Here is a company, known and heard live and on TV and the radio around the world, but it could be argued that they lost their way. They were pre-eminent at one time. They had competitors, of course, but for a long time, it was only Gibson that could really challenge them. And they produced just about the first of everything.
The Precision was the first electric bass, for example. The subject of our Fender American Professional Precision Bass review is a new version. Yet another new version.
They were doing well, but they were bought out by CBS, and the wheels really did come off. As the Fender product deteriorated alarmingly, Gibson got better. A series of new managers hoped to steady the ship, but it was only when Bill Schultz arrived in the mid-80s that they started to recover.
But then the opposition themselves had a sudden rush of the loonies. Gibson started buying up turntable and audio companies like TEAC. Amassed a fortune in debt, and when they couldn’t pay the debts, they filed for bankruptcy. The creator of the Les Paul, the J-45 and the SG was bankrupt.
What On Earth Were They Thinking?
Fender had bought up companies as well but in associated guitar fields. But as Gibson ground to a halt, Fender were in no position to take advantage. They still aren’t. Now they still struggle, having seemingly forgotten what they do best. Forgotten to such an extent that people crave the old pre-CBS basses. Why? Because they were probably the best bass ever made and still are.
That’s why people want them and pay a fortune for them. There is an expression, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Fender had given the world the greatest bass the world had ever seen and have seen since. Nothing compares. But they had to let people play around with it.
We get 5-string versions, some with active pickups. When you’ve got the best bass in the world, don’t play around with it. You don’t need to change it. Create an active bass, give it 5 or 6 or 30 strings if you want to, but call it something else.
Today they still live a little bit in fairyland as a company. Maybe that is because they hired the British ex-CEO of Disney to steer them the right or the wrong way. This range of’ Professional’ guitars is one range they are now pushing ahead with. The top of the range.
They make a lot of fuss about authentic and 60s build. If they hadn’t mucked about with it in the first place, they would still have the original and not have to try and recreate it.
The Fender Precision Bass
When Leo sat down in 1950 with a pencil and paper, he knew what he wanted. And that was to design a bass to take the place of the cumbersome upright bass in jazz and other combos. When it was released to the market in 1951, it had a slow start. People weren’t sure. Those that were, tried playing it through guitar amps and blew the speakers to pieces.
The bass amp hadn’t been invented, and Marshall was still 12 years away. Leo got his pencil out again, and in 1952 the first Bassman amplifier arrived. Basic as it was, it didn’t disintegrate when any sound was pumped through the single Jensen speaker. Now Leo had something to sell.
Players loved it, and by 1957 we had the finished article. The Jazz came along with its two single-coil pickups and a more ‘middley’ sound. But it has always lived in its shadow. There is nothing, repeat nothing like the thunderous sound of a pre-CBS Precision. Just about everyone has used one. So many of the ‘big’ records of nearly 70 years have boasted ‘that’ sound. L
So, let’s move on and take a look at what Fender is doing now with a legend…
We use the word legend, and that in itself brings its own problems. Because anything with the name will be associated with what is perceived as the best. If it isn’t good enough, it will be cast out. Literally.
This is a Fender attempt to reinvent, again, a guitar that became an icon. There are some good things and some not so good. The stand out feature is the neck, which is very good. The original 63 necks were something else. I know that from personal experience, I own two of them.
They are smooth and just sit in your hand. Thankfully, they have managed to recreate that to some extent. The look is good, the sound we will discuss later. A lot of the design features have been replicated, and they have used Alder for the body. Fender started to use Alder in the mid-50s. The results visually and to the sound of the bass were immediate. Alder became the Fender favorite.
So, let’s have a closer look at this Fender American Professional Precision Bass…
As we said, the body is Alder, which is a good start. Initially chosen due to price and availability, it became the wood of choice. They had used Ash, and since tried Basswood, but Alder is the wood they should choose.
The grain is a little lighter than other woods like Ash and, therefore, really adds to the sunburst finish. It also produces better results for the solid colors. There is the plain and simple double cutaway design that is recognized the world-over and copied, of course, endlessly.
This particular model is in Olympic white (like my 1962 model) and has a gloss polyurethane coated finish. Simple controls, of course, just a volume and a tone. You don’t need anything else. They have completed the design styling with a 3-ply white pickguard.
That was ‘the look’. Well, that may be an ‘insider’ answer. It was always the ‘glamour’ Precision. The 60s white and black. It was though, in the eyes of some bass players, hijacked by the ‘Punk brigade’ in the UK initially but then further afield. Sid Vicious is a case in point.
