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.

Mahalo!

3 comments:

  1. I will forgive them for not making a rosewood board model - THIS TIME.

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  3. I rest my thumb on the pickup cover when I play with fingers, more comfortable than resting it on the pickup imo. Once I did a tour where I took the chrome pickup cover and half the pickguard off. I thought it looked weird and kinda cool.

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