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BASS REVIEWS | COLUMNS | INDUSTRY NEWS | INTERVIEWS

Know Your Gear

Issue 21

bassgearmag.com

BASS GEAR MAGAZINE

h t 0 4 s i h d n a o t t e n w a o l r h u S F M George ry Bass at the NAM a s r e v i Ann Drake Guitars

BOSS GT-1B


Bassic Reviews

Full Reviews

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Honey Badger Pickups

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Fender Mod Shop

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Fender Flea Jazz Bass

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If you’re someone who enjoys a more modern tonality from your instruments, with a bit more depth and mid presence, Honey Badger Heavy Hitters may be for you. Custom factory order bass in your hands, which is definitely epic in its own way. This bass is another win for Fender. It’s a faithful and affordable representation of a highly sought after vintage instrument most of us will never see in our lives.

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Etymotic Research mk5 Isolator Earphones

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Ampeg Classic & Scrambler

BOSS GT-1B Bass Multi-Effects Pedal

For a highly compact, yet powerful multi-effects unit at a very affordable price, it’s hard to imagine a product done better.

Drake Guitars M7 and BG5

It is always exciting to discover “new” luthiers, and we are fortunate as bass players to have a number of custom builders to choose from.

Genzler BA 12-3 SLT Bass Cab

The BA12-3 has already made a name for itself in terms of expertly balanced tone, and great off-axis clarity.

It is comforting to have a well-established, highly regarded brand such as Etymotic putting out a nice range of options. Both pedals have a nice bright LED to signal when the effect is engaged

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Fender Mustang Bass

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Jam Origin MIDI Guitar 2 and MIDI Bass Real-Time Audio-to-MIDI Software

The most important aspect of this bass is its scale length.

“MIDI Guitar for Garageband” is a light, standalone edition without plugins

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Wampler Low Blow

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Ear Trumpet Labs Nadine Mic

Wampler’s got a real contender in the Low Blow

Hand-built microphones combining distinctive retro-industrial style with professional sound tailored for live use.

Technical Reviews 28

Drake Custom Bass Model 7

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Drake Custom Bass BG5

The bass has a pleasing design and shape, allowing great access and balance standing or sitting.

Everyone who saw this bass in the shop commented about how cool it looked; great shape and lines.

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The BOSS GT-1B Bass Multi-Effects Pedal


CONTENTS

www.bassgearmag.com

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Fender American Original Series

82

Hot Off the Plane

An Interview with Jack Casady

Columns 06

How I see it

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Bearclaw’s basement-Hot off the Plane

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Luthier’s Round Table

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Luthier’s Round Table

Industry News 40

Fender American Original Series

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Fender American Professional Series

We were treated to a firsthand look at the newest series of USA-made guitars and basses from Fender

When the most iconic American-made line of basses (and guitars) gets a design makeover, you know it’s going to be a big story.

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2018 Winter NAMM Show Awards

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2017 Summer NAMM Show Awards

We bring you the best of the best – the Bass Gear Magazine 2018 Winter NAMM Best of Show Award winners We bring you the best of the best – the Bass Gear Magazine 2017 Summer NAMM Best of Show Award winners

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Luthiers’ Round Table

This last year has been a pretty wild ride. Check out Bass Gear Magazine’s digital evolution. I had the pleasure of speaking with this bass legend – a man who at 73 years young refuses to show any signs of slowing down the pace How to set up instruments when customer leave shop, and what tools/instructions provide with regard to adjusting the setup after they receive the instrument?

What considerations do you give to the scale length(s) of your basses? What scale length(s) do you prefer to use, and why?


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COLUMN

“Back Flip”

How I See It Tom Bowlus, Editor-in-Chief

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his last year has been a pretty wild ride. Redoing a website is a significant task, and I am sure many of you can relate to the extent of the endeavor. I thought I knew what I was in for, but as is often the case, doing something “right” involves a good bit more time and effort than what you may have originally planned.

The changes for Bass Gear Magazine went well beyond just a website makeover, though. The decision to drop the print edition was difficult, but inevitable, as 99% of our readers were already digital, and in addition to the disproportionate costs associated with offering a print edition, the “issue-based” format was a limitation, in and of itself. The freedom to publish reviews/articles as they were complete was a very welcome change – and one which we are just beginning to fully take advantage of. The digital formats can do so much more than print – especially in terms of audio and video – so there is much to be gained by embracing the digital format. We have plans in the works to take greater advantage of these capabilities. Many of our readers and industry partners embraced these changes, but as with all change, there is a sense of loss and nostalgia associated with the former state. One of the nice aspects of the issue format is the “packaging,” itself. Yes, it’s nice to get content out more quickly, and yes, with our increasingly short attention spans, many people do find smaller snippets easier to digest. But there is also something rewarding about sitting down with a collection of related stories and reviews and spending some “quality time.” In addition, one side effect of our constant battle against inevitable entropy is the subconscious inner peace associated with organizational structures.

With this in mind, I am happy to say that we are moving on to our next phase in Bass Gear Magazine’s digital evolution, the (re)introduction of the flipbook! Truth be told, when BGM was first born, it was envisioned as a digital-only flipbook, but once we started laying things out – with all the photos and graphs – work itself seemed to scream for a print edition. When I made the decision to go all-digital, I knew I wanted to eventually incorporate a flipbook, but I knew it had to be rebuilt from scratch, as our former flipbook was actually hosted by the company that printed the magazine, using the same file used to lay out the print edition. So, in addition to the more frequent flow of individual articles/reviews, in addition to the email newsletter and podcast, and in addition to the (eventual) database of past articles/reviews to be found at www.bassgearmag.com, you will also be able to read quarterly “issues” once again, via our new flipbook format. This was part of the plan from the get go with the website makeover, and I am happy to bring back the flip. The possibilities with the new website and the all-digital format are not endless, but functionally, they may as well be. We have been working behind the scenes on a lot of ideas which we hope you will like, so stick with us! We have a lot more to come! That’s how I see it. Take care, Tom.


