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 Announces Billy Corgan Signature Pair of Stratocasters

Billy Corgan Signature Stratocaster in Olympic WhiteBilly Corgan Signature Stratocaster in BlackI’ll admit to once being a fan of The Smashing Pumpkins. Although, I stopped listening to them after Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness but up to that landmark third album I really believed that Billy and his attendant whine could do no wrong. I don’t know what happened after that. Maybe Billy shaved his head, I don’t know. Although there are folks who swear by Adore and Machina maybe I’m just missing it.

I still think Billy is one of the guys who took his shoegazer influences and built on them to make a signature sound. So, when I saw that Fender announced at Summer NAMM the new Billy Corgan Artist Series “Signature” Stratocasters I took some interest.

Effectively, we have two new American Hard Tail Strats (the first since they were killed off in 2006). One interesting aspect to them is that they utilize a CBS-era “big” headstock on a satin polyurethane-covered 22-fret maple neck. Not something I’m used to seeing on an American Stratocaster. The body is a standard “contour” alder body with satin nitrocellulose finish done with tasteful “tuxedo” (white knobs on black pickguard, black knobs on white) trim in two colors: classic Olympic White, or black. Then we get to the parts that Billy influenced. In the interview with Billy on Fender’s site, he says that he didn’t set out to make a guitar that would give the player his sound, but a guitar with a “modern” “high gain” guitar that a player could express themselves on. That said, it is a guitar that he is currently playing in the spirit of Artist Series guitars like Clapton’s “Blackie” (not the mega-thousand-dollar reproduction of his 70’s guitar but the one that he designed for Fender).

To achieve this high gain, Billy worked with DiMarzio to develop a “Billy Corgan” single-spaced humbucker pickup that this guitar is using in the neck and bridge positions. This guitar is also utilizing a DiMarzio “Chopper” in the middle. However, rather than just making a “hot rod” Strat with humbuckers, he has the 5-position switch providing any of the three humbuckers or the neck and bridge with a split of the middle. Oddly, the middle position only gives the Chopper in a humbucker mode rather than all three humbuckers being hot. Billy explains that he wanted to preserve some of the single coil sound that it’s known for rather than just loading the guitar up with humbuckers. I’d argue that the classic Strat sound doesn’t involve any DiMarzio pickups OR humbuckers for that matter.

Still the guitar seems intriguing to me. I’m kind of in the market for a Les Paul to achieve a humbucker sound in my collection, but maybe this is the guitar to do it, and it would look great next to my black Hard Tail Strat and my black P-Bass. Unfortunately, it will be a bit before anyone takes delivery of these since they were just announced (unless Fender would like to send me one for review– I’ll take an Olympic White one, thanks!).

This guitar MSRP’s at $1999 and comes with a vintage tweed case that fits the big headstock. If I manage to try one of these out, I’ll write a review here.

New Addition: 2005 Fender Standard Telecaster

2005 MIM TelecasterI wasn’t expecting to pick up another guitar so soon after the purchase of my American Hardtail Strat in May– nor was my wife, really! Thankfully, Sherry has been very cool about my recent guitar purchases and tries to understand the necessity for more than one 6-string electric!

I subscribe to an e-mail search of the Cedar Rapids Music-Go-Round on Fender Guitars and saw this 2005 Made-in-Mexico Telecaster aka “Standard Telecaster.” I thought it looked very clean and was a unique combination of Arctic White with a white pickguard and maple neck.

Initially I debated about whether I liked the color combination. I went in and played it a couple of times and eventually decided that it was as nice a Tele as I am likely to see used. MGR doesn’t get a lot of Telecasters in and eBay prices seem to be a bit inflated in my opinion. So, I traded a couple of effects pedals I wasn’t using– an Ibanez TS808 Original Tube Screamer Overdrive Pro Guitar Effect Pedal and a Boss OC-3 Super Octave Pedal I bought back in the early-Nineties for use with my bass that I never really used.

I’m really happy with it. Overall, I’d be pretty hard-pressed to find anything about it that seemed lower quality than an American version of it. The fit and finish are very good and it is a decent playing guitar. Nice clean slappy twang to it that sounds great through the homebrew tube amp I’m using. Sherry says that she prefers the tone of this guitar over my other ones.

