||Download Example 1
Recorded with the Manson JPJ signature bass, with bass three-fourths of the way up, treble halfway up, and pickup selector in the middle; the Hipshot is flipped down, too (drop D tuning)
||Download Example 2
Recorded with the Manson JPJ signature bass, with bass three-fourths of the way up, treble halfway up, and pickup selector in the middle
||Download Example 3
Recorded using a pick on the Manson JPJ signature bass, first with the single-coil option, and then with regular two-pickup sound and pickup selector in the middle, bass three-fourths of the way up, treble halfway up. It’s hard to hear the subtle difference except for the volume drop.
If anyone knows what they’d want in a signature
instrument, it’s John Paul Jones. A professional
musician and arranger since his teens, he had
already done sessions for the Rolling Stones, Jeff
Beck, the Supremes, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Etta
James before he started Led Zeppelin with Jimmy
Page at age 22. While in Zeppelin, he played bass,
electric upright, synth, organ, Mellotron, bass
pedals, acoustic guitar, slide, mandola, mandolin,
and piano. After Zep, he played bass with Paul
McCartney, upright with Terry Reid, as well as lap
steel and 4-, 5-, and 8-string bass with Diamanda
Galás. And on his own albums, he added 6- and
12-string bass, ukulele, koto, and autoharp to
his resume. He’s just as comfortable on acoustic
instruments (like the mandolin/6-string/12-string
triple-neck built by UK luthier Andy Manson) as
he is with electrics (like the double-neck lap-steel
bass built by Andy’s brother, Hugh). To call Jones
versatile is an understatement.
As he enters his mid 60s, Jones continues
to play with a wide variety of musicians,
from bluegrass fiddler Sara Watkins to hardrockin’
Them Crooked Vultures bandmates
Josh Homme and Dave Grohl. Take all those
experiences and combine them with the
résumé of luthier, repairman, and guitar-shop
owner Hugh Manson, who has built instruments
for Jones since the ’70s and worked
as a tech for him since the ’90s, and you’ll
understand why we were pretty excited to try
this fruit of their collaboration—the John
Paul Jones signature model.
Given the out-of-the-ordinary nature of
other JPJ/Manson collaborations, which
include 8-strings and mandolins, I
wasn’t sure whether it would be a
12-string, a lap-steel bass, or a
triple-necked monster! Turns out it’s a 4-string
with straightforward controls whose only concessions
to the unorthodox are an eye-catching
body and a Hipshot D-Tuner.
The JPJ is a great-looking instrument with
an interesting shape and a matching headstock
that doesn’t draw undue attention. I loved the
high-gloss, aged cherryburst lacquer over the
two-piece, book-matched, quilted maple top,
and the stripe down the back—evidence of
the neck-through design—is gorgeous. The
big, black Badass II bridge certainly looks like
it means business, and it matches the Schaller
tuners, the Hipshot D-Tuner, and the strap
pins. The three black knobs (Master Volume,
a pickup selector, and a stacked Treble/Bass
knob) are elegant and simple. The electronics
are straightforward: You can use the pickup
selector to choose the EMG-35TW dual-coil
bridge pickup or the EMG-35P4 neck pickup,
or you can pull the pickup selector to activate
the bridge single-coil.
That’s the Way
Even after a few weeks in customs, our test
bass arrived set up relatively well. The bass
was heavier than we expected (chalk it up to
the mahogany body and the Badass bridge).
But there was a payoff for all that heft—the
bass sounded great and loud, even before we
plugged it in.
For bassists accustomed to Fender Jazz
Basses, the Manson JPJ’s slim, 34"-scale neck
will feel very familiar. And there are a few
extra notes on tap beyond what an old Fender
offers, as well as a cutaway that makes it easy
to reach all 24 frets on the ebony fretboard. It
really is a player’s design.
Plugged in, the Manson JPJ showed its
true colors and ready-for-anything attitude.
The mahogany and maple-capped body lent a
thick and warm character—strong and barky
in the mids, but not muddy. The Manson
JPJ’s neck-through design—which tends to
increase sustain, intonation, and note resolution—
and Badass II bridge also seemed to
improve sustain and conspired with the other
construction elements to create a basically
hefty tone that cuts through the mix while
maintaining plenty of low end.
Playing around with the Manson JPJ’s
EMG pickups put several variations on this
basic tone palette at my disposal. Soloing the
back pickup while adding bass and rolling
off treble resulted in a nice variation on the
modern, back-pickup J-Bass sound, and highlighting
the front pickup with various levels of
treble and bass produced an active sound with
scooped mids. Even turning up the treble for a
woody, “stringy” sound, gave me plenty of low
end to work with. Throwing subtlety to the
wind, I dimed the treble and bass and kept
the pickup selector right in the middle, which
gave me a warm, tight rock tone with strong
mids and focus. Turning the tone controls
down can deliver a thick, dub-ready sound—a
texture that plays nicely into the mahogany’s
capacity for dark tones. But judicious use of
the treble typically brought out the details in
the JPJ’s natural sound in whatever pickup
configuration I was toying with at the time.
In general, the EMG pickups are quiet and
a little less aggressive than some of their brethren.
Cruising the two-octave fretboard, I was
able to conjure some very workable, popping
slap tones. But I wasn’t always crazy about the
single-coil option—after experiencing the fullness
of the EMGs, the back-pickup single-coil
sounded a bit thin, which is clearly not what
this bass is about.
Like the man it’s named after, the
Manson JPJ bass may be rooted in
tradition, but it’s firmly in the present.
Staring down its $3200 price tag can
give pause, but this is an all-around
great bass that certainly does justice
to Jones’ legacy—which is still
being written, by the way—without
screaming that it’s a signature model.
Unlike many signature basses, which
are slightly modified and renamed
versions of stock instruments, the
Manson JPJ is the first bass from
someone who could’ve had a string
of signature basses by now. It’s also the
product of 15 years of design refinements
by a luthier who has built electric instruments
for John Paul Jones for over 30 years.
If you’re looking for a high-end 4-string that
has a strong character all its own while being
versatile enough to do whatever you ask of it,
the Manson JPJ is a killer. And no less than
John Paul himself will vouch for that.
you’re looking for a rockready
4-string that will never,
ever be lost in the mix.
you like thick necks, complex
tone controls, flyweight basses,
or passive-only instruments.