A refresh of one of the most iconic bass designs brings some new flavor for the modern player, but keeps its Jazz soul intact.
Recorded direct using a PreSonus FireStudio and PreSonus Studio One
Clip 1 - Bridge and neck pickups dimed. Tone dial at 75 percent.
Clip 2 - Neck pickup soloed and dimed. Tone dial at 50 percent.
Many bassists believe low-end perfection was attained decades ago with the introduction of the Precision and Jazz basses. So I’m guessing that working in the R&D department at Fender must be a challenging endeavor as time passes and technology improves. How do you better a rock-solid design with such worldwide acclaim and still show enough restraint to maintain historic integrity by not trying to reinvent the wheel? Say hello to the American Professional Jazz bass, one of several popular body designs introduced in a line of instruments to replace Fender’s American Standard Series. Rather than just change the name and add some new paint options, however, Fender has packed the American Professional Jazz with some innovative features that should make a number of players quite happy.
All Jazzed Up
The American Professional J bass comes included with a Fender Elite case, which boasts TSA-certified locks. Flying with an instrument is always a spin of the wheel, but I would have no problem trusting this solid, molded case if my usual flight case was not available.
Our test bass was finished in a sharp-looking sonic gray, but the American Professional Jazz is also available in black, olympic white, and a 3-tone ’burst. Not that the instrument isn’t a stunner already, but I’d selfishly love to see the bass offered with a matching finished headstock.
At first glance, the American Professional Jazz looks, well, like a Fender Jazz. The new features are ones you might not notice right away—or even know are there—but once you get to playing this bass, you’ll figure it out. The slim, C-shaped maple neck is super thin, which will help bolster its appeal to both younger players and those who appreciate the conservation of motion. The satin-urethane finish on the back of the neck equates to lightning fast play, and embedded in the comfy neck are two “Posiflex” graphite rods for reinforcement to combat environmental fluctuations.
For electronics, the American Professional Jazz is outfitted with a pair of V-Mod Jazz bass pickups—a clever single-coil design from longtime Fender builder Michael Bump that utilizes a blend of alnico 2 magnets (on the bass side) and alnico 5 magnets (on the treble side).
I spent some time playing the bass unplugged at first, and the modern feel to this Jazz was immediately apparent. Yes, the word “modern” can often be overused and misleading, but I suppose modern is the opposite of vintage, which seems to be the benchmark for basses. So, simply said, this bass has remarkable playability. I believe the designers realized that as bass playing continues to evolve, we’re seeing faster hands making attempts to get different tones, chords, and alternate sounds out of basses—and this Jazz certainly leans in that direction. It will quickly tempt you to break the rules (Remember that one about less is more?), because it begs you to play all over the neck and as quickly as possible.
To get a taste for its amplified sounds, I plugged the Jazz into an Eden CXC210 combo, set the amp’s EQ flat, and dimed the tone knob and both volume knobs on the bass. Generally, the dimed setting on a Jazz bass is a bit too snappy for my liking, so I rolled the tone back to about 75 percent, which allowed the bass to retain character and give me the articulation I like. With this setting, the bass demonstrated a little snarl and a large helping of great tone that favored sitting just in-between the low-mids and mids, which told me this J will sound dynamite in a live or studio mix.
As I mentioned before, Fender made some advances you might notice and some you might gloss over. Outfitting the bass with a bone nut is something I like because, to me, bone provides a better overall tone than plastic or graphite options. So if you’re like me, Fender saved us all the step of having to replace the nut at the get-go. The fluted-shaft tuners aren’t something I would normally think too much about. However, the design is meant to help with tuning stability and increased sustain by forcing the string windings downward for a more pronounced break angle. I can tell you I played the bass for a very long time and touch-up tuning was minimum, so maybe they are onto something here.
Another evolved feature is the HiMass Vintage bridge, which is designed to increase sustain, especially when strung through the body. It is difficult to say how all these different parts compare individually to older-model counterparts, but when working in tandem with each other like they do on the American Professional Jazz, this component set impressed.
I also gave the Jazz a spin using a Trace Elliot ELF as a headphone amp and a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50x headphones. With this setup, I was able to really hear this bass do what it does, and it only reinforced what I heard through the Eden combo’s speakers: fantastic sounds that sang with purpose. By diming the neck pickup and dialing the bridge pickup off, I got to vintage heaven with just a simple turn of the tone knob to 75 percent. It’s kind of hard to beat that simplicity. The bridge pickup on its own has merit as well, and while more subdued, it’s a great place to go if you are an effects person and want to push some envelopes with guitar-like shimmer.
It’s a little crazy to think that the first Jazz bass rolled out of the shop almost 60 years ago. Since then, the world has been playing catch-up and, yes, even Fender sometimes tries to catch up with itself. Make no mistake—the American Professional Jazz has been designed to appeal to a new generation of players, but it will also appeal to long-time Fender fans. I tried to find something subpar with the bass—I really did—and all I could come up with is that the neck-joint gap is a little wide on both sides of the neck. I can’t help but think that the bass would sound even better if it made better contact with the neck. Outside of that, I’d just say it’s worth your time to get to a local store and play one. The price tag will be pushing the high side for many, but if you only buy one bass every 50 years, well, maybe this one could be it.
Watch the Review Demo: