The video at right is "Jerry's Breakdown" and is the first song on the 1972 album Me and Chet. And yes, that album has one of the worst album covers ever, because when you think of Chet Atkins, you don't exactly envision him rowing a boat. Chet and Jerry, who played together often, would try to do "funny" things like that, but it just didn't work. But at least the music was good.
Anyway, "Jerry's Breakdown" is what most guitar players find out about after they discover there's more than just metal shredding. That instrumental song is to country guitar guys what "Satch Boogie" from Surfing With The Alien is to metalheads.
I am very particular when it comes to country music, because I think most of it sucks. My preference for country is mainly stuff from the 1960s and 1970s. If it's something like "Six Days on the Road" or "Christine's Tune (Devil in Disguise)", yeah that's good. But if it's anything from the 1980s up to present, nope.
Do I personally know how to play Breakdown? No. There are plenty of guitar lessons on YouTube that will show you how to play it, and they all say the same thing. Once you learn how to do a fast banjo roll, the rest of the song really isn't that difficult. It sounds difficult because you're hearing a ridiculous amount of notes played, but it's the rolls that really make the song what it is. I may learn it one of these days.
Do I like Breakdown? Yes. Great song. However, I can only handle country music in short bursts.
Country is like metal in that I simply can't listen to nor play it all the time. If I did, I'd end up in a rut. You can end up in that everything-sounds-the-same trap with country just like you can with metal.
As a guitar player, I find it's best to have a good variety of styles to draw inspiration from. To play just one style is boring.
In other words, if you hear something totally outside of what you normally listen to and think it's good, it's good and you should learn it.
The Usual Suspects is a movie from 1995 that I've been wanting to see for a long time because it had such rave reviews and I've never heard anyone say a bad thing about it. I finally got to watch it for myself and decide if it was good or not.
Good? Yes. Very good. It's a different take on the whodunit type of story where you're trying to guess who the real killer is throughout the whole movie.
I was able to successfully guess who the real killer was about half way through. But even so, I'll probably watch it again because the story runs real deep. There is no way to catch all the little hints and clues on first view of this movie. That, and it's pretty much required to watch it twice to even begin to figure out how the killer was able to piece everything together so well before it's revealed who the killer is.
Has this movie aged well? For the most part, yes. However, there are a few things that are a bit distracting that makes it dated.
You will see a few pieces of 1990s technology that lets you know this flick is almost 20 years old. You'll also see cars of the time which dates it a bit.
But the thing that throws you the most is seeing the twin towers. Yeah, that's in this movie, albeit very briefly. It was a staple of movie making that any film shot in New York either in part or in full had to show the towers as an establishing shot so the audience was sent the message "Yes, this is New York". However, whenever you see a pre-2001 movie that has the towers in it, such as the comedy Trading Places or any other number of movies with that towers establishing shot, your heart sinks and it takes you a few minutes to get back into the storyline.
For example, there was a cartoon that ran for 23 episodes from 1994 to 1995 called The Critic, which was supposed to be based in New York, and this is the show's title card:
...and you see the towers at the beginning of every show on that card. Again, my heart sinks whenever I see it.
Other than the little bits of 90s stuff and seeing the towers, The Usual Suspects is a really good movie. Fantastic storyline and I'll definitely have to watch it again to catch the stuff I missed, because like I said, the story runs real deep.
Here's my theory when it comes to certain things still for sale that are exactly like they used to be:
Certain products can stay stored in a warehouse for a long time and not age. If the product is still usable later in its original form, and we're talking years later mind you, it will still be sold as new.
Such a product is the Sony ICF-S10MK2.
Yep, it's a pocket radio. But I swear I saw this thing for sale new back in the 1990s. Possibly even the late 1980s. However it's still for sale new now. I even think it's the same price it was originally.
Why is this thing still for sale and why would anyone want one?
The answer to that is interesting.
While true that modern smartphones can be stuffed with as much music as you want in there, and while true some (but damned few) smartphones can receive FM radio, I don't know of any smartphone that can receive AM.
People who listen to pocket radios want something small to listen to while they're doing other stuff, such as listening while working on the car, doing the dishes, doing the laundry, etc.
