Fender Made in Mexico Fretless Jazz Bass

I know for a fact that almost everyone reading this title pictured a certain bassist when they read it, which is one of the reasons i’m writing this. The Fender Fretless jazz bass is one of the most famous types of electric instruments that ever was. It’s unescapable association with Jaco Pastorius is one of its main selling points, as Fender makes this lower priced model available to those of us not willing to shell out two grand on an similar instrument, just with strategic, American-made wear marks all over it. It’s familiar hybrid tone of an upright bass in electric clothing has attracted thousands of musicians to adopt the fretless bass as a red-headed stepchild to their ventures in recording, taking advantage of seamless slides, docile tones and the softer edges of notes that only an instrument without metal frets can provide.  Well, that’s what you would hope, right? Alright, go to a guitar store, pick one of these up straight out of the box, and you’ll understand exactly why Fender Mexico will never be mentioned in the same sentences as Gibson, Rickenbacker, Jackson, or even Ibanez.

You may be asking why i’m reviewing this, and i’ll tell you why, I bought one a few months ago. As a guitarist first, I figured it couldn’t hurt to expand my instrument collections. I’ve got a drumset, harmonicas, keyboard, and now i’ve got a violin, so you can read this from a perspective of someone who realizes I am all for being a multi-instrumentalist. The bass was an impulse by in a state when I was a huge Jaco fan, and I was really digging the sound of a fretless jazz bass, so I felt it would be alright to drop around 500 dollars on a fretless bass. So, I went to my local guitar store…where else? Guitar Center.

The Specs: It’s got an alder body, maple neck, rosewood fretboard, and the standard hardware accompaniment you’d expect on all Fender Jazz bass. The only “difference” that Fender touts is that they put the American electronics into it to beef it up. There’s got to be some sort of profit reason behind it, because this is really a cut and dry bass. It’s the exact same electric bass they’ve been making for years, but for some reason it costs the same price as a normal bass, despite using a lot less labor and material to make. The fretboard doesn’t have frets in it, and instead uses little plastic lines which look like they just cut white plastic from a box and slid it into already made bass fretboards. So they save money on materials by not having to install frets, or fret markers on the front of the fretboard. All they need to do is run a 9.5 radius sanding block across the top, and call it a day. Hopefully you can see some sort of theme developing in my tone towards this bass. Don’t worry, it doesn’t end here.

The Neck: There’s not much to say. To me, all Fender bass necks feel the exact same. Nothing really astounding, and nothing to say it feels bad. The sad thing is that there is a lot of room between the end of the neck and the neck pickup, and for some reason they limit it to a 20 fret range. Not only that, but the fretboard was poorly done. The little plastic fretline fillers didn’t fit properly, and they were moving out of the fret slots. I had to sand the things down because I couldn’t play the 2-4th frets on the D and G strings without buzzing, and the only way to overcome it was to loosen the truss rod. Sorry, not about to sacrifice the action of the entire bass because the shop workers couldn’t run the sanding block a few times more. Not only was it poorly made, but they could’ve extended the fretboard over the pickguard, for petes sake. It’s not like there are frets or anything. It’s proof that Fender really doesn’t intend to reinvent the wheel. They feel they did a good enough job inventing the first wheel, so why improve/change it?
The Body: I’m glad they didn’t change this. It’s what makes a Fender bass look like a Fender bass. However, to my surprise, when i took off the pickguard, there was a 3/4 inch cylindrical hole under the pickguard, and it was filled with sawdust. For some reason, I had trouble contemplating how sawdust could get into a hole on a bass which was already finished.  There should be no reason for an instrument to come in contact with a sawdust creating process after the instrument has already been painted, clearcoated, and buffed. Stretch your own imaginations, I could use some explanation.

The Electronics: To me, the pickups seem underpowered, but really, the bass sounds like a Fender Fretless jazz bass. I’ve got no complaints there. Roll off a little of the neck pickup and you’ve got that Jaco sound. The only thing is, i’m/you’re not Jaco, so whenever you butcher Portrait of Tracy, people know it. It doesn’t change anything that you’re playing a Fender Fretless.

