I’ve tested out some of the best bass guitars on the market, but out of all the different options available, the humble Bronco is something quite special.
There is nothing magical about the woods used or how it sounds, but for what it costs and the positive feedback from bass players across the globe, it’s starting to become a bit of a cult classic.
While targeted at the beginner market, this lightweight, easy to play shortscale bass has found its way into a variety of gear bags including guitarists who need a cheap bass guitar to practice on, record with and play live.
In typical Fender fashion, the overall quality is actually better than expected so lets take a closer look at the positives and negatives.
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Squier Affinity Series Bronco Bass Guitar
In order to keep material costs low, Fender have opted for a cheaper Agathis body wood which is shaped into a double-cutaway for easier access to the higher end of the fretboard.
Agathis is a softer material which produces warmer tones but it doesn’t carry sound quite as well as heavier tonewoods.
This isn’t a big issue, the sustain is still reasonable enough to generate a good, low end punch.
Agathis does however need a little loving care and attention. Alder and Mahogany woods can take quite a beating which adds that roadworn character, but Agathis has the potential to break in half or show up massive dings if abused badly.
If you’re as pedantic as I am, it won’t take much effort to keep this little Bronco safe and sound. The big positive to softer woods is the weight, the Bronco barely tips the scales.
Neck and Headstock
Bolted to the body is a far more reputable Maple neck which is strong enough to keep this bass guitar in tune.
The typical selling point for shortscale necks (30” vs the normal 34” fullscale size) is that it’s easier for bass players who may have shorter arms or smaller hands, but really, it’s just fun to play.
Over the top is a maple fretboard which has a bright and snappy response. Putting together the Maple and Agathis tone characteristics makes for a bass guitar which captures a balance of low end warmth and higher end brightness.
Pickups and Tone Controllers
The Affinity Series Bronco features one single-coil pickup, easily calibrated with one volume knob and one tone knob.
There isn’t anything magical going on, underneath the plastic cover is a simple single-coil which is most likely repurposed from an electric guitar. But at this price range, you can’t expect too much and it still does a pretty decent job.
The good news is that the pickup configuration makes this bass easy to modify. A vast array of after-market pickups will fit so if you fancy a bit of a project, you could swap the standard pickup for a Seymore Duncan Antiquity or Vintage Rail.
Voilà – a great-sounding bass for unbeatable value.
Impressively, this bass keeps a tune better than some basses twice its size and price. Chalk it up to the reasonable quality invested in the chrome two-saddle bridge and chrome tuning pegs.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, stopping to retune every 3 minutes is not an ideal scenario and probably why the Bronco has such a wide appeal.
While everything works right out of the box, if you wanted to seriously impress then upgrading the electronics and bridge could go a long way to drop some jaws.
Equally, changing bass strings makes a big difference in sound quality, reducing fret buzz and smoother playability. But, as you might expect, thicker strings will not fit in the stock tuning pegs as this bass guitar is designed more conservatively.
Even without these mods, it’s an incredible budget friendly bass guitar when compared to instruments that retail for 10x as much.
How Does it feel to play?
Gone are the old days of badly warped necks, unplayable string heights and uncomfortably sharp frets. The Bronco’s neck is actually well designed and easy to get your fingers around.
The overall compact length makes for fast fretting, and you don’t have to make much effort to reach the low notes either.
My personal collection of bass guitars are all fullscale, but when I pickup a shortscale, I can’t help but feel I’m cheating. It’s just too easy to get around!
The Bronco comes from the factory with a comfortably low string height (action), although the action can be raised if you prefer more resistance.
Overall, this bass guitar deserves credit where due, anyone who is just getting started would find this a comfortable bass guitar to get along with.
How good is the sound quality?
The Bronco fits a more vintage sound profile similar to what you hear in garage rock, psychedelic or punk music.
With the tone knob turned up high, you get a decent crunchy, popping tone which works nicely for slapping or aggressive down-picking techniques.
It does fall short on tone rich music styles like reggae, jazz, and heavy metal. But considering this is one of the most budget-friendly bass guitars on the market, it makes a valient effort all around.
If you buy the Bronco with low expectations, chances are you will be pleasantly surprised how far it will take you. It’s a cheap bass guitar and it does what any bass should do.
How does the Squier Bronco compare?
There are few alternatives which also come in at a decent budget, here are 2 more beginner bass guitars to consider.
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Squier Affinity PJ Bass Pack with Amp
Getting a complete bass guitar starter kit is a great way to maximize a smaller budget and to start playing right away.
The bass guitar included is their precision jazz model, nice and simple in design and solid build quality, but does come with a 34″ full scale neck.
The starter kit also includes cables, guitar bag and a bass guitar strap. Although the amp only has an 8” speaker, it packs enough power for one-on-one practice.
In terms of overall value, going down the route of a bass guitar starter kit is a great option. The whole kit will last a long time if well maintained.
Ibanez GSRM20 Mikro Shortscale Bass Guitar
Another compact and easy to play bass guitar on a super affordable budget is the Ibanez GSRM20.
The shortscale neck comes in at 28.60″ which is a bit shorter than the Bronco and a lot of fun to play, and it does come with a different pickup configuration to include precision/jazz style single coils.
There’s nothing fancy about the components, the body is made from the same stuff as the Bronco requiring more effort to avoid any damage.
But, considering how affordable it is and the feedback from bass players who own one, it’s certainly worth checking out further.
Starting out with a Fender Bronco is a great way to get into bass guitar without spending a lot of money.
Equally, once you’ve gained some mastery over the instrument, it makes for a fun DIY project if you fancy modifying the components.
Even as you expand your knowledge and upgrade your gear, having the Bronco packed away as a backup is better than having no bass guitar at all.