FM radio these days completely sucks, and has for a while now. AM however has most of the better talk radio shows, which is what people listen to when they're sick of listening to music and just want something different. But since you can't get AM on the phone, that's where having a pocket radio actually has a real use, even today.
The Sony radio above has no digital in it whatsoever and no clock. If you think that sucks, it doesn't because the two AA batteries to power the radio can last a very, very long time. As in weeks, months or possibly a whole year before you have to pop in another two, assuming you don't turn up the volume too loudly.
You could - and this is no joke - leave the radio turned on with the volume at 25% and those two plain alkaline AA batteries would probably last a whole week straight if not longer. Since the radio is doing absolutely nothing but receiving a signal and sending audio to the speaker without lighting any display or having to "remember" the time for a clock, it barely uses any power to do what it does.
Now for all I know, there's some warehouse somewhere that has a few hundred of these radios in stock that were probably made 15 years ago if not longer. But it doesn't matter how old it is because the design of it is basically bulletproof. Worth it to buy one? If you want a simple AM/FM radio that will last a long time on batteries, yeah it is.
I would buy one myself were it not for the fact I already have a portable AM/FM/WX radio. Heck, I may buy it anyway because that little Sony looks like it came straight out of the late 80s. It's cool retro goodness for real cheap.
Little know fact: I've owned a bass guitar ever since my teens.
The Jag SS I just bought is actually my third bass. The first was a black Epiphone P-bass copy that I never learned the model name of, bought for $340 in the 1990s. I begged my dad to get me one because I wanted to play in a band with it (which I did). After I quit that band I kept the bass for a while. Eventually, that bass was chucked and replaced with a Yamaha RBX170 in 2005. And now, 9 years later, that's been replaced with the Jag bass.
People get a bit shocked when they see that I can actually play a bass correctly. So why haven't I included it more in my recordings? Mainly because for all this time I've been playing the wrong bass. I think the short-scale Jag is the right bass for my style of bass playing when I pick one up.
Any guitar player that records at home such as I do eventually comes to the realization that no matter how many bass samples you download or what keyboard/synth/sampler you use or what computer wizardry you try to replace the bass guitar, none of that replaces the real thing. When you want real bass, you need a real bass guitar...
...but you need the right one.
P/J is just right for me
For me, the P/J offers the widest possible tonal range for a bass guitar without the need for preamps, crazy EQ setups, custom cutoff toggle switching or any of that other stuff. A P/J does exactly what I want it to do and does it well.
I can go straight from vintage-to-modern sounds with a P/J. I've got the "midrangey" P in the front and the "honky" J in the rear. Separated, they have a vintage-style tone, and together they have a modern-style tone.
Is P/J the ultimate pickup configuration for a bass? For me it is. It's arguably the absolute cheapest and easiest way to have a bass that covers the most tonal styles you could ever want out of a bass guitar.
Is there a FENDER bass that's a P/J?
Yes. There are six of them at the time I write this, not including signature models.
There's the Modern Player Jaguar Bass by Fender, the Deluxe Active P Bass Special the Aerodyne Jazz Bass, the American Deluxe Precision the Vintage Hot Rod 60s Precision and the Vintage Hot Rod '70s Jazz.
Fender is really careful when it comes to releasing P/J-configured bass guitars, because the Fender bass purists scream their heads off every time they do it; this is why every Fender-branded model that has P/J is a special model of some kind. Fender purists will give an "OK" to something different as long as it's a special model.
Short scale is important to me so I don't wreck my fingers or wrists
If I play a standard 34-inch scale, I start feeling the pain in about 30 minutes. The tips of my fingers get sore on both hands, and my wrists also get sore on both arms.
I don't have any health issues with my wrists, hands or arms, nor is there anything wrong with me. I just don't take well to the 34-inch scale and never have, nor do I take well to standard-size bass strings.
Short scale allows me to play longer. A lot longer. And my fingers, hands and wrists don't get wrecked nearly as much.
The Jag SS comes installed with Fender 5250XL short scale strings. It's a 40-95 sized set, which is commonly termed as "super light" or "extra light". They work for me because the tips of my fingers don't get wrecked nearly as much compared to light or medium string sets.
