Review: Squier Affinity Bronco Bass & Höfner Ignition Violin Bass SE

This is a slightly shorter version of an article in Finnish published at Rockway.fi.

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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.

Paul McCartney still uses his iconic Höfner bass.
Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads; Tom Tom Club) is regularly seen with her Höfner 500/1, as well as with Höfner 500/2 Club Basses (as in this picture).

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.

Most classic Status Quo hits were recorded by Alan Lancaster playing his Mustang Bass.
The Rolling Stones’ original bass player Bill Wyman used his Mustang Bass on stage between 1968 and 1971.

Regardless of their affordable price tags, the models in this review are straight descendants of the Höfner 500/1 and Fender Mustang models.

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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.

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A German Höfner 500/1 ”Mersey”.

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.

* Click/tap the picture for a larger view *

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.

Squier Bronco Bass & Höfner Ignition SE – 80s-Style Demo Song

A demo of the Squier Bronco Bass and the Höfner Ignition B-Bass SE based on the Eighties classic ”Genius of Love” by Tom Tom Club.

Squier Bronco Bass

Höfner Ignition Violin Bass SE

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• The bass tracks, guitar tracks, and the tambourine have been recorded with a Shure MV7X and the Cranbourne Camden EC2.

• The electric piano (Korg SP-200) was recorded with a Cranbourne Camden EC2.

• Guitar amp – Bluetone Black Prince Reverb

• Bass amp – Bluetone Bass 200

• Guitar used – Hamer USA Studio Custom

• Phaser – EHX Nano Small Stone

Testipenkissä: Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – vuoden 2021 päivitetty versio

Testasin Bluetone Black Prince Reverb -komboa ensimmäistä kertaa vuonna 2016 ja tykkäsin siitä kovasti. Paljon on kuitenkin tapahtunut tämän jälkeen, ja tänä vuonna Bluetone on yhdistänyt kaikki Black Princen halutuimmat custom optiot ja laittanut ne uuteen ja parannettuun 2021 -versioon, joka korvaa edeltäjänsä.

Ensimmäiseksi huomataan varmaan kaikki kosmetiset seikat. Vanhalla versiolla oli hyvin siisti ja asiallinen ulkonäkö. Uuden version myötä Bluetone on viennyt suosikkimallinsa ulkonäköä kuitenkin selkeästi Boutique-vahvistimien piiriin – Fender-tyylisessä kombossa on nyt western-tyylinen keinonahkapäällystys, etupaneeli ja säätimien nupit ovat Blackface-tyylisiä, ja vahvistimen etukangas muistuttaa väriltään vehnän oljet.

Ratkaisevat päivitykset on tehty kuitenkin Black Prince Reverbin elektroniseen varustukseen.

Tämän putkikombon sähköinen rakenne perustuu edelleen löyhästi Fenderin klassiseen Blackface Princetoniin – gain-rakenteen, tremolon ja jousikaiun suhteessa – mutta uutena ominaisuutena on lisätty jalkakytkimellä toimiva Solo-boostaus.

Kenties tärkein parannus Black Princen uudessa versiossa on uusi, isompi kaiutin. Vanhassa mallissa oli mukana Princeton-tyylisesti 10 tuuman elementti. Nykyiseen vahvistimeen voi valita yhden kahdesta 12-tuumaisista vaihtoehdoista – joko Celestionin G12 Neo Creamback -kaiutin (niin kuin testikoneessa) tai Warehouse Guitar Speakersin malli G-12 C/S. Isomman kaiuttimen vuoksi nykyversiossa on entistä isompi kotelo, joka on lähellä Blackface Deluxen kokoluokkaa.

Bluetonen Harry Knecktin mukaan myös jousikaiun (ja sen vahvistuspiirin) tarkkaa rakennetta on parannettu entisestä, minkä ansiosta kaiku soi paremmin ja sen omakohina on selkeästi vähennetty. Black Princen lyhyt jousitankki tulee Accutronicsin mallistosta.

Tämän Bluetone-vahvistimen etuvahvistin on rakennettu kolme 12AX7-putkia käyttäen, kun taas päätevahvistin käyttää kaksi putkia.

Päätevahvistin tarjoaa maksimaalista soundillista monipuolisuuta, sillä sen rakenne mahdollistaa käytännössä kaikien oktaaliputkien käyttöä. Päätevahvistimeen voi laitta 6V6GT-, 6L6GC-, 5881-, EL34-, KT66- ja KT77-putkipareja ilman tarvetta biasointiin!

