Purchased from: GAK
Features — 8
The VM Bass VI is an Indonesian made 6 string bass/low tuned guitar. It is from Fender's offset family (Jaguar/Jazzmaster) and bears a lot of resemblance between these guitars, including their bridge/trem set up and 3 Jaguar pickups along with the chrome switching plates etc. It's then crossed with a short scale Precision style bass to create an interesting hybrid instrument. It has a master tone and volume, then three individual switches for each pickup, along with a bass strangle switch - which mirrors the 2nd release of the Bass VI back in the '60s, unlike the Fender Pawn Shop version which uses a more traditional blade selector and has a humbucker.
There's actually a lot of options and the ability to tweak the instrument sound with the VM Bass VI.
Sound — 9
The Bass VI is an odd beast. It had quite a big following in the '60s and '70s and was then discontinued, though some later bands found a place for it. This is a very affordable option though compared to the Pawn Shop version or the ultra-expensive originals.
The Bass VI confuses a lot of people. It's octave range is fully within the bass category, but the 6 strings are tuned E to E like a guitar, not the extra high and low string of a standard 6 string bass. It is 30.25" scale so it's well into the biggest Baritone territory for a guitar or about even with short scale basses. Again the string sets (there aren't many yet, though I'd expect more to come out as this gains in popularity) are part way between Baritone sets and a short bass set.
My band actually bought two of these, one for our bassist and one for me the sole guitarist. We run them through our normal amp rigs. Obviously our bassist gets a much more 'bass' focused tone through a bass amp, I get a much more of a downtuned/baritone/8 string guitar vibe through guitar amps, though I do run a lot of low end as we're a 3 piece and fill the spectrum.
The string spacing means as a guitarist I can adapt to it pretty easily. Obviously some chords, particular full barre chords can be a bit of a harmonic mess, though if you move from A root upwards it does let you create some massive, almost piano like chord sounds, or still run out some faster lead sounds which is fantastic on those heavier bass like strings.
For a bassist the spacing can confuse finger-style players at first but unless you have enormous hands and a style that relies on big spacing to slap and attack, you can adapt pretty quickly. Mostly it's a bit 'zingier' than a standard bass but our bass player is a petite girl so she normally has short scale basses and the sound difference run through a big bass rig isn't enough to rule it out as a main bass.
We've tried it with a whole bunch of effects and it handles them as you'd expect, like a very low tuned guitar with more vibration and harmonic character, or like a fast, low action bass. It really is occupying some weird middle ground.
The ability to switch in and out any of the pickups gives you a whole range of combinations to choose from. You want bridge and neck and then switch to neck and middle and finally middle and bridge - easy. The strangle switch confuses a lot of people. It's mostly a high pass filter which cleans out the sub and low end frequencies. Playing as a bass you probably won't like it - the volume obviously drops as you are filtering out a big range of your fundamental frequencies. If you are playing 3-6 string chords or using a less low capable guitar rig though it suddenly makes sense. Chords without it can become booming, rumbling sludge, but the strangle lets you play it like a thick baritone sound.
In terms of variety then it can be incredibly varied but it depends how open minded you are as a player/band. At it's most basic it lets you have a guitarist pick up a bass of decent sound and play it without a major style change. At it's most complex it can offer a whole new way of thinking about your riffs, or have a band that is just a duo (drummer and Bass VI player for example) who can switch between massive thick bass lines and then suddenly break out distorted blues rock riffs and solos.
There are some issues with the pickups and some of the tuning/intonation and if you are willing to drop some cash on upgrades you can make a major difference to the quality of the sound and playability.
Action, Fit & Finish — 7
The Bass VI is an Indonesian made Squier - these have been getting better and better over the past few years and it's gotten to the point where they are beating some of the lower-end Fender main brand. That said, the setups are rarely that good out of the box.
The nut on our two Bass VI's were absolutely fine despite hearing some horror stories - maybe this has been sorted on these newer batches. If you do want to go up in string gauge to a more typical, high tension low bass E string etc, you may have to file the nut to accomodate these. Remember it's best to stick with dedicated BASS VI string sets as the tremolo and tuning keys are the same as a Jaguar and not designed for untapered bass strings.
