Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ceremony Zoo Album Review

Good day!

I have been following Ceremony for awhile now, and this San Francisco hardcore band’s newest release, Zoo, is a departure for them as it is not really hardcore. This is their fourth album, and the first on their new label, Matador Records.

Ceremony have reinvented themselves over the years, and Zoo sounds very little like their first LP, Violence Violence from 2004. Not surprisingly, this debut was a violent-sounding album, which had 13 tracks but was only 13 minutes long. By the time they got to their third album, Rohnert Park, things had slowed down quite a bit and gotten a bit more textured, almost like they had grown tired of their roots and were maturing their sound.

This post-punk trajectory sets the stage for Zoo to be something special, but it misses the mark for me, and comes off as being very moody and plain. This album is short, but the 36 minutes it takes to listen to it seems like a couple of hours.

Zoo starts out strongly with “Hysteria” and beautifully grinds to a stop with “Video”, and I really like “Adult”, but the rest of the tracks are bland garage band punk offerings that are no different than a lot of new music that is coming out today. And this is not a problem of production; as this album sounds better than any of their previous releases, but more that many of the songs are just not very compelling. With the exception of the three tracks I call out above, the rest of the music is dull, and even the band seems disinterested in what they are playing.

I am going to have to say “skip it” if you are considering buying Zoo. If you want to see what Ceremony is capable of, purchase Rohnert Park instead.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Schaller Locking Guitar Tuners Review

Buenos dias, amigos!

Schaller locking machine heads have been around for quite a while now, but I am still tickled whenever I get a chance to mess around with them.

Locking guitar tuners are a by-product of the heavy whammy bar metal days of the 1980s, when everybody and their brother had a Floyd Rose Locking tremolo and a locking nut on their guitar. The idea of a locking nut was that it held the strings tight, and the guitar would not lose tune during severe playing antics.

Locking nuts are also a royal pain in the butt, as they make tuning and string changes take forever. An allen wrench is needed to remove the nut clamp, and there are little tiny screws to lose. This is a recipe for disaster on a dark stage.

Schaller came up with a better way to do things with their locking tuners. There is a locking thumbscrew on the back of each tuner that is used to press a pintel up against the string as it passes through the hole in the tuner post. The string can be cut to length with no wraps around the post, and the guitar can be tuned normally after the thumbscrew is tightened. No special tools are needed for string changes and they are pretty much fool proof.

These tuners are fantastic, and many high-end guitar makers are installing these as original equipment. They are smooth as silk, and have a 16:1 ratio so that they turn easily and precisely. A set of these Schaller machines comes in around 8.5 ounces, which is a little heavier than standard tuners, but not so much that they will cause neck dive.

Of course, you can upgrade your guitar with a set of these fine machines too. They fit standard 10mm (13/32”) diameter pegholes, and are available in in-line and 3-on-a-side sets. The inline sets have staggered string post hole heights. The tuners with the holes higher up are used on the E, A, and D strings, and the ones with lower holes are for the G, B, and E strings. This makes a steeper angle from the nut, and eliminates the need for string trees.

I installed a set of these on a Fender Stratocaster, and it took less time than it would have for me to change the strings. All it took was a 10mm socket, and the old ones dropped out. The new ones installed in the same manner, with no screws required. Easy!

And they perform just as promised – the strings hold tight with no play, and there is no drama. Even if you do not have a tremolo it is worth upgrading to these tuners so that string changes are easier. I have owned and used many guitars with these machines over the years and have never had a single problem. They kick butt.

I have saved the best part for last, and that is that a set of Schaller locking guitar machines will not break the bank. The street prices on these range in from $69.99 with a brushed silver finish to $81.85 for chrome or $149.81 for gold. This is not much more than buying a normal set of tuners, and will provide tangible benefits in playing performance and ease of maintenance.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

2012 Fender American Standard Precision Bass Review

Como estas?

Fender has been making the Precision Bass for 60 years now, so you would think they would have reached the end of the road for development, but I guess they are still tweaking this icon of musical history. I got a chance to see the latest changes when I was recently invited to play the 2012 American Standard Precision Bass.

