The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
SX Bass Guitars
Whether you’re a beginner or an expert bassist, you may have considered an SX bass guitar. In this review, we’ll take a close look at two of their most popular models, the Ursa 1 and Ursa 2, and compare them to other great basses within their price range.
SX basses are made by Rondo Music, an American-owned company specializing in inexpensive guitars, basses, and other musical gear. We won’t use the word copy here, but let’s just say many of Rondo’s instruments in the SX lineup of guitars and basses bear a striking resemblance to some popular Fender designs.
That’s pretty smart on the part of Rondo, as Fender instruments are among the best guitars in the world, and beginning guitarists won’t be able to afford a real Fender for the price they’d pay for an SX. But it also sets them up for a head-to-head completion with one of the most powerful companies in the music industry.
Here’s the thing: Fender knows they need to cater to beginners and those who can’t afford their big-name guitars and basses. They already have an extensive array of instruments in their Squier line that are real-deal copies of their big-brother Fender basses. So, really, the comparison needs to be made between SX and Squier, rather than SX and Fender.
How do SX basses stack up to Squiers? Are the materials used comparable? How do SX basses sound? Is saving a couple of bucks worth the compromise?
I’ve played guitar and bass for thirty years, so I can be a little opinionated about these things! There are a lot of excellent bass guitars for beginners out there. Let’s check out these SX bass guitars and see if they’re among them.
SX Ursa 1 vs Squier Precision Bass
On first glance the SX Ursa 1 looks an awful lot like a Fender Precision Bass. Actually, on second glance it does too. But there are a few subtle differences in the design, most notably the headstock shape.
Fender’s headstock designs are trademarked, so you won’t see their designs on other guitars or basses made by major companies. Obviously, the headstock is only aesthetic (though there are some true tone freaks who refuse to believe this) so let’s get down to some more important areas of the SX design.
Rondo’s website notes that the Ursa one is built with a solid alder body. Alder is typical tonewood used on Fender instruments, but we might expect a bass at such a low price as the SX to use something like a cheap unnamed laminate.
They don’t, and this is a big plus for SX. An even bigger plus would be if they used one-piece bodies, but based on my research it appears the lower-level basses are more likely three-piece bodies.
This isn’t a bad thing, and it’s comparable to how some of the better Squiers and Standard Fenders are made. However, SX does have a few more expensive basses—and by more expensive we’re still talking about under $200—which have one-piece bodies. Nice!
The standard Ursa 1 has a maple neck and either a rosewood or maple fretboard. This is an option you’re not going to find with Squier basses, as their Affinity basses only come with rosewood fretboards. I find this interesting, and it kind of indicates that SX is not only looking at newbie bassists who probably don’t know or care much about what fretboard material is used, but also more accomplished players who know what they want and need.
There does seem to be a following of veteran players who recognize the value of SX basses and have built a collection of these budget instruments. Many players also seem to like them for modding, since their low cost means you can add aftermarket parts and end up with a great instrument while still keeping the cost down.
SX Starter Packs for Beginners
If you’re a beginner looking for your first bass guitar it’s hard to find a better deal than a starter pack by SX. There are a lot of comparable starter packs out there from different brands and manufacturers, but most of them cost quite a bit more. A bass, amp, strap, DVD, and other accessories for under $150 is an incredible deal.
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Usually, I would suggest staying away from such low-cost gear, but this is one of the rare cases where a beginner can hook up with a quality bass and amp package for a reasonable price.
I’d also ordinarily say one of the strong points of a starter pack like this is that even once a newbie outgrows the bass, and moves up to a bigger amp, they’ll still get some mileage out of their first amp as a practice amp. In this case, I think the bass is good enough that even once a player moves on to something more expensive they’re going to want to keep it around.
Hear the SX Jazz and Precision Bass
SX Ursa 2 vs Squier Jazz Bass
The Ursa 2 is the SX version of the Jazz Bass. I love Jazz basses, and these look really nice. Again, like the Ursa 1, this bass features a solid Alder body and a maple neck, along with the option of a rosewood or maple fingerboard.
The Ursa 1, in true P-bass style, has a single pickup design, whereas the Ursa 2 has two single-coil pickups with separate volume controls. This is all standard to the Fender Jazz and Precision designs. And let’s talk about the pickups for a moment.
By most accounts, people seem happy with the stock pickups in SX bass guitars. To my ear, they sound quite comparable to what you’d get in a standard Squier bass, and maybe a little better.
However, pickups are always subject to individual taste. Some guys even swap out the pickups in their high-end Fender basses because they aren’t happy with the stock setup.
The point is this: If you can land a solid bass for a great price, and the only thing you aren’t entirely happy with is the pickups, you can change them out to something you like better and still end up with a super-cheap bass that sounds great.
The more I learn about these things, the more this seems to be the beauty of SX basses. Out of the box they’re decent basses and very good basses for the money. But for the more experienced players, they can be templates for creating the ultimate custom bass, without busting your wallet.
The same can be said for the hardware. The standard chrome bridge, tuners, and knobs are about the quality you’d expect on an inexpensive bass, and there is certainly nothing wrong with them. But some players prefer to install vintage tuners, or aftermarket bridges, customizing the bass to their personal specs.
All that said, it’s hard to decide if that makes SX basses any better or worse than Squier. Many players love picking up inexpensive Squier basses and modding them to their liking as well.
And the Winner is . . .
In a nutshell, with an SX bass guitar, you’re going to get an instrument that plays and sounds better than it ought to. They are great choices for beginners, but seasoned pros may enjoy some of the options they offer at a low cost. They make solid instruments for modding, and starting with an SX you can create an affordable custom bass exactly to your specs.
The question we set out to answer was whether or not SX basses stood up to Squier. On all fronts, the answer appears to be a resounding yes. They’re that good and cost so much less. But let’s not be too hasty.
However, there is a reason Fender is one of the big dogs of the music world, and it takes more than just copying their designs to unseat them. There are some higher-end Squier basses out there today that look and sound amazing for under $300.
The Final Word on SX Basses
If you have your heart set on a Fender, buy a Fender. If you’re digging one of the hot Squier basses like the Classic Vibe or Vintage Modified series, go get one. But if you’re on the fence between a Squier Affinity bass or the SX Ursa, personally I’d give the SX a shot. And I think pretty highly of Squier gear, so I don’t suggest that lightly.
As a veteran player, I see the upgrade value in the SX bass, but for beginners, I think the Ursa represents one of the best values out there. As always, do your research before deciding, read reviews on Amazon and other sites, and make sure you buy from somewhere with a good return policy.
Good luck in choosing your new bass!
Jimmy Andrews on July 06, 2019:
Nice write up. I’ll have to check it out
Michael on December 11, 2017:
This isn't just a great bass for beginners also for leftys, I'm a left handed bass player who had an sx ursa 1 I bought it used a pawn shop after hours of meticulous research. Then after a while I decided I needed to try the ursa 2 I bought it new great basses!!! The reason I say it's great for leftys is nice left handed basses are hard to find and most are junk but sx has thoroughly impressed me I would highly suggest this bass to any beginner and once you want a better bass sx has some great higher end basses
bassman42 on March 11, 2015:
I recently got a new SX short scale fretless bass for $119. I have a Squier and Hoffner and wanted to try a fretless for a at home bang around bass. The quality and finish is excellent, it has the big beefy tuning machines. The neck feel is so nice. This is a much nicer bass than anyone would give it credit. It came with a bag, a DVD, and a truss rod wrench. I haven't found anything wanting about this bass.