The Company Line
Being a huge Steve Harris fan, and having logged many gigs on a P-bass of one kind or another, I have long hoped to review a Steve Harris signature bass. Some of you may know that there have been several iterations of the “Steve Harris Signature Precision” over the years. This latest Made-in-Mexico iteration of the Steve Harris Precision Bass® was introduced at the 2015 Winter NAMM Show, and I was immediately drawn to its striking looks. The mirror chrome pickguard was to be expected, but the Gloss White finish, with purple-blue-purple pin-striping and the West Ham United F.C. crest was a pleasant surprise. Of course, Steve was a professional footballer in his younger days, and he was asked to train with West Ham United, so the crest is not entirely unexpected, but this esthetic presentation is unique from what we have seen before on Steve Harris signature models.
I can confirm that the looks of this signature Precision match those of Steve’s very own P-bass (which has been refinished several times), as I recently took my son to his first concert – Iron Maiden, of course, in Detroit. We had a great time at the show, and I thought Maiden sounded better than ever. The fun continued when I got home and was able to review this Steve Harris Precision Bass.
This bass differs from your average P-bass in several regards. The first unique feature of note is the maple body. This is very unusual, with most Precisions sporting either ash or alder bodies. History has it that when Steve’s original Precision was made, Fender had run low on its stock of ash bodies, and substituted maple. Among other things, this made the body (and bass) heavier than the ash or alder-bodied P-basses, but Steve loved the tone. The next functional feature of note is the Seymour Duncan® Steve Harris SPB-4 pickup. The remainder of the differences are mostly esthetic, namely, the unique finish and pickguard. Steve is famously known for playing Rotosound® flatwound strings, and in fact, has his own signature set. Of course, Fender makes their own strings, and not surprisingly, this bass ships with a set of Fender 7250M nickel-plated steel roundwounds installed. However, for the true Steve Harris fan, Fender includes a set of the Rotosound Steve Harris Signature flatwounds in the (included) gig bag. Kudos, Fender!
Rounding out the feature set, we have a Fender High-Mass bridge, ‘70’s style Schaller tuning machines, and flat-top, knurled chrome control knobs. The maple neck sports 20 jumbo frets and a black plastic nut.
I have played many Made-in-Mexico Fenders, and find them to be very competitive in their respective price range. However, I do feel like the fit and finish on this particular bass is a bit higher than I have come to expect from a MIM Fender. The Gloss White finish is entrancingly beautiful. This is coming from someone who is not generally a fan of white basses. They normally don’t do anything for me, but on this bass, it just feels perfect. The pin-striping and mirror chrome pickguard just work so well with the Gloss White. The West Ham United crest is the icing on the cake. I am privileged to be able to gig out with a number of amazing-looking basses, and I can honestly say that this Steve Harris Precision has received more unsolicited comments of admiration than anything else I have gigged with recently. The action is quite nice, as well. My preference is for a medium-height action, but this bass will take a much lower setup, if that’s your piece of cake.
Playing and Comparing
I have been wanting to check out the Seymour Duncan SPB-4 pickup for some time. This pickup employs alnico 5 rod magnets, and a vintage coil wind; it is supposed to be more aggressive in the mids, with tight lows and highs. This bass definitely has an authoritative tone, but the maple body undoubtedly has something to do with that. Overall clarity is excellent – in a P-bass kinda way, of course – and the fingerstyle articulation is appropriately superb. The upper midrange is a bit more forward, and I really like the way it gets more “barky” and “gnarly” as you dig in.
The overall feel, balance and neck shape are remarkably similar to my (ash/maple) ’74 Precision (my “go-to” P-bass). The ’74 P is no lightweight (at 10.4 lbs), but the Steve Harris bass is definitely the heavier of the two (over a pound heavier, at 11.7 lbs). The finish on the ‘74’s neck is not particularly worn, but it does feel thinner than the gloss finish on the Steve Harris Precision Bass. That being said, while I am not normally a fan of gloss finishes on necks, the finish on the Steve Harris signature does not get sticky or tacky, like some can.