There is nothing earthshaking about these latest changes, but it is not just a facelift, but an attempt to incrementally improve an already very good product.

For 2012, the American Standard Precision receives a Fender Custom Shop ‘60s pickup, a thinner undercoat, a newly designed high-mass vintage bridge, lighter tuners and Posiflex graphite neck support rods. Oh yeah, and a new color – Jade Pearl Metallic.

Other than these changes, it is the usual P bass stuff you would expect: 20 frets, 9.5-inch radius C-shape neck with a 1 5/8-ich nut. It still looks and sounds like a Precision bass, too.

The one I tried had a maple fretboard, and it was a fine player. The fretboard edges were rolled, and the fretwork was fantastic. It was very comfortable and was set with a surprisingly low action from the factory. The build quality was excellent, but I would expect that from a new US-built bass in this price range.

As far as differences to the bass with the new parts, I was hard-pressed to notice the changes. Theoretically the high-mass bridge should give better sustain, and the new pickup should improve the tone, but I never noticed any of the newer Precision basses lacking in these areas. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a very good sounding bass, and but A-B’ing it with an older model did not really show that much of an improvement. The new-style graphite reinforcements might make me more likely to throw really burly strings on one of these basses without worrying about the neck, though.

That is about it. If you can live without the new color, you will be better off buying one of the 2011 basses that are on clearance now.

But, if you just have to buy one, the 2012 America Standard Precision Bass prices are the same regardless of finish selection (even sunburst) or fretboard material. The list price is $1649.99, and every dealer in town is selling them for $1249.99.

If you are more of a Jazz Bass guy, Fender has made similar changes to the American Standard Jazz Bass too, so check them out if you get a chance.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

1977 Aria Pro II Precise Bass Review


I am always a sucker for nice Japanese lawsuit-era guitars and basses, and yet another has found its way into my studio; this time it is a 1977 Aria Pro II Precise Bass, a bold knock-off of a Fender Precision Bass

This one has a contoured 4-piece P body that looks like it is made of basswood, but it must be alder because it is heavier than expected, coming in at around 9.5 pounds. It is finished in a bright 3-tone sunburst, with a classic tort guard.

The pickup appears to be original and it is very hot, and as I usually dime the volume and tone controls on my P basses, this one really sounds bitchen. By the way, check out those goofy knobs – they have to be replacements. The bridge is Fender-esque, but with extra screws holding down the front corners. The original bridge cover came with the bass, so I popped it on.

This Aria’s maple neck is a corker, with a fat D profile and a 1 5/8” P width plastic nut. I would not hesitate to put Jamersons on this one as it is a baseball bat. The 20 original frets are very flat (think fretless wonder), so I am not sure if they have been dressed or if they have always been like this. There is a very thick coat of poly on the fretboard that makes the frets seem even shorter.

The Precise Bass’ headstock shape is an exact copy of Fender’s, and somebody installed Schaller tuners somewhere along the line. Tokai always puts goofy small print on their headstock decals, and this one is no exception. These decals inform the sharp-eyed amongst us that this bass was produced by “The World-wide Brand” and that it has a “Distinguished Custom Body by Matsumoku”. Matsumoku is the factory that built many of the lawsuit instruments for various Japanese companies.

This bass in in very good overall condition, particularly when you consider it is 35 years old. There are some minor dings and scratches, but no deal breakers. I restrung it with Ernie Ball Group III (0.040 to 0.100) flats, and they are a good fit with the character of this bass. Despite the low frets, it is a good playing bass with no buzzing and a low action. As I said earlier, the pickup is strong, and there is no buzzing or static. It is pretty much a peach, and I like it a lot.

These older Aria Pro II Fender copies are still a good value, with prices hovering around the $400 mark for decent examples. I think that values can only go up, so now might be the time to buy if you want one.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Numark iDJ App Review


I don’t usually write app reviews, but this is one I have used a bit and I think it might come in handy for the masses. Today we are looking at Numark’s iDJ app, which allows users to create their own DJ-like music mixes on their iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch.