The Hardware: It’s typical Fender hardware. Big club-shaped tuners, ultra generic, cheap volume knobs, vibration prone bridge saddles, and the same bridge they’ve been using forever. Again, not reinventing the wheel.

The Whole Shebang: I bought a Fender fretless jazz bass, and it’s what I got. I went against my own pillars of guitar religion and bought something that wasn’t very good. It was terribly set up, and when I mean terribly, I’m not exxagerating. It took me days to finally set it up to where poorly made fretlines weren’t buzzing, the bridge was properly adjusted and the truss rod wasn’t bent like a 400 foot flagpole in a Chicago afternoon. Literally, the sales person admitted you could “drive a truck under the strings” because the action was so high. The problem was, when most people think about a guitar’s action, they look to the bridge. But the bridge was alright, it was the truss rod which looked as though they had never set it up. They just slid it into the neck, put the bass into a box and sent it to the Guitar Center from where I bought it. It’s probably the reason they didn’t sell it to anyone and the same one had been there for years. If a person who’s new to an instrument can’t play it or adjust it, then they won’t buy it. I only used it’s poor condition as leverage to drop the price from 450+ tax down to 375 out the door.

For the most part, Guitars aren’t like cars. Honda can still call the same thing a Civic for 20+ years, but improve it as technology changes. Fender can – and will – call their jazz bass the same thing forever, and they won’t change a thing. They won’t attempt to make that giant bolt-on block any less wieldy, they won’t add more output to their pickups, and they won’t add more frets.  The only way I turned it into a more tolerable instrument was with almost 50 hours of work to clean out pockets, clean up bad sanding jobs, tighten screws, adjust the bridge, tighten the truss rod and wait for hours for it to adjust. I basically paid 375 dollars to cause me stress, and to buy something that fills up my closet. The only good thing about is that when I want to play a Fender Made in Mexico Fretless Jazz bass, I can. Woo boy.

The Pros: It’s a Fender Fretless Jazz bass, so the Tone, and fretless sound. Comparable to buying a Chevy Bel Air if Chevrolet was still making it indentical to how they did in the 50’s.

The Cons: Just about everything else.
The Grade:

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15 Comments

Filed under bass, Electric Bass, Fender, Fender fretless jazz, Fender Guitars, guitar, guitar center, guitar player, guitar review, Jaco Pastorius, Jazz Bass, music, negativity

15 responses to “Fender Made in Mexico Fretless Jazz Bass

  1. I have a Duncan Bridge position pup that you can get for a reasonable price. That might round out your tone a bit. I switched to SCN’s in mine.

  2. Soup Sandwich

    Do you know where i can find a Chevy Bel Air from the 50’s at the price of a 00’s Bel Air?

  3. kitsenfinger

    I bought a used one for 250.00 …it already had EMG’s installed….set up fantastically and although not my main bass , I won’t hestitate to bring it out to a show..

  4. Alan Kirk

    Since you’re not really a bassist, why do you think your opinion about a bass is worthwhile?

  5. M. Heard

    First, I thank you for an honest review of a mid-range Fender bass. However, you only base this of your experiences with one bass. That is the equivolent of me taking a poor quality Gibson Les Paul Custom and saying that all Les Pauls are essentially junk. I happen to own the exact same model bass and mine is an absolute jewel. Fender MIM basses have had quality control issues for years and that goes both ways. You may find an unplayable piece of junk (yours) or an amazing #1 instrument (mine). I had to play five different Fender fretlesses until I found mine. When I found it, I compared it to the feel of an American fretless and they were almost identical. The action was razor thin an only needed a very slight intonation change. Now after having this bass for a few years, I have dropped EMG’s in it and done some cosmetic work. It is still my go to bass night after night. If your going to buy this model, please try multiple basses to find the one for you. It will eliminate the stress of buying a bad instrument. Thanks for reading.

  6. Oliver

    I am about to purchase one of these. I am a full time violinist and really liked the feel. I played many jazz bases and just fell in love with this one! It really all is preference about what you want.

    I pick it up today!

  7. A fierce but fair review, I’d say. Shame you got a dud. I’d not have a go at Fender’s design decisions though – if you want retro styling with modern features, there’s plenty of other manufacturers making Jazz basses (Lakland, Sadowsky, G&L, Mike Lull etc) which modernise the old design.

