A Mod-ern Approach

Early on in their career, many bass players make the realization that theyr are “a Jazz Bass guy/gal,” or perhaps a “Precision Bass guy/gal.” Heck, some might even flip-flop between the two a bit. But sooner or later, most players come to that moment when they really understand that “Leo got it right.” The legendary tones of both the Jazz Bass and Precision Bass have stood the test of time for good reason, and most players find themselves gravitating towards one or the other.

Not long after this personal realization begins the quest for the “perfect Jazz Bass” or the “perfect Precision Bass.” One of the earlier decisions is often the choice between alder body with a rosewood fingerboard, or ash body with a maple board (the two “classic” combinations). In addition, players may find themselves preferring certain neck profiles over others. Subtle variations in pickup choices can quickly lead to obsessive behavior, and of course, everyone has their favorite colors/finishes. Until recently, finding your ideal Fender bass involved visiting every music store within a reasonable driving distance, or scouring the web for just the right combinations of features. With the introduction of the Mod Shop last year, the search has changed dramatically.

Power to the People

Fender’s expansive list of A-list endorsed artists have long been able to request instruments outfitted to their particular desires, and of course, the Custom Shop is available for those with the desire (and funds) to work directly with a master luthier and dream up a custom, playable work of art. The Mod Shop brings the power to custom-order a USA-made Fender to the masses – and does so at a reasonable price. Amazingly, Fender can even ship these custom-spec’d instruments within 30 days of placing your order. That is quite impressive!

To get started, head on over to http://shop.fender.com/en-US/mod-shop/ and pick your weapon of choice (Precision Bass or Jazz Bass – Stratocaster or Telecaster, if you prefer skinny strings…). Fender currently provides you with fourteen different body colors to choose from, and your choice of body color will dictate which body wood (ash or alder) is used. For the neck shape, players can choose the American Standard modern “C” profile, or they can opt for the new “C-to-D” neck shape, which features a modern “C” shape and the nut, which morphs to a modern “D” shape at the heel. Both neck options feature a 9.5” radius to the fingerboard. Speaking of the fingerboard, the next choice is that of maple or rosewood (which comes with a minor upcharge of $50 over maple).

The choice of pickguard material is a strong esthetic choice, and I love the ability to see an accurate visualization of how the different pickguards would look with the varying body color and fingerboard options. The six pickguard choices – 1-ply Gold Anodized, 4-ply Tortoise Shell, 3-ply Mint Green, 3-ply Parchment, 3-ply Black, or 4-ply Aged White Pearl – cover a nice range of classic looks.

The most technical choice to be made is that of the pickups. Each bass offers three different pickups to choose from. For the Precision bass, the choices are the American Series Precision Bass, Pure Vintage ’58 P-Bass or the Pure Vintage ’63 P-Bass pickups. For the Jazz Bass, the pickup choices are the American Series Jazz Bass, Vintage ’64 Jazz Bass, or the 4th Gen Noiseless pickups. The tuning machines and bridge (which allows for either string-through-body or top-load stringing) are shared with the American Standard line (and will soon transition to the hardware from the American Professional line), and the basses ship with an ABS molded case (in black), fitted to each body style.

My Mod Shop Order

When Fender offered me an opportunity to dial up a Mod Shop bass for review, I struggled with the same questions most players would face: Precision or Jazz?; what body/neck woods?; what pickups?; etc. In the end, I ordered an alder/rosewood Jazz Bass, with the American Standard neck profile. For the pickups, I opted for the 4th Gen Noiseless pickups, based in large part upon how great the 4th Gen Noiseless pickups sounded in the Fender Elite Jazz Bass 5 we reviewed a few issues back. For the esthetics, I opted for a Lake Placid Blue body, and the 4-ply Aged White Pearl pickguard.

As I cycled through all of the choices on Fender’s Mod Shop page, I could see an immediate representation of what these choices would look like in the finished bass. You can even click and drag on the image to see it from different angles. This was very helpful. It also keeps a running tab of the price of your build, based upon the current choices. Once I had my “dream bass” picked out, I could print off the details of my order, share my build (via email, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest), post a snapshot to the public Gallery (which is a cool place to peruse other builds and gain insight/inspiration), add this build to my favorites, or add it to my cart. Once you formally place your order, it is in the pipeline at Fender’s manufacturing facility in Corona, California, where all the USA Fender instruments are produced (this is also the same location as their Custom Shop).

The Bass Arrives

True to their word, Fender shipped my Mod Shop bass within 30 days of order, and it arrived in great shape. The bass itself turned out to be even better-looking in person. I heavily recommend the Aged White Pearl pickguard on a Lake Place Blue body. Sexy! Right out of the box, it played as good as it looked, and it had a strong, clear acoustic tone (always a good sign). The fit and finish is excellent. As we have pointed out in other recent reviews, the current Fender USA basses are as good as they have ever built them, and I am happy to say that the level of consistency from instrument to instrument seems to be quite high, as well. The “Fender Mod Shop” engraving on the metal heel plate is a nice touch.

Three hours after the bass arrived, I was playing it at band practice, and it just nailed the expected alder/rosewood J-bass tone. The 4th Gen pickups sound very much like a “generic ‘good vintage’ tone” – they don’t seem to really invoke any one particular era, but they do have a vintage vibe to them. Clarity is excellent, especially when playing softer, but you can definitely get them to growl a bit when you dig in. The bass was set up with the Fender NPS roundwound strings running through the body, and the action was set “medium-low” (which is right where I like it). The “out of the box and into action” experience was highly rewarding, and just what you would hope for.

The ABS shell case is similar to (though slightly different from) the cases used for the American Professional series. Inside, Fender provides lots of goodies, such as a Fender-brand strap, polishing cloth and instrument cable, in addition to the truss rod tool, Allen wrench (for bridge saddle adjustment), key for the case lock and other documentation.

New Additions

Not satisfied to leave things alone, Fender has recently announced several additional configuration choices coming to the Mod Shop. The “spring” additions (now available) include three new body color choices (Desert Sand, Natural, Amber), two new pickguard materials (Green Pearl, Brown Anodized), and the Mod Shop exclusive C-to-D 9.5” fingerboard radius. This summer, we get four additional body color options (Aged Cherry Sunburst, Skyburst Metallic, Ocean Turquoise, Satin Black) a new ’74 Jazz Bass neck shape, and ’74 Jazz Bass pickups. As previously mentioned, the American Standard features on Mod Shop instruments will transition to the American Professional series, but any American Elite options will stay.

The Bottom Line

  You can call off the epic music store road trip – you know, the one where you hit every known Fender dealer with basses in stock, so that you could find the one with just the right options/features. Fender has you covered. Just head over to the Mod Shop, build your dream bass, and place your order. Thirty days later, you will have your American-made, custom factory order bass in your hands, which is definitely epic in its own way.  
Model:Mod Shop Jazz Bass
Made In:USA
Body Finish:Gloss polyurethane
Color:Lake Placid Blue
Neck Shape:American Standard (“Modern C”)
Neck Finish:Gloss urethane front, satin urethane back
Bridge:HiMass Vintage
Tuners:Fender American Standard, vintage-paddle keys, with fluted shaft
Pickup:4th Generation Noiseless
Controls:Volume, Volume, Tone
Pickguard:4-ply Aged White Pearl
Scale Length:34”
Weight:9.4 lbs
Number of Frets/Positions:20
Fingerboard Radius:9.5”
Strings:Fender 7250M, NPS (.045-.125)
Accessories:ABS molded hardshell case