Sunday, November 02, 2014

Tomomi's signature Squier Jazz Bass "Bluetus" reviewed!

I've finally received both of my remaining Scandal signature guitars! I'll be reviewing them individually, to let me dive a little deeper and post more pics of each. See my earlier review of Mami's Stratomaster here.

Tomomi's "Bluetus" seems loosely based on a Squier Vintage Modified Jazz Bass, although it's kind of an amalgam of several different sub-models and has regular vintage (not "modified") Jazz Bass knobs on it. Like the other Scandal signature instruments, this bass made its debut at their Budokan show in March of 2012, and it's been a staple at their concerts ever since. I saw it in person again just last month at their show at Fujita University. She doesn't use it for every song - unlike Haruna with her Skullsilver Telecaster and Mami with her black Strat, Tomomi doesn't really have a "main" bass, and if she does it'd probably be her navy blue Fender Precision Bass. But she still uses Bluetus often.

I started out as a bassist, playing in bands in high school and even recording a couple self-produced albums on bass and vocals. But it had been close to 20 years since I sold my embarrassing old Cort P-Bass (it looked exactly like this but with a lot more duct tape holding it together) before buying a second-hand Epiphone Thunderbird Bass a year or so ago. I've been exclusively playing six-string guitars in between. That Thunderbird was a huge disappointment - so uncomfortable and poorly balanced that I sold it as soon as Scandal's signature models were announced, knowing I'd be buying all three come hell or high water.

I can already say that as a "cheap" bass, this thing's about as good as it gets. It might even be my favorite of all the Scandal models. It feels like coming home.

Ordering this thing was a saga. Long story short, I had to ship both this and Haruna's Skullsilver Telecaster to my in-laws in Japan, who held them until my visit a couple weeks ago. My wife and I then had to take them to the post office ourselves to ship them to my house in the USA. This is the condition the box arrived in - I was a little worried when I saw it because I know these guitars are packed to pretty much just flop around in the box - there is nothing much holding them in place. The entire top third of the box was bent, and the bottom was crushed. Gee, and I wrote "FRAGILE" on it and everything! (I'm convinced that makes the USPS treat a box worse.)

Above you see the contents of the box. Everything was fine. Squiers aren't really Fenders but they are Fender designs and Fender designs don't break. They're tanks. I ordered mine from Ishibashi and they included a point card (which I technically can't use from the US - they changed that policy a while back) as well as a cheap Squier gig bag that'll protect the bass from a stiff wind and that's about it. That foam bag it shipped in provides more protection - and it's ripped! Only orders from the Kitty Web Shop came with the nicer heavily padded Scandal-branded gig bag and strap.

The product card. Tomo Jazz Bass Sky Blue!

The bass unsheathed. My first reaction upon seeing it was that this is a far more beautiful bass in person than I expected! The color really pops without looking cartoony; it's more tasteful than I thought, and it has a depth to it that you don't expect in a "cheap" bass. And while competition stripes are always pretty polarizing, I happen to like them, and they are not some new thing Tomomi invented. Fender introduced them in 1969. Tomomi's actually very traditional in her tastes.

The back. It is a Squier so it's not strange to point out that the finish on this otherwise simple paint job is perfect. If you look very closely at the right angle, you can see the body joint - it appears to be a two-piece body. (You're not seeing that above - that's just a reflection of my wall and ceiling.)

The matching headstock. (The color is actually the same as the body; the light was a tad different.) If there's any complaint I might have with the finish, it's here. It's a little hard to see and in fact I didn't notice it until later, but it looks like whoever painted it was using a brush meant for the side of a house. The paint's very uneven and it runs over the edge onto the sides in a bunch of places. But again, hard to really notice unless you're looking.

There are a few more minor imperfections around the guitar, like sloppy cutting of the pickguard and some good old fashioned dirt around the edges, like whoever installed it forgot to wash his hands first. Nothing that couldn't be fixed by removing it and just sanding a bit, I'm sure. But this is the kind of corner that gets cut in an Indonesian Squier - you wouldn't see this (or you'd hope you wouldn't see this) in a more expensive model. I don't expect maximum refinement in a guitar like this, although simple cleanliness would be nice.

Of course the back of the headstock has Tomomi's signature (stamped, not real). My headstock had gear oil all over it when I first tried to take this photo - I cleaned it up and everything seems fine. Seems they just lubed the tuners a little too much at the factory.

I do like the maple they chose for my neck and headstock - it has some interesting figuring.

Bluetus comes with Duncan Designed JB-101 pickups that are meant to sound "vintage", whatever that means in a bass. (To be honest, I don't think there's a hell of a lot of difference in how a modern Jazz Bass sounds vs. a vintage one.) Squier uses these in some other specific models of the Vintage Modified JB. They sound pretty good to my ears, and basically Tomomi-like. That said, they are not what she actually uses. (Note that hers don't say "Duncan Designed" and I seriously doubt she'd be using them with a different cover. She'd be using something a little better.)

The bridge saddles are height-adjustable but the action on mine was just right from the factory - a few weeks later it did need a little truss rod adjustment (no doubt affected by the dry, harsh winter we're having) but then it was back to normal. I have long and violent fingers, so I like medium action on basses (low action would just make for a lot of fret buzz). The Vintage Modified JB's have a neck radius of 9.5" and Bluetus seems to match that. I hate anything over a 7.25" radius on six-string guitars but I like a flatter fretboard on bass - flatter radii are better for single-string playing, not so good for chords.

My main six string guitar is a Jazzmaster. I like (and am used to) the offset body shape, which is made to be comfortable playing sitting down - when standing up, it just looks cool. If it wasn't for Scandal, I'd have probably sold my disappointing Thunderbird and bought some kind of Jazz Bass anyway. Granted, it'd probably have been a low-end Fender rather than a high-end Squier, but honestly, I doubt there's any real difference. The Made-in-Mexico Fenders all use the same poly finish as the Squiers, along with the same electronics and very similar hardware. They charge a little more for the name. You've got to move up to an American model - and spend a lot more money - to get something noticeably better in any objective sense. But then you wouldn't have the cool color scheme!

I'm gonna close by answering the only two questions that really matter, which are:

1) How does it compare to Tomomi's own Bluetus?

2) Is it a good bass in its own right?

The answer to the first question is that it certainly looks pretty much right, judging from the three times I've seen the real thing. The color looks dead on, the finish looks the same. If there is a noticeable difference, it's that the fretboard is actually somewhat darker on the production model. Hers actually has a couple chips in the finish from use that look like the way poly chips, so I think she's even got the same clear coat. That said, no doubt she has high end wiring, hardware, shielding and electronics underneath.

It's a pretty awesome bass in its own right too. Even if you're not a Scandal fan, I think your head would turn seeing this hanging in a store - but it's not so crazy or specific that you couldn't use it in pretty much any band. It's really comfortable as all Jazz Basses are, it's well balanced, and it sounds like you'd expect a Jazz Bass to sound. I'd totally gig with this bass - I've gigged with a lot worse!

I have a feeling this bass probably sold the least of the three Scandal guitars just because fewer people want to play bass. That makes me feel kinda bad for Tomomi, but on the plus side for you, it might still be a little easier to find this one than the others for that reason. If you can still get one, grab it!

MARCH 2015 UPDATE: After sitting in its gig bag all winter, I picked up my Bluetus to find that its neck had bowed badly. The early truss rod adjustment mentioned above should have been a red flag - the maple used for the neck in this bass is way too soft and was probably wet when the bass was manufactured. After a professional setup it's playable again, but it'll never have the low action of a high-end Fender.

Well, it is a cheap bass. But this is a little disappointing.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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