Fender Gold Elite II Bass
It's only been during the last few years that Fender have done anything at all about what was becoming a rather outmoded approach to the electric bass guitar. After all, you could almost hear the Californians mutter, we invented the bloody thing. So we know best.
It wasn't until the Precision Special of 1980, indeed, that Fender even incorporated active electronics into the hallowed Precision set-up, while around and about them every Far Eastern maker of even remote importance seemed to have a factory full of battery-powered pre-amps to aid the active bassist.
Now Fender have gone the whole hog and got down to a total spring cleaning of the Precision, making what really amounts to a new instrument. Why call it "Precision" at all? Well, that way you can use the phrase "the refinement of Precision" in your brochures, and bring a smile to the lips of them that know.
They've actually called it the "Elite" Precision just to ram the point home, and we've got ourselves a Fender Gold Elite II Precision Bass to meddle with — rather a mouthful, what? Quite a handful, too.
Our review sample came in a natty-looking tweed case along with a strap, a couple of strap locks (see later), two Allen keys, and a few cards to send back to the boys in Fullerton saying how pleased you are with their new direction in basses.
What we didn't get was a manual. Keyboard players may snigger, but as the normally oversimplified bassist is here faced with three control knobs and two flickswitches, totally unlabelled, the no manual situation is worrying. Course, it didn't take us long to sort it out — but we did warn you it was a new approach, now didn't we?
Our Gold Elite II certainly is gold — rather a tasteful gold sunburst, at that. Sounds nasty? You'll just have to visit your Fender dealer to see if you like it, too. All the hardware's gold as well - in colour, at the very least.
The Elite II is a two pickup creature (regular Elites are single pickup jobs), and this, for starters, is new to Precisions. So we get two split P-Bass-like pickups, one in the usual position, the other up by the bridge. But they have rather tacky white plastic covers, already getting a touch grubby — the insides, however, remain a mystery, while Fender claim less hum and noise for them over previous types. S'pose so.
Plugged in (socket on the edge), the controls, without manual, cause problems for the first couple of minutes. But, oh yes, there are two volume controls, one per pickup, and the front flickswitch, situated between these two volumes, is evidently a pickup selector. Oh well, different I suppose. The knobs themselves are good, with ridged rubber grips around the edge — something like you might find on FX boxes, and very positive in action.
The back knob and associated flickswitch cause longer lasting problems, however. While obviously dealing with tone, they're tricky. Luckily, I'd picked up a brochure at the low-key flash-hotel launch of the new range some time ago, and this tells me that the back flickswitch is a "tone assign" switch, getting the knob to work on either or both pickups. How odd. The tone knob on our review sample had an unfortunate "sticky" point in part of its travel which was annoying.
Hmmm. For example. With the front pickup only selected on the pickup selector, the tone assign switch gives control over that pickup when in the 'front' and 'middle' positions (though sounding different). But what about the back position? A distinct toppiness.
How? I'm not sure. Certainly the tonal variety from this bass is wide, and that is to be praised. But I'd like to know more or less how I'm getting the sounds, as this tends to make tone recreation at a later date that much easier. As it is I'm rather confused.
In a way, the 1980 active Precision Special was more sensible in its control set-up: volume, active bass and active treble pots, with a 'tone defeat' flickswitch sending you back to passive if needed. What was wrong with that?
But I love the active feel of this Elite II — playing with fingers as I do, it's always a joy to get the response back from an active. Simply, it makes me feel that I'm playing better, so with luck maybe I am playing better. Follow? (Power for the active circuit comes from a single PP3-type battery accessed by a plate on the back.)
Hardware's been improved all over the place: a chunkier bridge has incorporated fine-tuners, though quite why you need fine-tuners, especially with these excellent machines, is (and always has been) beyond me. The bridge is quite a stunner, with Allen key adjustment of saddle height and regular screw adjustment of intonation/string length. Nice.
The strap-locks work by a loose (supplied) 'cap' which, by pulling on the top, can be fitted on to and quickly released from the strap buttons. Well, fairly quickly. I'm also assured that within the maple neck (here sporting a rosewood board, though maple's available) resides a new truss rod system called Biflex, apparently nothing to do with weight-training and everything to do with the only such system in existence that controls neck-warp adjustment 'in both directions'. So remember, necks only go wonky in two directions.
This Gold Elite II Precision costs £763, and I'd like some attention paid to the control arrangement before I part with that sort of cash. I could, as I've said, live without the fine-tuners if new tone systems cost a bit more. Given the punch, clarity and overall playability of this bass, Fender are definitely at it again, but certainly at a price.