In 2021 short-scale basses are often seen as less desirable, as instruments purely for beginners, but not for ”serious” use.
Back in the Fifties, Sixties and much of the Seventies, a wealth of great music has been recorded by bassists playing short-scale basses. To some degree this was out of pure necessity, as many guitar manufacturers didn’t regard the electric bass guitar as a serious instrument in the early days. Those companies simply used slight redesigns of their guitar models with longer necks and different pickups, in order to have something to sell to the public. Gibson, for example, only released its first long-scale basses – the Thunderbird II and IV models – in 1963, while Gretsch and Guild stuck to their ”modified guitars” well into the 1970s.
Other companies designed their short-scale basses from the ground up:
In 1956 a German luthier called Walter Höfner developed a comfortably light and compact semi-acoustic bass with a violin-shaped body. In keeping with the Höfner Company’s nomenclature this new bass received the rather uninspiring name Höfner 500/1.
This bass might have become a mere footnote in history, had it not been for a young British musician, who ordered a left-handed 500/1, while working in a nightclub in Hamburg (West Germany) with his band. This young bass player was, of course, none other than Paul McCartney, and the Beatles’ global fame from 1963 onwards catapulted the Höfner 500/1 right into the limelight.
The Fender Company, whose founder Leo Fender was the father of the electric bass, introduced its first short-scale bass in 1966. The Fender Mustang was based on their legendary Precision Bass, and was meant as a companion to the company’s Mustang Guitar.
Regardless of their affordable price tags, the models in this review are straight descendants of the Höfner 500/1 and Fender Mustang models.
When the Fender Musicmaster Bass was released in 1971 it was Fender’s most affordable electric bass, making it an ideal choice for beginners, music classes, and – in the late 70s and early 80s – for Punk or New Wave bands. The original Musicmaster Bass used the same body as the Mustang, but sported a redesigned scratchplate and bridge, cheaper machine heads, and a covered guitar (!) pickup.
The Squier Affinity Bronco Bass (current price in Finland around 200 €) has been the brand’s most-affordable bass for many years, until the very recent arrival of the Mini-P Bass, which is a few euros cheaper.
The Indonesian Bronco Bass is clearly based on the Musicmaster Bass from the Seventies:
The Bronco Bass sports the same Mustang-style body, and shares its predecessor’s simple, two-saddle bridge, as well as the 19-fret bolt-on neck. The new scratchplate design, which is clearly Strat/Precision-inspired is much prettier, though.
The satin finished maple neck is a one-piece affair, with the frets directly installed into its curved front, and it offers easy truss rod access next to the top nut. The tuning machines are improved versions of the originals.
Squier’s websites aren’t especially clear on the body material; some places state it is made from agathis, while others mention poplar. Be this as it may, our review sample comes finished in a beautiful Torino Red gloss finish. The bass is also very light in weight.
The single-ply scratchplate holds a powerful ceramic Stratocaster pickup, and the master volume and tone controls.
The quality of workmanship on the reviewed Squier Bronco Bass is simply amazing. I’m old enough to remember affordable instruments from the late Seventies, and this little bass is simply in a completely different league. Everything is clean and crisp. The neck profile is a very comfortable ”C” and the fretwork is very good. The playability of the bass is buttery and there are no annoying mechanical buzzes or rattles. You could basically grab this bass and do a gig.
Due to the very spartan bridge the Bronco’s intonation is never completely spot-on in the higher reaches of the fretboard, but I feel I can live with the small compromises required.
What the Squier Bronco offers is great playability, a healthy acoustic tone, and a surprisingly balanced and full-bodied performance from its single-coil guitar pickup. The Bronco Bass sounds like a ”real” bass played through a quality bass amp.
Höfner’s Violin Basses are currently produced in three model ranges:
The Made-in-Germany range comprises several vintage reissues, reliced basses, and an ecologically-conscious Green Line-version.
Höfner’s mid-price range is called the Contemporary Series (HCT), and it is produced in China. The Contemporary Violin Bass models come equipped with genuine German pickups, but differ slightly in construction by adding a feedback-reducing centre block inside the body.
The most affordable instruments are the Höfner Ignition models (HI). These instruments are also made in China, but offer less painstakingly exact recreations of Höfner’s most famous models.
