Hands-on review: Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar bass offers best of both worlds

(Dave Molter | Posted 2010-09-17)

Hands-on review: Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar bass offers best of both worlds

Looking like it has just been transferred from Brian and Carl Wilson's woodie station wagon, the new Vintage Modified Jaguar Bass from Fender Squier is a '60s throwback that can hold its own with modern boutique basses.

The Squier VM Jag, available in black only with matching painted headstock, rolled out to stores in early September. The VM shares body style, neck width (1.5" at the nut) and pearloid block fret markers with its cousin, the Fender Jaguar Bass that debuted in 2006, but little else is the same. The VM Squier is a passive bass and as such lacks the somewhat confusing array of switches and volume controls that are the hallmark of the Fender Jaguar. The VM sports a brown tortoiseshell pickguard and a chrome mounting plate for concentric volume and tone controls for each pickup.

It's in pickup choice that Squier has made a wise move by offering the Precision/Jazz combination that so many bassists seem to love. The mid-mounted pickup is the familiar P-bass array of a split single coil but is a hot Seymour Duncan design with AlNiCo magnets. The rear pickup is also a hot Duncan Designed model, but with a traditional Jazz bass single coil with ceramic magnets. Together, they allow a wealth of tonal possibilities, from Jamerson to Jaco.

First impressions
Our VM Jag arrived from Musiciansfriend. Right out of the box, it was apparent that fit and finish was very good, especially for a bass with a $299.95 street price. The black poly finish was flawless and the matching headstock makes the Squier/Jaguar badge three-dimensional. There were no sharp fret ends, which sometimes happens in lower priced, foreign-made basses, and the neck pocket was tight and solid. The maple neck with rosewood board was slick, slim and fast and invites adventurous playing. At 8.5 pounds, the bass is well balanced and not overly heavy.

Plugging the bass in with both pickups full on produced a nice blend of Precision punch and Jazz snap. The installed Fender 7250 medium-light strings (.45-.100) were a good match for the bass, although I found the nut slots to be a bit tight. The G string saddle had to be raised slightly to eliminate a 2nd-fret "A" buzz, but otherwise action was fine and intonation true.

Experimenting with tone shaping brought the first hint of a possible quality control problem. Each pickup is controlled by a set of concentric knobs -- inner for Volume, outer for Tone. The Tone ring has a series of 10 detents rather than rotating smoothly from off to on. I can take or leave this feature -- I think a more effective way to indicate where the ring is positioned would be to install a white dot or line.

However, when I tried to adjust the tone ring on the P pickup, the ring turned freely in both directions with no stop and no variation in tone. taking off the knobs involves loosening an Allen set screw on each knob, then pulling up. Doing this, I discovered the reason for the problem: the Tone ring has a hole in the bottom that is meant to engage a bump on the springy, flat tone portion of the potentiometer. My ring had not been pushed down fully before being tightened. I made sure the hole engaged the bump, pushed the ring down fully and set the Allen screw -- problem solved. However, the clearance between the Volume knob and Tone ring is very tight, and turning the P pickup's Tone ring tends to take the Volume knob with it, which is a bit annoying. The bridge pickup controls didn't have this problem, so it may be just a matter of the bass being new and stiff. However, it literally took me one turn of the knob to find out that the Tone ring was not correctly engaged, something that human QC should have caught at the factory.

I gigged the bass the next day, with fine results. Running through a Genz-Benz Shuttle 6.0 powering two 112 cabs with tweeters, the Jaguar was smooth and powerful, with plenty of punch at the characteristic pristine Fender bottom end. Using the front pickup alone playing fingerstyle produced a very Motown-like vibe. Dialing in the bridge J pickup allows you to channel your inner Jaco. Played with a pick, the bass produces a tone somewhere between early Allman Brothers and Greg Lake's ELP sound. Depending on the room and personal preference, you may wish to boost mids around 150 Hz and bump up the low end around 65 Hz as well. Played through 15" speakers, I have no doubt that the Jaguar would thunder.

The bottom line The Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass is a winner. Fit and finish belie the bass's $300 street price, and the combination of Precision and Jazz pickups on one instrument give you the ability to roll out two of the most identifiable bass sounds in the world in a single bass. The Jag's look is a winner as well, with its matching headstock and 1960's body offset by a vintage tort pickguard and a rosewood fingerboard with cool block pearloid fret markers. If you're on a budget or simply looking to add a versatile bass to your bag without dropping a wad, the Squier VM Jag is money well spent.

Body Agathis
Neck Maple, C-Shape, (Polyurethane Finish)
Fingerboard Rosewood, 9.5” Radius (241 mm)
No. of Frets 20 Medium Jumbo
Pickups 1 Duncan Designed™ JB102B Hot Single-Coil Jazz Bass® Pickup with Ceramic Magnet(Bridge), 1 Duncan Designed™ PB101 Split Single-Coil Precision Bass® Pickup with AlNiCo 5 Magnets (Middle)
Controls Stacked Concentric Controls: Volume 1. (Neck Pickup), Tone 1. (Neck Pickup), Volume 2. (Bridge Pickup), Tone 2. (Bridge Pickup)
Pickup Switching None
Bridge Standard 4-Saddle
Machine Heads Standard Open-Gear Tuners
Hardware Chrome
Pickguard 3-Ply Tortoise Shell/White/Black
Scale Length 34” (864 mm)
Width at Nut 1.50” (38 mm)
Unique Features White Pearloid Block Position Inlays, Matching Black Painted Headcap, Knurled Chrome and Black Concentric Control Knobs, Duncan Designed™ Pickups, Synthetic Bone Nut

Dave Molter ("Laklander") is Managing Editor and Bass Guitars editor of MusicGearReview.

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