BGM Staff and Info

EDITOR IN CHIEF

Tom Bowlus

tom@bassgearmag.com

TECHNICAL EDITORS

Phil Maneri Dan Kropp

phil@fretshop.com dan@bassgearmag.com

ADVERTISING DIRECTOR

Sean Fairchild

sean@bassgearmag.com

STAFF REVIEWERS

Vic Serbe Sean Fairchild Cory Chamberlain Jacob Schmidt Alan Loshbaugh Lee Louie Chris Cavera Lonnie NaVeau

vic@bassgearmag.com sean@bassgearmag.com cory@bassgearmag.com

BGM online Resources Our Website: www.bassgearmag.com

Subscribe: Free Subscriptions/Newsletter Bass Gear Premium ($10.00/year)

Podcasts: https://www.bassgearmag.com/category/ media/podcasts/

ccavera@terra.edu

STAFF CONTRIBUTORS Chris Fitzgerald bassfitzgerald@yahoo.com Mike Czeezele mczeezele@terra.edu John Cipiti jcipiti@terra.edu David Ellefson Editorial inquiries or review product shipping: Bass Gear Magazine 207 N. Park Ave. Fremont, OH 43420 USA +1 419-307-2674 Advertising inquiries should be directed to: sean@bassgearmag.com +1 708-7400-BGM Publishing and reprints office: Bass Gear Magazine 207 N. Park Ave. Fremont, OH 43420 USA +1 419-307-2674 Back issues (hard copy magazines & digital magazines): https://www.bassgearmag.com/product-category/hard-copy-magazine/ https://www.bassgearmag.com/product-category/digital-magazine-downloads/ Bass Gear merchandise https://www.bassgearmag.com/product-category/merchandise/

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All material published in Bass Gear Magazine is copyrighted ©2017 ©2018 by Bass Gear Magazine, Ltd.

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BASSIC REVIEW

Honey Badger Pickups – Heavy Hitters By Sean Fairchild

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A Different Beast SOs abound. Since the early 1950s, the instrumental landscape for the electric guitarist and bassist has been dominated by that most familiar and perhaps questionably venerable equipmental homage: the omnipresent Fender-Shaped Object. Fender’s huge success in the electric guitar and bass arena had brand upon brand racing to bring similar products to market –including parts and accessories manufacturers.

Many companies since then have waded into the muddied waters of Fender-style pickup creation and recreation, and a subset of them have done it very well. But the pioneers in this field often go less noticed and underappreciated, offering something a bit less familiar and, well, FSO-like. Honey Badger Pickups is one such company.

an active circuit’s involvement, without the need for any such processing to achieve it (but being highly responsive to active tone shaping, as well). Being local to Honey Badger, I was able to pick up my set of Heavy Hitters in person and tour the shop. Rod brims with the excitement and energy of someone truly passionate about what they’re involved in, which I find to be an excellent indicator, in general. Having begun in the industry by building instruments under the Regenerate Guitar Works moniker (and continuing to do so), he soon realized a need to spin off the highly-desired pickups he was winding and installing in his axes into a wholly separate company to better meet the needs of interested builders and tone seekers, alike. While I’m at HB HQ, we

The Company Line Rod Banach and Marc Miller – with help from other associates – have chosen the road less traveled. Although Honey Badger does offer Fender-style and vintage-wound pickups in its catalog, the mission statement of the rural Washington state operation boils down to the use of many of the traditional methods and materials that were available to Leo and other builders of the last half century, but combining them in innovative ways to create something new and different. Their goal was to create a pickup that inherently sounded as if subtlety EQ’d through an active system, while simply in its natural, passive state. They considered success to amount to the listener’s perception of a full-range, modern tone, displaying the hallmarks of

talk about ceramic vs. AlNiCo vs. neodymium magnets; we talk about harmonics, headstock angles and neck profiles, pickup coil structures, foil stamping plastic covers and laser engraving wooden ones. In short, we geek out, big time. I’m sent home with the 6-string pair of Heavy Hitters that I will demo in one of my basses for the next several months.


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MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

A Real Contender

Tone Poem

he Heavy Hitter is a perfect microcosm of the Honey Badger ethos and approach. The concept may sound somewhat familiar, but quickly differs from other similar target statements: to create a modern voiced, hum-free, super Jazz Bass style pickup, while taking advantage of the increased space a soapbar’s shell allows. Each is comprised of two coils of relatively standard gauged wire per pickup, in an inline, split-coil configuration, with magnetic AlNiCo V pole pieces, and a vaguely cardboard-like bobbin. But that’s where the similarities to other offerings end. They wear removable Bartolini P2/P4 or EMG-shaped plastic or wooden covers, and the pole pieces are much larger in diameter than a standard Jazz Bass pickup’s and are centered under each string – similar to a MusicMan configuration. The coils differ, too; they are wound in such a way as to provide more depth from the lower strings and more brilliance from the higher ones (compared to your typical split-coil humbucker), providing what I would classify as a full-range tone, while actually still attaining a bit of the upper-mid “quack” that pure single-coil J-Bass pickups are known for. Going one step beyond, separate coil and magnet ground leads are provided, in case you may want to connect one to common ground and another to an isolated ground – such as is done with an Audere preamp.