The Höfner Ignition Violin Bass SE (current price in Finland approx. 350 €) is the newest update of the McCartney-inspired Ignition-version of the Höfner, which adds a few features that have been requested by many fans:
The body’s bass-side shoulder is now adorned with a vintage-style Höfner-decal, while the previous Jazz Bass-style control knobs have been replaced with Höfner’s famous teacup knobs. Additionally, the bass now also comes with a replica of the famous BASSMAN-sticker in the box. During the making of the Beatles’ Get Back/Let It Be film and LP, Paul McCartney had peeled off the sticker from his new Fender Bassman amplifier stack and stuck it to the top of his bass. For some Beatles fans this sticker has since become a legendary piece of memorabilia, which has now been made available to buyers of the Ignition Violin Bass SE.
The Höfner Ignition is a beautifully made instrument that closely follows the most crucial aspects of the German original’s build:
The hollow body of the Violin Bass is made from an arched plywood spruce top and plywood flame maple for the rims and the arched back. The set neck is carved from rock maple, while the rosewood bridge is held in place on top of the body by the downward force of the strings in Jazz-guitar style.
The most obvious difference between German (and HCT) basses and the Ignition is the exact build of the neck. The original features a freestanding, so-called cantilever fingerboard between the neck joint and the neck pickup. The Ignition’s neck continues as a solid block of maple for the whole way, which actually even makes the neck joint a tiny bit stronger. Additionally, while German 500/1s come with (depending on the model) necks made from either two long strips of maple, or a central piece of beech sandwiched between two outer strips of maple, the Ignition’s neck is one-piece maple with a separate piece glued on for the headstock.
For environmental reasons Höfner now uses thermo-treated jatoba wood for the fingerboards on Ignition Violin Basses. The string trapeze is chromed, while the tuning heads are four separate units with pearloid knobs.
The Ignition pickups are actually reissues of rare Japanese Staple pickups, which were used on some ”New Special” models for the Japanese market back in the Eighties. They look similar to the classic Staple pickups on Paul McCartney’s 500/1, but are slightly wider, and – what’s more important – easier to adjust for height than the German originals.
Many players who are new to Höfner-basses have trouble with Walter Höfner’s classic ”Aggregat” control console that also comes installed on the Ignition Violin Bass SE. I hope the above picture will do its bit to clear up which component does what.
It looks like a Höfner, it’s built like a Höfner, and – surprise, surprise – the Ignition Violin Bass SE sounds like the genuine Höfner it is! This is a quality instrument, and very compact and light to wear on a strap. The set-up and playability of our review sample was spot on, making the Ignition SE a fast and comfortable player. The neck’s depth may be a bit chunkier than on many modern basses, but the relatively narrow U-profile means that a Höfner neck sits very nicely in the palm of your hand.
It is true that the Höfner 500/1 (aka Violin Bass aka Beatle Bass) will forever be associated with Paul McCartney and the Beatles, but that shouldn’t lead to the instrument being pidgeonholed as a ”Sixties music” bass. I know what I’m talking about, as I have been a very satisfied 500/1-owner since 1990, and I regularly use the Violin Bass in many different contexts. As long as you don’t need to play slap bass or high-gain Metal, a Höfner will handle anything you throw at it.
Fenderin alkuperäinen Musicmaster Bass -kombo oli mielenkiintoinen tapaus. Musicmasteria oli ajateltu alkavalle basistille sopivaksi harjoitusvahvistimeksi, ja sitä myytiin jopa paketissa samannimisen ”halpabasson” kanssa. Kombo oli kuitenkin jonkinasteinen pettymys, sillä sen soundi oli suhteellisen ponneton ja potkuton.
Viime vuosina jotkut kitaristit ovat kuitenkin alkaneet nähdä Musicmaster-komboa edulliseksi mahdollisuudeksi päästä käsiiksi aitoon Silverface-soundiin. Totta, tämä kombo on varsin riisuttu ilmestys, mutta se on kuitenkin täysputkikone. Lisäksi se ei ole keräilymalli, minkä ansiosta Musicmasterin modaaminen omaan tarpeisiin ei tunnu lainkaan pahalta ratkaisulta.
Tästä ilmiöstä meidän stoori alkaa:
Suomalainen vahvistinpaja Bluetone on hiljattain alkanut valmistaa oman käsintehdyn ja parannetun version Fender Musicmasterista. Uutukainen on tarkoitettu nimenomaan kitaristille. Uuden kombon nimi on Bluetone Bluesmaster, ja sen hinta on – valituista optioista riippuen – jossain 960 ja 1.190 euron välillä.
