Though it’s been kissed by a Thunderbird, this surprisingly versatile handbuilt 4-string has a vibe all its own.
Clip 1: Tone at 60 percent. Riff begins with both pickups engaged, then neck pickup solo, then bridge pickup solo.
Clip 2: Tone at 100 percent. Slap riff sample with both pickups engaged.
Assertive tones. Great looks. Excellent craftsmanship.
Slight balance issue when played sitting down.
Fano JM4 Standard
There are two approaches to designing vintage-inspired instruments. Some builders make fine tweaks to long-established bass and guitar blueprints, while other luthiers use the shapes of the past as a muse to develop something new with uncanny familiarity. Fano Guitars applies the latter philosophy by producing instruments that reflect the past while applying contemporary appointments. Many of their wares are made to order, but they’ve recently released the Standard line, a culmination of their most-requested guitar and bass design options. The JM4 is the sole 4-string in the series, and it’s a bass that oozes Fano visual and sonic characteristics.
At first glance, the JM4 looks like the love child of a Fender Jaguar and a non-reverse Gibson Thunderbird. Those familiar with the Fano line will recognize the body shape as an adaptation of the company’s popular JM6 guitar. Alder is the body wood of choice, and our test bass is finished with black nitrocellulose lacquer. Six stout screws secure the maple neck and fretboard (rosewood is also available for the latter), and up top there’s a headstock that angles backward at 10 degrees. And thanks to its moderate distressing, our test bass had a broken-in feel and look. Anchoring the strings are Fano’s vintage-style tuners and HiMax HD bridge, which allows for stringing through the body or top loading. The nut is a Graph Tech Tusq unit.
For electronics, the JM4 is outfitted with proprietary FanoBird passive pickups whose aged-chrome covers help preserve the classic aesthetic. Manipulating the signal are dedicated volume knobs for each pickup and a passive tone control.
While the JM4’s charming aesthetics convey a vibe that would be right at home in a vintage Sears catalog, what’s perhaps most impressive is that craftsmanship of finer details is also very well done, from the clean fretwork and smoothly buffed neck to the uncluttered electronics.
Sitting and standing with the JM4 yielded mixed results. Strapped to the shoulder, it didn’t hold its position at extreme angles, but it did rest at a comfortable orientation. However, balancing the bass on my thigh resulted in a bit of headstock dive that might be bothersome on, say, a long stretch sitting in the studio.
When I plugged into a Bergantino B|Amp, the JM4 revealed what makes it such a fine instrument. Fano did an excellent job setting up the instrument with low action and nearly flawless intonation. My notes projected evenly across the strings, with double and triple stops ringing full and clear.
The FanoBird pickups are incredibly versatile, delivering the sonic qualities of active pickups but in a passive package. Soloing the neck unit revealed (as the pickup moniker might indicate) a timbre reminiscent of a Thunderbird, but with added midrange articulation and clarity. The bridge pickup has an abundance of midrange and enough bark to make a Jaco disciple put down their Jazz bass for a listen. Engaging both pickups makes for a dynamic duo, producing a surprisingly modern tone with full lows and mids, as well as a bright top end.
Fano’s new bass did not disappoint onstage during a three-and-a-half-hour rock show where it was plugged into the house amp—a Fender Rumble 500—with a direct signal sent to the board. While some basses would get lost in a mix with an aggressive drummer and two guitarists playing through Fender Twins, I was able to hear each note of the JM4—be it the lower parts of the 4th string, or the upper portions of the 1st. This instilled confidence that I could be dynamic with the instrument whether I was giving ballads light, lyrical support, or heavier tunes extra punch.
To my surprise, the JM4 also had an excellent tone for slapping and popping. During the show, a listener asked to hear something funky. Doing our best to oblige, we jammed Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” The JM4 delivered a gut-punching growl and a steely string pop, which sounded great for the song’s bass-heavy intro. Overall, the instrument’s balanced tone and smooth playability provided a night of effortless musicality.
According to Fano, each JM4 is built one at a time by a single builder at their facility in Scottsdale, Arizona. I appreciate that Fano put that level of care into a “standard” model, especially for an instrument priced lower than many U.S.-built production basses. The JM4 would work well in a variety of genres, both sonically and aesthetically. If you’re seeking a bass with classic looks and cool sounds, but that’s actually a little different from “standard” fare, the Fano JM4 is worthy of a long look.
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