The Heavy Hitters deliver on their promise – they reproduce nearly the whole portion of the frequency spectrum you’d want them to, and do so without a great need for additional EQ-ing – while perhaps being slightly more conservative in the very high end than a modern-sounding single-coil or active humbucking soapbar. But the mids are where they truly shine! Our ears are most sensitive to midrange frequencies, and that’s generally where our perception of tone and timbre lies. The Heavy Hitters are not scooped, nor are they mid-forward; I’d describe them as mid-present and well-balanced.

The physical construction of each pickup is well thoughtout and executed, and the leads are smartly routed through channels in the bobbin substrate that deflect any undue tension or torqueing that could lead to a very sad post-installation experience. I feel a little more secure with sealed, single-unit pickups, but using removable covers over accessible coils – apart from being a nice nod to tradition – does allow for cover changes and potential alterations (closed or exposed pole pieces for example), as well as the possibility of some repair or extra shielding of the coils. One small gripe I had with my set is that the pickup screw channels on the bridge position pickup cover (2 per pickup) were removed out of necessity, due to that pickup’s coils needing to be wider than the channels allowed to accommodate proper string spacing. This made it difficult and a little frustrating to guide the pickup mounting screws into their holes in the pickup routs. I imagine that my experience was exacerbated by the fact that the bass I installed the HHs into uses threaded inserts and machine screws for this purpose; standard wood screws with a pointed tip may have been easier to probe for their respective cavities. But for some reason, even the neck pickup, with its screw channels intact, proved difficult to get settled into place. I wonder if the sourced covers use a slightly different screw placement than either the standard Bartolini shapes they’re modeled after, or the shape that my particular bass uses?

To arrive at a mental approximation of their tonal properties, first imagine a pair of evenly blended, vintage Jazz Bass single coils. Substitute in the immediacy and punch of a StingRay’s centered pole pieces for the faded response of the typical dual, offset magnets Jazz Bass pickups. Fill in the iconic J-Bass low-mid scoop and extend the lows. Add more depth and body to the upper mids, but increase the clarity and overtone series of the highs. Now, simply remove any trace of hum or buzz as you vary the volumes of either of the two pickups in this equation, and you should be in the general ballpark.

To demonstrate this, I’ve created a demo video comparing the true single-coil mode of the dual-coil Delano SBC 6 HE/S – which is a very close approximation of a typical Jazz Bass single-coil, in my opinion – to the Honey Badger Heavy Hitters. You’ll note immediately that the output of the HHs is hotter than the Delanos, as you would expect from series-wired split coils with more wire packed inside their housing. I play examples with a pick, fingers, and slapping, all with various pickup blend and EQ permutations to hopefully provide a good understanding of how these pickups react in a specific instrument, with a specific player. The recording was all done direct, with absolutely no post processing or compression applied.

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BASSIC REVIEW

Honey Badger Don’t Care Honey Badger unapologetically does what they do, and they do it well. If you’re looking for a completely custom pickup tailor, there may be outfits that will suit you better. But if you’re someone who enjoys a more modern tonality from your instruments, with a bit more depth and mid presence than single coils typically provide, but a more focused and clear sound than humbucking soapbars often present, Honey Badger Heavy Hitters may be for you. And if you’re looking for vintage, period-correct, cloth covered wire Jazz Bass replicas … well, you’re probably not looking at anything in a soapbar shape! But you may want to take a look at Honey Badger’s vintage offerings while you’re FSO shopping. Honey Badger’s lineup also includes the de riguer P, J, and P/J set offerings, as well as split-coil Js with modern and vintage windings, the massive TFD (a soapbar take on a souped-up single coil), and the FRS dual coil (a dual-coil take on the TFD wind, offering a “full response structure” with more full, modern tone). They’re able to accommodate a number of customization requests, including full internal shielding, different string spacings, closed or open covers, and more. Visit Honey Badger online for more information at www. honeybadgerpickups.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oomaPoXYeqE

Manufacturer: Honey Badger Pickups Website: www.honeybadgerpickups.com Model: Heavy Hitters Made in: USA Pickup housings: Bartolini P2/P4 or EMG DC size Magnet material: AlNiCo V Options: Wood covers, customizable string spacing, copper coil shielding and other options available Price: $215/$255/$275 (4/5/6 string) per pickup


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BASSIC REVIEW

Fender Mod Shop By Tom Bowlus

A Mod-ern Approach

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arly on in their career, many bass players make the realization that theyr are “a Jazz Bass guy/ gal,” or perhaps a “Precision Bass guy/gal.” Heck, some might even flip-flop between the two a bit. But sooner or later, most players come to that moment when they really understand that “Leo got it right.” The legendary tones of both the Jazz Bass and Precision Bass have stood the test of time for good reason, and most players find themselves gravitating towards one or the other. Not long after this personal realization begins the quest for the “perfect Jazz Bass” or the “perfect Precision Bass.” One of the earlier decisions is often the choice between alder body with a rosewood fingerboard, or ash body with a maple board (the two “classic” combinations). In addition, players may find themselves preferring certain neck profiles over others. Subtle variations in pickup choices can quickly lead to obsessive behavior, and of course, everyone has their favorite colors/finishes. Until recently, finding your ideal Fender bass involved visiting every music store within a reasonable driving distance, or scouring the web for just the right combinations of features. With the introduction of the Mod Shop last year, the search has changed dramatically.

