2011 “family portrait” showing Squier’s Vintage Modified series Jaguar Bass lineup: (from left) Jaguar Bass Special, original Jaguar Bass, short-scale Jaguar Bass Special SS and humbucking pickup-equipped Jaguar Bass Special HB.
Fender’s tradition of experimentation with new bass guitar models was well established in the 1960s and 1970s (as described in part one), and continued quite vigorously throughout the tumultuous 1980s and into the early 1990s (as in part two). From the mid-1990s onward, while the venerable Precision and Jazz models continued their long and uninterrupted domination of the bass world, yet new generations of “other” Fender bass models appeared for players who were committed to the name but nonetheless didn’t feel duty-bound to play either of the company’s two time-honored titans.
These instruments included yet another solid and highly affordable beginner/student model, one of the most distinctive and sophisticated artist models ever, further attempts at more contemporary and non-traditional designs, and a highly successful new instrument based on a classic guitar model that has become perhaps the only “other” Fender bass able to rightfully claim a place beside and equal to the Precision and Jazz basses.
Indeed, the period stretching from the mid-1990s through the 2000s to the present did see some notable successes among a few well-conceived Fender bass models that said neither “Precision” nor “Jazz” on their headstocks. Here is a survey of those instruments.
|Squier’s 2003 MB-4 Skull and Crossbones Bass (above); Roscoe Beck in 2005 with his four-string Fender signature model (below).|
MB basses (1994-2011). By the mid 1990s, the ubiquitous Precision and Jazz basses had proliferated into more than a dozen models of each. To augment this flourishing selection of the two traditional basses, Fender once again sought to introduce something new and different at a modest price point—hence the 1994 introduction of the Japanese-made MB-4 and five-string MB-5 basses. These offered smaller bodies with no pickguard and a more contemporary shape and overall look (“MB” stood for “modern bass”), with triple-laminated maple necks and tuners on both sides of the headstock. The MB-4 had a Precision/Jazz pickup configuration; the MB-5 had two special design single-coil pickups. Neither was a big seller, however, as players continued to prefer more traditional Fender basses, and they were discontinued in 1996. That wasn’t the end of the story, though—when Squier launched its own Modern Bass series in 2001, the MB-4 and MB-5 were resurrected as Indonesian-built models that were even more affordable than their Fender predecessors of the previous decade. These fared considerably better, remaining in the Squier lineup through 2008, and a 2003 metal-themed model with skull-and-crossbones body graphic and fingerboard inlay work, the aptly named MB-4 Skull and Crossbones Bass, lasted until 2011.
Roscoe Beck basses (1995-2010). Fender’s second artist bass model, the five-string Roscoe Beck V, appeared in 1995. Beck had earned a sterling player’s-player reputation backing Eric Johnson, Robben Ford, both Vaughan brothers, Leonard Cohen and many others, and his exacting eye for design and an even more exacting ear for tone contributed to his signature model’s unusually long developmental period. The result was one of the most sophisticated Fender basses ever, with a specially designed offset body shape similar to a Jazz Bass, a wide maple neck with an asymmetrical oval shape, a 22-fret pao ferro fingerboard and two specially designed humbucking pickups. The distinctive control layout encompassed a master volume knob, mid-shaping push/pull master tone knob, three-position blade pickup selector switch and two mini-toggle coil-selector switches that enabled various series/parallel combinations. Beck’s five-string model enjoyed a lengthy run given its expensive price tag ($1,940) and highly specialized design, remaining in the Fender lineup for a dozen years until being discontinued in 2007. In a rather unusual chronology, it preceded Beck’s four-string signature model by nearly a decade. The Roscoe Beck IV bass, introduced in 2004, closely resembled its five-string predecessor in most respects, with the addition of a drop-D tuner on the E string. An even more expensive instrument at $2,580, it too was highly specialized and was discontinued in 2010.
|Squier’s student-model Bronco Bass (above) and its 2006 Hello Kitty variant, the Badtz-Maru Bronco Bass (below).|
Bronco Bass (1998-present). Squier introduced its beginner- and budget-friendly short-scale (30”) Bronco Bass in 1998. Originally built in China and moved shortly thereafter to Indonesia, it had the simple classic looks of Fender student basses from the 1960s and 1970s. Solidly built yet very affordable, it is a long-running success that remains in the Squier lineup today. When Squier launched its Hello Kitty series in 2006, a special Badtz-Maru Bronco Bass with a black finish and Badtz-Maru pickguard was part of the lineup through 2009.
