Here we have a trio of brand-new, highly-desirable 5-string electric bass guitars with a shared heritage. One of them originally designed by Leo Fender and made in the USA by the company that still bears his name, another a Japanese-built Sadowsky copy of that instrument, and the third manufactured in Indonesia by G & L - a company founded by Mr. Fender in the late 1970s, where he created "the finest instruments I ever built".
The most expensive of the basses in our little collection is three times the price of the cheapest. Which, having given examples of all them a workout in the last year, I can't even begin to understand. Allow me to explain...
Starting at the bottom of the scale, (yes, that was a dire attempt to make a very weak bass-playing-low-notes-reference pun. I apologise profusely. If it happens again, well, I'm sure I'm not that hard to track down, should anyone feel they've suffered sufficiently), we've got the un-snappily titled G & L L2500. £645 gets you an Indonesian instrument equipped with G & L's American-made hardware, and I must admit it sounds absolutely excellent. The enclosed, "saddle lock" bridge, combined with the strings-through-body design mean it'll sustain until the drummer's final 'big rock ending' crash hit is but a dim & distant memory. Plus, with all the passive/active/active with treble boost, series/parallel pick-up switching options, there's enough tonal variation on offer to satisfy almost anyone.
I thoroughly enjoyed playing this bass - it gave off an overall feeling of solidity, was extremely responsive, the neck & fingerboard were excellent - but...on this particular example, there were some serious issues on the middle three strings at the 15th fret. Probably easily fixable with a slight bridge saddle height adjustment, certainly, maybe a little attention to the fret itself, but...it shouldn't have been like that, you know? The action definitely didn't need to be cranked down to a "how low can you go?" level for this to be a great bass. Unfortunately I didn't have time to compare it with others of its breed, but if anyone with greater experience can shed light on their overall quality control standards, then please feel free to get in touch.
Anyway, let's move on now to the Fender American Standard Jazz Bass V.
At this point I feel it's only fair to make a small confession. I don't really like Fender basses (as I've mentioned on this blog before, but then, who in the world ever reads this, huh?). Never have done, most likely never will. So I suppose all I can honestly say is that what we have here is very much a Fender. With 5 strings attached. Again, it feels solid enough, sounds exactly as you'd expect, and if you want a Fender, well, yup, fair enough, you won't go wrong with one of these. A large portion of the £1299 price tag can be accounted for simply by the presence of the word "Fender" on the headstock, of course, but that's personal choice for you...
...speaking of which, you could forget all pretence to rationality, and spend £1999 (no, that's not a mistake - one thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine pounds, folks) on a carefully-wrought clone of the same instrument from Japan. Give it up, ladies and gentlemen, for the Sadowsky Metroline MV5.
Don't get me wrong, in many ways this is a very nice bass. Thanks to the same pick-ups, bridge, etc as their American range, a wider range of tones available than the Fender (although still significantly inferior in this department to the 'whole-price-of-the-Fender-less' G & L). The neck's great, construction is excellent, etc,etc. But for that price it should, surely, be so much more than just another good quality - yet nothing spectacular - instrument? Also worth noting, perhaps, that if you want a lefty or fretless model, then you're going to have to pay full Sadowsky NYC whack.
The Metroline MV5 I tried was fine (I could say "if you're unimaginative and looking for an expensive Fender", but that might be marginally unfair), perfectly decent and 'professional', but...but...
Why, oh why, oh why would anyone willingly, deliberately, "being of sound mind and body" choose to purchase such a thing?
With that sort of budget available, how much better to be deep in conversation with a few local luthiers, to see what they could come up with instead? Something custom-built & crafted to our precise specifications, that would live & breathe under our fingers - and in our current economic situation, I'm sure they'd be extremely glad to see us.
If I had to choose one of these three Leo Fender-related basses to gig with, then quite honestly I'd go with the G & L L2500 - compared with the other two it represents stunning value for money. But then, if I had £645 to spend in the second-hand market, well...a quick glance at Ebay produced an interesting bunch of 5-strings that sold recently for less: Shecter Stiletto, Status Shark 5, Warwick Thumb,Streamer & Corvette, Yamaha BB615 & TRB1005, Musicman Stingray, MTD Grendel, Lakland Skyline, Ibanez SR605 & SR1015, to name but quite a few...
p.s. Thanks to GuitarGuitar in Edinburgh for letting me plonk around on their valuable stock. All prices from their website, and correct as of 20/11/2010.