Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass Special SS Guitar Review
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.