Fender Bullet Bass
Prototype sample suffers dum dum treatment
At the risk of making MUSIC U.K. look like some sort of Fender monthly, we've been running a great amount of new Fender gear in these pages recently. The problem that Fender have landed us with is that they've launched a phenomenal amount of new equipment of late — the Squier Japanese-made electric guitars and basses, a whole range of acoustics, the Chroma (reviewed last month), new amps (we also reviewed the Princeton Reverb II last month) new Rogers drum kits, new versions of old Fenders (made in the U.S.A.) and, not to overlook them, new Bullets which replace the Tele-shaped guitars (reviewed in our issue No. 4).
The new Bullet guitars resemble the Strat and, from what we've seen of them, represent excellent value for money. But what about the basses? After all, it was Leo Fender who invented the bass guitar and even if he isn't any longer with the company, the mantle of bass development must fall on the shoulders of his successors, CBS/Fender. We borrowed one of the first sample models of the new Bullet DeLuxe Bass to enter the U.K. from C.B.S.'s U.K. arm and well and truly put it through its paces.
To be quite open about it we gave the poor Bullet a hard time. So much of what C.B.S.'s Dan Smith told us during our interview with him (in this issue) sounded like flag waving that we decided to really thrash Fender's Bullet bass to see how it performed in absolute terms. Would it live up to all Dan's promise?
Well, to kick off with, let's admit that the Bullet sample we had was just that — a sample. It had flaws on it and we'll mention them, providing you promise to remember that the model that we were trying was only a pre-production sample.
In looks the sample Bullet bass we had was fine, very fine indeed. It was a red version, a bit bland maybe, but so obviously a member of that great family of Fender basses. Maybe there's a hint of the Precision there, maybe a hint of the Telecaster bass (especially in the almost straight sided headstock and the top horn profile) but there's no doubt that this is a genuine Fender looking bass.
The body of the Bullet is made of a low density wood (poplar?) and, frankly, this unbalances the instrument, especially as the neck is fashioned of maple. The result is that there's just a shade of the T'bird syndrome about this instrument, a tendency for it to tip headstock down to the stage, which would do well to be corrected by the makers if they want to really make the grade today against the current crop of cheap Japanese basses.
The neck, however, is superbly profiled. Any player (even one who wasn't too keen on the later series of Precision necks) will feel happy with this one. It's a one-piece job with a very comfortable width and depth to it, just mildly cambered for a really fluid fast feel which complemented the excellent Fender strings and perfectly set-up action our sample came with.
By the way, notwithstanding the price level, this bass has a one-piece maple neck (true Fender style) and it does not sport a two-piece applied maple fingerboard.
Hardware on the Bullet comprises a set of typically Fender open bass machines, very tight with no slipping whatsoever, very good in fact. The nut is plastic and there's a string cleat which follows the normal Fender circular pattern.
The neck/body joint on our sample could have been better but this was an early one and we were told that production models would be better in this respect — hope so. Still on the subject of body/neck joints, the neck fixing is a four bolt job; nice to see that awful micro-tilt adjustment device (hopefully) gone forever.
Down at the business end the Bullet bass wears a reasonable bridge. Here Fender have most decidedly stuck to their guns, there's no 'tracking' to prevent side-slip on the saddles but, overall, you'd have to be very heavy handed to shift the strings or bridge pieces on this traditional Fender design with its two adjustment screws per saddle (for bridge piece height) and spring loaded screw for string length/intonation setting.
Still on hardware the Bullet bass bears a split pickup, encased in white plastic, but with proper adjustment on each half of the pickup for height. This pickup is controlled by two Strat-like pots, one for volume and one for tone.
We ran our sample, as we have suggested, through a very telling amp — a 150 watt transistor Carlsbro, clinically clean in its tonal transmission, and fed the signal through a ported reflex housed RCF 15" speaker. If anything would show any defects in the Bullet's sound this set-up would.
But what a surprise! The Bullet bass sounded superb through this set-up. The tonal range from the instrument ran from that traditional Precision 'clunk' to a low, ultra-deep bass. This was actually one of the few basses we've tried lately which has a truly effective passive tone control and we found ourselves using this regularly to switch the sound between deep bass on rhythm to more melodic toppier sound when we wanted to inject an edge to push the bass's sound across to suit solo passages. Yes, the sound of this bass is frankly, remarkable for the money — it kicks the backside of many similarly priced Japanese basses right out of the window, there is just no doubt about that!
Detail criticisms of our sample bass might include such nasties as the neck edges being too sharp for ultimate comfort; the balance of the bass, where the maple neck tips down a la Thunderbird bass towards the floor (the body wood is too light to balance that of the neck), a scratchplate which looks like it's been carved out of cheap white plastic with a kitchen knife and a front mounted jack socket which pulls away with the scrappy white plastic scratchplate when the jack plug is withdrawn from it.
But these criticisms pale into total insignificance when compared with the superlative sound and neck profile of this bass. Our (early) sample would be bound to have been improved upon by the time these U.S. assembled instruments reach the shops and, even if they haven't, the sound and feel of the bass makes it a 'top of your shopping list' option for the player looking for a thoroughly pro-sounding bass guitar in the £150—200 price range.
Bullet basses are so new that few, if any, are in the shops as we go to press. Fender U.S.A. are apparently aware of the problems that we have outlined on this instrument and plan to correct them on production samples. To be honest, whether they do or not, this Bullet bass is such a fine sounding bass, with such a good feel to its remarkable neck that we'd be happy to recommend it even with its flaws.
An overall verdict is hard to deliver as we were very aware of the prototype nature of our sample. Quite regardless of the niggles we had with it, however, we'd be inclined to award it 100% marks for ease of playing and sound for its price. If it had just been devoid of those few flaws we could even have possibly awarded it our highest accolade, the MUSIC U.K. STAR BUY AWARD — it's that good!
RRP £210 inc. VAT & Case
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