll even be able to guess accurately exactly how much charge is left.
Bonus to buying industrial grade: It is ALWAYS cheaper
You wouldn't think industrial-grade would be cheaper, but oh yeah, it is. Way, way cheaper. And a way, way better battery.
5. Socks save pedals from getting ruined
You have only two options for storing pedals when not in use. Either put them back in their original boxes when not in use, or put them in socks.
The floor is where most dust settles. And that dust is going to get into everything on the pedal.
To prevent dust and other gunk from getting in the pedal, put it in a sock. It really works. It fits nice and snug, doesn't cause static electricity and it's easy-in and easy-out.
If you're wondering which direction the pedal should go in the sock, it's always "knobs first".
Or, if you're in the situation where the pedal is in your room or rehearsal space and you just leave it on the floor unplugged (as you should) when not in use, cover it with a hand towel.
You'd be amazed at how many guitar players just leave their pedals in the open and get a nice layer of dust on them after only a few days. Don't be one of those guys. You spent the money on the pedals. Make them last.