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This article was originally published in issue #44
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There's no getting away from the fact that the introduction of these two basses from Music Man, the Cutlass and the Caprice, are taking the fight straight to Fender's bass heartland of the Precision and Jazz. The irony, of course, is that the entire Music Man concept originally came from Leo Fender himself, but these two basses are new. What they mean is that if you are looking for a passive Precision or a Jazz then the Cutlass and Caprice basses now have to be on your shortlist to try side by side against the equivalent US-made Fenders.
A lot on both these newcomers is going to be familiar. They feature maple necks with a satin polyurethane finish that is so smooth to the touch and the 21 fret necks are very comfortable to navigate. Both seem to feel slimmer than the Classic Sabre I reviewed back in issue 31 from memory, if that’s a useful gauge!
Compensated nuts are a nice touch on these two but the headstock is going to divide opinion. It's a lot bigger that we're used to from Music Man, and probably no doubt for the reason that this is what a customer in the market for this type of bass is going to be expecting. Still, the profile is recognisable and it maintains that all important three and one machine head arrangement, so it definitely has a Music Man family look and feel.
Size and shape are curious things, I have to say. On the video I opined that these two both seem to have smaller bodies than I'd been expecting. Since filming I have delved into this and in a direct comparison with my own '62 Precision, it seems I was wrong. So, there ya go! I can only surmise that the adjustments to body shape and headstock mess with the mind a little.
As you would expect, both basses have alder bodies, maple necks and a choice of rosewood or maple fretboards and our samples were as well put together as Music Man instruments always seem to be. In fact, the consensus here at GI is that we have never seen a bad Music Man, which is saying a heck of a lot!
Acoustically, both instruments have a pleasing low-mid character out of their fitted cases supplied (that's a nice touch, by the way). The strings are anchored with top-landing vintage Music Man bridges that feature nickel plated hollow steel saddles on a steel bridge plate, so all very traditional there, too.
Of course, the key difference between the Cutlass and the Caprice is their complement of pickups: P Split coil vs P and J pickups. In all cases they are humbucking pickups and are dead silent. This is a big deal and weighs in Music Man's favour in a direct shoot-out. Tonally, they are muscular sounding even through a ‘flat’ monitoring amp, offering lots of midrange punch, smooth top end and less subs. Those big pole pieces deliver a note quality that is characteristic and herein lies a difference between these and the obvious rivals and you are going to have to try them side by side for yourself to see which you prefer – though of course, I hope my video is a guide!
As you would expect the basses have different neck widths. The Cutlass comes with a 41.3mm nut and the Caprice 38.1mm echoing the obvious competition.
There are lots of fairly minor, yet significant differences also buried in the mix. For example, an easy access truss rod adjustment at the body end of the neck, shielded electronics compartment and tapered turnkey string posts, high quality Schaller machine heads. Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into these two.
The only slight concern I had was that it sometimes felt as if they were sliding off my lap as I was playing them seated. The high gloss finish? A more rounded shape? Check that aspect it and see what you think.
Overall, these are two finely made basses which offer the traditional bass player a very viable alternative indeed. They are similarly priced, but have some very nice extra touches (not least that choice in neck widths) so if you are in the market for a traditional, passive, bass and had previously been looking in only one direction, well... here's somewhere else to look and don't be at all surprised if you like what you see.