Power to the People Fender’s expansive list of A-list endorsed artists have long been able to request instruments outfitted to their particular desires, and of course, the Custom Shop is available

for those with the desire (and funds) to work directly with a master luthier and dream up a custom, playable work of art. The Mod Shop brings the power to custom-order a USA-made Fender to the masses – and does so at a reasonable price. Amazingly, Fender can even ship these custom-spec’d instruments within 30 days of placing your order. That is quite impressive! To get started, head on over to http://shop.fender.com/ en-US/mod-shop/ and pick your weapon of choice (Precision Bass or Jazz Bass – Stratocaster or Telecaster, if you prefer skinny strings…). Fender currently provides you with fourteen different body colors to choose from, and your choice of body color will dictate which body wood (ash or alder) is used. For the neck shape, players can choose the American Standard modern “C” profile, or they can opt for the new “C-to-D” neck shape, which features a modern “C” shape and the nut, which morphs to a modern “D” shape at the heel. Both neck options feature a 9.5” radius to the fingerboard. Speaking of the fingerboard, the next choice is that of maple or rosewood (which comes with a minor upcharge of $50 over maple). The choice of pickguard material is a strong esthetic choice, and I love the ability to see an accurate visualization of how the different pickguards would look with the varying body color and fingerboard options. The six pickguard choices – 1-ply Gold Anodized, 4-ply Tortoise Shell, 3-ply Mint Green, 3-ply Parchment, 3-ply Black, or 4-ply Aged White Pearl – cover a nice range of classic looks. The most technical choice to be made is that of the pickups. Each bass offers three different pickups to choose


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

from. For the Precision bass, the choices are the American Series Precision Bass, Pure Vintage ’58 P-Bass or the Pure Vintage ’63 P-Bass pickups. For the Jazz Bass, the pickup choices are the American Series Jazz Bass, Vintage ’64 Jazz Bass, or the 4th Gen Noiseless pickups. The tuning machines and bridge (which allows for either string-through-body or top-load stringing) are shared with the American Standard line (and will soon transition to the hardware from the American Professional line), and the basses ship with an ABS molded case (in black), fitted to each body style.

My Mod Shop Order When Fender offered me an opportunity to dial up a Mod Shop bass for review, I struggled with the same questions most players would face: Precision or Jazz?; what body/neck woods?; what pickups?; etc. In the end, I ordered an alder/rosewood Jazz Bass, with the American Standard neck profile. For the pickups, I opted for the 4th Gen Noiseless pickups, based in large part upon how great the 4th Gen Noiseless pickups sounded in the Fender Elite Jazz Bass 5 we reviewed a few issues back. For the esthetics, I opted for a Lake Placid Blue body, and the 4-ply Aged White Pearl pickguard. As I cycled through all of the choices on Fender’s Mod Shop page, I could see an immediate representation of what these choices would look like in the finished bass. You can even click and drag on the image to see it from different angles. This was very helpful. It also keeps a running tab of the price of your build, based upon the current choices. Once I had my “dream bass” picked out, I could print off the details of my order, share my build (via email, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest), post a snapshot to the public Gallery (which is a cool place to peruse other builds and gain insight/inspiration), add this build to my favorites, or add it to my cart. Once you formally place your order, it is in the pipeline at Fender’s manufacturing facility in Corona, California, where all the USA Fender instruments are produced (this is also the same location as their Custom Shop).

The Bass Arrives True to their word, Fender shipped my Mod Shop bass within 30 days of order, and it arrived in great shape. The bass itself turned out to be even better-looking in person. I heavily recommend the Aged White Pearl pickguard on a Lake Place Blue body. Sexy! Right out of the box, it played as good as it looked, and it had a strong, clear acoustic tone (always a good sign). The fit and finish is excellent. As we have pointed out in other recent reviews, the current Fender USA basses are as good as they have ever built them, and I am happy to say that the level of consistency from instrument to instrument seems to be quite high, as well. The “Fender Mod Shop” engraving on the metal heel plate is a nice touch. Three hours after the bass arrived, I was playing it at band practice, and it just nailed the expected alder/rosewood J-bass tone. The 4th Gen pickups sound very much like a “generic ‘good vintage’ tone” – they don’t seem to really invoke any one

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BASSIC REVIEW particular era, but they do have a vintage vibe to them. Clarity is excellent, especially when playing softer, but you can definitely get them to growl a bit when you dig in. The bass was set up with the Fender NPS roundwound strings running through the body, and the action was set “medium-low” (which is right where I like it). The “out of the box and into action” experience was highly rewarding, and just what you would hope for. The ABS shell case is similar to (though slightly different from) the cases used for the American Professional series. Inside, Fender provides lots of goodies, such as a Fender-brand strap, polishing cloth and instrument cable, in addition to the truss rod tool, Allen wrench (for bridge saddle adjustment), key for the case lock and other documentation.

New Additions Not satisfied to leave things alone, Fender has recently announced several additional configuration choices coming to the Mod Shop. The “spring” additions (now available) include three new body color choices (Desert Sand, Natural, Amber), two new pickguard materials (Green Pearl, Brown Anodized), and the Mod Shop exclusive C-to-D 9.5” fingerboard radius. This summer, we get four additional body color options (Aged Cherry Sunburst, Skyburst Metallic, Ocean Turquoise, Satin Black) a new ’74 Jazz Bass neck shape, and ’74 Jazz Bass pickups. As previously mentioned, the American Standard features on Mod Shop instruments will transition to the American Professional series, but any American Elite options will stay.

