The Ugly Rosewood Girl

Date: 09 August, 2009  |  Posted By: Mark  |  Category: Bass Playing
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A couple of years ago, I bought this Fender Power Jazz Special bass on eBay. I had been looking sporadically for an original 80’s model for a number of years and had never seen even one, let alone in the color I’d want. I’ve always liked Duff McKagan’s bass sound on the first G&R record, it’s got all the things I love to hear in a bass tone. It cuts in the mix, it’s got great top end (no doubt due to his choice of using a pick when he plays) and has round, tight, very defined low end. For whatever reason, in my opinion, he was never able to duplicate that sound since. He used a made in Japan Fender Power Jazz Special, and still does as far as I can tell from pictures. I’ve always kept that little factoid in the back of my mind for the occasional bored-at-trying-to-find-whatever-else-I-was-looking-for eBay hunt. What makes this bass slightly rare is a combination of several things; Fender manufactured them for only a few years in the 80’s, it is a Precision body with a Jazz neck, a P-J Bass active pickup configuration – active being a highly noteworthy item for a Fender back then – hence the designation of special.

Fender Power Jazz Bass Special 2The problem with this bass is, I totally hate the color. It’s Miami Vice teal. I love Miami Vice, but this color makes me want to go push over old ladies at the mall. I almost didn’t buy it just because of the color, but like I said, I had never seen one for sale and I might not ever see one in a color I was crazy about. It was cheap enough so I figured what the hell.
This ugly little girl with the silky rosewood neck has been sitting around here in my house for about three years, once in a while getting my attention enough to pick it up and play it. It’s kind of like that one girl who like maybe has a really nice physical attribute, but you look further along and she’s got other problems that are not so evident. Or like she’s rather bland in every other way other than she’s really super smart and you have a cool conversation with her once in a while. Like she has one memorable thing that makes you say, “yeah I know you got a little something going on there…” but there are other aspects that kind of cancel the one thing out that you can’t forget about or rationalize away. I’ve used it on a couple of my own demos and on one track I recorded for my bud Scott, and no matter what I’ve tried while tracking, it’s always sounded rather poor – on a good day – but it plays freakin’ great!  The neck is very much like the Warwick LX I use all the time so I have consistently felt right at home whenever I pick her up and play. But man – it sounded just awful! How can that be? I could be sitting there tracking, fiddling with eq and compression to try to bring this thing out of the gutter, get frustrated, unplug this bass, plug in a Warwick with the exact same signal chain setup and it would sound stellar. It had to be the bass. Pickups? Strings? Bridge? I dunno. All of the above? One odd thing about this bass, it sounds so good just “in the room” – like it has a great ring to it when I just sit there and wank around on it without plugging it in. I generally won’t buy a guitar or bass if it doesn’t have that “ring” to it when I pick it up and play it without plugging it in. Of course, buying shit on eBay, I’m rolling the dice a little but if it’s something I want, who cares right? Ebay has a good “return” policy that I use in my own mind to justify a purchase like this, if you buy something you hate you can turn around and sell it to some other mook the next week. You may lose a few bucks but I consider any losses incurred a rental fee to try something out that I couldn’t otherwise find at the local Overpriced Musical Instruments and Accessories Conglomerate store.

I tried putting passive Duncan pickups in it one time and it still sounded pretty lame, I reverted back to the original pickups just to keep it stock for the time being. Finally, since I desperately wanted to give this girl a chance I decided to go all in and change everything I knew sucked about her to fix her, or just put it away in the case so she will stop tempting me. I bought a Bartolini 4.7 AP kit and paired that up with the passive Duncan Basslines SJB-2 Hot Jazz and SPB-3 Quarter Pounder I had bought a while back. I figured a Leo Quan black (if it ain’t black, send it back)  Badass Bridge couldn’t hurt. The bridge that was on her was definitely a problem, it was made out of some cheap non-sustaining pot metal, the same thing the Toyota Celica logo on your high school girlfriend’s car was made of. I wouldn’t even use it for a fishing weight. Garbage as far as creating good tone goes.

Bartolini Preamp and Basslines PickupsThe installation was fairly easy, I’ve always repaired and modified my own instruments, drawing the line at refretting, but the bridge install ended up being a bases loaded with a tired pitcher situation. The screw holes from the old bridge were not even close to the holes on the Badass bridge. So with a straightedge, some serious eyeballing and highly questionable deductive measurement procedures, I nailed the bridge in a spot where I figured I could intonate it even if it was at the limits of sharp or flat and faithfully sank the slick black screws into their new home. Side to side was another story, all I can say is that it looks symmetrical so it must be OK! Fender Power Jazz Bass Special 

I put a new set of DR High-beams on her and messed around with the EQ switch and boost/cut knobs for a while until I understood what each one did tonally and how the interaction made the bass respond differently to my touch.
Here is a song I wrote to try out the new tone and see how it sits in a mix. The bass is the resurrected ugly Fender, DI’d through a Radial JDV Mk3, then through an SSL E Signature Channel and then through an 1176LN compressor. I then made a copy of the track in Pro Tools, shelved off the low end at about 200hz, put a Massey Tape Head plugin on it with the bright switch on, then brought this track up underneath the DI track in the mix to give it some bark. Check it out…

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