Zone basses (2001-2007). As it had from time to time throughout its history, Fender occasionally sought to offer more specialized contemporary alternatives to the perennially dominating Precision and Jazz, much like the Heartfield and H.M. basses in the late 1980s and the MB basses and JP-90 in the early 1990s. The early 2000s saw another such effort in the form of the Zone series. Somewhat Precision-shaped, they had smaller and notably lightweight bodies, with special pickups and sophisticated tone controls. The U.S.-made American Deluxe Zone Bass, introduced in 2001, was an expensive instrument at nearly $2,100, with multi-layered body woods, a graphite-reinforced neck, dual humbucking pickups, pan and 18-volt active EQ controls, and gold-plated hardware. A concurrent Mexican-made version, the Deluxe Zone Bass, was more affordable ($900), with an alder body, single-coil Jazz Bass pickups, standard truss rod and chrome hardware. A five-string model, the Deluxe Zone Bass V, appeared in 2004, with an alder body, pao ferro fingerboard, Precision Bass middle pickups and Jazz Bass bridge pickup. Although perhaps slightly more durable than other Fender attempts at contemporary bass guitar designs in the more expensive range, the Zone basses were discontinued after half a dozen years, in 2007.
|High style: A walnut-top Fender American Deluxe Zone Bass of the early 2000s (above) and a mid-2000s Fender Dimension IV Bass (below).|
Dimension basses (2004-2007). A mid-2000s entrant in the “other” Fender bass arena was the Dimension IV Bass and its five-string version, the Dimension V Bass, both released in 2004. Like the concurrent Zone basses, the two Dimension models were designed as yet another more contemporary alternative to the omnipresent Precision and Jazz. The Dimension basses were player’s instruments in the $1,000 range, and while they certainly weren’t the first Fender basses to have two-octave necks, active circuitry, no pickguard and tuners on both sides of the headstock, they were unusual among Fender basses of any era in that they had tilt-back headstocks. As was the case with several previous “other” Fender basses with modern looks and features, the Dimension IV and V were solidly built, smooth-feeling, good sounding instruments that never really caught on. After three years, they were discontinued in 2007.
Jaguar Bass (2006-present). Throughout the entire history of Fender basses, even the most successful “other” models (such as the Telecaster Bass and the student Mustang and Musicmaster models) never approached the level of widespread popularity enjoyed by the Precision and Jazz basses. That changed with the 2006 arrival of the highly successful Jaguar bass, which, with hindsight, might seem to prompt the question, “Why didn’t Fender think of this sooner?” The sleek, chromed-out Jaguar Bass is by far the biggest hit of any “other” Fender bass from any era, and has been seen in the capable hands of many acclaimed modern-era bassists. Pino Palladino used Jaguar basses on tour with the Who. Other artists who have played the model include Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck, Nine Inch Nails), Nick Seymour (Crowded House), Severo Jornacion (Smithereens) and Kathy Valentine (Go-Go’s).
|Bass hit: The highly successful Deluxe Jaguar Bass of 2006 (left) and its distinctively different but nonetheless direct descendant, 2012’s Pawn Shop series Reverse Jaguar Bass (right).|
The original Deluxe Jaguar Bass took its vibe and body style from Fender’s venerable Jaguar guitar of 1962. It had the same style and number of chrome plate-mounted control knobs and switches, although most of these obviously served different purposes on a bass. Its upper-horn featured an active/passive slide switch with adjacent active-circuit tone control wheels (treble and bass); the stubby lower horn housed on/off slide switches for the two single-coil Jazz Bass pickups and a series/parallel slide switch that enabled the otherwise very Jazz Bass-like Jaguar to produce a convincingly punchy Precision sound. Other features included Jazz Bass master control knobs (volume, tone), a slim Jazz Bass neck with stylish pearloid block inlays on a 20-fret rosewood fingerboard, and a three-ply mint green pickguard.
The success of the Jaguar Bass subsequently prompted numerous variations, including the more affordable Modern Player Jaguar Bass (2011), which dispensed with all the chrome and controls in favor of a streamlined Jazz Bass control layout, maple fingerboard and tonally versatile Precision/Jazz pickup configuration; and the even more distinctive Pawn Shop Reverse Jaguar Bass (2012), which featured a radical “reversed” body and headstock, two enormous humbucking pickups, a completely different pickguard design and an even more sparse control layout consisting of a single volume knob, a single tone knob and a three-position pickup selector toggle switch. Even more affordable were four distinctly varied Squier Jaguar Bass models, all of which dispensed with the elaborate circuitry of the original Fender model. These started with the Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass (2010), which featured a Precision/Jazz pickup configuration and streamlined control layout of dual concentric volume/tone knobs (like the original Jazz Bass). The other three Squier models appeared in 2011—the Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass Special, which had a Precision/Jazz pickup configuration with an additional active bass-boost circuit; the Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass Special HB, which boasted a single powerful humbucking pickup with a three-band active tone circuit; and the Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass Special SS, which featured a short scale (30”), Precision/Jazz pickup configuration and standard Jazz Bass control circuitry.