Things I Don’t Really Need #1 – Fender VI

Introduction

Welcome to a new feature on the blog which is appropriately titled ‘Things I Don’t Really Need’, which should be followed with ‘but really want!’ The purpose of these posts is to share some of my musical deliberations. Like many working musicians, money for equipment is almost always kept to a minimum and combined with a severe lack of space purchasing non-essentially instruments becomes a battle of wills.

Those who know me and my collection of guitars (currently a humble nine guitars) will be surprised to know that I’m very careful with the numbers. The large numbers of guitars I’m often seen with are guitars that are just passing through onto students or friends. I am strict with what stays. As a side note I would recommend this outlook to any musician as excessive gear is often dead money and creatively distracting. (I should note I’m less strict with pedals but they are smaller in my defense).

Current Temptation – The mighty Fender VI

As a guitarist and bass player I’ve always played both with the other in mind. One of my bad ‘guitarist’ habits I suffer when playing bass is the need to occasionally play chords, especially tenths. With the right settings it sounds beautiful and I stand by it. Unsurprisingly Leo Fender anticipated this need long before me with his third bass design, the Fender VI.

The Fender VI (or Fender Bass Guitar) is a six string bass tuned E-E a whole octave below a traditional guitar. Up until recently these instruments were limited by the initial production of run of now vintage models which ran from 1961-75. And as you can imagine the original models are now selling £1000-£2000+, so seriously out of my price range. (Although still cheap for a vintage fender!)

The pitch and concept of the instrument was taken from the Danelectro UB-2, but the aesthetic design was taken from the Fender Jazzmaster. The first models produced had  neck with a 30-inch scale length and rosewood fingerboard, three Stratocaster style pickups and a tremolo (vibrato system). The electronics utilized a series of switches that allowed access to each pick-up individually alongside the then established tone and volume controls, a new approach at the time.

The design underwent several modifications, most notably with the release of the Fender Jaguar. These included (but not limited to) the replacement of Stratocaster pick-ups with Jaguar style units and the addition of the ‘strangle’ switch which cuts the low end of the instrument. In 1965 we also see the neck change to a bound board and block inlays and in 68′ the finish changed from nitrocellulose finish to polyester.

This instrument has recently returned with versions offered by Fender USA, Fender Japan and Squier. Whilst browsing in Nevada Music (an excellent music store in Portsmouth) I was able to inspect them all in person. I wasn’t taken with the three way selector on the ‘Pawn Shop’ and the Japanese model was £1000+ although very awesome. The Squier offers vintage inspired looks and sound whilst still offering great value (£291 less than a ‘Classic Vibe Telecaster’). I knew I’d be in trouble once I could find one.

Playing through a TC Electric RH450 bass head and cab it sounded brilliant. The trick I found is to balance the sound for the two lowest strings so that the low end resonance isn’t muddy but with enough so that the higher notes don’t feel thin. Luckily the pick-up selector and strangle switch allow you to really dial in the sound you want, I didn’t really need to adjust the tone either as the pick-ups were very warm.

To play it sits exactly between the guitar and a bass. The strings initially feel too small and the spacing too narrow for traditional bass playing whilst the scale length made certain chord shapes feel a real stretch. After a few minutes adjusting and settling in, you realize it allows you to play it either way but it is best viewed as something else, especially as far as the right hand technique is concerned.

The problem I face is the limited application of the instruments. With the exception of Robert Smith and the Cure back catalog very few artists use the instrument regularly. Although compiling a list showed there was sufficient material to keep me contented including;

  • Glen Campbell “Wichita Lineman”
  • The Beatles – “Hey Jude”, “Let it Be”, and “The Long and Winding Road”.
  • Aerosmith – “Back In The Saddle”
  • Ry Cooder – “Little Sister”
  • The Cure – “Pictures of You”, “Lullaby”
  • Peter Green ‘The Green Manalishi’
  • Jack Bruce – Cream ‘Fresh Cream’

Personally I could see a project with drummer, keyboardist and a female vocalist forming from those lush deep chords. The bass with some reverb and chorus would be awesome and perhaps a delay and volume for some ambient swells. I won’t be buying one in the near future as I need a conventional 5-string fender Jazz Bass long before that, unless I find one sub-£200.

I’m sure this feature with be back next week as I’m traveling up to the Great British guitar show in Birmingham on Sunday. I’ll leave you with an old school favorite from Aerosmith “Back In The Saddle” with Joe Perry on a Fender VI.

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