The Company Line
We provided a short synopsis of the fantastically rich lineage of Fender basses in the Fender Elite Jazz Bass® V review (back in BGM issue #19), so we won’t do a recap here. However, it’s interesting to note that the bass we’re covering here represents a case where Fender has gone in the opposite direction, by comparison. Where the Elite Jazz is a culmination of the latest and greatest Fender has to offer from lessons learned over decades of Jazz Bass development based on market feedback, the Flea Jazz Bass® is all about recreating (though not reinventing) a historical marker in time.
I’ve been a Jazz Bass guy since I picked up my first quality bass. Most of my instruments are Jazz Bass-inspired models. I always have at least one Fender Jazz in my stable (and currently own two – one of which is a Geddy Lee Jazz Bass®). It’s interesting to note that the Flea Jazz Bass and the Geddy Lee artist model share something in common. They both represent cases where an artist originally became known for playing another brand/model of bass, and then switched to a Fender Jazz Bass after having played (and fallen in love with) a vintage Jazz Bass they happened across in their travels. This is not the only case of this, by a longshot; just the first that comes to mind, and still very interesting to me.
It wasn’t until around 1979 that Flea picked up the bass. He did it to join the band Anthym – formed by schoolmates at the time – who had all instruments covered, except the bass. Due to his impressive natural talent and unique perspective on music, he quickly developed his own style, which he is now internationally known for. He is a critical component of RHCP’s sound, which helped land the band in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. Flea’s original 1961 Jazz Bass (in rare Shell Pink) was gifted to him by a fan sometime around 1990, after he posted in his online journal that he was looking for a pre-CBS Jazz Bass, in an effort to be “as cool as John Paul Jones.” According to the folks at Fender, Flea used this bass on the Chili Peppers’ albums, Stadium Arcadium and The Getaway, as well as with the “super group,” Atoms for Peace. He’s quoted as saying it’s the greatest bass he’s ever played. And it should carry some serious weight that he feels this Mexican-made signature model does a good job of representing that bass. So, let’s get right into it.
The body of this bass is made of alder. The Shell Pink finish is Road Worn® nitrocellulose lacquer, which has been distressed to mimic Flea’s original bass’ wear and tear. The bass is 34”-scale, using a 20-fret maple neck, with a classic “U” shape. The U shape is basically a deeper and rounder version of the popular “C” shape we’re more familiar with, these days. It’s held on by a classic 4-bolt plate, except it’s inscribed with artwork Flea created. The “slab” rosewood fingerboard has a vintage 7.25” radius, aged white dots (to simulate the old clay dots Fender used back in the day), and a 1.5” synthetic bone nut. The tuners are distressed and “reverse” operation, just as the old Fenders used to be. The pickups on this bass are Pure Vintage ’64 Jazz Bass single-coils, and the controls are the “stacked” (concentric) knob configuration of a separate volume on top and (passive) tone control for each pickup, which is the black ring on the bottom. The tone controls also have detented action (they “click” several times as you rotate them). The bridge is vintage-style bent-plate, with adjustable barrels for each string, and the truss rod adjustment is faithful to the original, being a “flat-head” style, and pretty much buried in the neck pocket. The strap buttons are the classic cone shape. The bass comes with a fairly basic gig bag.
Fit and finish
This is the part where I usually say it was hard or impossible to find a flaw when reviewing a high quality bass such as this one, but in this case, it’s highly “flawed” – but that’s by design. Whether you want to call it “road-worn,” “fatigued,” “stressed,” “aged,” or whatever, this bass does look and feel like a well-played bass. I’m generally torn on the whole “relic-ing” process. I understand why it’s done – especially on artist models – but part of me feels like I’d rather just have the instrument earn its own. That being said, where the “imposed wear” mimics wear from play (as opposed to damage), it does represent a noticeable improvement in feel. The smoother bare wood where your arm rests and the added warmth to the back of the neck are really sweet. In fact, I’ve been known to take sandpaper to a finished neck and go with a natural wood/oil feel; I love it.
Regardless of your personal take on the Road Worn finish, the overall fit and finish are really good, especially for this price range. Just be careful to note that this is nitrocellulose, so you’ll end up with dings and wear of your own (in addition to the Flea-copied wear-and-tear) much easier than with more modern instrument finishes. The woodwork is very good, the frets feel good, and the bass takes a nice setup, though I hate the “buried” truss rod adjuster. Yes, I know it’s just to be faithful to the original, but it’s still a pain. The neck pocket could be a little tighter, but that’s a small niggle for what’s being offered at this price point, and I don’t think it affects tone or playability of this bass.
On the gig
This bass weighs in at about 9.3 pounds, which is maybe a bit on the heavy side for a standard 4-string Jazz Bass, but not bad. It’s a familiar hang, as any J-bass would be, so it’s comfortable all night long. The “player wear” on the body and neck felt great, and the classic neck profile was also a joy. The controls are simple and effective. The pickups sound wonderful. I’ve played a few vintage Jazz Basses in my day, and these sound legit to me. There’s plenty of sweet burp/growl from the bridge, and lots of fat, round sweetness from the neck. I was also impressed that the tone controls were wired in such that they seemed to be a little better isolated from each other than I had expected. For example, it seemed that the tone for a given pickup was only relevant if that pickup was also turned up to some level. This is the proper way to wire this configuration (though I have played some similarly configured basses from other manufacturers where this was not done correctly). I have to admit, the reverse tuners bit me every time, and I had to laugh. The gig bag is really basic. Personally, I would get something with more padding/protection if you gig pretty regularly, but for the occasional player, it’s fine.
The Bottom Line
This bass is another win for Fender. It’s a faithful and affordable representation of a highly sought after vintage instrument most of us will never see in our lives, let alone touch or play. I love this bass, and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a passive 4-string Jazz Bass, especially vintage-style.
This bass is very faithful to the classic Jazz Bass sound and feel many of us, including Flea, love so much. It’s a familiar sound that can work with pretty much any style of music. If you’re looking for a surprisingly close representation of a vintage Jazz for a tiny fraction of the money – especially if you’re a Flea fan – get one. It’s that simple.
|Manufacturer:||Fender Musical Instrument|
|Model:||Fender Flea Jazz Bass|
|Fingerboard:||Rosewood with “Aged White” plastic dots|
|Bridge/color:||Fender vintage, chrome|
|Nut (Guide):||Synthetic bone|
|Tuners/color:||Fender, distressed chrome, reverse operation|
|Knobs/color:||Knurled metal dome/ring, chrome/black|
|Control cavity cover||n/a|
|Pickups:||Pure Vintage ’64 Jazz Bass (single-coil)|
|Body Finish:||Road Worn Faded Shell Pink nitrocellulose|
|Neck Finish:||Road Worn Faded clear nitrocellulose|
|Number of Frets/Positions:||20|
|Strings:||Fender USA NPS (nickel plated steel)|
|Gauge:||.045, .065, .085, .105|