Fender refreshes a classic bass design with a versatile pickup configuration.
Clip 1 - J pickup soloed. Tone dial wide open.
Clip 2 - P pickup soloed. Tone dial halfway.
Clip 3 - P and J pickups engaged. Tone dial wide open.
Short-scale basses weren’t a new idea when Fender’s Mustang bass entered the scene in 1966, but stamp the Fender name on a new bass and the world will take notice. Since its introduction, Leo’s last original bass design while at Fender has been employed by bass heavies such as Bill Wyman, Tina Weymouth, and Trevor Bolder. Ignoring the “student model” label the Mustang carried in some circles, players embraced the design for its tone, comfort, and playability. The Mustang became a darling of the cool kids, likely also due in part to its slight flip of the bird to the norm.
Fast-forward to today and the introduction of Fender’s Mustang Bass PJ. The bass has retained the style, scale, attitude, and comfort of the original, but with a twist. In a Dr. Moreau-like way, the Mustang has been gifted with the mainstream tones of P and J basses as well. And suddenly, the hip becomes mainstream, yet still stays hip.
Run This Pony
Out of the gate, the Mustang Bass PJ is a looker. Fender’s olympic white is always a classy aesthetic, and the mint scratchplate is a nice touch. For the traditional standard-scale player, the 30" scale will take a little getting used to since it might initially feel like a toy. I can assure you, however, this bass is no toy. The alder body has some beef to it, and unlike the models of the past geared more towards the beginner, this made-in-Mexico Mustang feels like it can run with its big P and J brothers. And speaking of its P and J brothers, what really gives the new Mustang its cool is the P/J pickup configuration (with a conventional 3-way switch running the show), instead of the small split-coil of the past.
To get things started, I plugged the Mustang Bass PJ into an Eden CXC210 combo and set the EQ flat to let the axe speak on its own. With the neck pickup soloed, I was met with a full, robust tone sprinkled with a touch of bite. The maple neck was quick and responsive, and the rosewood fretboard felt fantastic. For my bassist friends who like 24-fret slap machines, this 19-fret bass might not be for you. That said, most of us have been taught that less is more with bass, right? The P-like tones that flow from the Mustang Bass PJ are wonderfully dynamic and would be equally fitting on a record or onstage. Roll the tone control back about halfway, and this Mustang moves into a mellower range that sounds akin to deadened strings. That’s a nice tone to have if you’re after a vintage vibe.
The tone rounds itself out and becomes more sonically complete with both pickups engaged. Even though the Mustang Bass PJ came with a light set of strings (.040‑.095), it sounded and played bigger than it really is. And while I would have loved this bass to be strung through the body like the original, I was nonetheless impressed with its sustain. No complaints in that department.
The J pickup is typical Fender Jazz: pointed, tight, and begging for Jaco runs. (Yes, I mentioned Jaco runs in a Mustang review.) The tone won’t necessarily replace what you’re getting from your Jazz, but it will get you pretty close. Would I use this pickup setting to cut through a live or recorded mix? Yes.
With the new pickup configuration, a more diverse cross-section of players is likely to gravitate towards the Mustang because of the additional tonal options on tap. The Mustang Bass PJ would be a fine addition for a wide spectrum of players with differing styles—including those just starting out, so they can develop technique while learning about tone at the same time. My first bass had one tone (bad), so having options is a great thing. And if this is going to be your first bass, chances are you won’t go selling it off like so many of us do with our first instruments.
For the 6-stringers reading this, please take note: We live in a world that is constantly streamlining, so for the guitarist with a project studio, the Mustang Bass PJ might be the right 4-string for your arsenal. Without necessarily coming out and saying it, Fender made this bass for you as well. The short scale will feel close to home and the tones are rock-solid. And if on that rare occasion your bassist doesn’t show up for the gig, your transition over to the bass chair will be that much more efficient since your hands won’t feel too much out of place.
Fender’s Mustang Bass PJ galloped out of the gig bag and into this bassist’s heart immediately. There is something refreshing and, more importantly, inspiring about playing a short-scale bass. And the Mustang Bass PJ did just that for me. The new pickup configuration makes for a more practical bass by providing the ability to jump across genres with its wide range of tones and away from being pigeonholed into the dark corners of the indie world. Whether or not the Mustang Bass PJ finds its way into your life is just a matter of how the shorter scale feels to you. At this price point, however, I’m pretty confident you can bet on this horse and win just about every time.
Watch the Review Demo: