Fender Bullet, Bullet Deluxe Bass
The Bullet's lineage can be easily traced. The body is a thinner, scaled down version of a Tele, and in fact looks not unlike the Telecaster copies that used to be made under the name Jedson.
But the difference here is that it's all authentic — neck, pickups, body, saddles all come from the American factory, often from the same production lines that turn out Strats and fellow Fenders — and it's cheap, aimed at attracting young players.
The major money-saving trick on this model is the bridge. There isn't one. The all metal, white painted and probably plastic filmed scratch plate bends up through 90 degrees where the bridge would normally fall. This half inch high lip acts as the stopbar/tailpiece and it has holes to take the strings and the screws for the saddles.
The Bullet is not sophisticated. It carries two single coil pickups under black plastic covers, a three-way position slider and one volume/one tone controls. And the sound is equally straightforward — because it doesn't have to be anything else.
The tone is unmistakably Fender, sidling close to a Tele with its chunky, grating middle and spitting presence. It has amazing aggression for a budget guitar, challenging you to hit hard and force out harmonics. There's not a wasted moment as all the settings — neck, middle and tail — are useful as chugging rhythms or sparkling leadlines.
It's crunchy and distinct, but also live. Two notes are all you need for a strong, singing chord and the Bullet is democratically fair to all its strings. Each one sounds evenly in a chord wherever played across the neck and for a guitar with this small a body, dead spots are rare.
Mind you the smallness robs the guitar of sustain and the pickups are not over generous in volume.
It feels responsive with the right amount of resistance to make you dig into your playing. The maple neck has a Tele headstock and a neck profile that starts with a slight V at the back near the nut, gradually easing into a rounder silhouette as it approaches the body joint at the 16th of the 21 frets.
It hangs better than it sits on your knee, as I found myself cramped over it in order to strum away. The Bullet is light and not particularly stylish. This one was at the bottom of the range and there are now flashier versions with complete bridges and a neater appearance closer to a Strat.
For the time being, much of the initial impact of the Bullet idea has been lost in the fracas around the Squier series of cheap Fenders made to their spec in Japan. In comparison, the Bullets now look like weedy imitations, but that doesn't mean they sound it. £155
And neither are Fender's basses bulletproof... Bullet-proof, geddit?... oh, never mind. What's fine for six strings is wizard for four and the Bullet Deluxe Bass stands up as a promising budget buy.
It follows patterns outlined by the guitar on this page settling for a plain red finish and a white scratchplate that carries the jack socket and tone and volume control for the single split pickup.
The width and feel of the 34in scale maple neck leans towards a Fender Precision rather than a Jazz, especially around the plastic nut, but the body is lighter than both of them.
The practice of dividing the pickup is likewise a well established Precision trick. The coils for the D and G are slightly closer to the bridge, aiding the treble response. Both halves have white covers and two screws to fix the height and angle under the strings.
In later Bullets, Fender have shied away from the scratchplate/bridge collaboration and gone for separate chrome bridges, as witnessed here. There's still a plate upturned through 90 degrees at one end to secure the strings and intonation screws, only now it resides on its own with the four individual saddles resting on top.
Unfortunately there's little in the way of grip or purchase to restrain them and they skid across the polished chrome. Ridges in the baseplate might solve that, then the height adjustment screws could have somewhere to sit.
The bolt-on neck has been fixed to an acceptable standard and settles snugly into the hand except for the edges. They feel sharp and uncomfortable and would certainly dig into your mitt if this was a six string where there was much call for wrapping a thumb around the corners. A pity because otherwise it's fast (the lacquering is ample, no globby builds around the frets), easy to get around and blessed with accurate intonation.
It's also been granted a Tele-ish headstock and stiff open geared machines, that get their cogs into a set of Fender Studio Bass strings. The Deluxe dangles on its strap without demonstrating any wish to go headstock first towards the floor, and scarfing at the rear and front of the body permits space for beer guts and brawny forearms.
After a brief try, I found the Deluxe had a tone that was smooth, mellow, quite "oomphy", but generally lacking in bite. It was okay for sitting in the background and filling out a band's arrangements, but didn't have the poke you'd require for any upfront string tugging.
That's one of the major drawbacks to a single pickup bass, of course. You're limited to one area of tonal response and though Fender have judged this to rest between the neck and tail extremes, they've landed themselves with an average tone in the process — albeit a useful and effective one.
The Bullet Deluxe felt and played to a standard in excess of its price, yet the sound didn't quite live up to those high expectations, nor was there the versatility I usually associate with Fenders.
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Review by Paul Colbert
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