    For what it’s worth, there’s always a bit of buffing compound left in the CNC machine guide holes (and control cavities, etc) – which does look a lot like sawdust. Maybe a taste test to confirm?

  8. Hey yo.

    that was a pretty accurate review if you ask me. i have been playing for 12 years and started on a cheap p bass when i was thirteen or so. have since moved on to warwick rock bass which i put a whammy bridge on. i also have a soundgear six and and washburn XB600.
    4 or 5 years ago i found a mexican made jazz for somewhere around $150. fretted, sounded like ass, but i rocked it anyways. 2 years ago i tore the frets out and inlayed some birch and purpleheart veneers in the slots. i also put some bartilini pickups in it. still looks like hell and the action is pretty hard to get smooth without being too high, but i love this bass and will continue to modify it till it is perfect.

    i want to strip the black finish and glue a birds eye maple veneer to the top. i will also make a pickgaurd from some exotic woods.

  9. Deep C. Creature

    I have a fretted one…I like it a lot….dropped EMG’s in there, and that really helped the sound A LOT. Is it the greatest bass ever? hell no…I have a pre-gibson Tobias, and a pre-gibson Steinberger, so I kinda have an idea of what’s good. My Jazz bass is really, really easy to play, good for slapping etc. It’s still no “high end” instrument, but I think it’s pretty cool anyway…gets the job done. I think your review was fair and accurate, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like my MIM piece of shit. I just take it for what it is. If you want quality, ya gots ta pay for it. I think the $500 jazz basses are right in the middle of the spectrum. Not great, but not bad either.

  10. Well, as a professional bass player of almost 20 years, I can tell you that I have played both USA and MIM, as well as MIJ jazz basses. The MIJ was the best, and the other two? I must have been lucky, too. I could not tell them apart if I had my eyes closed. They sounded and felt “almost” identical. You just have to do some homework and you’ll find what you’re looking for. Just like a million bucks…it depends on whose hands it’s in as far as what the outcome will be.

  11. Tim

    If all Fender necks feel the same to you that shows your ignorance on the subject you are writing about. As someone who is an multi-instrumentalist you should know to look at the item before you buy it, if the quality is sub-par than don’t buy it. I give this review a F for the absolute stupidity of the person who wrote it.

    • Tim

      I would like to add that give the difference in climates that the guitar goes through the neck is going to bow, that is what the truss rod is for. Not every shop is going to set up your guitar before they put it on the floor or sell it out of stock. How long have you been playing guitar? I lerarned how to set up my own guitars after I paid to have it done once, all you need to learn is the ability to read. Seriously, how can you expect anyone to take this seriously when you admit your own ignorance of the subject.

  12. alan

    One of the things not-primarily bass players might overlook in commenting on unresponsive pickups on fretless basses is the fact that many are strung with flatwounds for obvious reasons. It’s a trade-off compensated by volume, amp, pickup height, technique. They usually seem lackluster on compared to roundwound fretted cousins.
    good review though.

  13. Richard Halas

    Rico

    I think using flatwounds play havoc on any bass neck of today, they were first used on the vintage p basses with were stronger and heavier materials.

  14. Andrew

    Heh. I bought one of these from Guitar Center as well, a while back. I’ve been a bassist for decades, but also loved many fretless players like Jaco, Percy Jones, and Pino Palladino. I thought: “neat! Finally a fretless!” Just something to knock around with, not intending to play out with it or bring it into the studio.

    I took it home, and took the strings off to replace them, and… bam, the nut broke. OK. Guitar Center had said “if anything goes wrong, bring it back within a week and we’ll refund your money, no questions asked.” I brought it back and said “if you guys have another nut that fits this, I’ll take it; otherwise, looks like I’ll take that refund.” They had no nut, so I took the refund, and thought “OK, I guess I’ll go for one NOT made in Mexico from now on.”

    A couple of years later, I bought a (fretted) American-made Jazz Bass, and have never looked back. Beautiful instrument. Still trying to find a reasonably-priced but good fretless bass, though.

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