Anyone catch Batman V. Superman in the last few weeks? Me neither. It’s not DC’s fault that Marvel just makes better movies… BUT! That doesn’t mean I’m not largely a fan of both characters or of the DC comic universe in general.
Anyway, I bring this up not because DC is paying me ungodly amounts of advertising money to promote their struggling box-office ratings…
I bring this up because the argument of “Who would win in a fight: Batman or Superman?” is a lot like this one particular argument that keeps coming up among bass players…
Precision Bass vs Jazz Bass
Click the image above for a SIXTEEN MINUTE introduction to this debate
If you aren’t familiar with the P-Bass vs J-Bass debacle, feel free to mindlessly browse the following forum discussions until your eyes dry up and stick open, like I’ve been doing for the last week. It’s like the “maple vs birch” thing with drummers, or the “President Trump vs Moving to Switzerland” thing for American voters…
Granted, this argument has become increasingly irrelevant considering there are HUNDREDS of different types of basses to choose from, not just these two. But the "P vs B" jerkathon continues aggressively and unabated so, I thought I'd jump in anyhow! Allow me to point out the uncanny similarities between superheroes and instruments. Any excuse to use one of my many nerd analogies.
Time for a superhero-themed gear shootout!
And terrible photoshop!
Precision Bass (aka Superman)
Just like how Superman is the much-needed hero of the human race, the Fender Precision Bass was the hero to finally answer the desperate, unamplified cries of thousands of back-sore double-bass players. First rocketing onto the market in 1951, this new-fangled, - shall I say, “alien”?? - approach to the bass introduced whole new advantages to players everywhere:
- Faster than an upright! (smaller, more portable and therefore, better mobility for the gigging musician)
- More powerful than a double-bass! (making the bass an electric instrument allowed it to be amplified to keep up with larger ensembles)
- Able to produce consistent notes in a single, perfect tuning! (here’s where we get the term “Precision” bass, seeing as how frets allowed players to play more precisely in tune)
Just like how good ol’ Supes is considered to be the genre-defining character for superheroes, Fender’s P-Bass helped to define whole new genres of music as the bass became more musically prominent and accessible. Distinguishing characteristics of todays’ P-basses are:
- A thick neck (like Superman!): P-basses have a slightly wider nut than other basses and significantly less taper as you travel up the neck, making them beefy with generous string spacing for accuracy.
- “Square” body shape (like Superman!): originally modeled after Fender’s Telecaster but with a double cutaway. Was later updated to more closely resemble a Strat. Kind of like how Clark Kent comes from the down-home, country origins of Smallville to the modern, technologically sophisticated world of Metropolis! See? ANALOGY!
- A single, split-coil pickup (like…Superman?): okay, the analogy breaks down a bit here but easily one of the biggest factors is the iconic split-coil pickup with staggered pole-pieces. This configuration is largely what gives P’s their iconic mid-range THUMP, which we’ll get into in just a sec.
Let’s meet our challenger…
Jazz Bass (aka Batman)
Sorry, couldn’t resist.
The second bass to be cranked out of Leo Fender’s dastardly mind and onto the market in 1960 was what we call the Jazz Bass: in part because it resembles a Jazzmaster guitar and because Fender thought it would appeal to jazz musicians, for you see:
- Smaller neck: though both P and J basses have what Fender refers to as a “C shape” neck, the Jazz bass has a more drastic taper up the fret board, optimizing ease of play. If you know anything about jazz bass, you know you’re doing a lot of walking lines up and down the frets, so the beefy neck of P-bass is less ideal.
- Off-set Body: the skewed body-shape is more comfortable and allows better access to higher frets.
- Two single-coil pickups: two pups placed wider apart, giving you a distinct “neck” and “bridge” sound, with separate volume controls for each pickup and a balance control to mix them together how you like it.
(Like Batman) the J-bass is highly versatile, especially when we’re talking tone! Distinct neck and bridge pickups gives the J-bass a light and a dark-side (like Batman!). Often described as “edgier” (like Batman!) than its Precision counterpart for its brighter tone options, J-basses are especially prized for slap-bass or for music styles that feature bass lines with a little more prominence and character. It’s almost as if the J-bass allows the player to come “out of the shadows”, so to speak…from the murky background of the mix to exact vengeance and justice with…funk?
