I think you'll agree that it's hard to find a quality electric baritone guitar for under $500. There simply aren't a lot of affordable electric baritones out there that represent solid and versatile options.
Thankfully, the Squier Vintage Modified Baritone Jazzmaster delivers both quality and value. Is the Vintage Modified Jazzmaster the right budget-conscious baritone for you? Read on to find out three reasons Squier's deep-tuned take on the classic Jazzmaster design might the best baritone under $500 and the right axe for you.
But first, the Features and Specs
Before we walk through the three reasons you should be interested in the Squier Vintage Modified Baritone Jazzmaster, let's take a moment to look over the specs of this wallet-friendly baritone.
The Baritone Jazzmaster's body is made of solid basswood, which offers a light but solid feel. Additionally, the black finish and black chrome hardware give this guitar a look that is simple and classy, with a bit of rock and roll attitude.
The Baritone Jazzmaster features a top loading bridge. Concerning bridges, some purists will assert that Fender's traditional string through body design would offer more sustain. Personally, I appreciate the simplicity of the top load design and believe that any difference in sustain is likely nominal.
With its 30 inch scale length, the Vintage Baritone Jazzmaster extends nearly 5 inches beyond the bridge to nut length of your typical Stratocaster. Thankfully, the neck's "modern C" shape and 9.5 inch radius offer a feel that fans of today's Telecasters and Strats will find familiar. In this way, the Vintage Baritone Jazzmaster offers a comfortable fret hand experience for most players, despite its extended length.
The Squier Vintage Modified Baritone's JM (J Mascis) 101 neck and bridge pickups are based off the Dinosaur Junior front man and lead guitarist's passion for original issue Jazzmaster pickups. The "Duncan Designed" designation indicates that the pickup's specs were drawn up by the folks at Seymour Duncan but manufactured by Fender or one of its contractors.
The JM 101 pickups are paired with a stripped down electronics layout consisting of a three-way selector, a volume nob, and a tone nob. Thankfully, the extra (and largely redundant) switches that adorned the upper bout of the original Jazzmasters have been removed from the Vintage Modified Baritone.
Now that we've covered some relevant features, let's walk through three reasons the Squier Vintage Modified Baritone Jazzmaster might be the best budget-friendly electric bari available today.
Reason one: Idyllic clean tones.
On your clean channel, $450 straight-out-of-Indonesia Squier Vintage Modified Baritone Jazzmaster sounds like a $1,200 American-made guitar. To explore the Baritone Jazzmaster's clean tone, I ran the guitar through its paces on multiple Fender tube combos and was pleased and surprised at every turn.
With the bridge (AKA, lead) pickup selected, the Baritone Jazzmaster delivers a tone that is bright, responsive, and defined without being shrill and without any of the annoying quacks and pops that plague some budget guitars.
With the neck (AKA, rhythm) pickup engaged, the Baritone Jazzmaster delivers bell-like tones without becoming muddy. It's worth noting that, while warmer in tone, the neck pickup retained some elements of what might be considered a classic fender sound: a hint of brightness, a balanced response that lets all strings ring clearly, and just a little bit of single-coil edge.
Finally, when it comes to clean tones, the Baritone Jazzmaster puts its best foot forward with both pickups engaged. The resulting tone is full, balanced, and incredibly pleasing to the ears. I found myself wanting to use this lush tone on stage and in the studio. Indeed, this baritone's dual pickup setting offered a clean sound that could fit the bill for both lead and rhythm work.
Check out the video below to get a feel for the Squier Vintage Modified Baritone's tonal offerings. The clip begins by showcasing the guitar's clean tones and finishes with a brief sampling of overdrive tones. And, speaking of overdrive tones, our second reason to get your hands on this baritone is all about the guitar's potential as a high gain machine.
Reason two: Great distorted tones (with one catch).
To get a feel for the Squier Vintage Modified Baritone Jazzmaster's distorted tonal offerings, I first ran the guitar through a Fender tube combo with a hint of overdrive and then through a few higher gain tube amps.
With just a hint of overdrive, the Baritone Jazzmaster sounds great. With the neck pickup engaged, I was able to dial in a great baritone blues tone (imagine a beefed up and rounded out version of John Lee Hooker's classic tone). Switching to the bridge pickup, the same hint-o-overdrive setting conjured up a deep version of Mark Knopfler's "Sultans of Swing" tone.
At higher gain levels, the Baritone Jazzmaster excelled with the neck pickup selected and with both pickups engaged. With the neck pickup on and the gain up, the Baritone Jazzmaster cranked out a Stevie Ray Vaughan-like tone. With both the neck and bridge positions engaged, the JM 100 pickups had plenty of color and a smooth and defined tone that invited baritone renditions of Van Halen classics.
The one catch with the Baritone Jazzmaster's high gain tone shows up when you switch the three-way selector to the bridge or lead pickup. The resulting tone had a little too much high end edge for my taste. I tried a few EQ settings, and found that a "scooped mid" setting (dropping the amp's mid EQ way down while leaving the bass at 5 and the treble around 4) best resolved this issue.
Even with that one cautionary note, the Baritone Jazzmaster still represents one of the best tone-for-dollar values among baritone electrics. With its generous pallet of useful tones, ranging from blissful cleans to rich distorted settings, its hard to imagine this guitar not adding value to your arsenal of sonic weapons.