Foo Fighter Nate Mendel gets his own P-Bass at last. Mike Hine finds out if it’s ‘My Hero’ or merely a ‘Monkey Wrench’… Photography: Thru-A-Lupe
As an instrument maker, Fender is unrivalled in its impact on popular music. With the Precision and Jazz basses, the American brand has brought us the two most iconic, versatile and popular electric bass designs in history – instruments that have shaped rock and pop music from its foundations up to the present day. Ask a non-musician what a typical bass guitar should look and sound like, and their answer will almost certainly reflect the towering influence of Leo Fender. The company’s place in history is assured, even if it never builds another axe.
Never one to rest on its laurels, however, Fender keeps putting out new guitars. Its ever-expanding Artist series is one way that it satisfies the bass community’s desire for shiny new products, without having to reinvent the wheel. Indeed, its latest innovation is the signature P-Bass of Nate Mendel, best known for holding down the low end in Foo Fighters and Sunny Day Real Estate.
We already know that, as a P-Bass, this guitar will be solid in its appearance and sound – but given the number of Precision variants already available, will this bass appeal to anyone other than Mendel’s dedicated fans? Let’s find out…
The design of the P-Bass needs no introduction, and there’s little need to delve too deeply into it. Suffice to say, every bass player will have already made their mind up about the iconic body shape – and even those with a penchant for more radical, futuristic basses probably wouldn’t have too many harsh words to say about the Precision. Criticism is unlikely to get more hostile than ‘boring’ – but most would agree that’s beside the point. As aesthetics go, Fender got it pretty much spot-on in 1951, as proven by the enduring success of that design with both novices and globe-trotting superstars.
This Nate Mendel signature model pays tribute to Mendel’s own 1971 P-Bass, but gets a facelift courtesy of some modern hardware – crucially a Leon Quan Badass II bridge and a Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound split pickup. The body colour is a deep, ‘Candy Apple’ red, complemented by a black pickguard and chrome hardware. The neck wood is maple, with a classic, yellowy finish regularly seen on guitars of a 70s vintage, while black dot-markers help you navigate the rosewood fingerboard. Mendel’s signature appears on the back of the familiar, classic headstock.
While red basses can look a little garish, this model is actually very tasteful – not a description you might expect, given Mendel’s punk and post-hardcore credentials – and just another reminder of Fender’s all-round appeal. Mendel’s P-Bass was equally at home being chucked in the back of a van while touring with Sunny Day Real Estate as it was gracing arenas with the more clean-cut pop- rock of Foo Fighters.
Interestingly – and presumably at the request of Mendel – Fender has given this bass a ‘Road Worn’ finish, comprising minor chips to the bodywork. This wear and tear seems a little superfluous, and doesn’t add anything to the bass’s aesthetics. In fact, the ‘damage’ is so minor that it’s only really noticeable up close – and it certainly doesn’t give the bass a well-gigged, homely look. Ironically, it might actually have worked better if Fender had opted to include more extensive blemishes – similar to Mendel’s own P-Bass – in order to achieve the tour-worn effect. Instead, the tiny chips seem more likely to put off a prospective buyer.
Sounds And Playability
Plugging this bass in, there are no real surprises in the sonic department – but that’s by no means a bad thing. One of the major appeals of the P-bass is its simple electronics, comprising a split single-coil pickup, positioned between bridge and neck, a volume knob and a tone knob. But despite the simplicity of the passive circuitry, the Nate Mendel P-bass is no one-trick pony. The Badass II bridge, larger and more robust than Fender bridges of old, coupled with the modern Seymour Duncan pickup, help pay tribute to the 71 Precision, while adding a refreshing, modern edge. By Mendel’s own admission, the new technology makes this bass sound better than its archetype.
There is a surprising amount of diversity contained in that classic tone knob, which is the only real sound-sculpting feature of the on-board electronics. Tones range from thudding, mid-heavy and reliable, to crystal-clear, nuanced and top- heavy – the latter facet perhaps aided, in the case of our brand new test model, by that ‘new- string clank’ that a fresh set of roundwounds contributes.
Given that this bass is most likely to appear in a rock or pop setting, it unsurprisingly excels in that environment. If you want no-frills, thumping Motown, then you’re in luck.
If you want a grizzlier classic rock tone, look no further. Rolling between the extremes of the tone knob reveals a spectrum of subtly different sounds, recalling, in the process, the entire history of electric bass playing from Jamerson to Palladino via JPJ…
But what of Mendel himself? This bass will naturally appeal to fans of the Foos’ low-ender interested in recreating the tones of its namesake. Much like the P-bass itself, Mendel’s playing with SDRE and Foo Fighters is solid and reliable, providing a strong backbone to those respective bands’ sounds, particularly in the case of the two-guitar Foos line-up. Nonetheless, his supple, scalar lines on tracks like Foo Fighters’ ‘Next Year’, and his work on SDRE’s classic album Diary, exhibit a nuanced, melodic approach that often goes unnoticed. Generally, his studio work involves warm, no-nonsense mid-tones that are easily and pleasingly replicated with this signature bass.
Mendel’s specifications are also detectable in the playability of this replica. His own 71 Precision has a unique, slimline neck that was only produced for a short while. This, and his preference for a low action, informed the design of his signature model, which has a light and user-friendly profile that will appeal to bassists of all abilities. The slim neck, and accordingly narrow nut width, allows you to move around with ease, but still has a hand-filling shape that encourages you to dig in.
It is now over 60 years since the Precision bass’s first incarnation, and with the passage of time Leo Fender’s classic design has cemented its place in music history. In 2013, the P-Bass is pretty much beyond reproach – but the subtle variations that Fender continues to release prove that there is life in the old dog yet.
This Nate Mendel signature edition harks back to the 1971 model, while adding some modern technology, resulting in a bass that is visually appealing and easy to play, offering an array of classic bass sounds. Newcomers to bass playing would find this model a breeze to learn on – and the relatively wallet-friendly price tag will surely tempt seasoned Fender-lovers. Foo Fighters fans will be picking this up regardless of price and quality – but they can rest assured that they’re getting a superb instrument. The only drawback is the unnecessary ‘Road Worn’ damage to the lacquer finish, but this probably won’t be a deal-breaker for many prospective buyers. After all, the P-Bass has done more than enough in its 60-plus years to justify a place in your collection.
Price | £934.80
Colour | Candy Apple Red
Body | Ash
Neck | Maple
Fingerboard | Rosewood
Neck-join | Bolt-on
Scale length | 34″
Weight | 3.6kg
Frets | 20, medium jumbo
Tuners | Vintage 70s Fender
Bridge | Leo Quan Badass II
Pickup | Seymour Duncan Basslines SPB-3 Quarter Pound Split Single-Coil
Controls | Volume, Tone
What we think
Plus | A tasteful variation on the classic P-Bass design, with an all-round appeal and user friendly price point
Minus | Superfluous ‘damage’ to body work
Overall | Will appeal to rock and pop bass players in general, while satisfying hardcore fans of Nate Mendel
Build quality | 7/10
Sound quality | 8/10
Value | 9/10