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The Fender Precision Bass is an iconic bass guitar and was one of the first electric bass guitars to be introduced to the mass market and enjoy widespread use.
Leo Fender introduced the guitar in 1951 at a time when electric basses were still being refined and developed, and it was an instant hit. The “P-Bass” remains one of the best-selling and most well-known electric basses of all time and has been endlessly imitated and replicated by competitors.
The original Precision Bass may well have been the best electric bass guitar ever made, and likely still is — it has been the top choice for recording artists and touring musicians alike, no matter the genre.
In this article, we’ll take a look at Fender’s latest reiteration of the classic P-Bass, the Fender American Professional, and one that may be the closest to the original ’51 yet released.
Fender American Professional Series
The American Professional Series made its debut in 2017 with the aim to introduce a variety of modern touches and upgrades to Fender’s most iconic guitars and basses.
The subsequent guitars are a nod to the reliability and classic design of Fender’s unmistakably recognizable guitars, but with some modern features thrown in that modern players will appreciate.
The American Professional Series replaces the popular Standard Series, with a lineup of both 4-string and 5-string Jazz and Precision basses plus a fretless Jazz model. There are also a couple of new colors included in the line-up to join the authentic and vintage-looking options already available.
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Fender basses have always been revered for their “workingman” functionality — these basses are about as solid as basses get and can stand up to the rigors of touring. Fender basses have always been tough, but they have arguably never been as tough in their long history as they are now.
The finish, hardware, and neck on these instruments are flawless and undergo some of the strictest quality control on the planet. When you buy a Fender, you are certainly making a long-term investment, as these basses can easily be passed down to your children’s children.
The new and improved iteration of this Fender P-Bass includes some small but important upgrades to the classic. The new HiMass bridge allows for through-body stringing plus adds some welcome sustain and clarity while being comfortable on the player’s palm. The new frets are both taller and narrower, making an already fast fretboard all the faster and easier to play.
Fender has also ditched the “hour-glass” tuning shafts and replaced them with a new “fluted” design. This small but effective design alteration forces the string winding downwards against the headstock, effectively putting more downward force onto the nut and allowing for enhanced sustain.
Finally, Fender has added the new PosiFlex graphite rods into the neck to keep it nice and straight and prevent too much fiddling with the neck relief.
While these small esthetic changes are nifty and thus most welcome, perhaps the biggest change to the new P-Bass lineup is what’s under the hood. The new V-Mod single-coil pickups are unique and offer a refreshing take on the classic.
They use two different magnets on the poles catering to different frequencies. Alnico 2 magnets give the low bass punch on the E and A strings, with an Alnico 5 serving the D and G.
This unique approach to magnet selection gives the best of both worlds on the most vital part of the guitar, and on a part that is typically subject to some trade-offs in tone. The result is a surprisingly crisp, beefy, and responsive sound, a sound that stays true to its roots yet gives an enormous amount of responsibility for a passive instrument.
How does it play?
The original P-Bass necks were as smooth as silk with a guitar-like profile, as thus were a joy to play. The re-issue is no different with its 1963C shape and is almost identical to the original.
The new HiMass bridge is also super comfortable, making palm muting bass parts a breeze. The simplicity of these guitars has always been one of their most attractive features, with just a volume and tone control to worry about — no selectors, batteries, or other switches.
The new taller and narrower frets make bending a breeze and accuracy above the 12th fret no issue. The Fender P-Bass has always been guitar-like, but the new rendition is arguable as guitar-like as the bass has ever been.
How does it sound?
The newly designed pickups sound great, giving a well-balanced tone and unique clarity to the P-Bass. While this is a huge plus as the bass lines up with what modern players want from a bass guitar — but the disappointing part is that it doesn’t sound like a vintage Fender.
The original P-Bass had a sought-after tone that made it so desirable, and with the reissue, that tone is unfortunately missing. Of course, if this guitar is your first time entering the P-Bass universe, you’ll be impressed as you may not know what you’re missing. For P-Bass veterans, however, the lack of the classic tone may be disappointing.
All that being said, this is a minor hiccup, and overall this bass sounds incredible. It’s got all the growl and low end you’d expect from a passive bass, with the crystal-clear mid-range and punchy high-end.
We think the new Alnico pickups are a great addition moving forward with the P-Bass lineup, and after all, there are ‘50s and 60’s P-basses available to buy if you are a purist. To the untrained ear, there is little to no difference in tone.
The Fender Professional Precision Bass V adds the low B string, bringing extra punch and power to the classic tone. Then there is the fretless Jazz Bass in the lineup too, bring a Jaco Pastorius vibe to the line-up. No matter your preference, the Fender Professional Series has you covered.
What about Squire?
Not many Fender fans are aware that Squire guitars — known for their more affordable Fender copies — is actually far older than Fender itself and was established in 1890. The company initially made strings for guitars, banjos, and violins, and was bought out by Fender in 1965.
The company continued to make strings up until 1982 when Fender reactivated the company to make lower-priced versions of classic Fender models.