Numark has been designing and manufacturing DJ equipment for over thirty years, and is probably the biggest player in the industry. So, while it makes sense that they would introduce a DJ app, it also takes away from their core business. Their accountants must have worked overtime to figure out how many apps they could sell versus how much hardware sales they might lose. A funny puzzler, to be sure.

Numark’s intended audience for this is the mainstream music lover, rather than the professional DJ. This app allows folks to create their own seamless and synchronized playlists, so they can liven up their parties or create inspiring workout mixes.

I can also see iDJ being very useful for bands that want to play a mix before a show or while they are on a break between sets. Just run leads from the mixing board to the 1/8-inch jack into an iPad, hit play and go – what could be easier?.

As with any app, the install was easy and iDJ provides a brief tutorial of the program’s highlights the first time it is started. Each track needs to be loaded into the program from iTunes, which takes a while, but I had troubles with loaded songs. About 24% of the track I wanted to put into iDJ would not load at all. There was no rhyme or reason to why they would not load – I had problems with tracks purchased from iTunes and ones loaded from CD. Very frustrating.

iDJ analyzes each song with Numark’s BPM detection technology, and lists the BPM (beats per minute) for each track. This is gold for disc jockeys so they can match up tracks better, because too big of a variance in BOPM between songs can make for awkward transitions and kill the mood the mix was supposed to create.

The user creates their own playlists by dragging songs in and sequencing them to their preference. If the BPM are too far off between tracks, Tempo Graph will warn that the transitions might be too much. There is the option of having the software shuffle the tracks, but what fun is that?

After the mix order is set, just press the “Mix Now” icon, and the iDJ software will go to work by overlapping and beatmatching the tracks. After this operation is completed, the user can view a bar graph that shows the overlap, and allows the user to change the length of the song transitions, and truncate songs to remove long intros or outros.

Overall, the iDJ app works well, and can provide a useable mix that is a lot smoother than just running a playlist directly from iTunes. There have been a few instances where the app crashed on me, but it always started up immediately afterwards. I give it a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10…

The Numark iDJ app is on sale in the App Store for $1.99, so download a copy today and start messing around with it. You will certainly enjoy it for longer than the cup of coffee you could have bought for the same amount of money.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

D’Addario EJ45Pro Arte Normal Tension Classical Guitar String Review


I recently had to restring my Orpheus Valley classical guitar, and decided to go with a different set -- D’Addario EJ45 Pro Arte normal tension strings.

This set has clear nylon treble strings and silver-plated wound bass strings in the following gauges: 0.028, 0.032, 0.040, 0.029, 0.034 and 0.043. D’Addario is kind enough to provide tensions so I was able to easily match these up to what I had been using.

I have always liked D’Addario strings, so trying these was not too much of a stretch. These strings are made in the US and are very reasonably priced with a list price of $14.29 and a street price of $6.70. Then again it is hard to spend more than 15 bucks for a set of classical guitar strings.

When I opened the envelope I was impressed that the strings were sealed into an airtight foil package. This is a double bonus for me, so that I get fresh strings AND I can be sure that nobody at the guitar shop swiped the E string. It is no fun to get home and find out that one of the strings is missing.

Inside the foil envelope each of the strings is marked with a sticker so I would be less likely to screw up on the install. Remember the good old days, when you would get to the nylon E string and realize that you had already installed it? Crud…

When I installed these on my Rosa Morena they stretched up a bit but settled in better than the rubber band strings I had been using. Although the nylon strings are slicker than snot, I didn’t have any trouble with my wraps not holding. After a few tunings over the next day or so they were good to go.

When playing the guitar these Pro Arte strings have plenty of volume and have a good balance between the roundwound and the nylon strings. Perhaps the nylons strings are a bit louder, but it is not a deal-breaker for me. They have held there tone well for the past few weeks, and I think they are pretty cool for the money.

I have picked up a spare set to keep in my case, and maybe you should too.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Kala KA SMHS Soprano Ukulele Review


Today we are looking at the first nice ukulele that I ever bought, a soprano-sized Kala SMHS. This one set my expectations quite a bit higher for the tone and playability of the ukulele, and I have since purchased the same uke in the tenor size.

