Fender Brings Back the Legendary Bass VI in Its Pawn Shop and Squier Lines

Pawn Shop Bass VI Burst

Fender sent out an e-mail blast this week which, among other things, listed some new guitars in their Pawn Shop Line. Most interesting to me was the re-appearance of a Bass VI! I wrote a fairly comprehensive article about the Bass VI back in 2006 (CLICK HERE). At the time I was really interested in the Bass VI as a way to bridge my bass playing skills to 6-string. The Bass VI was a premium guitar from Fender which didn’t fit in my budget, but I tried out a couple of the Baritone Jaguars that Fender put out as a response to demand for a guitar in this class. You can read the article I linked to above where I compare the guitars, but ultimately I didn’t keep either of the guitars I tried and decided to invest in some regular 6-string electrics.

That said, this appearance of the Bass VI in the Pawn Shop line has me pretty interested in the Bass VI again. The guitar is introduced at an MSRP of $1079.99 (street price is estimated at $799) which makes this the most affordable Bass VI in a long time. Keeping with Fender’s tagline of “Guitars That Never Were But Should Have Been” the Bass VI gets a slight makeover and improves the guitar. For one thing, Fender removed the complicated and awkward bank of pickup switches and replaced it with a more conventional 5-position switch. Additionally, they replaced the bridge single-coil pickup with a humbucker that at first glance looked like a P90 or P100 but is in fact the Jazzmaster Humbucker (designated JZHB). This will give the guitar some interesting tone options not available in any of the previous Bass VI or Jaguar Baritone configurations. They did keep the distinctive locking tremolo and floating bridge that the Bass VI had and maintained the 30″ (76.2 cm) scale.


The Pawn Shop Bass VI 0143-700-300 in Sunburst

The Pawn Shop Bass VI 0143-700-300 in Sunburst

Pawn Shop Bass VI 0143-700-306 Black

Pawn Shop Bass VI 0143-700-306 in Black

Pawn Shop Bass VI 0143-700-309 in Candy Apple Red

Pawn Shop Bass VI 0143-700-309 in Candy Apple Red

The Pawn Shop Bass VI comes in three colors: Black with tortoise pickguard, Three-tone Sunburst with tortoise pickguard, and Candy Apple Red with painted headstock and parchment pickguard. The Bass VI comes out on March 19th, according to Guitar Center, where you can pre-order it.

In the vast history of electric guitars from Fender, the Bass VI is somewhat obscure and harbors a kind of cultish, rabid fanbase. It remains to be seen if this re-introduction will widen the visibility of the Bass VI, but I think that there is pent-up demand from people who have been unwilling or unable to pay premium prices for a used Bass VI. If Guitar Center here in Cedar Rapids gets one in, I’ll go try it out and report back.

Click Here to read my article comparing the Bass VI to the Baritone Jaguars.

Click Here to Go to Fender’s Pawn Shop Bass VI page.

UPDATE: You can now get a regular configuration Bass VI as a Squier! Click the pictures below to check them out at Reverb.com – The Marketplace for Musicians!

Fender Baritone Jaguars and the Bass VI

In early December I picked up a new guitar from Bob’s Guitars in Cedar Falls. It is a Fender Jaguar Baritone Custom (025-9400-300). This is the second Fender Baritone I’ve owned. I traded a Jaguar Baritone Special HH (025-9300-306) that I also purchased from Bob’s in 2005 on it.

The current Fender Jaguar Baritone models are descendants of the legendary Bass VI that Fender manufactured from 1961-1975. A unique guitar, the Bass VI was inspired by the Danelectro 6-string bass introduced in 1956. Tuned E-e, the Bass VI bridged the gap between an electric bass and an electric guitar. The Bass VI was used notably by Robert Smith of the Cure and Jack Bruce of Cream. Since Cream was the prototype for a Power Trio, Bruce had to play the dual role of rhythm guitar and bass to Clapton’s lead guitar. I became interested in the Bass VI through some interviews I read with Doug McCombs from Tortoise where he talks about the Bass VI and how its distinctive tone impacts his playing. McComb’s side project Brokeback is influenced by and is a showcase of the Bass VI. A bass player myself, I was interested in an intstrument that would allow me to play six-string while taking advantage of my bass background. My bass style is influenced heavily by New Order’s Peter Hook who tended to use the upper registers of the bass for melody. I believe that Hook also played a Bass VI from time-to-time. So, I felt that a Bass VI-style guitar would be up my alley.