Parilla 6V6GT-putkilla Black Prince Reverb -kombosta lähtee ääntä noin 15 watin voimalla, kun taas kahdesta 6L6GC-putkista (niin kuin testikoneessa) tai EL34:stä vahvistimen teho nousee noin 28-30 wattiin.

Vaikka kombo ei vaadi uudelleenbiasointia, on hyvinkin tärkeä laittaa pääteputkien ja toroidisen muuntajan välistä pikkukytkintä oikeaan asentoon (katso käyttöohjetta), muuten pääteputket (tai jopa sisäiset kompponentit) voivat pahimmassa tapauksessa hajota liian suurten sähkövirtojen takia.

Takapaneelista löytyy kolme kaiutinlähtöä, sekä DIN-mukainen liitin pakettiin kuuluvaa jalkakytkinyksikköä varten.

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Näitä klippejä on äänitetty Fender Stratocaster -kitaralla ja Shure SM57 -mikrofonilla.

Ensimmäinen seikka jota huomataan, kun laittaa uuden Bluetone Black Prince Reverb -vahvistimen päälle, on miten hiljaa se on tyhjäkäynnissä. Brummin tai kohinan määrä on pitkälti riippuvainen laadukkaista komponenteista ja osien fyysisesta sijoittelusta, esimerkiksi päämuuntajaan nähden. On selvää, että Bluetonen väki tietää mitä se tekee.

Koska Black Prince ei yritä olla tarkka Princeton-klooni, Bluetonen kombo voi tarjota laajemman soundivalikoiman kuin vanha Fenderin klassikko. Tässä tarjotaan kaikkea mikä on hyvä Blackface-kombojen soundissa, ilman klassikkovahvistimien huonoja puolia, niin kuin esimerkiksi välillä löysästi soivia Jensen-kaiuttimia tai – Princetonin tapauksessa – EQ:sta puuttuvaa keskialuen säädin ja alkuperäinen pieni kaiutin.

Sooloboosteri on erittäin tervetullut uudistus, kun taas Bluetonen Master Volume -säätimen ansiosta saa omat lempisoundit tarvittaessa esille myös hiljaisella volyymillä.

Päätevahvistimen monipuolisuus mahdollistaa myös erilaisia hybridisoundeja, yhdistämällä kombon Fender-tyylisen etuvahvistimen myös britti-tyyliseen päätevahvistimeen (EL34), perinteisten 6V6GT- ja 6L6GC-parivaljakkojen sijaan.

Black Princen tremolo on suorastaan herkullinen, ja se tarjoaariittävästi säätövaraa sekä efektin nopeudessa että sen syvyydessä. Itse tykkään erittäin paljon myös kombon päivitetystä jousikaiusta, koska se kuulostaa kermaiselta ja sillä on aitoa syvyyttä. Jotkut rautalankka-kitaristit voisivat ehkä toivoa vielä enemmän kaiun ”roisketta”, mutta se on selvästi makuasia…

Demobiisin kitararaidat on äänitetty nauhamikrofonilla. Soolokitarana toimii Hamer USA Studio Custom -kitara, kun taas komppiosuudet on soitettu Gibson Les Paul Juniorilla (vasen kanava) ja Fender ’62 Telecaster Custom -uusintapainoksella (oikea kanava).

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Bluetonen vuoden 2021 Black Prince Reverb -painos on huippuluokan versio Blackface-aikakauden täysputkikombosta, höystettynä erilaisilla päivityksillä ja nykyaikaisilla parannuksilla. Tästä kombosta on käytännössä mahdotonta saada huonoa soundia.

Niin kuin kaikki Bluetone-tuotteet, myös Black Prince Reverbiä tehdään käsityönä Suomessa. Tästä huolimatta tämä kombo on jopa edullisempi kuin Fenderin oma tämänhetkinen ’64 Princeton -uusintapainos.

Ei ole siis ihme, että Bluetone Black Prince Reverb on ollut jo jonkun aikaa firman eniten myyty vahvistin. Itse asiassa uuden Black Princen soundi oli niin hyvä, että testikombosta tuli – Bluetone Shadows Jr. -kombon lisäksi – Kitarablogin referenssivahvistin.

