The Fender Precision Bass has a long and illustrious history since it was introduced in 1951. They were called the Precision because, for the first time, a bass player could play a note precisely unlike on a fretless double bass. The sound was much harder than that of a double bass, the guitar had a lot of sustain and they were (and still are) easier to transport than a double bass.
Not surprisingly they became very popular and a P bass is probably the most commonly heard bass guitar in the world as countless players use them and a myriad songs have been recorded with them. They work well with just about every genre of music from punk to funk, pop to rock, jazz to blues and and anything between. Over the years there has been some tweaks in terms of different tuners, pickups and maple necks tried but, in essence, a new P bass is pretty much the same as an old P bass because it is masterpiece of design that doesn’t need to be changed. The controls are in the perfect place, the bridge is rock-solid, the intonation is good and they stay in tune well. If the neck breaks you can simply buy anther one and bolt it in place. the rest of the hardware is easily replaced and the guitar is built like a tank.
I’m a fan of Fender guitars; I own a Stratocaster, a Telecaster and an early-80s acoustic and they are all fine guitars. I learnt to play bass on an early P bass as the guy who taught me the basics was the bass player of choice for the Tamla Motown bands when they came over to tour in the UK in the Sixties. I’ve even owned a P bass myself and I have played a lot of other peoples. I’ve played American ones, Mexican ones and even the Squier variants made in the Orient and they have all been solid, capable basses.
However, I don’t rate the P bass that highly. I judge a bass on two factors; tone and playability. Undeniably the P bass has a great range of tones – several million bass players along with me agree on that. My issue is the playability. Nearly every one I’ve played has dead spots on the neck where some notes just aren’t as clear and have a little less sustain as the rest do. It isn’t bad but, once heard, it constantly appears in the mind and you end up playing those notes a little harder to compensate. I may have been unlucky with the P basses that I’ve played but other people tell me the same. The best one I’ve ever played was a Mexican one that I got for a particular project – no so much as hint of a dead spot with great sustain.
However, the clincher to me is the profile and taper of the neck. It doesn’t suit my hands nicely so I find it harder to play quickly; something that is exacerbated by me finding the frets harder to locate quickly than on other basses due to the taper. The net result is that I feel like I’m thrashing a P Bass to get a decent sound out of it and it is hard work to play. Finally it doesn’t feel well-balanced to me so my left arm has to put more effort in supporting the guitar. It isn’t fun to play a gig with tired fingers and arms. I know I’m not alone in having to put a lot of effort into playing a P bass compared to other makes like Gibson and Rickenbacker.
To conclude, the P bass is a great bass for many people but I don’t like them that much despite their many advantages. I’d advise anyone thinking of buying one to check that all the notes sound the same to avoid the dead spots and make sure they get on with the neck profile and balance.