Tonally, the Steve Harris Precision sounds a bit bigger than the ’74, and has an open, almost “chorusy” vibe (with the stock Fender roundwounds). The ’74 is more focused and tighter-sounding, and not as big/full in the lows. The ’74 does have this really great, solid midrange, but it is a killer vintage P-bass, and it’s still getting played a lot for good reason. Interestingly, the ’74 seemed to have a wider range of really good, usable tones when rolling off the tone control. On the Steve Harris bass, the first 2/3 of roll-off on the passive tone control is very usable (I really liked it about ¼ down), but the last third gets a bit on the “mushy” side.
Another bass which I felt would be a good comparison is my Lakland Skyline 44-64 Custom (which is an ash-bodied P-bass with a rosewood board on a maple, J-style, neck and a Lakland pickup). These two basses were surprisingly similar in tone from top to bottom, but they each had a rather different feel/vibe, with the Steve Harris Precision being bigger, louder and more open.
As I have mentioned in the past, I am definitely a fan of Fender’s nickel-plated steel (NPS) roundwounds. My initial comparisons (and all of my gigs) were done with the Fender NPS strings installed, and I felt that they worked very well on this bass. Though I am primarily a fingerstyle player, I just loved the way these strings and this bass responded with a pick. But this is a Steve Harris Precision Bass, and it deserves to be played with the Steve Harris Signature flatwound Rotosound strings.
Swapping out the Fender NPS rounds for the Rotosound flats, the first thing I noticed was that the increased tension from the .050 to .110 gauge Rotos (compared to .045 to .105 on the Fenders) definitely has an impact on the action (which is easily adjusted for). The overall output from the flats is predictably less than what the NPS rounds have on tap. While the bass was more “big, loud and open” with the roundwounds, it was definitely more focused (especially in the mids) with the flats. In fact, it seemed much more balanced from top to bottom with the Steve Harris Signature flats strung up. I have to admit, these are some great-sounding flatwounds!
On the Gig
Like many players, I have gone through a “J-bass phase,” an “active bass phase,” a “double humbucker phase,” and more. But sooner or later, I always come back to a passive Precision for actual gig work, and they never disappoints The more meaty, mid-focused tone of a P-bass just sits so well in a mix, and lets the electric bass stand out, without overpowering. They are especially good in a busy mix, and that’s pretty much what Steve Harris has to contend with on a regular basis in Iron Maiden. Think about competing not only with three – three! – audacious guitar players, but a madman like Nicko McBrain on drums! Now that is a busy mix!
Steve has always had one of the most recognizable bass tones in the industry, and the fact that he achieves this tone playing a P-bass with flats, fingerstyle, is quite frankly, mind-blowing. Yes, Steve’s hands have more to do with this than anything else, and yes, he routinely plays very fresh strings. Purchasing any player’s signature bass is no guarantee of being able to sound like said signature artist, and the Steve Harris Precision Bass is no exception. However, if you are up to the task of trying to cop Steve’s licks and tones, this bass will certainly hold up its end of the bargain.
That being said, it’s also a killer-sounding P-bass in its own right. It strikes a great balance between the more full, round tones of an alder/rosewood Precision and the tight, snappy tones of an ash/maple P-bass. The maple fingerboard lends to a tone that is closer to the latter wood combination, but the maple body does seem to add some depth and heft, beyond what an ash body has to offer, but still offering the tight response. This bass is very articulate, with excellent dynamics, and it carries a good bit of weight and heft in the lows to lower midrange. If you dig in a bit, it will snarl and gnash its teeth with glee.
There is no getting around that this is a heavier than average bass. Does that make it hard to tote on a gig? Well, you could ask Steve, or just watch him run around on stage for hours on end. His maple-bodied P-bass (which has been refinished several times) is of a similar weight. Of course, he uses a big, comfy looking (and color-coordinated) strap, but guess what? You can use a bigger strap, too! Personally, I find that any bass under 13 lbs is tolerable for me on a gig, and I had no problem gigging hard with the Steve Harris Precision.
The Bottom Line
If you love Steve Harris and love Iron Maiden, then this bass is likely already on your radar screen. If you don’t already love Steve’s work, then drop this magazine and go listen to some Iron Maiden, pronto! Seriously, folks…
The truth is that if you even remotely appreciate what a P-bass brings to the table, then you should check out the Steve Harris Precision Bass.