Throwing the white and black icon around the stage, spitting on it, and trying to pretend to play it, cost it some points. It has never quite recovered in the eyes of some. Perhaps that’s why the pickguard here is white and not black, which conjures up some unpleasant undertones. Nevertheless, the body on the Fender American Professional Precision Bass is as it should be.
There are a lot of bass players that say that the ’63 Precision neck was the best Fender has come up with. Why that year? Can’t tell you. 61 and 62, maybe 64, all good, but ’63 was special. After ’65 and for quite a few years, the rubbish tip was the best place for them. You’d get the ’63 guitar just for the neck.
With this Bass, they have tried to recreate the neck. It’s not the same, of course, but it’s close. The familiar bolt-on design and the ‘C’ shape is there, the satin finish, smooth in your hand. The truss rod is different; they preferred a more modern design and materials, but that isn’t a major point, and it has its 34-inch scale.
It has a Rosewood fingerboard and is fitted with comfortable narrow-tall frets. With twenty frets and traditional dot inlays, it is all here. It will feel familiar, it won’t feel the same, don’t let anyone say it will, but it is good. They have scored some points here, and it is a nice neck.
This is often where changes are made using improved technology as the reason, or the excuse whichever way you look at it. This Precision is fitted with a High-Mass ‘vintage-style’ bridge. It is a fixed bridge with a four-saddle design. The four-saddle took over from the two saddle models in the 50s, which gave you the chance to get perfect intonation.
The bridge is functional and does its job of securing the strings and transferring energy to the guitar body. But you can hardly call it original. It is ‘vintage-style’ whatever that means.
The same goes for the tuners, which are also re-designed. They are nickel and chrome and have a fluted shaft and are lightweight. Once again, they are ‘vintage-style’ and not the original design. We are told they are better. We doubt it. The nut material is bone.
A Precision bass, as we have already mentioned, creates its sound using one single-coil pickup. That’s it, nothing else. It is simple and straightforward. Two controls for volume and tone. Nothing more. A sound that went around the world on more records than anything else. Possibly on more stage performances than anything else.
The pickup on this guitar is a single-coil designed to ‘recreate’ the warmth of the original. There is a little clue. “Designed to recreate”. But then Fender adds the phrase delivering the coup de gras, “using the dynamic range of some of today’s best pickup designs”.
It doesn’t need today’s best designs. It is already better than today’s best designs. Today’s designs spend half of the time trying to give us what we once had. If they’d only left it alone…
It seems Fender is on ‘It’s A Small World’ in Disney again. The original sound was legendary. This isn’t’. As we keep saying when you have the best bass in the world, why change it? If you want variants, that’s fine, but leave the governor alone.
As a bass guitar, it is ok and better than much of what is around, but please, Mr. Fender marketing man, don’t infer in any way it is a ‘vintage’ Fender. It isn’t. The way the ’63 plays is idyllic. It is likely there has never been a better bass guitar. The sound though, is iconic.
That early 60s sound still resonates around the world and did until CBS got their grubby mitts all over it and insisted they knew better. They didn’t.
Fender American Professional Precision Bass Pros & Cons
- Hardware tweaks and new pickup are a small but significant improvement over other versions.
- Expensive for a working musician’s bass.
- It’s close, but still not the ‘real’ thing.
More Bass Options
With so many options available, it may also be worth checking out our reviews of the Best Bass Guitars, the Best Short Scale Bass Guitars, the Best 5 String Bass Guitars, and the Best Acoustic Bass Guitars currently available.
What We Think
So, where does this review leave us? Let’s cut to the chase. Let’s ignore the ‘marketing hyperbole’ that these people throw at us, and some people actually believe. Music evolves, that is a great thing. It is the inspiration behind many great musicians, past and present.
Instruments evolve as well. That is also a great thing: different styles, sounds, and features. No complaints. It is necessary, in fact, essential to the development of music.
But please don’t pretend you have created a vintage or a modern masterpiece and package it up in modern technology. You are pretending. This is a good bass guitar. No doubt. But it isn’t worth the money Fender has slapped on it, but you are paying a premium for the name.
But slapping ‘Professional’ all over the name tag doesn’t make it great. It is what is inside. To the modern bass player, it is good. Not brilliant or excellent, but good. The early 60s were brilliant and excellent. They could make the original if they wanted to. But they don’t want to.
This is a good guitar. Expensive possibly as we have said, but it is a good guitar. But if you are expecting a 63 vintage sound and performance, you will be disappointed. At least it has four strings and a single-coil pickup. That makes it a Fender Precision, which is more than could be said for many that have borne the title over the years.
Happy bass playing.
Find out more about Art and see his 1962 Precision Bass by clicking HERE.