The Bottom Line You can call off the epic music store road trip – you know, the one where you hit every known Fender dealer with basses in stock, so that you could find the one with just the right options/ features. Fender has you covered. Just head over to the Mod Shop, build your dream bass, and place your order. Thirty days later, you will have your American-made, custom factory order bass in your hands, which is definitely epic in its own way.


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

Manufacturer: Fender

Website: www.fender.com

Model: Mod Shop Jazz Bass

Made In: USA

Body: Alder Color: Lake Placid Blue

Body Finish: Gloss polyurethane Neck: Maple

Neck Shape: American Standard (“Modern C”)

Neck Finish: Gloss urethane front, satin urethane back

Fingerboard: Rosewood

Bridge: HiMass Vintage

Tuners: Fender American Standard, vintage-paddle keys, with fluted shaft Pickup: 4th Generation Noiseless

Preamp: n/a

Controls: Volume, Volume, Tone

Pickguard: 4-ply Aged White Pearl

Scale Length: 34”

Weight: 9.4 lbs

Number of Frets/Positions: 20 Strings: Fender 7250M, NPS (.045-.125)

Fingerboard Radius: 9.5” Accessories: ABS molded hardshell case

Options: Numerous

Price: $1,899.99

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FULL REVIEW

By Vic Serbe

“Bi

The BOSS GT-1B Bass The Company Line

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oland Corporation has been around since 1972 – initially making rhythm machines – and creates products under the V-MODA brand and the BOSS brand. V-MODA makes popular high-performance audio headphones and now Bluetooth speakers, and BOSS makes high-quality guitar and bass effects boxes and other small utility boxes (such as tuners and metronomes). The first BOSS-branded product and the first appearance of the “BOSS” logo was on a product called the “B-100 The Boss.” This was a pickup and preamp combo package for acoustic guitar players to allow them to “go electric.” The first BOSS-branded pedal was the CE-1 Chorus Ensemble in 1976. Throughout the years, under the BOSS name, they’ve made several great individual effects boxes we’re all familiar with, including multi-effects pedals (the “ME” series), and most recently amps and cabinets. In 2011, they came out with the higher-end multi-effects units called the GT-10 (and 10B for bass), to be followed a year later by the GT-100 (they never came out with a 100B for bass – more on this, below). Fast-forward to September 2016, where they released the newer GT-1, and in June 2017, the GT-1B for bass. Both the newer GT-series products were designed with a focus on compactness, which means they’re much smaller than the original GT models – they will actually fit in the pouch of your typical bass gig bag! This compact size does mean that the GT-1B comes equipped with a smaller display, fewer


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

ig Soundscape, Small Footprint”

s Multi-Effects Pedal pedals, buttons, direct access controls and connections, than the GT-10B. However, the addition of the effects direct access buttons do make navigating the unit much easier than the older and bigger GT-10B. The GT-10 series has been discontinued, but the GT-100 is still available today as the big brother to the GT-1. Remember that GT-100B which never came to be? Well, in a way, it lives on in the GT-1B, since the processing in the newer GT’s is based off of the GT-100 (the GT-10 and GT10B were previous tech designs). This means that the GT-1B received a revamp of all the amp and effects models, so that it would be up to date with BOSS’s most current standards. We were sufficiently wowed by the GT-1B at the 2017 Summer NAMM Show to award BOSS a Bass Gear Magazine Best of Show Award. In fact, you can find a quick video demonstration of the BG-1B from Summer NAMM here: https://youtu.be/opS-0QDfGVc Needless to say, we were excited about the opportunity to spend more time with this pedal, and BOSS agreed to send us one for review.

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FULL REVIEW

Digging into the Details

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on’t let the size or price fool you. This is a well-outfitted multi-effects processor. It includes 90 unique effects, including 13 different preamp types, which are all specially tuned for bass, and even a 32-second looper. It also has a built-in tuner. It has various buttons and alpha wheels on the face panel for selecting functions and editing patches, as well as one built-in expression pedal and three footswitches. One footswitch is a Control function and two others for accessing patches. If you combine the “patch” footswitches, they bring up the tuner. If you combine the Control and nearest patch footswitch, that accesses the looper. The footswitches are lit by a border around the pedal that turns from blue (default) to red when pressed, or in the case of the Control switch, latches to red, then back to blue on the next press. There is also an LED indicator when the footpedal has an effect assigned to it for a given patch (such as wah or pitch bend). The external inputs include instrument input, 1/8” aux input (for external audio source), 1/8” headphone jack, an external controller/ expression pedal input, and power for the optional wall wart. The outputs are 1/4” outputs for “R” and “L/Mono.” It also has a USB connection which serves several functions. When you plug the GT-1B into a computer, it becomes a new audio input/output device. Drivers are available for download, but if you have Windows 10, it’s already supported – so for me, it was plug-and-play. This is also how the Tone Studio software (discussed later in this review) accesses the unit. The processing layout is an effects chain of nine processing blocks that can be rearranged and individually edited. There is also a “Master Setting” block, though it always has to be last. The Master Setting block controls things like overall patch level, bpm, key signature for the harmonizer, and a master EQ. The blocks that can be rearranged are FX1, FX2, PDL (pedal effects), OD (overdrive/distortion), PrA (preamp), NS (noise suppressor), FV (foot volume), DLY (delay), and REV (reverb). Just a little bit more on those blocks: • FX1/FX2 is where you’ll find EQs, various tone enhancers, synthesizers, harmonizers, octavers, chorus, phase, flange, wah, and others, including a bass simulator, which attempts to make an active bass sound passive, or vice versa, as well as emulating different pickup types. • PDL controls the pedal’s interaction with wah and pitch bend effects (most of the time, the pedal is a volume control).