I paid $299 before my pedal trades and it came with a non-Fender gig bag. A very good deal considering that it looks and plays new.

Check out the Fender Standard Telecasters at Reverb.com!

2005 Fender American Stratocaster Hard Tail (review)

2005 Strat HardTail A couple of weekends ago I was out to lunch with my friend Erik and decided to visit the Cedar Rapids Music-Go-Round to see if they had anything interesting in stock. Over lunch we were discussing the amazing finds that he and our friend Andrew had in that store.

Admittedly Music-Go-Round can be pretty hit-and-miss when it comes to really great finds at a good price. Quite a bit of their stock caters to the beginner or low-budget musicians– the guy who really wants a Gibson Les Paul, but only has the funds for the LTD version of it (a good version for the price, BTW). When we got there they had quite a few Fenders hanging on the wall– a couple of Mexicans– but they had two American Stratocasters as well. One was a 2001 Hot Rod Red with tremolo and rosewood fretboard and the other was the 2005 black and white Hard Tail with maple neck that I ended up purchasing.

The salesman plugged me into a used Fender Blues Junior Combo Amp to try the guitars out. A good choice as the Blues Jr is partially tube and would be fairly well-matched to the classic Strat sound. After playing both guitars and conferring with Erik and calling Andrew on his cell I settled on the Hard Tail for a couple of reasons– one is that I really didn’t want a tremolo even though I could choose to block it (like Eric Clapton!) and the other is that I really like the feel of a maple neck.

The guitar was in immaculate shape and came with all of its swing tags and paperwork as well as the standard-issue plastic case for $549. This guitar lists for $1327.99, but you can get a new one for around $950 at online retailers. So, I feel like I got a pretty good deal.

60th Anniversary Badge

Even though this guitar has a 2005 serial number (starting with “Z5”) it was sold as a 2006 model and has the Fender 60th Anniversary badge on the back of the headstock which is pretty cool. Another unique aspect of this guitar is that Fender discontinued the American Hard Tail in 2006. No new Hard Tails in ’07. I contacted Fender to confirm this as I see that most of the online retailers are still selling them even though the online catalog at fender.com doesn’t list it as current product. According to Fender the only way to get a Hard Tail guitar would be to order the Fender Robert Cray Standard Stratocaster Electric Guitar which is Mexican or to order the Eric Clapton Signature Strat, which has a blocked tremolo. Custom Shop Showmaster guitars come with Hard Tail as well.

This American Stratocaster is one of the post-2000 configurations. According to The Stratocaster Chronicles by Tom Wheeler, in the Summer of 2000 Fender discontinued the “American Standard” which had been in existence for 13 years and replaced it with the current “American Series.” The American Series was a new start to the Stratocaster line pulling together a set of features from the entire history of the Strat to that point making arguably the best Strat yet.

These features included the unanimously-agreed-superior pre-CBS 4-bolt neck, the Micro Tilt adjustment, the advanced shielding from the Standard, the 5-way pickup selector switch that dated back to 1977, “no-load” tone control which at “10” kills the tone pot on the middle pickup making for a vintage Strat tone, “Delta Tone” pickups where the middle pickup is wired in reverse of the other two providing a humbucking effect on certain switch settings, a single string tree on the head adding to tuning stability and improving tone, “rolled” neck edges which adds to the pleasant neck feel, non-veneered “original contour” body based on the 1950’s Strats, staggered pickup polepieces like the 1950’s Strats, and routing to provide the ability to add humbuckers in the neck and bridge positions. This final change eliminated the contraversial “swimming pool” routing where the area behind the pickguard was just a big hole to accomodate different pickup configurations.

Over the 53 years of the Stratocaster’s existence it has been subject to constant change– some of it good, some of it not good. In the American Series we see the benefits of a company looking back on the history of its products to pull a feature set together that I think ultimately makes an instrument that both honors its past, innovates and– most importantly– is great to play.

>pp 246-250, “Chapter 9: The New Millennium,”The Stratocaster Chronicles: Celebrating 50 Years of the Fender Strat, Tom Wheeler, 2004

Fender Musical Instruments Corporation

All Fender product names in this article are trademarks of Fender.

Check out the Fender Hard Tail Stratocasters at reverb.com!

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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