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Bluetone Black Prince Reverb

• Hinnat alkaen 1.450 €

Review: Bluetone Black Prince Reverb – the 2021 Update

I first reviewed the Bluetone Black Prince Reverb in 2016, and I really liked it. A lot has happened since then, though, and this year Bluetone has bundled all of the most requested custom updates of the Black Prince and put them into a new and improved 2021 version (prices starting from 1,450 €) that supersedes the previous issue.

The first things you’ll notice are the cosmetic features; the old version of the Black Prince Reverb was a very clean looking combo with a very business-like appearance. The new version takes the amp’s look clearly into boutique Blackface territory with its Fender-style cabinet, its Country and Western tolex, its faceplate and control knobs, and with the wheat-coloured speaker grille.

But the improvements go much deeper in the Black Prince than mere cosmetics.

The preamp section’s architecture regarding the combo’s gain structure, spring reverb and tremolo effect are still loosely based on Fender’s classic Blackface Princeton, but Bluetone now adds a footswitch operated Solo-boost circuit to the proceedings.

In terms of the amp’s sound the most important update is the choice of a larger speaker. The older model followed the Princeton by using a 10-inch speaker. The current model has been updated with a choice of two 12-inch speakers – either a Celestion G12 Neo Creamback (as reviewed) or a WGS G-12 C/S. To accommodate the larger speaker the Black Prince Reverb’s cabinet has been enlargened to a size similar to a Fender Blackface Deluxe.

As Bluetone’s Harry Kneckt told me, the Black Prince’s genuine spring reverb’s circuit has been further improved for a fuller sound with even less hiss. The short reverb tank is an Accutronics model.

The Bluetone’s preamp runs three 12AX7 valves, while the power amp is handled by a pair of tubes.

The power amp has been designed with tonal flexibility in mind, by accepting all regular octal power tubes like 6V6GT, 6L6GC, 5881, EL34, KT66 and KT77 models without re-biasing.

With a pair of 6V6GTs the Black Prince Reverb will give you approximately 15 watts of power, while a pair of 6L6GCs (as supplied) or EL34s raises the output to 28-30 watts.

Even though re-biasing isn’t necessary, you have to make sure that the mini-switch between the second power tube and the toroidal transformer is set correctly to ensure the amp works properly, and to avoid possible component failure!

The back panel sports three speaker outputs, as well as the five-pin DIN-connector for the combo’s three-button footswitch unit (supplied with the amp).

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These clips have been recorded with a Fender Stratocaster and a Shure SM57.

In terms of its sound, the first thing you’ll notice about the Bluetone Black Prince Reverb is how quiet it is when it comes to hum and hiss. Unwanted noise in an all-valve amplifier has a lot to do with the physical layout of the components, and Bluetone’s team clearly know what they’re doing.

The Black Prince’s sound offers a wider scope than a straight Princeton-clone (which it isn’t). There’s all of the original Blackface-era goodness without any of the drawbacks, like the sometimes flabby Jensen speakers, and – in the case of old Princetons – the missing mid-range EQ and smaller speaker.

The solo boost is a great new feature, and the Master Volume control makes sure that you can dial in your tone at the volume level you need.

Being able to step outside the typically Fender-ish 6V6GT- and 6L6GC-realm in the power amp section allows you to experiment with hybrid tonalities, like a Blackface with a British accent.

The tremolo sounds great and it offers enough scope in terms of speed and depth. I like the spring reverb very much, because it sounds creamy and full. Some will like even ”wetter” and ”sploshier” reverb types, but you can’t please everyone…

The demo’s guitar tracks have been recorded with a ribbon mic. The lead guitar is a Hamer USA Studio Custom, while the rhythm guitar tracks are played on a Gibson Les Paul Junior (left channel) and a Fender ’62 Telecaster Custom reissue (right).

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Bluetone’s 2021 version of its Black Prince Reverb is a high-end version of what people love about Blackface-era amps combined with a number of sensible updates and improvements.

The Bluetone Black Prince Reverb is a handwired and handcrafted all-tube combo, made here in Finland. In light of this you can only call the price tag very fair, coming in several hundreds of euros lower than Fender’s current handwired ’64 Princeton Reissue.

No wonder that the Black Prince has been Bluetone’s best selling model for quite some time now. In fact, I liked the combo so much that the review sample has now joined my Bluetone Shadows Jr. as Kitarablogi’s reference amp.

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Bluetone Black Prince Reverb

• Prices start at 1,450 euros

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