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The Fender Precision bass is a timeless classic with a tone that caters to a universal taste and bass that is an out-and-out workhorse.
In contrast, the Gibson SG Standard is an atypical sounding short-scale bass that can be called an evolution of the Gibson EB bass guitars from the 60s.
The Fender P-bass is more musical, practical and familiar, but it is also more limited, predictable and a lot more common.
The SG Standard is unique, quirky and eye-catching but it’s muddy & peculiar sounding. It is worthy of being a part of a collection of bass guitars but it cannot be the mainstay of your rig if you are a session artist.
The SG tone is an acquired taste that shines in certain genres but can’t be forced upon every musical context. Between the two, the P-Bass is the clear winner if you are a one-bass bassist.
That being said, the SG Bass is one of Gibson’s best bass offerings in a long time. If you want to approach it on its own terms, the SG sound can really complement a power trio or a rock outfit. It looks unique, sounds distinct and it is more versatile than a P-bass.
Regardless of what you compare it to, the P-bass is just one step down from a tree-trunk – not a small-person friendly bass. It is made for big dudes.
Don’t confuse a short-scale bass with a piccolo instrument. The 30” scale length doesn’t make the SG sound sharp or strident. The smaller the scale length, the deeper the bass will sound. That is why Kala-U Bass (Ukulele sized bass) almost sounds like an upright, remember?
So playing modern funk or slap bass is out of the question. The short scale length is good for fast runs or rock and metal riffs but they also contribute to the muddier sound and weak string tension.
Speaking of which, the other important factor that affects playability is the string tension. It is hard to fault the P-bass in this regard – anything that can handle the low tension of two-year-old Thomastik Jazz flats has passed the ultimate test in my book.
The SG is a totally different story. The flats feel too floppy and the roundwounds barely get the job done. The short scale length means you have lesser string options to begin with and you never quite get to dig in hard while playing.
As far as looks go, since P-bass set the ball rolling in the 50s, every bass shape is a play on this archetype. It looks classy but there is nothing unique about it. The SG is exclusive and quirky – it has a wow factor because it is an uncommon body shape.
They both have a very different aesthetic appeal and I believe that is an apple v/s oranges comparison. The only noteworthy point is that the P-bass is available in 5 finish options compared to the two options for the SG Standard.
The lack of tone definition was a big problem with the Gibson EB-styled bass guitars from the 60s. But back then the competition was negligible, and Gibson was a big name.
Still, the pickups were commonly called ‘mudbuckers’ in bass circles. They were clunky, fat and full of mud. Only sparkling new strings could save them – momentarily.
Gibson seems to have acknowledged this when they launched the SG Standard. Unlike the old honky EBs, the SG Standard has a more palatable tone with cleaner edges.
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