Seems like we have two iconic Low-End Titans competing against each other for funky, thumpy supremacy. How do they compare?
In one sense, you could say the Precision is superior due to its’ mighty hot output and gainful mid-range. P’s are considered ideal for rock/heavy metal since they sit perfectly in a big mix with a lot of punch and drive. The thick THUMP is the tonal equivalent of Superman punching you in the stomach, but in a good way!
That is, unless you don’t like it. Some of cons of P-basses are:
- Tone can get muddy: a typical P-bass pickup configuration*, though (effectively) bucks hum and keeps things BIG, can get a little muddy and boomy. Some complain that the P-bass lacks articulation, especially in lower notes.
- More neck, less comfort: this is one we come up against a lot at Bigfoot, especially if you’re a beginner. J-basses have an advantage over P-basses since thinner necks are considerably more comfortable. You’ll find more beginners and veterans alike gravitating towards J-basses for the ease of playing.
- One-trick Pony: P-basses may do what they do well, but they almost always do just the one thing: THUMP. People get bored with Superman pretty easily since he’s all powerful and can’t ever really die and has perfect morals; a P-bass’ lack of tonal options can get stale for some.
Now, with Jazz basses you’ve definitely got tone options! Many people agree that a J’s pup configuration creates a unique, built-in mid-scoop effect that really cleans up the instrument’s natural EQ and makes it highly complementary with effects (kind of like how Batman and gadgets are a perfect match!) However…
- More Subject to Hum: you’re dealing with two single-coils at this point, so hum and noise are more of a factor with J’s. Batman is only human after all, and he can be fallible to circumstances.
- Where’s the Thump?: some J-players claim they can adjust their tone in such a way that very closely mimics the thick, warm sound of a Precision. But most P-players would say it’s a close-but-no-cigar thing. It may sound similar if you crank your neck up and your bridge way down and turn up the juice, but many say it still just doesn’t have that P-bass THUMP. Batman does get teased for not having super powers, sometimes.
Okay, so…Who Wins?
One could say that the heart of the ancient Superman vs Batman debate can be boiled down to “Brains vs Brawn”. Superman is an all-powerful alien who could use his super strength and omnipotence to wipe out all humans in a single lunge of his blue tights: he just doesn’t. That’s brawn. Whereas Batman, who has the heartbreaking disadvantages of being a disgustingly wealthy genius with an enormous arsenal of super-gadgets and the tightest abs on any human being to-date has to rely on his resourcefulness and detective skills to even come close to the invincible boy-scout with laser eyes.
Pictured above: Batman's "resourcefulness".
Similarly, Precision vs Jazz bass can also be chalked up to “Brains vs Brawn”. Precisions appeal to players looking for THE THUMP! It’s got devastating output and big, thick tone, making it carry quite a bit of the song’s weight. Jazz appeals to folks who are less concerned with BEEF and more concerned with color, texture, and options; stuff that appeals more to the mind of the music rather than the guts.
Let’s face it: the “Brawn vs Brains” thing is dumb and always has been. Why? Because you need BOTH. You need both to fight crime and you need both to make music. One is not ultimately superior to the other. There will be times when brains wins out over brawn and times when brawn just kicks brains’ ass. There’s a time and place for both to be used to their full potential and, more often than not, they’re needed simultaneously. Why else do you think Batman and Superman always end up in a stalemate and join the Justice League? Same thing with Precision and Jazz basses. Neither one is inherently better than the other; they’re different tools for different jobs. Both have their places in a bassist’s arsenal.
So fine! Have your silly arguments, Internet! Pick your camps and fight until your face is blue and your keyboards are ground down to expensive placemats. We all know deep down that Precision vs Jazz and Superman vs Batman debates are futile…
…kind of like how the Flash could easily trump either Supes or Batsy.
Stay excellent and have a good nerd argument!
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*Note: a typical P-bass pickup configuration consists of a single split-coil arrangement, with one half of the pickup allocated to the E and A strings and closer to the neck, with the second half allocated to the D and G strings and closer to the bridge. Some manufacturers and specialists can provide "reverse P-bass" routing and pickup swaps for a different tone balance, and some special off-the-line models such as the Mark Hoppus signature bass come with reverse pickups. Worth checking out!