• OD is where you’ll find all the overdrive, distortion, and fuzz effects. • PrA is where you’ll find the amp and cabinet modeling, including several popular amp brands, and speaker cabinet types (though not specific brands on that one). The speaker types are generalized to 1x15, 1x18, 4x10, etc. There are also “guitar” preamp types, which also alter speaker type choices. • NS is the noise suppressor, basic controls, threshold, release, and detection point (main input, NS input (further down in the chain), and FV output). • FV sets the volume parameters for the pedal when it’s being used as a volume control (min/max, etc.). • DLY is where you’ll find the various delay and echo types including an emulated tape delay. • REV is where you’ll find various reverbs such as plate, halls, and some with effects applied such as panning and modulated. Just keep in mind, the synthesized effects (synth, octaver, harmonizer) are all monophonic, so be careful popping harmonics and avoid chords or double-stops (including octaves) when using these effects. This should be nothing new to those familiar with those effect types, however. There are three control functions (one button on the unit and up to two more via optional external footswtiches) as well as support for an optional external expression pedal. The external controls or pedal are all connected via the same jack, so choices have to be made there. By default, BOSS expects you to run the GT-1B off four AA/LR6 batteries, since the unit does not come with the power supply (Roland PSA-120S). Claimed battery power is about seven hours of continuous use. I like the idea of eliminating a power cord from front of stage, but prefer to use rechargeable batteries as much as possible. The manual does not address the use of rechargeable batteries, so I asked BOSS directly. Here is their response:

“ There’s not a problem physically, but the specs are based on alkaline batteries, so results may vary with the amount of time the unit will operate before the batteries die (probably less than the alkaline spec).”


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

The GT-1B features “Easy” Select or Edit buttons, but using them requires you also have access to the alpha wheels, so this is not going to be a stage function. This is more for when it’s sitting on a table, or maybe a stand next to you. The Select allows you to pick by genre of music, or general effected sound type. The Edit function allows you to pick effects by general sound type, like tone shaping, “vibes” (chorus, flange, etc), or echo (reverb). In Easy Edit mode, the first alpha wheel does tone shaping, the second adjusts the “vibes,” and the third adjusts the “echo.” Otherwise, editing is accomplished by using the various direct effect access buttons, the alpha wheels, and the menu, memory edit, write/exit/enter buttons. I found it surprisingly easy to move around and make changes, but I still vastly prefer the computer software method for that work. Speaking of which…

The BOSS “Tone Studio” Software On the surface, moving to a smaller footprint and having to compromise on editing convenience as a result, may seem like a big hit (despite the help of the “easy edit” capabilities). However, these days, most people don’t do most of that work directly on the unit, so it really depends on how well the computer-based editing software works. The BOSS Tone Studio software works easily and intuitively, making editing a snap. It also has built-in support for connecting to Tone Central, where “LiveSets” (patch banks) can be downloaded or shared with the rest of the GT-1/1B community. It also contains a built-in librarian, so you can build your own LiveSets and save them to your computer whether you share them at Tone Central or not.

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As of the writing of this article, two LiveSets were available. One was the “Progressive Soul Collection by Dominic Cabusi,” and the other is the “Rock Bass by Felipe Andreoli.” I played with both, and they’re quite good, as well as useful as references for building your own. You’ll find these at http://bosstonecentral.com/liveset/category/gt-1b/. As mentioned earlier, when you plug the GT-1B into the computer, it becomes a new audio input/output device. I bring it up here because you can use it as a powerful practice tool by connecting headphones to it, selecting it as your audio output device for the computer, and then playing audio tracks on the computer to practice along with. It even brings up the tuner on screen if you click it, so you can leave it all on the floor and do all your work on the computer … including switching patches and even tweaking them on the fly, as needed. The software also supports importing WAV files to play along with, including pitch controls and looping, but I already have software on the computer that does all that, so I stick with those. Those who don’t may find this useful, though.

On The Stage The power of this unit lies in its compact size and the ability to run off of batteries. The size is great. Your mileage may vary, but I was able to throw it in my gig bag without too much trouble. I was not able to do a battery life test with rechargeables, but if alkaline life is around seven hours, I’m sure rechargeables would last at least half of a typical show, if not maybe even a full one. This means that unless you need some outboard stuff, you need no pedalboard at all. Just the GT-1B, your instrument cord, and another cord back to your amp (or the mixer) and you’re done. That’s clean; I like that. The buttons are robust/sturdy, easy to hit, and well-lit. The footpedal, while small, is also easy to use. For a multi-effects unit, I generally prefer at least some direct patch access footswitches, but there’s just not enough real estate for that on a unit this size, so it’s all about organizing a group of your favorite general patches close to each other so you can go up and down and get to them without too many clicks. Otherwise, you can pre-program for designated set-lists – but our band often strays from set lists if we read the crowd and need to start calling audibles. The processing is really impressive, and very powerful. The overdrive/distortion/fuzz functions work very well, and


