Cheap guitar of the week #27 - Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass '70s
For a bass guitar on a budget, this is pretty darned good.
Before starting this one, there's the Jazz Bass '70s and the equally priced Jazz Bass '77 from Squier. What's the difference between the two? Body material and neck treatment. The '70s has a soft maple body, black block inlays and black binding. The '77 has an agathis body, pearloid block inlays and white binding.
I prefer the '70s over the '77 because the '70s model has knurled flat-top knobs while the '77 has regular Strat-style plastic, and because I can see where I am on the neck better with black block inlays compared to pearloid.
So anyway, let's talk about the Jazz Bass, known to bass players as simply a J-Bass or just J.
With Fender design bass guitars, there are basically two major body types and three pickup configurations. There's Precision known as just P-Bass or P, and Jazz Bass a.k.a. J-Bass or J. The pickups configurations are J (single-single,) P (split-coil,) and P/J (split-coil middle, single-coil rear.)
I actually prefer P/J, but at some point I will be picking up a "true" J like the Squier VM Jazz '70s for the fact it's an insanely comfortable player.
What makes a Jazz a Jazz is the slight lean in the body shape and the really skinny nut width of 1.5 inches.
To a guitar player, the first reaction to that is, "Whoa, that's skinny." True. But this is a 4-string bass we're talking about here with strings that are spaced wider apart. In comparison, the P has a nut width that's significantly wider at 1.625 inches.
For guys and gals that like to play lightly and don't want to fight with the instrument just to get a good sound out of it, the J is easier to get along with compared to the P. And because it's a standard 34-inch scale length just like the P, any standard long-scale string set you buy will fit on it correctly.
If you have absolutely no idea what thickness of string to put on a Fender-style bass guitar like the Squier Jazz, my suggestion is the 45-105 size, commonly known as medium gauge. Yes, bass strings are more expensive, but it's not like you'll be changing them often.
Known issue of the Jazz Bass
There is only one issue with the Jazz that turns some people off. The pickups are single-coil, so there will be hum, and that's just the way it is with a Jazz.
In comparison, a Precision Bass does not hum, and the reason why is very simple to understand. The split-coil pickup in a P has the coils side-by-side, similar to a humbucker; that's why it doesn't hum.
However, given the fact it's unlikely you'll be driving a Jazz Bass through an overdrive or distortion pedal, hum should be a non-issue.
I'll put it another way. If you play a Strat or a Tele now and don't have a problem with the way either of those hum, you won't have a problem with the J-Bass either.
What does a J do better than a P?
For the guitar player, there are three major things that make the J worth owning.
First, for most of you out there, it will sound better when played with a pick. I personally can play a bass with fingers or pick, but you will probably be using the pick exclusively, and that's fine. The J's pickups do take to a picked sound better than a P. In a home studio, this makes the J easier to record with, even if you keep the instrument bone stock (which you probably will.)
Second, it's probably also true you'll be playing your bass sitting down most of the time. The J's body shape is far better as a sit-down instrument compared to the P.
Third is something that sounds counterproductive but actually helps out a lot. On a J, you can really "thin" out the sound by rolling off the front pickup and using the rear, creating more of a midrange sound with little bass to it. A common mistake many people who record at home do is blare out the bass guitar way too much, so much to the point where it thuds around and sounds terrible. Part of the reason for this is because the pickup(s) in the bass used can't really be thinned out. On a J, however, you can thin it out and still have it heard and cut through the mix.
The P is a good bass, don't get me wrong. But the J is just a lot easier to work with. Easier on the fingers, easier on the body, easier to record. And the Squier VM '70s is a genuinely good Jazz Bass.