However, if it proves to be true that the roundwounds still wreck my fingers too much, I'll try a D'Addario Half Round set, namely the ENR70. Same set size I have now, but with the half round shape. They're unfortunately long scale so I would have to cut off a ton of excess string, but, well, that's what they got. Yes, D'Addario does make short scale sets, but not in a half round flavor.
If you're asking, "Why not use flatwound?", I don't like flats because they feel too weird to me. I want to feel at least some windings on the strings.
How does a guitar player pick the right bass?
Most of the time, when a guitar player needs a bass, he or she buys the wrong one mainly because of not knowing what really works and what doesn't.
If you're a guitar player looking to buy a bass, here's my advice if you have absolutely no idea what to get.
1. DON'T get a 5-string as your first bass.
Yeah, you want that low B that a 5-string bass has because you think it's cool. Well, that's the totally wrong reason to get it.
You're going to go out and buy a cheap 5-string bass and it's going to be awful because that B is going to be buzzing and flopping all over the place.
In my experience, the main difference between a cheap 5-string and an expensive one is that the expensive one will not have string flop on the B. The bridge will be better as will the nut as will the frets, and the B will be "smooth" on the expensive bass. On the cheap bass however it will be a buzzy, floppy mess.
You are better off just getting a 4-string, switching to a heavy gauge string set and tuning the bass to B-E-A-D instead of E-A-D-G if you want that low B. Yes, you will have to raise the strings to accommodate for the looser string tension. And you'll have to intonate again. And you'll probably have to crank the truss rod a 1/4-turn or two to get back proper neck relief (or maybe not, because the heavy string set may provide proper tension for enough neck relief, but you'll have to check to make sure). Worth it? Yes, because you'll have a low B that won't buzz or flop.
You're not going to play high notes anyway, so there's no reason to get a 5. Get the 4, put on the heavy strings and tune to B-E-A-D.
The Precision Bass a.k.a. P-Bass which most bass players just call P has just one split-coil pickup in the middle of the body. There is no pickup buzz because the coils are side-by-side like a humbucker.
One output jack, one volume, one tone. That's it. It doesn't get any easier. The P is without question the easiest electric bass guitar on the planet.
I don't do P-basses because I prefer short scale. But it's probably true you're okay with standard scale. When you want a bass that "just works" and is a bass your bass player friends will be totally familiar with when you want to hand it over to them when they come to visit, that's the P.
The P to get is the Squier Vintage Modified Precision Bass in Amber. Why? It's a maple-board version that has all the classic P cues, is pretty much guaranteed to have higher resale value should you decide to sell it later ("woody"/"furniture" looking bass guitars with maple fretboards always seem to sell better), and all your bass player friends young and old will dig it. Win-win-win all around.
The Squier P in amber is so good that your bass player friends will probably offer to buy it from you once they play it. Yes, really.
3. Don't forget the bass-sized gig bag.
It is typical that any guitar player who buys a bass just leaves it in the open for weeks or months on end. After a while it gets quite the layer of dust on it. Then they wonder why the bass sounds all "scratchy" when they go to play it later. Well, duh, the controls got full of dust.
Even if after you're done playing the bass you just shove it in a corner of a room, in the closet or under the bed, put it in a bag first.
Remember that bass is a different animal
If you've been playing 6-string guitar and really haven't played bass much (if at all), when you first get your bass, you're going to suck at it.
"But I already play guitar... so I should know the bass already, right?"
You might know the notes, but you don't know the technique. There's a lot more travel involved for both hands, your hands and fingers are going to get totally wrecked as you learn the instrument (which is normal until you get used to it), and in some respects it's like learning the guitar all over again...
...but it's a cool instrument to know. Knowing bass opens up new ideas and new ways of doing things. For example, you may find it much easier to write songs using just root notes on bass instead of playing chords on guitar.
Also, for some of you out there who read this, you might have been bass players all along and didn't know it. Some guys and gals upon picking up a bass do switch to it full time because they enjoy it more. That has been known to happen (especially for those that get pissed off at the 6-string guitar real easy).
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.