Kala is good about using their model names to help identify what kind of instrument you are looking at. For the SMHS, the SM means that this uke is made of solid mahogany, not a laminate. The S stands for the soprano size, and I have no idea what the other T is for.

It is a handsome little ukulele, with a clear satin finish over the mahogany body, and a classy white and faux tortoise body binding. This binding goes around the top and the back as well as the end seam, and there is a matching piece of tort on the heel cap. Pretty!

The neck is also mahogany and it has a rosewood fretboard. The fretwork on this one is good, and I cannot ever imagine wearing them out with nylon uke strings. The bridge is made of tastefully-inlaid rosewood with a synthetic saddle.

The tuners are basic straight pegs through the headstock, and they are my least favorite part of the SHMS. They are finicky and I do not think they hold tune as well as they should -- I wish it had the same sealed-back die cast tuners that are on my SMHT.

Kala instruments are made overseas, and I have seen a few come through that were not up to snuff, with thing like sharp fret edges and rough fingerboard finishing, so it is highly advisable to buy from a reputable dealer that will let you exchange it if something is wrong. That being said, this SMHS is a very nice example, with great workmanship.

It plays very well, with a sweet tone and good volume for its size. It is a bit small for me as I prefer the tenor size ukes, but this one is tiny so it is perfect for traveling. Let me also say that this is probably the lightest musical instrument I have ever owned, coming in at a feathery 15 ounces.

Because it is imported, the Kala SMHS is uber-affordable with a list price of $280, and a street price of $196. This has to be one of the best values out there for a solid wood uke.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Seymour Duncan and his Pickups


I have owned great gobs of guitars and basses over the years, and a quite a few of them have had replacement pickups in them, and some of my favorites have been from the Seymour Duncan company. I am in good company, as many top rock musicians also use his pickups. I really had no idea who Seymour was, so I thought I would check a little further into the man.

Seymour Duncan was born in New Jersey, and has been around the rock world since the 1950s, which is an eternity in the music industry. He starting playing guitar as a youth and became an accomplished gigging player.

He also tinkered mechanically with the guitar, both out of necessity and in the elusive search for better tone. A famous anecdote is that his Telecaster neck pickup crapped out during a gig, and he had to finish with just the bridge pickup. He later rewound the pickup using a record player, which was the first pickup he ever built.

He researched guitar tone and electronics and spent a lot of time talking with guitar heroes Roy Buchanan and Les Paul. This helped him realize how much more potential could be drawn from the electric guitar.

Less Paul suggested that Seymour give England a try, so he moved there to play, but ended up working at London’s Fender Soundhouse. This is the shop that did guitar work for the murderer’s row of late 1960s guitar royalty, including Clapton, Townshend, Hendrix, Frampton, Page, Harrison, and Beck. Jeff Beck was probably one of the biggest stepping stones for Duncan’s work. His pickups are the ones you here on Becks first solo albums, and this gave Seymour a metric ton of credibility.

Seymour eventually returned to the US, and ended up in California’s central coast. He continued to research and experiment and build custom pickups with input from Les Paul, Seth Lover and Leo Fender. His work became popular enough that Seymour and his wife Cathy started their own company, Seymour Duncan Pickups.

These pickups became the choice of many high-profile musicians, and have also been sourced by some manufacturers as original equipment for their guitars and basses. His company has not stopped innovating and has continued to develop new pickup models.

I especially dig the Antiquity Series hand-wound bass pickups which are the hands-down best choice for a traditional 1950s or 1960s bass tone. If you have a vintage bass that is missing the original pickups (or if they are broken), these are the go-to for replacements.

Today there are tons of pickup manufacturers and boutique winders for guitarists to choose from, and they owe Seymour Duncan a big “thank you” for all of the development work he did to bring us pickups that sound great right out of the box.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Album Review: Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites by Skrillex


I have intended to listen to Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites after I heard that Skrillex had been nominated for a bunch of Grammy awards, but I never really got around to it. I had heard of him before, and knew he was gaining some momentum, but not that much. Anyway, he actually won 3 Grammys: Best Dance Recording and Best Dance/Electronica Album, as well as Best Remixed Recording for ”Cinema”, so I got on the stick and downloaded the album.