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FULL REVIEW have low-pass and blending options to keep the bass dynamic during the effect. The delays, reverbs, flangers, chorus, and phasers are all clean and sweet. The synthesized stuff (harmonizer, octaver, synth) are good, but I wasn’t blown away by them. I use those effects sparingly, anyway, as I have to be careful to play very purely without multiple notes in play (overlap, chording, harmonic stacks, etc.) to keep them clean. Especially with the octaver, you have to watch your range, depending on if it’s an up or a down. I can’t attest to how “faithful” the amp and cab modelling are, but at the very least, they’re really useful as global tonal profiles to work within – so they still do what they say they do, at least in a more general sense. The patches that come with the unit sound very good to me, and while very usable “out of the box,” I still found myself tweaking each one a little bit. Sometimes the sound they were going for was a bit too “effected,” but that’s purely subjective. Some of the really interesting sounds – which are more like “special effects” than they are “musical effects” (at least to my ear) – were more extreme than I am likely to use live, but they’re good examples of just how much this unit can do with a simple input signal. Besides, while all the preloaded patches are designed to be useful, they’re also intended to be thought-provoking as starting points. From a flexibility standpoint, with all the controls, adjustments, assignments, and connections, this little box is very impressive. Used with or without outboard devices, it’s capable of an astonishing array of processing options for your signal chain. It’s impossible for me to imagine any style of music, or even avant garde “musical art,” where this unit wouldn’t have something to offer. However, the one thing I really would like to see on a device like this is an XLR DI output. There seems to be enough space for one. I imagine a transformer-isolated DI would be too expensive for this unit’s price point, but at least one with a ground lift would be nice. For more general information on this product, see https://www.boss.info/us/products/gt-1b/.

The Bottom Line For a highly compact, yet powerful multi-effects unit at a very affordable price, it’s hard to imagine a product done better. I do wish it had an XLR DI and a separate on/off switch, but given the small form factor, you have to give up some things. While the effects in these units won’t replace high-end studio outboard gear, they’re absolutely worthy for live performance, as well as recording. There are a few comparable products out there, but the GT-1B is excellent, and should warrant a trial before you decide. BOSS has a long, rich history in this kind of technology based on artist input and technological advances over the years, and all that is reflected in this unit.


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

CONDITIONS

GENERAL

Acquired from: Dates: Locales: Test Gear:

Company:

Roland/ BOSS Fall 2017 Central Illinois GK Neo112-II, TecAmp Puma 900, Skjold Pro Series 5, Sadowsky Jazz 5, Fender Elite Jazz, Fibenare Globe 5

IN-HAND SUBJECTIVE SCORING Features: 5 Tonal Flexibility: 5 Ease of Use: 3 Aesthetics: 4 Ergonomics: 3 Tone: 4 Value: 5

Country of Origin: Year of Origin: Warranty: List Price: Street Price: Available Options:

In-hand SCORE

4.14 average

SONIC PROFILE: Low: Big and rich Mids: Full and even Highs: Crisp and clean

Inputs:

Outputs: Controls:

Overall Tone Profile: This device is designed specifically to cover a broad range of tonal needs for special and more traditional effects. It can be used with any style or form of music effectively.

Other Features:

Power: Dimensions: Weight:

Roland Corporation U.S. 5100 S. Eastern Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90040-2938 Phone: 323-890-3700 Roland Web: www.roland.com BOSS Web: www.boss.info China 2017 1 year parts, 90 days labor $276.50 $199.99 BOSS Tone Studio software (free download) Roland PSA-120S power supply ($29.99) Roland FS-5U ($29.99), FS-5L ($29.99), FS-6 ($59.99), FS-7 ($54.99) footswitches Roland EV-5 ($59.99), EV-30 ($99.99), FV500L/500H ($109.99) expression pedals ¼” input (mono), 1/8” aux in (stereo), CTL2/3/ EXP2 ¼” external controller input jack (stereo/ TRS), DC power, USB two ¼” jacks (left/mono, right), 1/8” headphone jack (stereo) On-board expression pedal Up/Down footswitches (combine for tuner access) CTL1 footswitch (combine with Up footswitch for looper access) “Easy” Select and Edit buttons Select buttons for FX1/Limiter, OD/DS, Preamp, FX2/Mod, Delay, and Reverb Memory Edit button Write Enter/Exit buttons Menu button Alpha wheels 1, 2, and 3 132x32 dot backlit LCD display 99 Factory Presets 99 User Presets Amp and cabinet modeling Mute/Tuner 24-bit D/A conversion 44.1kHz sampling frequency 32-second looper 4xAA (LR6), alkaline recommended or Roland PSA120S (sold separately) 305mm (W) x 152mm (D) x 74mm (H) or 121/16” (W) x 6” (D) x 2-15/16” (H) 2.9lbs /1.3kg

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FULL REVIEW

“Midwest Magic”

Drake Guitars M7 and BG5 Bass Guitars By Tom Bowlus

The Company Line

O

ne of the best things that can happen to a gear reviewer is to come across something with which you have zero experience, and absolutely no expectations, and then to have your world totally rocked. This is exactly what happened when I unboxed the first bass sent to us for review by Andrew Drake. I had seen some photos of his basses online, and they looked very compelling. So, I asked him about the possibility of sending us one for review. We decided on a solid-body 4-string bass, and not long thereafter, Andrew offered to send us a 5-string semi-hollow-body – to show a bit of the variety he has to offer. Fine by me! Andrew is based in Nevada, Iowa, and he has been building since 2005. He started Drake Custom Bass in 2010, and each instrument is one-of-a-kind, entirely built by hand. With these types of builds, the quality of the woods/components and – more importantly – the skill of the luthier are of paramount importance. I am happy to say that Drake Custom Bass delivers mightily in both regards.