I started looking into getting a Bass VI last year, and was disappointed in how much it would cost to get an original vintage Bass VI. Most of them are going for upwards of $3000. In 1995 Fender introduced a 1962 Bass VI reissue. These reissues are going for as much as the originals on eBay. Due to the scarcity of these guitars– they never really took off originally, and I’m sure the 1995 reissues were also not very popular– some Bass VI fans got organized on the Internet and started a campaign to get Fender to bring the VI back.

The petition was successful. In 2004 and 2005 Fender introduced the two Jaguar Baritones currently in production– the Custom and the HH. Further, in 2006 they announced that a 1962 Bass VI reissue would be available from Custom Shop as a Limited Edition available only until 12/31.

In Spring of 2005 I started looking into the new Jaguar-based baritones. I did some calling around and it turned out that Bob’s in Cedar Falls was one of the few stores in the area carrying one. West Music in Cedar Rapids said that they didn’t carry one because they were “speculative” guitars– which I assumed to mean that Fender wasn’t sure if they were going to continue production of these. The model that Bob’s had was the black and chrome HH edition– “HH” means dual humbucking pickups. I visited the store and tried it out with a friend and bought it. I really liked the way it looked and played and it matched my black and white American Precision Bass. The Baritone Custom came in a more traditional sunburst color scheme with a tortoise pickguard.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough information available about the Jaguar Baritones when I bought the HH. I had assumed incorrectly that the two Baritones were different only in pickup configuration and color. The Baritone Special HH has a 27″ scale versus the Baritone Custom’s 28.5″ scale. The Special HH tunes to B-B (B, E, A, D, F#, B) whereas the Baritone Custom can be tuned in standard E-E (E, A, D, G, B, E)– just like the Bass VI. The Bass VI has a 30″ scale which allows it to be tuned an octave below a standard guitar. The Baritone Custom uses the same gauge strings as the Bass VI as well. Compare this to a standard Jaguar’s scale of 24″.

My remedial 6-string skills don’t include being able to transpose chords to accomodate the B-B tuning– although all of the chords I know “work.” I could have capoed the guitar for E, too. It wasn’t until this year when I was looking through the Fender catalog that I noticed that Fender had re-named the Baritone Custom as a “Bass VI Custom” and moved the guitar to the bass section. The Bass VI Custom has the same model number as the Baritone Custom did (025-9400-300). This was a smart move on Fender’s part as it drives the point home about the Custom’s Bass VI heritage as well as clear up any confusion about the product. The guitar was debatably incorrectly called a Baritone anyway as it wasn’t tuned to B-B.

When I went to Bob’s in December, they had the Custom with the original “Baritone Custom” labeling instead of the new “Bass VI Custom” labeling. This was only a minor disappointment, really, as the guitar is identical in every other respect. One of the complaints about the original Bass VI was that the tremelo made the guitar knock out of tune easily, so Fender addressed that in this guitar with a fixed bridge. The Baritone HH also has a fixed bridge. I was surprised how much difference the inch and a half makes in playability and tone between the HH and the Custom! While the HH was definately has a low-end growl to it– which is helped a lot with the humbucker pickups– the Custom sounds more like a bass. The string gauge contributes to that as well. The longer neck is a bit disorienting if you are expecting a regular guitar. One of the guys from Bob’s commented on that right away when he was tuning the guitar up for me.

Overall, I’m very pleased with this guitar. It is a bit like braving new territory for me as a guitarist. I’m spending a lot of time figuring out what sounds the best. Like a bass, the Custom sounds best single note playing like surf or western sounding. A lot of barre or power chords sound good in the upper registers of the guitar. I need to figure out what I’m going to do amp-wise. I can tell right now that reverb is a necessity.

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