This Article was published in Issue 19 in SUMMER 2016.
The Company Line
There’s far too much to cover here, as entire books have been written on this, but the short version is, it all started with the Precision Bass, introduced by the now legendary Leo Fender in 1951. The bass was the sibling to the Broadcaster guitar. The bass got its name from having frets, making it easy to play notes precisely, as compared to all the other bass instruments of the day being fretless. Other than adding a contour to what was previously a “slab” body in 1954, that model continued largely as-is until mid-1957, when the Precision Bass was entirely redesigned to be the model we’re still familiar with today. The original Precision design would disappear completely until re-emerging with the original slab type body in 1968 as the Telecaster Bass. Just as the original Precision Bass was the sister instrument to a guitar, the Jazz Bass was introduced in 1960 to be the sister bass instrument to the Jazzmaster guitar (introduced in 1958), which is also where it derives its name. It was to be an easier-to-play, more modern design, catering to the more demanding jazz musician. So, it came with two pickups, a more slender neck, and an offset contour body. It also had individual volume and tone controls for each pickup, and a bridge mute system (both would disappear fairly soon, however, though the bridge mute was effectively replaced with the rubber mute under the bridge cover). Without getting too buried in the rich history of this instrument (and Leo’s impossible-to-quantify impact on the electric bass world), the Jazz Bass pretty much stayed more or less fundamentally the same, through even today. Various other models have come and gone, but the P and J-basses have survived them all. Some of those models had 5 strings, some had active electronics, some had both, other featured refinements in finishes, woods, and higher-end models with finer craftsmanship, and higher prices to match.
This brings us to our bass, here. The Fender Elite Jazz V is the next step in the lineage of their premier active USA Jazz bass, replacing the Deluxe line. It’s as far as you can go in quality and features without making the jump to the Custom Shop, where the sky is the limit. I’ve owned some of the Deluxe basses over the last 12 or so years, and they’ve always impressed me, though this should come as no surprise, as the first quality bass I bought early in my bass career was a 1978 Jazz bass. I’ve been a J-bass guy ever since. If it hadn’t been for the heavy weight of that bass, I’d probably still have it, today. Building on the Deluxe line, new to this model are the “4th generation” Noiseless™ pickups, an updated neck heel contour and modern compound neck profile, standard block inlays, an improved string retainer system on the headstock, a new HiMass™ Vintage (HMV) bridge, a genuine bone nut, a wheel adjuster for the truss rod, and switchable passive mode electronics. With that, let’s move into the meat and potatoes.
The body of this bass is made of ash, though they also offer alder in some configurations. The 21-fret neck is maple, with a compound profile, moving from a “C” closest to the nut, to a “D” as you approach the newly contoured heel. It also contains Posiflex™ graphite rods, which run its length. The neck is held on by a 5-bolt plate, and the radius moves from 9.5” to 14” (also as you go from the nut to the heel). The body is finished in natural gloss, where the neck is satin (which I prefer over gloss), except for the headstock, which is gloss. The fingerboard on this bass is maple, with black binding and black pearloid block inlays (on rosewood fingerboards, they would be white pearloid). The nut is made of bone, the tuning keys are “lightweight vintage paddle” style. It’s a 34” scale instrument, typical for Fender basses. The new string retainer system works great and assures even downforce on the nut across all strings, for consistent and proper coupling. They also moved to an adjuster wheel at the heel of the neck for truss rod adjustment. I really love this feature, after having it on other basses from other manufacturers. The HMV bridge offers both top or through-body loading for the strings. The pickguard is 3-ply black-white-black, with the usual chrome plate for the controls, which employ vintage-style plastic knobs (which I prefer to the more modern metal domes … at least on a J-bass). It uses an 18v preamp with a master volume, pan (aka blend), treble boost/cut, mid boost/cut, bass boost/cut, a passive tone control, and an active/passive toggle switch. Fender doesn’t release the EQ points, but I’ve always loved the voicings on their preamps, especially since the Deluxe models, so that’s unimportant to me. It just works. The output jack is on the side of the bass, since there’s no room on the control plate, and it’s not recessed, so L-shaped cable ends may be used, if desired. All the metal hardware is nickel/chrome, and the strings are Fender USA NPS (nickel plated steel), with gauges .045” to .125” for the 5-string model. Like all the high-end Fender basses, this bass uses the Schaller strap lock system. These work fine, but I personally prefer the Dunlop Duals.
Fit and Finish
I looked this bass over with a pretty fine-tooth comb, and while I’m not the technical reviewer, I can’t find a single flaw. The finish, neck joint, and fretwork are all top notch. The neck profile feels completely natural. I don’t even notice that the profile and radius change; it just feels good. The bridge operates smoothly, as do the tuning machines, making it trivial to get to pitch easily the first time, every time. If stringing through the body, the ferules on the back anchor the strings securely without damaging the wood. The controls work intuitively, with a detent at the “zero” boost/cut point, except for the passive tone control, which is continuous from open to full attenuation. In active mode, the passive tone control does nothing, but when you engage passive mode via the mini-toggle switch, then just the volume, pan, and passive tone are active. This is actually a minor issue for me. Active treble boost/cut and passive tone controls are completely different, and I’d rather have the passive tone control be globally usable in either active or passive mode. Speaking of the electronics, the small battery compartment cover on the back of the bass is held on by two slotted, round-head screws – instead of counter-sunk, Philips flat-head. They stick out a little bit, and the slots are kind of sharp, so there may be a chance they could potentially catch clothing. Maybe not, but I’d still like to see these replaced with flat-head, counter-sunk screws, instead.
On the Gig
This bass weighs in at about 9.3 pounds, which is pretty close to my “ideal” 8.5 to 9-pound weight for a 5-string J-bass. It’s a familiar hang, as any J-bass would be, so it’s comfortable all night long. The controls are very smooth and it’s easy to get the EQ just the way you want, though I rarely found it necessary to use much. I would just find myself doing the usual bass boost when favoring or soloing the bridge pickup, maybe also boosting the mids for that extra-edgy cut, like on some of the older Journey tunes. Otherwise, the bridge is the classic growly J-bass bridge pickup. The neck pickup is fat and woody sounding. I may have boosted the mids on that just for kicks, but honestly it sounded fat and cutting without any EQ. Of course, blending both pickups yields that classic, funky tone. And while I’m not a great slapper, it was easy to get a great slap tone from this bass. I did find myself wishing I could use the passive tone control in active mode, however, as I mentioned before. But other than that, I really can’t find anything not to love about the way it plays and sounds in a mix.
The Bottom Line
This bass is a straight “win” for Fender. I’m going to have trouble sending it back after the review … if I send it back. It represents a great new step forward in the already venerable J-bass lineage, faithfully representing all the wonderful rich tones we’ve all grown to love and compare other basses to for so many years. Other than a few very minor niggles, it’s pretty much the perfect J-bass, in my opinion.