The neck is lovely on both, the block inserts are very high quality and perfectly finished. There was some slightly rough edges on the chrome fittings but nothing major. All the controls were in good shape and there was no damage or signs that the guitar was of lower value than the Pawn Shop (other than the slightly more boring colour range options). The tortoise shell pickguards are horrible, but this is common on most Fenders now other than the really expensive models. I've ditched these and replaced them with anodized aluminium ones which look insanely good IMO.
The main issue with these guitars are the bridge and non-locking trem (same as the VM Jags and Jazzmasters with Squier). To be fair the trem is quite subtle with thick bass strings, you really have to divebomb it to hear much of a "warble" and the string tension is probably too much to get a decent vibrato action but it doesn't seem to knock things out of tune overtly.
The bridge that comes with these is pretty useless. It's obviously not made for the Bass VI - you get little springs to intonate and the whole thing is flimsy and results in awful intonation issues and a tendency to have the low E falling off and buzzing loosely and other strings going out of tune.
There's a few fixes - first switch the bridge back to front so you have more intonation room. Though if you can afford it and are willing to go for it, get a Staytrem bridge. They are massive full engineered options with no springs and just larger barrel rollers - the intonation is a breeze and stability is instantly rectified, no more bouncing, displaced strings. Seriously buy one and you solve the problems that have plagued Bass VI even the Pawn Shop version and the originals.
I'm rating this lower as it was for the "out-of-the-box" set up and finish. If you're willing to do a bit of work it's feasible to make this a very high quality instrument very quickly.
Reliability & Durability — 9
The finish on Squier's VM range seems equal to the Mexican Fenders (and hell it's beaten a few MIA Fenders I've had). For the very low cost it's really amazing what you get for your money these days. Yes the guitar will withstand live playing (note - after the bridge swap for the Staytrem) the hardware is top notch. The strap buttons are solid but I always swap all of them out for Schaller strap locks anyway as I like the security and ability to destrap them quickly for hard case travel. I've never played a gig without a backup, but that's just me, not saying anything about the instrument. Overall though, for about a quarter the price of a Pawn Shop version (or about a 40th of an original!) you get a very fine instrument that you can be proud of.
Overall Impression — 9
I play and sing in a 3 piece electronic rock band. Both me and our bassist now use a Bass VI on different songs. We have a couple where we both play it for a massive bass heavy tone, differentiated by effects and our rigs natural tones. Sometimes our bassist plays it so during guitar solos or interludes she can take up rhythm duties and play chords and then go back to bass lines for other sections of the same song. I sometimes play one just to have a massive growling riff monster (plus I'm pretty tall and a lot of guitars look like toys on me - the Bass VI looks about right!)
There isn't anything that really replaces the Bass VI so if we lost them or had them stolen, we'd probably replace them again - especially as they cost so little for what you get it's almost insane how cheap these are.
I can see why some bands and players would just look at these as a crazy novelty - it's not really a huge sounding bass, nor is it really a guitar. My best description is it's a bass disguised as a guitar to not freak out guitar players. Bassists seem to adapt very quickly once they get over the string spacing and things like a Jaguar trem unit. I think you have to open-minded as a band to get the most of out of these. If you're willing to think outside the box of bass/guitar distinctions and try out hybrid playing - it can open up a whole new range of songwriting and live sounds.
I love the price, the general finish, the pickup options, the general "idea" behind it.
I dislike the bridge, the non-locking trem and the pickups are a bit weak and brittle - but then for what you're paying it's hard to be too much of a complainer. Yes the bridge is a mess and should have been retooled rather than released as is - but either work on it or switch to the Staytrem and job done. If you really want to play around with other tunings or use the whammy action a lot - you can drop in an original locking Fender Jaguar unit. As for the pickups they are the standard Squier Jaguars. I've replaced these as well as you can drop any Jaguar options in. I've had some custom wounds made with higher output and slightly broader sonic range which suits the sound we wanted. So yeah, the upgrades probably cost more than the Bass VI but it's still cheaper than the Pawn Shop version.
If you're a shredding, neo-classical type guitarist I imagine you wouldn't touch this with a barge-pole. If you love your 4 string bass with massive strings played with fingers and super deep sub tones - again, this probably isn't for you either. If however you are a bass player or guitar player (or both) and want to blur the lines between those jobs now and then, this is just an awesome instrument. Plus when you play a power chord through a big muff and then whammy the note up and down and it sounds like a bass you make sound guys heads explode and they stare at you with open mouthed wonder.