The Fender Precision is, as everyone knows, the original electric bass. Not only is it fundamental to the evolution of rock music, but in historical terms it has particular importance as one of the few new instruments developed in the 20th century. One could even say that only recently has the instrument generated its virtuosi.
Our comments on the popularity of copying certain successful instruments apply equally to the Fender Precision bass. Few electric instruments can claim a life of 21 years with minimal modifications, and this must be a testament to the validity of Leo Fender's design. Logically then, this is the bass to be copied.
So what makes a good bass? Because of the big vibrations of the heavy strings, the nut, neck, fretting and bridge construction is of paramount importance. Nasties like string buzz, dead spots and double tones are all products of sloppy manufacture and improper or zero setting-up. This became very obvious as the test proceeded, and the beginner could be forgiven for developing bad habits on some of the tested instruments. Equally, however, some of the basses were made to a very high standard, and offer close competition to the original, at a saving.
So. Now read on.
rrp: £174-22 ex VAT
Bolt-on neck with separate fretboard, split pickup, and sunburst gloss finish.
Distributors: James T Coppock (Leeds) Ltd, (Contact Details).
Scores: RF-41% CH-72% AP-52% GW-67%
(NB — The G-string broke almost as soon as the guitar was played. Replacement was a Rotosound Swingbass round wound, the only string available).
'I liked this one. Very nice neck indeed. When tuning this one up one of the strings broke and was replaced with a roundwound which sounded excellent. However, E-string duff, but a very good copy. If the other three strings were roundwound the sound would be very good. A good guitar especially for the beginner - nice neck and action, good controls.' CH
'Felt quite good. The sound with G-string (different from others) was crystal clear. Enjoyed playing it. The E-string sounded muffled — was this because of string or pickup? Would like to try this one again.' GW
'Looks attractive from offstage. Tone pots precise, neck felt comfortable although head looks a bit cheap. Not too slim. Cutting top sound — good response. Felt nice — comfortable — good finish, good strap nut.' RF
'Cheap strings yet again. Nice bridge but bad height — the neck needs adjusting. Weakish sound due to pickup. Could be good with better pickup.' AP
This was an object lesson in the improvement good strings can make to an instrument — a small investment by the manufacturer or distributor, a great boon to the customer and to sales. Fine looking instrument, good value for money.
rrp: £172-09 ex VAT
Bolt-on neck, single-piece neck/fretboard, natural gloss finish, split-type P-bass pickup.
Distributors: Gigsville, (Contact Details).
Scores: RF-31% CH-63% AP-54% GW-60%
'Another dead E-string (and A to some extent) - I don't know if it's the bass or the flatwound strings. Not a bad neck on this one. Sound OK, again I feel it could be improved with roundwounds. This is a fair copy, okay for a beginner.' CH
'Felt quite comfortable but looked a bit average. Sound okay but nothing spectacular.' RF
'Sound even - not bad. Reasonable pickups.' AP
Woods, lacquer and finish very good, with good wide frets and fast neck. Firm heel joint, bridge saddle adjustment easy. Supplied strings really let down this and many of the other tested basses. Good value top-line copy.
rrp: £115-15 ex VAT
Bolt-on neck, separate fretboard, sunburst gloss finish, split-type pickup.
Distributor: Rose-Morris, (Contact Details).
Scores: RF-24% CH-66% AP-59% GW-37%
'Very dead in places, above the 12th fret especially (two frets playing same note, etc). Bad string buzz on low notes on all strings. Good tone controls. Didn't like the way the winding of E-string passed over bridgepiece. Sound of guitar, tonewise, is good — even and smooth operation. A reasonable bass for feel and sound, but dreadful for the double notes, buzzes, etc.' CH
'Good tuning with nice balance, fairly good even sound up the bass. Not bad.' AP
'Tone/volume worked with accompanying crackle. Lots of fret buzz, fretting inaccurate. Sound not bad (ie strings could be heard) as long as your fingers don't attempt to play notes.' GW
'I think the neck is slightly bowed - fret buzz at the top and bottom, especially on the A-string. Sounds okay.' RF
An appalling fret job, particularly evident with the action set up as supplied. General appearance seems okay with the exception of the logo nameplate, which is a rather cheap plastic lump held on with tacks. Impact flaw on the neck under the undamaged lacquer, therefore quality control at fault. Over-priced. More attention to the fretting could solve a lot of problems.
rrp: £141-33 ex VAT
Bolt-on neck with direct-laid frets, black gloss finish, split pickup a la Fender P-Bass.
Distributors: James T Coppock (Leeds) Ltd, (Contact Details).
