Squier Jazz Bass vs American Ultra Jazz Bass

I received my new 2021 American Ultra Jazz Bass on Friday, and, as promised in the “Fender Custom Shop” thread, I’m in the process of evaluating it and comparing it to the 2018 Squier VM 70s Jazz Bass.

What are the differences between a $350 bass and a $2000 bass?

Here are some highlights:

Body : both basses weigh just under ten pounds each, measured by holding them while standing on a bathroom scale, then subtracting my own weight. Not the most accurate way to do it, but I measured each at 9.6 pounds. The Squier was advertised at 10.2 pounds.

Both basses have an almost identical body (Squier is maple, Ultra is alder), except that the Ultra has a sculpted neck heel. I tried several times under different lighting to demonstrate the difference between Fender’s ‘Olympic White’ color on the Squier to their ‘Arctic Pearl’ on the Ultra, but was unsuccessful. The Arctic Pearl is a metallic white and is a “whiter” shade of white than the Squier.

Headstock: Both have the same familiar Fender shape, but the Ultra has an extra “string tree” on the A string.

Tuners: Both have “Vintage Style” tuners, but the Ultra has “Lightweight” tuners.

Neck: Both have 34” scale maple necks and 1.5” bone nuts, but the Ultra has an extra fret and a rosewood fingerboard. (I would rather have had a maple fingerboard, but that wasn’t available). Both necks use block inlays. The Ultra has a compound 10”-14” radius, while the Squier is the standard Fender 9.5”, The Squier has a C neck with a glossy finish and skunk stripe, while the Ultra has a modern D neck with a satin finish. The dots on the side of the Ultra neck are a little easier to see than those on the Squier. This is due to the white binding on the edges of the neck. The action on the Ultra was already set low, so no adjustments were needed, while the action on the Squier was very high out of the box.

Accessories: Both came with some Allen wrenches for adjusting truss rod and action, but the Ultra also included a pouch for the tools, and a pair of strap locks to attach to my strap. It also came with a Hardshell Case, while the Squier came in a cardboard box.

EDIT: I used a 13mm socket to secure the strap locks (which appear to be Schaller’s design) to my strap. If I purchase a pair of Schaller strap buttons (approx. $5 from Sweetwater), I could install them on my Squier bass, and would not need to purchase a second strap. :slight_smile:


Truss Road: Adjustable at the headstock on the Squier, and at the last fret on the Ultra.

Bridge: The Ultra has a Hi-Mass bridge. Both are Vintage 4-saddle.

Pickups: Squier has Alnico single coil, Ultra has “Ultra Noiseless” single coil pickups.

Electronics: Squier is passive, Ultra has 18v active/passive electronics ( 2 x 9v batteries in series). This is where the major improvements come into play. I put all my Rumble 100 EQ settings at noon, used zero gain, and turned the OD circuit off. When I set the switch to passive it sounded the same as the Squier (as expected). But when I switched to active, the volume almost doubled. I mean, the pictures were rattling on my walls . . .

It will take me awhile to fully explore the myriad of possible EQ settings on the Ultra, so I really can’t say much more about that (or whether it justifies the extra ~$1600 cost between the two bass guitars), at this time.

Wish me luck and I’ll try to answer any questions you may have.

Cheers
Joe

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This rules.
Also - is there some sweet binding along the freboard on your custom? I couldn’t quit see in the photos, but that is such a classy look!

Looking forward to more of your explorations here.

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Yes, @Gio . . . :slight_smile:

The edges of the neck have a white binding while the Squier has a black one.

Cheers
Joe

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Regarding your Volume doubling when switching from Passive to Active, there may be a gain adjustment on the preamp. Might look like a blue or green box with an adjustment screw.

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The only adjustments I could make are those four knobs on the bass, and the knobs on my amplifier, @Anderson . . . :slight_smile:

As I mentioned, it will take me some time to explore all the different combinations.

Cheers
Joe

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I agree with Anderson, on my bass When the battery dies the volume nose dives, so at that point is a “passive” bass :man_shrugging:t4: No pre-amp

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I mean on the inside of the control plate. This is only if the volume difference bothers you though. I’m not even sure Fender Preamps have this feature (John East, Audere, and Sire preamps do for sure).

Here’s a pick of it on a John east preamp (blue box circled in red). Many will set the gain to match the passive when set flat, and then let the EQ make adjustments from there.

Again, no need to go this far if it doesn’t bother you to turn the volume down, just information.

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I see what you mean now, @Anderson . . . :slight_smile: . . .No,there’s no internal adjustment on mine.

The volume difference doesn’t bother me at all . . . I’m just surprised at the difference it makes going from passive to active! I haven’t had any experience with active basses until now, but it may be that 18volts rather than 9 is what makes that difference.

Thanks for your post,
Joe

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Congrats @Jazzbass19, that is such a beautiful instrument. I’m just a sucker for white basses with red tort pick guards. Personally I like the contrast of the dark rosewood fingerboard with the white body better than the maple, especially with the pearl (?) block inlays. Hope it’s everything you hoped it would be!

