Since launching their Pawn Shop Series in early 2011, Fender has been expanding their collection of “guitars that never were but should have been” with a host of eccentric instruments. Some are new models and some are reinvented classics with hod-rodded flair, but all ooze a ’60s/’70s, found-it-in-a-pawnshop vibe. A perfect example is the Pawn Shop Mustang bass, a modded take on a short-scale classic that packs a ton of thump despite its diminutive size.
Sunbursting with Flavor
The Mustang bass was first introduced in 1966—it was the last bass design Leo Fender contributed to his namesake company before moving on. The acorn doesn’t fall too far from tree with this new incarnation—with one pretty big exception.
It’s a cool-looking and little bass. However, this short-scale (30") low-ender is no toy. Fender sent us the sunburst-finished version, but the Pawn Shop Mustang is also available in candy apple red and Olympic white, with those versions boasting racing stripes across the lower bout. All three options have a sporty, white-pearloid pickguard.
The Pawn Shop Mustang’s body is alder. The C-shaped bolt-on neck is carved from maple and capped with a rosewood fretboard with white-dot position markers. The classic look is further enhanced by traditional open-gear cloverleaf tuners, a Mustang string-through-body bridge that appears to take up almost a third of the lower bout, and an old-school treble-side tug bar.
But in its electronics, the Pawn Shop Mustang takes a big detour from its ’60s inspiration. It still has the standard single volume and tone knobs, but instead of a single split-coil pickup, Fender rodded this thumper with a chunky humbucker stationed smack in the middle.
The slab body of the bass felt pretty comfortable while playing seated. I’m well over 6-feet-tall, but I didn’t feel I needed to compensate too much for the smaller size—it just feels more like a 4-string guitar. I wouldn’t call the urethane-finished neck blazing fast, but there’s certainly less ground to travel. And save for a couple frets that were a little rough at the edges, the dressing was clean overall. The bass arrived in nice playing shape, aside from a touch of buzz above the 10th fret on the 4th string, but a slight saddle adjustment took care of that.
Rollin’ with the Fat Tone
I plugged into a Gallien-Krueger 800RB paired with an Ampeg SVT-410HLF. With the amp’s EQ set flat, this bass made itself known with some serious push. The big, beefy tone from the single ’bucker is not for the timid. This pickup is quite hot.
The humbucker’s ledge provides just enough real estate to rest my thumb, but its position (and the short scale) felt a little cramped for fingerstyle playing. My right hand naturally wanted to move back towards the bridge, but without a resting spot, my plucking hand floated a bit. The bass felt much more comfortable while playing with a pick, though I’d probably be inclined to remove the tug bar, which can get in the way with more aggressive playing.
The tone knob doesn’t have a huge impact on the voicing when rolled back and forth. I wound up just keeping it all the way up and forgetting about it. I coaxed some highs from bass by engaging the amp’s hi-boost voicing and pushing its treble knob past 3 o’clock, adding definition. Make no mistake though—this bass is not built to deliver glassy sharp, growling tone. But it will give you as much big bottom-end as a standard-scale bass, and maybe more, albeit it on the muddier side of the fence.
Though it lacks the sustain and clear note separation of a standard-scale bass, the Pawn Shop Mustang bass would be a fine tool for many styles, such as early rock ’n’ roll, ’70s sludge, stoner-rock, and indie power-pop. I especially dug making thick Fu Manchu-esque grind with the assistance of a Boss ODB-3, working the massive bends that the relatively low string tautness allows. This fun little bass is surprisingly versatile, though I probably can’t recommend it to slapping-and-popping funksters.
The Verdict Sure, the Pawn Shop Mustang bass would be a great option for smaller folks, those with smaller hands, or guitarists wanting to maintain the feel to their primary instrument. And yes, it would be a great starting point for a beginner. But this is not strictly an entry-level bass in the way that many short-scale instruments are—it doesn’t play like one, and at 800 bucks, it’s not priced like one. It is a nicely built instrument that can inspire longtime bassists who might not have a short-scale in their collection. The Pawn Shop Mustang’s little body houses a thick, thumpy, vintage-sounding tone that’s ready to go to work.