Scores: RF-47% CH-60% AP-55% GW-36%
'Didn't like the string spacing — neck quite good, also machine heads. E and A-string felt loose and dead compared with G and D. Average sound, as all copies being tested are tested with strings as supplied. In this case flatwound — I wonder if roundwounds might improve this bass? Fair action - I felt this guitar could be improved if some time was spent on it.' CH
'Really buzzy action with terrible strings. Fairly good tone control (it needs to be with that pickup). Gutless sound.' AP
'Quite dull sound.' GW 'I like the shallow camber on the neck, maple is nice. Good body finish. Bridge slightly out of alignment, therefore strings slightly lopsided. Felt like a Fender, tone variation adequate.' RF
Another ugly, badly cut body-end trussrod opening, but a well made guitar with good machine heads, good neck and fretting job. Good value for money — because of the virtues of the neck, this would be a fine beginners' instrument.
rrp: £115-51 ex VAT
Bolt-on neck with separate fretboard, natural gloss finish, split pickup.
Distributors: Fletcher Coppock, and Newman, (Contact Details).
Scores: RF-30% CH-50% AP-51% GW-54%
'Again the horrible E-string sound — no real note. Controls loose — neck very wide again (depthwise). Machines okay. Not impressed by sound, could probably be improved with some work and time spent on it. Didn't like this one.' CH
'No clarity on E-string. Tone control just about to fall out. Sound okay.' GW
'Tone pot loose. Fittings looked average, so did the wood. Thumb rest was in the way. Tone variation okay. Lacked the X factor, where X is the "buy me" factor.' RF
'Fairly solid sound - not helped by strings.' AP
Overwide pickup guard, loose tone pot. Thumb rest rather too close to E-string. Otherwise a fairly typical midrange copy with nothing particular to commend or denigrate it.
rrp: £341 ex VAT
Bolt-on, one-piece, maple neck and fretboard, white lacquered solid body, Fender machines, Fender P-Bass pickup (wot else?).
Distributor: CBS/Arbiter, (Contact Details).
Scores: RF-43% CH-85% AP-65% GW-75%
'Although a lot better than previous models, not perfect by any means. Fretwork not so good, I don't like these bridgepieces as much as the old ones. I'd say an average — perhaps less than average Precision. Normal P-bass sound. (I like it!), although a lot of string buzz. The old ones are better therefore the new ones are vastly overpriced.' CH
'In the short amount of time available, very good to play. Would like to play with group. Tone control works — good control panel.' GW
'Felt very comfortable. Nice strings — action a bit low for me. Volume pot only operates after one-third turn. Good tone variation — nice both ends.' RF
'Good action, good pickup. Sound very solid and even. Not bad.' AP
For a start, the supplied strings lift it above the rest. Machine heads, pickups and bridgepiece are excellent, though Fender still insist on bunging foam rubber down the bridge guard. Neck is nicely Precisionesque. Would still probably have a hard time competing with the top-line copies at this price.
This street level squint at copy guitars (or whatever) requires, among other things, the active co-operation of the distributors. And so, ta very much to most of you people. We weren't able to get hold of all the guitars we wanted to include — and after all, a survey like this can only work with all-round co-operation.
For example, Grant Music of Edinburgh weren't able to lend us their Grant guitars directly, because of a genuine stock shortage, but fortunately they were able to suggest borrowing the guitars from Melbourne Pianos, in Kilburn High Road, London NW6. So thank you Grant and Melbourne.
We approached Macaris at the BMITF with a view to including their Craftsman range in the survey, but they didn't seem too excited at the prospect.
We couldn't include CMI guitars either. We made numerous approaches to Jim Marshall (of Marshall amp fame) at CMI, but were finally told that their stocks were too low to let us borrow two guitars for one week.
Everybody else was, of course, very helpful. John Hornby Skewes supplied two guitars in addition to those of theirs included in the survey — the Kasuga LG1000BS LP and the Kasuga PB420S bass. These unfortunately arrived too late for inclusion in the test proper, but here is a brief rundown of them:
LG1000BS — rrp £244.44 ex VAT. Fixed neck, solid body, two humbuckers, sunburst, chrome-plated hardware. This is obviously a more expensive copy. A few very minor faults: the bridge is on 'backwards' (again!) although, due to the large size of the adjustment screw heads, the endstock would have to be raised considerably before the bridge could be reversed; the angle of string break over the bridge is too extreme — the bass string windings are already spreading over the saddles; the pickup surrounds have been screwed on rather carelessly and are consequently slightly distorted; no serial number visible. Excellent fingerboard, fretting, neck, action and machines — all in all a very nice instrument.
PB420S - rrp £155.56 ex VAT. Bolt-on neck with separate fretboard, single pickup with twin adjustable pole pieces per string, sunburst gloss finish. This bass has a particularly unusual pickup which, in the confines of a 'brief rundown' we couldn't suss out totally. There are only two bridge saddles - poo! A nicely contoured neck, but a pretty appalling nut — it's too high, and is cut too deep with flash in the grooves on the fretboard side. Truss rod access is rather large, but well cut. This seems a rather nice, very comfortable bass to play, and a little better than many mid-price copies.
That, then, concludes this first part of the copies survey. Next month we'll tie up all the loose ends, seven guitars (Grant to Shaftesbury) and seven basses (Grant to Satellite), and a summation of the whole deal. Till then...
Copy Guitar Test Pt 1: Guitars A-G, Basses A-F
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