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Guitar brands often talk of blending the old with the new; keeping a 'vintage vibe' while modernising certain features. I feel this can often be a tired platitude, trotted out as a lazy marketing line when a 'new updated model' is released with a few token adjustments that are recieved with about as much relish as dengue fever.

Then every once in a while, someone gets it right.

This is the 2016 American Elite Jazz Bass from Fender.

fenderjazzelite 350

This bass doesn't replace the standard Jazz (what could, or indeed should?), but takes it into new territory, without losing the tone, feel and looks of the standard. Every new appointment is for a reason, and as a whole it works superbly.

Neck: A one piece maple neck, with vintage pearloid block inlays and a classy black binding. The neck is a hybrid in two ways, firstly it features Fender's new 'C to D' profile, which feels great and provides comfortable access to the higher frets whilst feeling solid at the lower end. Secondly, the back of the neck is finished in satin urethane, which makes playing feel silky and smooth (almost as good as a MusicMan finish), but the board has a classic Fender '70s style gloss which feels luxurious and protects the fretboard. It may be a hybrid, but it feels cohesive and you could even be forgiven (...just) for saying it "plays like butter".

Furthermore, the neck is reinforced with "posiflex" graphite supports to prevent twisting or bending over time from changes in humidity and temperature, and mercifully Fender have adopted MusicMan's brilliant and easy truss rod roller at the neck join, making this a great bass for the road and adjustments on the fly.

fenderjazzelite 350 neckfenderjazzelite 350 backneck

Body: Instead of the usual block, the neck attaches to the body with a sculpted joint and sturdy but sleek 5-bolt attachment. It features a lovely Ash body which is light and comfortable feeling with its offset waist. You can see much of the figuring in the ash through the tobacco sunburst finish which has a very light, thin extra strong coating for added durability without impeding the resonance of the ash body.

fenderjazzelite 350 back

Hardware: The pickups are Fender's 2016 N4 noiseless single coils, which have effortless response without unwanted hum, perfect for big stages or hi-gain situations. They offer everything from rich low-end thump to bright funky highs, and importantly can be run in both passive OR active modes. It sounds fantastic in both and in effect you get both the options of a totally passive, classic jazz sound, or with the flick of a switch you have a fully blown 18V active EQ powered output if that is your thing.

With blessed relief, the EQ is not overcomplicated, with features including: treble boost/cut, bass boost/cut, midrange boost, active/passive mini-toggle switch, and master volume control. Once you figure out where these are it's pretty simple. Some of the EQ only cuts in when the bass is in active mode, and it provides an incredible range of tones that are all very 'useable' in their own right. You'll quickly find that sweet spot that's right for your setup, be it funk, jazz, country, rock - anything goes!

This bass also includes Fender's new "hi-mass vintage bridge" which is an upgrade on the standard, and interestingly you can choose to either run the strings through the body (modern style), or through the bottom of the bridge (vintage style).

fenderjazzelite 350 swoosh

Overall, all these features combine to make a cohesive and beautiful instrument, which can be used as a straight vintage style passive bass with added luxury and durability, or a powerful active beast for the most technically demanding of setups. For versatility, we can't rate it highly enough.

It looks stunning and plays well with a very low action. The tone has great clarity and a familiar feel, allowing you to play in whatever style you like, while staying tight, focussed and characterful.