Skrillex is a pseudonym for Sonny Moore, a 24-year old Californian who was formerly the frontman for the post-hardcore band From First to Last (which was pretty ok, in my book). He is now an electronic music producer and possibly one of the hardest working guys in the business. He is working every day and doing shows and parties most every night. He has put out 4 EPs under the Skrillex moniker, and Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites is the second of them.

Scary Monster and Nice Sprites is a dubstep EP with 9 tracks, which makes it more of an album than an EP, but I am not going to argue with everybody on the internet. Also, it is not entirely dubstep, but also incorporates plenty of electro and progressive house music. This is ok with me as thumping dubstep gets old pretty quick for me, and I am glad he changed it up a bit.

I went into this album not expecting too much because I am an old rocker and am not going out to clubs, but I was pleasantly surprised by the work and imagination that Skrillex put into it. It is slicker than monkey snot and is full of perfectly placed samples and drops, as well as the expected kicking rhythms.

The first track “Rock n’ Roll (Will Take you to the Mountain) is dance track with a dub beat and an awesome bass line. It is also a good introduction to Skrillex’s sound if you are not familiar with his work, and it is inviting enough to get you to listen to more of the EP. And this is a good thing because better tracks are right around the corner.

The next two tracks are the meatiest part of the EP. “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” and “KILL EVERYBODY” are heavy club tunes that are cleverly put together so that they maintain good melodies while hammering away with heavy beats and drops.

Things slow down and the dubstep is lost for “All I Ask of You”, with Penny making a guest appearance with her sweet voice. This is the most radio-friendly track on the EP, and I am going to sneak this one into a mix pretty soon.

The final two original songs “Scatta” and “With you, Friends (Long Drive)” also alternate between hard and soft, keeping things mixed up and fresh. “Scatta” is particularly thrashy (in a good way), thanks to collaborative efforts from Foreign Beggar and Bare Noize.

The EP finishes up with 3 remixes: 2 different versions of “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” by Noisia and Zedd, and a new rendition of “KILL EVERYBODY” from Bare Noize. It was nice to hear these versions, but they were not as great as the ones that Skrillex put together. This is not a big surprise, I guess.

Overall, this is a strong EP, and I will say That Skrillex earned his Grammys and that I hope he can continue growing and coming up with new stuff. I liked Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites enough that I went ahead and purchased his latest release Bangarang. I will let you know how it turns out.

By the way, you are not going to get the full experience of this EP with your cheap-o earbuds that came with your iPod or through your laptop speakers. You should use a decent set of over the ear earphones or crank it full blast through your stereo. Trust me on this.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Swirlygig Microphone Stand Drink Holder Review


Nature abhors uncluttered horizontal surfaces, and works quickly to cover them with detritus. A good example of this is the top of an amplifier, which is like a magnet for string packages, tuners, picks, capos and (unfortunately) the container for whatever is being drunk at the moment.

I will not lecture you on the hubris of placing an open container full of liquid on top of an expensive piece of fragile equipment that has 110 volts of St. Vitus Dance flowing through it. I have done it too, but there is a better way, and a clever gadget to do it with, too.

I first saw the Swirlygig drink holder when my buddy Eric’s band did a gig for my house party. It took me only a few seconds to realize what a cool idea it was, and I picked one up on my next order from Musician’s Friend.

The simple design of this device is pure genius. It is a coil of lightweight rod that fits onto a microphone stand tube with no assembly or tools (they have sizes to fit either ½-inch or 1-inch tubing). Most drink containers fit in it, and it is not so heavy that it makes the stand fall over. Also, if you use your beer bottle as a slide, it helps you keep one close by for whenever you need it.