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Thanks, Mike! @Mike_NL . . . :slight_smile:

Yes, those are “White Pearloid” blocks and they show up nicely against the Rosewood fingerboard.

Cheers
Joe

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Nice new toy. i can see that the Ultra is brighter then the Squire, so even tho your photo’s couldn’t pick up the total differences, like sparkle and texture, I can still see the one being brighter.

I like the neck color, and pick guard color on the squire better, just because I like the colors and am not a fan of tortoise pick guards (had to get one off my Stingray SLO Special before I could fully accept it as mine), but I am not a fan of the ashtray on the Squire. However, they are both really nice basses, and I am sure you are Jazzed (pun intended) to have them.
Will you keep your squire around, or just migrate towards the Ultra?

I love my EBMM Stingray SLO, but I love my Ray4 as much, and I gravitate towards playing it more still. PLUS, if I were to go jam with others, or even play a gig or party or somethng, I would bring the Ray4 for sure. As much as I love it, It is way easier to replace, and upgrade back to what I have it at, and still be under $500, but to get another Stingray SLO would be way more difficult to replace.

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Ideally it shouldn’t (and that’s what the trim pots on the preamp adjust for). generally you want the level of the bass to be the same active or passive so you can easily switch between them.

However on a Fender you might want to be careful with tweaking that to make sure it won’t void the lifetime warranty on the thing. It shouldn’t but you never know. And of course if they actually didn’t have a trim pot on the preamp, well then you are out of luck there anyway :slight_smile:

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I would have expected the same. Ideally, it should sound the same active or passive with all knobs set flat and the volume should stay the same. Imagine the effect of inadvertently switching from passive to active during a gig :exploding_head: :sweat_smile:

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Another quite minor difference is that the truss rod adjustment is at the nut for the Squier and at the bridge-end of the fretboard for the Ultra. I currently have a bass with both of these as well and prefer the bridge-end, as that’s where I usually am doing all my adjustments.

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Congratulations, Joe. She’s a beauty! :sunglasses: :+1:

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Hey, Toby @T_dub . . . :slight_smile: . . I added the chrome bridge cover to the Squier about 5 months after I bought it, and I know it’s out of date, but I wanted to complete the 70’s Vintage look.

Great question about the Squier . . . I really like it a LOT and had originally considered upgrading the pickups and/or adding an internal preamp to it. There’s a wealth of upgrade parts available, plus YT videos on doing all that.

OTOH, and due to pressing personal issues, I decided to just go all out and get what I consider to be Fender’s flagship Jazz Bass . . . their very best and latest offering, and then compare the two at leisure.

I thought it would make an interesting study, and might be helpful to someone out there.

Although I am nowhere near finished in evaluating all the tonal possibilities of the Ultra, and although it is a beautiful bass, my initial impression at this time is that it is NOT worth an extra $1,600 over the Squier.

Stay tuned and all best,
Joe

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It really takes some stones to state and accept that conclusion, Joe, but perhaps give it some time… I can’t imagine that the Ultra doesn’t just feel and play better (in all aspects)… but, of course, the difference might still not be worth 1600 dollars!?!

In any case, she’s a beaut, and, in my book, I would take rosewood instead of maple any day of the year :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

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Yes, thanks Jörg @joergkutter . . . :slight_smile: . . . I’m just getting started

As time goes by and I evaluate all the knobs and settings, I may change my mind.

I definitely CAN say that both basses feel the same . . . if I were blindfolded I couldn’t tell the difference (unless I felt the knobs). Some people don’t like a glossy neck vs a satin neck, etc. but so far I haven’t noticed any difference in the playability of either bass.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” as they say. :slight_smile: The Ultra might have an edge over the Squier in that department, but it depends on what appeals to you. The tuners aren’t any better or worse, etc.

The real differences lie in the electronics. Let’s see if this difference is worth $1,600 . . :wink:

Cheers
Joe

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UPDATE #1: I neglected to account for the cost of the “Fender Deluxe Molded Case” which the Ultra bass was shipped in, and which I purchased separately for my Squier bass two years ago:

So take ~$200 off the $2,000 and we’re looking at $1,800 actual cost for the Ultra bass itself.

This translates to a $1,400 difference between the Squier and the Ultra, not $1,600.

Sorry for my error.

Cheers
Joe

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@howard and @Krescht . . . Thank you both for your input . . . :slight_smile:

I didn’t literally mean “double” the volume when I switched from passive to active, because I have no way of measuring that. I don’t remember exactly what the knob settings were when I first tried them out, either. But the volume was definitely and noticeably louder.

After reading through the hundreds of posts about pedals and preamps, etc. on these forums, and being a neophyte in this area, I was under the impression that a preamp (either external or internal) boosts the signal (and presumably the volume) before it gets to the amplifier.

Otherwise, why would you use a preamp? Just for tonal possibilities? :thinking: I have looked into external preamps such as the “Tech21 SansAmp VT Bass DI” and was considering using that with my Squier, but decided on going with this active/passive Ultra bass instead.

I still have to make a much more detailed study of the Ultra settings.

Thanks for your patience with me,
Joe

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