Bluesmasterin signaalitie on periaatteessa sama kuin alkuperäisessä styrkkarissa, mutta muutamalla parannuksilla, kuten Low Cut -bassoleikkuri ja Bluetonen oma OPC-tehosäädin. Kolmiasentoisen OPC:n (Output Power Control) ansiosta Bluesmasterin lähtötehoa pystyy pudottamaan jopa vain kahteen wattiin, ilman että kombon soundi muuttuisi ratkaisevasti.
Koska alkuperäinen Musicmaster oli tarkoitettu halpavehkeeksi, Fenderin insinöörit poistivat kaikki ylimääräiset komponentit, jotka eivät olleet välttämättömiä saada bassosignaalia vahvistetuksi kaiuttimelle. Ehkä epätavallisin ratkaisu oli toteuttaa Musicmasterin vaiheenkääntäjää muuntajalla, kun se hoidetaan yleisesti putkella.
Niin kuin näkee kuvassa (yllä) Bluetone on käyttänyt samaa ratkaisua myös uudessa Bluesmasterissa. Putkien lisäksi – yksi 12AX7-putki (etuaste), sekä kaksi 6V6GT-putkia (pääte) – siellä näkyy kolme muuntajaa. Piennemmät niistä ovat vaiheenkääntäjä ja audiomuuntaja, kun taas se isompi musta kapistus on kombon sähkönsyöttöä varten.
Kitaristien suosituin modifikaatio vanhaan Musicmasteriin on alkuperäisen Fender-kaiuttimen vaihtaminen johonkin soundilta tukevampaan.
Bluetonen Bluesmasterissa on jo valmiiksi asennettu alkuperäistä laadukkaampi ämyri. Kymmenentuumainen Warehouse Guitar Speakerin G10C/S kuuluu WGS:n American Vintage -mallistoon, ja sitä tunnetaan sen selkeästä ja lämpimästä soundista. Tämä malli tykkää myös efektipedaaleista. Bluetone tarjoaa optiona myös toisentyypistä kaiutinta Bluesmasteriin (tsekkaa Bluetonen tuotesivulta).
Takapaneeliin on asennettu virtakytkimen ja pääsulakkeen lisäksi ainoastaan kolme kaiutinlähtöä.
Vaikka Bluetone Bluesmaster -kombo voi vaikuttaa ensituntumalta hieman kuivakkaalta ja suorasukkaiselta, se lisää eittämättä jotain maagista lisämaustetta soundiin.
Vahvistin lisää nimittäin annoksen hienon musikaalista kompressiota jo puhtaaseen meininkiin. En puhu sellaisesta kompressiosta, joka puristaa nuottien atakkia kasaan, vaan tässä vahvistin ikäänkuin lisää nuotien häntäpäähän lisää eloa. Bluesmasterista saa näin enemmän sustainia vaikkapa puhtaaseen kantri- ja bluessoittoon, ilman että atakin napakkuus kärsisi tästä.
Koska Bluesmasterissa on kyse matalatehoisesta putkivahvarista ilman master volyymiä, kannattaa mielestäni ehdottomasti kokeilla rauhassa läpi minkätyypisiä soundeja saa aikaiseksi Volume-säätimellä, sekä vaihtamalla Low- ja High-tulojakkien välillä.
Bluetonen Bluesmaster-kombo ei tarjoa massivisiä määriä puhdasta headroomia, mutta sen sijaan siltä saa esillä todella herkullisia reunasärösoundeja, jotka reagoivat erinomaisesti soittajan dynamiikkaan ja kitaran volume-säätimeen. Kombo toimii hyvin myös efektipedaaleilla.
Volume-säätimen ”loppumetreillä” pikkukombosta lähtevät myös maukkaita särösoundeja. Huom: koska kyseessä on non-master volume kombo, Bluesmaster soi täydellä säröllä suhteellisen isolla äänellä, jopa kaksiwattisena, ja voi silloin olla liian äänekäs kerrostaloon.
• Komppikitarat: Gibson Les Paul Junior (vasen kanava), Fender Stratocaster (keskellä), Fender Telecaster (oikea kanava)
• Soolokitara: Hamer USA Studio Custom
Uusi Bluetone Bluesmaster lunastaa kaikken mitä se lupaa. Minun mielestäni tämä on erinomainen Silverface-tyylinen putkikone blueskitaristille. Bluesmaster on käsintehty laatuvahvistin, joka tarjoaa rutkasti parempaa työnjälkeä kuin esikuvansa, ja joka on valmiiksi modattu kitaristille sopivaksi. Bluesmasterin ”riisuttu” olemus myös tarkoittaa, että soittimesi soundi pysyy mallikkaasti ehjänä matkalla tulojakista kaiuttimeen.