These things really rock, and you should pick up a Swirlygig for everybody in your band. The list price is $14.99, and retailers are selling them for as low as $9.99. Consider it an investment in your future.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fender Super Bassman Pro Bass Amplifier Head Review


I have recently been enjoying the thump of all-tube bass amplifiers, and fortunately had the opportunity to try out a new product from Fender, the 300-watt Super Bassman Pro head. I have seen these on stage with some of Fender’s endorsing artists, and they were finally introduced at the 2012 Winter NAMM show.

The Super Bassman Pro fills a void in the Fender line-up that matches up with the Ampeg SVT Classic, another all-tube 300-watt powerhouse. Its plywood cabinet is roughly the same size, too, measuring 24.5“ wide by 10“ tall by 13.5“ deep, and coming in at 65 pounds, which is about 15 pounds lighter than an SVT. It is certainly a looker, with classic Fender blackface panel styling and a couple of spring-loaded handles on the sides.

This Fender amp is loaded up with plenty of tubes including two 12AX7 pre-amp tubes, and one 12AX7, one 12AT7 and six 6550 power tubes. It also uses a solid-state rectifier, if that matters to you.

Looking at the front of the amp my first impression was that this thing is really a knob farm, but it needs 12 knobs to control the two channels: one for vintage tone and one for overdrive tone. There is a master volume control, which is a push/pull pot that mutes the amplifier when it is pulled out. The vintage channel has: volume, bass (pull for deep effect), mid, and treble (pull for bright effect). The overdrive channel has: gain, blend (with clean signal), volume, bass (pull for deep effect), mid frequency, mid level and treble (pull for bright).

The vintage and overdrive channels are footswitchable, and a footswitch is included. You will also find a pair of inputs on the front and a classic red jewel light. No ON/OFF switch, though – maybe they ran out of room.

On the back is the ON/OFF and Standby switches, as well as two switchable (2-4-8 ohm) ¼ inch speaker outputs (no Speakon here). A mute switch is provided fro the speaker outs to record silently while using the pre-amp. There is also an effect loop (pre-amp out / power amp in), a foot switch jack, a tuner out and a level-controllable XLR output with a ground lift. Whew.

But that is not all. Fender has provided an automatic bias system that constantly monitors and re-biases tubes, and alerts the user when service is required. It does not control the bias of individual tubes, but rather in averages for the 3 tube groups, so you are not going to get away from tube matching with the Super Bassman Pro. I have no idea how well this system works, as these amplifiers are so new, so I guess only time will tell.

The amplifier that I tried was paired up with one of Fender’s new Bassman pro series cabinets, a 6x10 unit. There are also 4x10 and 8x10 cabinets available, and they are all ported with NEO drivers. Like the heads, these cabinets are assembled in Mexico (Ampeg doesn’t make their stuff in the US any more either).

I used a borrowed Fender Marcus Miller Jazz Bass for my tryout of the Super Bassman Pro, and the amp turned out to be a thunderous powerhouse with more volume than would be needed for most any gig. The warm vintage channel sounds beautiful, and the amp itself was dead quiet with no added noise. The overdrive channel dialed in a ton of grunge, and the push/pull tone pots were actually quite usable and added a lot of character to the tone.

But these are things I would expect from any tube amp of this caliber and Mesa and Ampeg have been ruling this market for year. The most unique thing about the amplifier is the Fender logo on the front, so they will surely capture the diehard Fender fans, and there are probably plenty of them that have been waiting for a more robust all-tube bass amp. But I am not in that group, as I am happy with what I have (for now).

The list price of the Fender Super Bassman Pro 300-watt bass amplifier head is a staggering $2399, with a street price of $1799. This is a lot of bread and makes it a bit pricier than the Ampeg SVT Classic. If you don’t need this much power (and weight), Fender makes a 100-watt version of this amplifier, the Bassman Pro 100T, which comes in around $350 cheaper.

But, all in all it would take a lot of convincing and a lot lower price for me to choose one of these over my Ampeg.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fender Marcus Miller Jazz Bass Review

Hi there!

Today we are looking at a Fender Marcus Miller signature edition Jazz Bass, but to be honest with you, before this week I had heard of Mr. Miller before but had no idea who he was. So, before writing this review I had to do a little background research.

