Fender 50's Precision Bass Guitar
When Leo Fender invented the first prototype Precision Bass in 1950, it transformed the music world as we know it.
At that time, the main option available to bass players was the orchestral double bass which was large in size, difficult to lug around and somewhat harder to master for the average beginner.
The Precision marked a turning point in history, and the legend continues with the lineup of Fender’s bass guitars out on the market today.
The ‘50s Precision Bass (also known as the P Bass) is a modern replica of the original 1950’s design right down to the vintage styling, pickup, truss rod and frets.
Generally, American made models are more sought after, but the positive feedback from bass players speaks volumes for this Mexican made masterpiece. This is one of Fender’s best versions of the precision bass guitar, and not for a huge price tag either.
Where a lot of modern bass guitars might use exotic, dense woods for their body and neck, Fender have kept it simple. But, what does that mean for the sound?
The primary wood of choice used on this solid body construction is Alder which is sculpted into that classic Precision shape and topped off with a Urethane coating.
Alder is a classic choice given its brighter tonal properties and general hardiness, able to withstand years of gigging and abuse without missing a beat.
Anyone who has played a precision knows, the signature sound is a delicate balance between punchy, deep bass and an overall brightness on the top end.
Neck and Headstock
Continuing the theme of brightness, Fender have used Maple woods for both the neck and fingerboard. As with the original model, the neck is a solid 1-piece design but as you’d expect, highly polished and made comfortable to handle.
Now, this may be a positive or a negative depending on your preference, but this is a little wider than you might find on most other bass guitars. You’re looking at a fingerboard radius of 7.25” and a nut width of 1.75”.
But, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just a personal choice. Looking at the sheer number of positive reviews across bass player forums, the thicker spacing gets a ‘thumbs up’ from the majority of owners.
Take a listen to Pino Palladino below to hear an example of the classic tone Precision bass guitars are known for.
From the outset, it’s obviously simple in design. No fancy EQ’s or batteries, just a single pickup and a few control knobs.
The split single-coil pickup which is found smack, bang in the middle of the body seems too simple, doesn’t it?
Don’t be fooled though, the precision is one of the most iconic tone generators of all time.
Obviously, the quality of the pickup itself is important. After all, it sets apart the beginner models from the mid to expensive range, and the pickup design on this model closely resembles the vintage ‘50’s design.
Even though there are some differences between single coil vs humbucker pickups, the process for making high end electronics today differs from the technology of the time.
It’s not uncommon for bass players to switch out pickups for different versions, but in this case, it’s really not needed. The quality is excellent and does everything you need it to do.
Control Knobs and Hardware
Most of the bass guitars in my personal collection have control knobs galore, and honestly, it’s more of a pain than an advantage.
On the precision, you have two options. Would you like some more volume? Or would you like more brightness (tone)?
The vintage theme continues throughout, including reverse open gear tuners, butt end truss rod and bridge.
Adjusting the truss rod on the more modern bass guitars these days is simple, but in keeping with the original design, this vintage styled bass guitar requires a little more fiddling to gain access.
Adjusting the action (string heights) is fairly painless though, the saddles can be adjusted simply from the bridge end.
How Does it feel to play?
In terms of the finish, the neck and body shape are comfortable to handle. The fretboard edges are polished off making for easy and smooth playability.
As mentioned, the c-shape neck is thicker than what you would normally find on a Jazz bass or similar designed modern bass. But, in a lot of ways, that extra thickness actually translates into a more comfortable hand position and easier fretting.
If this was a difficult bass to get along with, I doubt it would have stood the test of time. It’s safe to say, this bass has comfort written all over it.
How good is the sound quality?
It’s a classic, signature tone unmatched by another other bass guitar out there. The precision bass is possibly one of the most featured and recorded models to appear in the hands of famous artists worldwide, from hard rock to soul and funk.
The overall tone is punchy with loads of bottom end. Rolling down the treble controller enriches the sound which is perfect for R&B and Motown music, but add in a mix of treble and things start to heat up.
You get smoothness where you want, aggression and growls too. Slap bass which usually dominates the Jazz bass domain somehow ‘just works’ on a precision too. It’s unlike anything you could emulate elsewhere.
The versatility is amazing, especially considering what lies beneath is so simple in design.
How does the Fender '50s Precision compare?
The style of music you play and your ideal budget might be better suited to something different. It’s worth a look at the below options, too.
Ibanez SR500 Soundgear 4-String Bass Guitar
If you’re after a modern and punchy bass guitar on the opposite side of the scale, the Ibanez SR500 Soundgear may be just what you’re looking for.
In comparison to the P Bass, the SR500 fires up on the electronics side with two Bartolini humbucker pickups and 3-band active EQ.
The modern electronics lends to more heavier styles of music, funk and pop. If you’re after a vintage tone, you might not enjoy the sound this bass guitar produces.
The body is thin and sculpted with an emphasis on comfort with easy access to the higher frets.
The 5-piece jatoba and bubinga laminate neck is also a nice touch.
Squier Affinity Jazz Bass
If you’re just starting out, Fender make a great collection of affordable Jazz Bass guitars which actually do a great job too.
Jazz Bass guitars have a unique vintage tone, similarly to how Precision bass guitars have something special about how they sound.
The affinity range is surprisingly popular with a lot of positive feedback from bass players.
Sure, it’s not perfect, the hardware and pickups are not the most robust or best sounding but it’s built strong and an easy platform for modifying later down the line.
What strikes me as a huge positive for the Fender 50s P Bass is the value for money. Sure, it may take a little saving up but compared to the American made equivalent, or just about any other specialized bass guitar out there, it’s accessible to most budgets.
If you’re just getting started and looking to get your first bass guitar, this is certainly one to add to the short list. It’s a core piece of bass history, and I’m glad Fender managed to keep the tradition alive by accurately reproducing an absolute classic.