Fender Mustang PJ Bass Review
by Joseph Avery-North
In this review we’ll take a look at the Fender Mustang PJ bass. I suppose I should start this review by saying I’ve never been a big Fender fan even though two of my musical heroes, Buddy Holly and George Harrison, certainly were. I respect Fender’s place in music history and I especially respect FMIC’s relationship with Gretsch but Fenders just weren’t for me although my first electric guitar, way back when I was in Grade Nine, was a Fender… kinda sorta.
It was a Fender Squire Bullet. I kept it for a couple of years then traded it towards my first Epiphone Sheraton II which was vastly superior. Strats just didn’t appeal to me. I tried a few here and there and an old bandmate played a Strat exclusively but it was almost 30 years before I gave Fender another go (not counting my Fender Rumble 100 bass amp or their Tweed cables on my pedalboard).
Last summer I picked up a Vintera 50’s Telecaster in Sonic Blue. I consider myself a songwriter first and foremost and Telecasters have a lot of versatility so I decided to give one a try. Being a fan of the early days of rock and roll is why I went with the 50’s Vintera model. I loved it and found myself wondering why it took me so long to realise that Telecasters are just right bloody amazing.
For a few years now I’ve been thinking I should get a second bass. I play a Hofner and use flatwounds on it. It’s fanstastic, does what I want it to do and does it damned well but there’s not much of a tonal palette. I narrowed my choices for a second bass down to the Danelectro Longhorn or the Fender Mustang PJ since I prefer short scale basses. It’s just, for me at least, an easier transition when switching back and forth between guitar and bass.
Both the Longhorn and the Mustang PJ get stellar reviews and my decision ultimately came down to availability. The Covid pandemic is what it is. Things are backordered, there’s lots of demand, little supply and plenty of waiting. Since the PJ was in stock, that’s what I went with.
I can understand why the Mustang PJ bass gets rave reviews. I can understand why people love it. Unfortunately, I didn’t. I tried to bond with it, I wanted to like it but it didn’t happen.
Let’s start with the look of the PJ and the colour options available. Right now the PJ is available in Aged Natural, Sienna Sunburst or Firemist Gold. None are especially attractive but Firemist Gold was the best of the options. Sienna Sunburst would have been my choice but the black pickguard Fender decided to put on it is just wrong to me. White or pearloid woud be a much better fit for a finish as beautiful as the Sienna Sunburst.
When I first starting looking at PJ basses the colour I really liked was Seafoam Green. I almost ordered one at the time but wound up getting a couple of guitars instead. When I was ready for a second bass the option was gone so Firemist Gold was the best available choice.
The finish was flawless, I had no issues there. There was however a big problem when I removed the protective plastic on the tuning pegs, pickups and pickguard.
Fender sometimes puts promotional stickers on their instruments when they ship them (my Tele didn’t have one, the PJ did). The sticker on the PJ I bought was for their free lessons offer. Even though they place the stickers on top of the protective plastic it still managed to stain the pickguard. Curious, I searched online and it seems to be a fairly common issue which makes me wonder why Fender keeps defacing the brand new instruments they’re selling.
I purchased the bass from Long and McQuade. I know the store it came from. It wasn’t displayed in a window in direct sunlight, there was no fading or damage to any other part of the bass. Just a nasty stain from the promo sticker and you shouldn’t have to have the dealer order a replacement pickguard from the manufacturer on a brand new instrument.
Some instruments arrive perfectly setup out right out of the box. Some don’t. This bass wasn’t but that’s not a deal breaker. Instruments often travel a few thousand miles and pass through a few climates before arriving at their destination. I like low action on my guitars and basses, anticipated lowering it anyhow but was surprised when this bass arrived with action higher than the factory specs. The intonation was off too, enough so that it was noticeble even before using a tuner. It’s a simple, easy adjustment though and within minutes the intonation was set, the action lowered and I found myself enjoying the bass. At first.
When I’m playing the bass I actually play up the neck quite a bit. It’s not uncommon for me to be up around the 12th fret and that’s where I discoved something I wasn’t expecting.
My Hofner has 22 frets. I’ve been playing Hofners for 20 years and rarely look at the neck when I’m playing. The Mustang PJ bass only has 19 frets and as I played I frequently heard myself hitting the wrong notes. Three fewer frets makes a difference so when you miss, you miss by a lot. I found myself actually having to look at the neck as I played up higher. It’s an adjustment that would come with time. This bass just didn’t get that time though.
The more I played it the less comfortable it became. I tried sitting and standing. I tried raising and lowering the strap but nothing felt right. I can adapt quickly with guitars. I can switch seamlessly between my acoustic and my electrics. And my electrics cover a wide range of body types from single cuts to double cuts, solid and hollow, small bodies and big, wide bodies but for whatever reason the ergonomics of the Mustang PJ and I never got along.
The big selling point of the Mustang PJ bass is that is has a Jazz bass pickup for the bridge and a Precision bass pickup for the neck. With a three-way pickup selector and volume and tone control knobs there’s a lot of possibility available there.
I really liked those options and really wanted to like this bass. I realised very quickly that I don’t like roundwounds though. My initial idea was to keep my Hofner with flatwounds (the perfect pairing) and use roundwounds on the PJ but I didn’t like the clangy sound of the rounds. I started watching videos and reading threads on various forums to get an idea of how the PJ would sound with flats and what brands seemed to work best but I never put it to the test. I picked it up on a Monday and wound up returning it that Friday.
As I said previously, I completely understand why people love this bass and why it gets such great reviews. Tonally it has a lot going on. With both Precision and Jazz pickups it can cover pretty much anything you need it to. I just simply couldn’t bond with it. I’m a little disappointed it didn’t work actually because it has a lot to offer.