Marcus Miller is a 52 year old American bassist, producer and soundtrack writer. He is super successful and has earned a sack full of Grammys for his work with Chaka Khan, Miles Davis, David Sanborn, and Luther Vandross, among others. Apparently he is a big cheese in the music world.

Anyway, one of his main basses has been a 1977 Fender Jazz Bass that has been modified by Roger Sadowsky (one of my favorite guys). In 1998 Fender got the great idea to copy Marcus’ bass and issue a signature model, and it has been a great seller for them. To avoid any confusion, the bass I am writing about is the 4-string version that is made in Japan, not the 5-string US made version.

On first glance the bass looks like a run-of-the-mill 70’s Jazz with a really bad replacement pickguard and mismatched knobs. Other than that it has the usual traditional offset waist jazz profile body, 2 single coils and a skinny neck, but it deserves a closer look.

The body is a nicely figured chunk of ash with a thick coating of clear polyurethane finish. They are now also available in sunburst (a nice look), as well as Olympic White. The black pickguard is oversized to cover the compartment for the onboard preamplifier and battery.

The body is loaded up with a Fender Vintage Jazz single coil at the bridge and a Fender ’75 Vintage Jazz single coil at the neck. The controls are: two volumes knobs (one for each pickup), an active bass boost/cut knob, an active treble boost/cut knob, and an active/passive mini toggle switch.

The hardware is nice, and Fender went with heavily chromed vintage-style tuners and a Leon Quan Badass II bridge. There is a 3-bolt neck plate on the back (with Micro Tilt, boo), and there is a big chrome cover for the neck pickup, and no ashtray for the bridge. I guess that is how Marcus likes it. Also, this bass is equipped with two knurled chrome barrel knobs for the volume pots, and plastic Jazz Bass knobs for the tone controls. Weird.

The neck is a real peach on these basses, and they are only available with maple fretboards (sorry, Jack). It is a conventional 34-inch scale neck with 20 medium jumbo frets, pearl fretboard blocks and white binding. Hmm, blocked and bound necks are to die for. The neck has a skinny C profile with a 7.25-inch fretboard radius and a 1.5-inch width at the nut.

Moving on to the headstock you will find a synthetic bone but, a chrome bullet trussrod nut, and Marcus Miller’s signature on the front, along with a poorly-positioned Fender Jazz Bass logo. The finish is glossy on the headstock and satin on the rest of the neck.

This is a Japanese-built instrument, and you should know by now that I am a huge fan of Fender’s products that come from Japan. The workmanship is always first-rate with smooth finishes and clean fretwork. This Jazz Bass meets my high standards, and I could not find a flaw on it.

This one has a beautiful playing feel, and the action was adjusted low with no hint of a buzzing. The neck is a tad small for me, but I have grown more used to fatter P Bass necks over the past few years. It seemed a tad skinner than other Japanese Jazz Basses I have owned over the years. The chrome pickup cover totally got in my way, and if it was my bass I would have removed it right away. I do like the look, though.

The passive tone was very sweet, and was not markedly different than other Jazz Basses I have played. When switching to active mode there was a significant increase in volume, and getting a smiley-face EQ setting with the two tones knobs was pretty easy to achieve (bright and boomy!). This allowed for plenty of those tedious wanky slapping and popping maneuvers like you might hear at Guitar Center.

When playing like a normal person I was able to get more than enough different and usable tones from this instrument. I think it is a winner.

My only real beefs with this bass are the goofy pickguard and the mismatched knobs. I’ll have to let the pickguard and knobs slide, because they are part of the vibe of buying the artist series instrument. But I cannot easily forgive that this bass only comes with a gig bag, as I expect a hard case for a bass that costs this much.

How much? The MSRP for a Fender Marcus Miller Jazz Bass is $1699.99 with a street price of $1199.99, regardless of which finish you choose. A few years ago you could buy these (and the Geddy Lee Jazz too) all day long for $999, but the dollar is really struggling against the Yen, which is not helping us out very much.