Apart from the well-known affordable version of Stratocasters and Telecasters, Squire also makes an affordable Precision Bass, and it’s a great option for players on a budget. The bass looks exactly the same as the Fender version but uses cheaper materials, hardware, and pickups to keep the costs down.
Precision Bass vs Jazz Bass
There is some confusion between the Fender Jazz and Fender Precisions basses, as the two are fairly similar in appearance. If you are set on purchasing a Fender bass you may be confused about the difference between the two (and, no, the Jazz bass is not only for playing jazz!).
The debate of which bass is better has been raging on since the Jazz bass was released in 1960, but in reality, neither guitar is better, the two are just different, each suited for a unique player. So, the question is better reframed as: which bass is better for you?
Aesthetically, there a few noticeable differences that jump out straight away; the Fender American Professional Jazz Bass has a carved tail-end that resembles the Jazzmaster guitar that it was named after, making it arguably more comfortable for some players.
The Jazz Bass has two single-coil pickups, one on the bridge and one on the neck, whereas the P-Bass has split-coil pickups that are responsible for its unique sound.
The single coils will give a more balanced, clean tone, ideal for jazz and blues, whereas the split coils on the P-Bass have a classic, beefy rock sound. Lastly, the Jazz bass has separate volume controls on each pickup, enabling a much larger range of tonal possibilities.
The neck is where the two really differ, though, and what most players choose one over the other for. The Jazz Bass has a neck that tapers slightly toward the nut, making it easier to play more complex and faster lines. The P-Bass also has this taper, but it is far less pronounced than the Jazz Bass.
Check out our full Precision Bass vs Jazz Bass comparison.
Precision Bass Alternatives
While the P-Bass is a killer bass guitar, it’s not for everybody. There are some players that find the single coils a bit lacking and not “meaty” enough for their tastes, or the neck is too “guitar-like” and not chunky enough, or, the price just may be out of reach. In any case, here are a few alternatives to the Precision Bass that are worth considering:
G&L was founded by Leo Fender, George Fullerton, and Dale Hyatt in 1980, and produces electric guitars based on some of the iconic Fender designs.
G&L guitars are usually more affordable than Fender products, but with the same attention to detail and beautiful iconic design. The SB-1 has a split-coil pickup, classic P-Bass body shape, C-Shaped neck, and nickel/silver jumbo frets.
The SB-1 brings a reinterpretation of a classic design by Leo Fender himself, with top-notch pickups, hardware, and silky playability.
Lakland Classic 44-60
The Lakland Classic is a USA-built, passive “J-Bass” styled electric bass crafted with an alder body and your choice of a maple or rosewood fingerboard. It features 2 single-coil pickups that give the bass some great versatility and tonal options and is available in 17 different high-gloss finish options.
Lakland makes some of the best bass guitars on the planet, and although the 44-60 is by no means cheap, it is certainly not lacking in features, playability, or build quality. This is a bass that will last a lifetime.
Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay Special 4HH
The StingRay is one of Ernie Ball’s most recognizable bass guitars, and besides its unique aesthetic and iconic appearance, the guitar has unbeatable quality components too.
It features an ash body, a bolt-on, 22-fret neck, two active Neodymium humbucker pickups, and versatile 3-band EQ. The StingRay is the perfect alternative you want a chunkier neck than the P-Bass (and a chunkier sound!), and although it has a hefty price tag, it has a versatile tone that will not disappoint.
If you are looking for more affordable alternatives to the P-Bass, check out some of the Squire models mentioned earlier. They feature a similar sound and feel at a far more affordable price.
Question: Can you slap on a Precision Bass?
Is the P-Bass capable of the same funk treatment? Well, of course! The only difference is in the tone, but the instrument has an almost identical feel at the bridge and slapping is no issue. Slapping is more about the technique and where you hit the strings, and you’ll get a great slap sound from a P-Bass when done properly.
Question: Why is it called a Precision Bass?
These basses are large, and fretless, making them a challenge to play. Fender brought out a lightweight, electric bass that was easy to play and transport. The bass had frets, making it far easier to play in tune and with “precision”, and thus a legend was born.
Question: Is Bass easier to play than guitar?
That being said, playing bass well is another story. Contrary to what many people think, playing bass is not just merely a simpler version of the guitar, but is a different instrument altogether. Playing bass requires a very particular set of skills that take many hours of practice to master, and there is a “feel” to playing bass and a connection with the drummer that can take years to groove with.
Question: What is the most versatile bass?
Answer: The P-Bass is arguably the most versatile instrument around and is evidenced by its use in almost all genres of music. That being said, the Jazz Bass has two single-coil pickups with separate controls, making it far more versatile in terms of tone.
The Fender Precision Bass is classic, and for good reason — these guitars are tough, sound great, feel awesome, and have become the blueprint for what a bass guitar should be.
The new iteration of these classic instruments, the Professional Series, keeps with the classic aesthetic and feel but with a few slightly upgraded features to cater to modern players. The biggest change is the pickups, and while we think they are an improvement and sound great, there are some purists who will not take kindly to the change.
All in all, the Fender American Professional Precision Bass is a great guitar and one that carries the iconic bass’s reputation firmly into the future.