The daddy of the electric bass returns in ‘greatest hits’ form as part of Fender’s new-for-2018 American Original series. Michael Heatley enters the time machine…
Yes, it’s a Precision Bass and the concept is pretty simple – but don’t turn the page just yet. The American Original series, which replaced American Vintage in Fender’s 2018 catalogue, is no longer year-specific, but combines key features from the chosen decade along with subtle improvements.
The first thing to hit you is the look – gloriously translucent white blonde over an alder body, set off by an anodised gold guard. It’s hard to see anyone choosing the two-colour sunburst over this! It’s a showstopper, and with a sound to match you could easily imagine yourself in the ranks of Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps or similar. The transition to a Strat-like contoured body and headstock shape happened between 1954 and ’57, so we’re talking late 50s here.
The body’s nitro finish will wear with age, and it certainly helps maximise resonance. Thanks is also due to the Pure Vintage ’58 pickup, with its vintage bobbin construction and cloth wiring; the polepieces under the A string stand proud to provide an even response.
Played live, the American Original Precision adds authority to simple rockers by Ricky Nelson and The Shadows. There’s a feeling of ‘rightness’ you just can’t deny, though the combination of new strings and a maple fretboard set the tone control a challenge in order to turn ring into thump.
The one-piece slab maple neck – which is topped with a bone nut – has a generous 9.5-inch radius. It’s a very comfortable C shape, and those who seek visual reassurance while they’re playing will welcome very visible black dot markers on the side. Frets are Vintage Tall, the tuners are reverse in operation and the traditional four-saddle bridge does as good a job as it always did.
Were you buying a Precision in the 50s, you’d have received it with flatwound strings installed rather than rounds as here. Application of a home-made sponge mute suggests this would still be a fantastic option in 2018, and would further differentiate the 50s model from its 60s sibling. Talking of close relations, the neck is the biggest difference between this and the previous American Vintage ’58; seek out that now-superseded model if you prefer a standard 7.25-inch radius.
The obligatory plush-lined tweed case sets the Original’s finish off a treat. Pickup and bridge covers are supplied, but you’ll have to pluck up courage and drill the fixing holes yourself. Ironically, the period-correct tugbar comes ready-installed. Still, it all adds to the look.
Some may baulk at the price, and there’s always grumbling at Fender’s habit of revamping its classics, but the combination of sound and visuals makes this a contender for any player whose repertoire includes material from rock’s formative decade and beyond. A Precision with swagger!
Fender American Original ’50s Precision Bass
• PRICE £1,699 (inc vintage tweed case)
• DESCRIPTION Solidbody electric bass guitar. Made in USA
• BUILD Alder body, one-piece bolt-on maple neck with 20 Vintage Tall frets, bone nut
• HARDWARE Vintage-style four-saddle bridge, gold anodised pickguard, reverse open-gear tuners, knurled dome control knobs
• ELECTRICS Pure Vintage ’58 split-coil pickup
• SCALE LENGTH 34”/864mm
• NECK WIDTH 44mm at first fret, 57mm at 12th fret
• NECK DEPTH 21mm at first fret, 25mm at 12th fret
• STRING SPACING 12mm at nut, 20mm at bridge
• WEIGHT 4.3kg/9.25lbs
• FINISH White Blonde nitrocellulose (as reviewed), 2-Colour Sunburst
• CONTACT Fender EMEA 0845 305 1122, www.fender.com