Fender’s original Musicmaster Bass amplifier was an odd concoction. The Musicmaster Amp was meant as a practice amplifier for beginning bassists – and sometimes even sold in a pack with the starter bass guitar of the same name – but it fell strangely flat of expectaions. The amp was underpowered and sounded flabby and uninspiring as a bass amp.
More recently, though, guitarists on the hunt for good bargains have come to realise that the Musicmaster Amp is a relatively inexpensive way to buy a genuine ”silverface” Fender. It’s a stripped-down valve amp for sure, but it still deliveres a lot of character, when used with an electric guitar. And because it isn’t a collectable Fender model, people feel free to modify the original for their own purposes.
This is where it starts to get interesting:
Finnish boutique amp maker Bluetone has released its own handcrafted and improved version of the Fender Musicmaster a few weeks ago, meant expressly for guitarists. This new guitar combo is called the Bluetone Bluesmaster, and it will set you back between 960 to 1,190 euros, depending on your chosen options and finish.
The signal path closely follows that of the original, but the Bluetone Bluesmaster adds such handy features as a Low Cut switch and the company’s own three-way rotary OPC-switch. The OPC-circuit (Output Power Control) enables you to drop the Bluesmaster’s output power from its full 10-12 watts down to something like 2 watts, virtually without any negative impact on the amplifier’s tone.
The original Musicmaster amp had been designed to reflect its low price tag. Fender’s engineers got rid of any components that weren’t strictly necessary to get the audio signal from the input to the speaker. Their most interesting – and quite unique, as it turns out – decision was to use an audio transformer for phase inverter-duties, instead of the much more common option of using a valve.
As you can see in the photo above, Bluetone has used the same basic design for the new Bluesmaster combo. Next to the three tubes – a single 12AX7 for the preamp, and a pair of 6V6GTs for the power amp – there are three (!) transformers. Two small ones for phase inversion and signal output, respectively, as well as a larger toroidal transformer for the combo’s power requirements.
The favourite modification on old Musicmasters is swapping the weedy-sounding original Fender for a beefier speaker.
The Bluetone Bluesmaster does this for you and comes workshop-equipped with a 10-inch Warehouse Guitar Speaker G10C/S. The G10C/S is part of WGS’s American Vintage range and is known for its clear, but round top end, as well as for its pedal-friendliness and smooth breakup. Other speakers are available as an option, too (see Bluetone’s website).
Apart from the power switch, the back panel offers a trio of speaker outputs.
Although the Bluetone Bluesmaster seems very straightforward and upfront at the beginning, there really is some sort of magic tone thing going on with this all-valve combo.
The sound may seem a bit dryish at first, but you will quickly notice a very enticing dose of juicy compression, even on very clean tones. This compression isn’t the ducking type, well known from many master volume amps and distortion pedals, which ducks the note attack and squashes the whole signal. Here we have a Country- and clean Blues-friendly type of compression that seems to lift the sustain phase of each ringing note.
Because this is a relatively low-powered tube combo without separate gain and master volume controls, it really makes sense to experiment with the Bluesmaster’s High- and Low-inputs and the combo’s volume control, to get the full picture of what sounds you can glean from which combination of guitar and settings.
The Bluetone Bluesmaster doesn’t offer tons of clean headroom, instead it has that magic clean-but-breaking-up tone zone down to a tee. The combo also works well with effect pedals.
There are also some chunky overdrive and distortion voicings available in the higher reaches of the Bluesmaster’s Volume-control. You should be aware, though, that, this being a non-master volume combo, running this amp at full tilt even at only 2 watts of output might get you into trouble with your neighbours in a block of flats.
• Rhythm guitars: Gibson Les Paul Junior (left), Fender Stratocaster (middle), Fender Telecaster (right)
• Lead guitar: Hamer USA Studio Custom
The Bluetone Bluesmaster does what it says on the proverbial tin. In my opinion, this is a very nice and straightforward silverface-inspired Blues amp for guitar. The excellent build quality and very sensible modifications and improvements result in a quality tube combo that will surely give you a lifetime of aural pleasure.