A Solid Start

Back in 2015, when Andrew and I first started talking about building a review bass, he asked me to look

through his gallery of builds and pick a body style which I thought would be good for a review. This is, of course, like sending the kid with a sweet tooth into the candy store, and telling him to pick just one piece of candy. I was amazed by the variety of styles represented by his builds to date, but I kept coming back to his “Model 7” basses. The “rounded hook” of the upper horn diverges sharply from the deep-cut, thinner spur of the lower horn, but with the more symmetrical round curves of the upper and lower bouts, it all just works very well together. The headstock has some great lines of its own. This particular model struck me as “unique, but accessible” (in a stylistic sense), so I thought it would be a good one to feature in a review. Most of Andrew’s Model 7 builds up to this point had been bolt-on necks, and he decided to make this one a deep setneck instrument. After some discussion of tone woods, we decided on a mahogany body, with a maple neck and an ebony board. In my experience, this is a great recipe for a full-bodied, evenly balanced instrument, with both punch and clarity. Andrew found a fantastic piece of mahogany (this is a one-piece body), with great figuring and an attractive weight. He then topped it with a gorgeous quilted western maple top. A thin, darker band of wood (Italian poplar that has been dyed black) separates the two, and adds a nice touch of elegance. The neck is a pretty special piece of wood, itself. It is quarter-sawn flamed maple, and it has been roasted (or “tempered”). It is definitely gorgeous, but Andrew claims that the tempered woods not only sound better, they also tend to be more stable. Just to be sure, though, he also throws in two carbon fiber bars (and a dual-action truss rod). The fingerboard is nice slab of Macassar ebony, fitted with smallish, stainless steel frets. Andrew has become a big fan of 33” scale necks, and as such, we both thought that would be a great choice for this build. The headstock really shows off the class and abilities this luthier has to offer. The top of the headstock is capped in


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

more of the Macassar ebony (with an ebony truss rod cover), and the back of the headstock matches the body, with a thin layer of the dyed Italian poplar and then capped with matching mahogany. Both the body and the neck are finished with non-tinted urethane, and the look and feel is just amazing. Andrew makes his own nut blanks, and both basses in for review feature nuts made of Black TUSQ, from Graphtech (though he sometimes also uses, bone, antler, or brass). Andrew offers a wide variety of options for pickups and electronics, and I generally prefer to trust the luthier’s instincts. His solution for this bass was a pair of Aguilar® DCB® (“dual ceramic bar”) soapbar pickups, mated to an EMG BQC, which is a three-band, active-only system, with a sweepable midrange frequency. The controls are set up: volume, (active) blend, bass/treble stack, and midrange stack (sweep and boost/cut). The remainder of the hardware involves a Hipshot® A-style bridge, Hipshot Ultralite™ tuners – with a Bass Xtender (de-tuner) on the E string – and Dunlop Dual Design Straploks®. I really love the Dual Designs, as they will accommodate a regular strap, if you don’t have your strap with the Straploks on hand.

The Initial Experience On paper, this bass was sounding pretty good, and the various “in progress” shots that Andrew was sending me definitely had my hopes up fairly high. I have been fortunate enough to have played a variety of fine instruments from a variety of smaller (as well as very well-established) builders, so I felt like I had set reasonably accurate expectations for what I would pull out of the box when this bass finally arrived. First up, I was happy to see that it shipped with a very nice Mono Vertigo™ gig bag (one of my favorites, for sure!). But once I pulled the bass, itself, out of the gig bag, I have to admit to being “dumb struck” for a little bit. The esthetic appeal of this bass just leaps out at you, and I was almost afraid to play it – fearing that its feel and playability would fall short of its killer looks. As it turns out, it played every bit as good as it looked, and I instantly connected with the “thin, but sturdy” shape of the neck and its satiny feel.

The unamplified tone of an instrument is an important litmus test, in my experience. Basses which don’t have much acoustic volume, or which sound either very bright or very dull (unamplified) usually need to lean on their on-board electronics or the tone stack on your bass rig to bring them to life. Conversely, I have found that instruments which have decent acoustic volume, and noticeable resonance on both the lower and higher notes (while unplugged) tend to not need much adjustment in order to “speak” properly. This bass has more acoustic volume than I have heard in most solid-body basses, and the acoustic tone is nicely balanced. A good sign, for sure! That deep, quilted maple top is certainly gorgeous, but the beauty doesn’t end when you flip it over. The one-piece mahogany body has great figuring, and the curves surrounding the neck joint are flat-out sexy. One of Andrew’s trademark features is the magnetic control cavity cover. Pressing down on the corner closest to the tail of the bass pops up the further edge of the cover, making it easy to remove. The magnets hold it firmly in place, otherwise. The control cavity, itself, is a thing of foil-lined beauty, with neat wiring and no “slop” to be seen. The words “world class” kept running through my head as I checked out this bass, and I got to wondering where this guy picked up his mad skills. So I asked him:

“ I really have no formal training on bass building. I was always a tinkerer and I always liked bass instruments. I did not start really playing until I was 20 years old. My first bass was an old Squire, and I was never really happy with how it played. As a tinkerer, I took it apart and worked on the set up quite a bit. I really did not know what I was doing at the time. Then, at one of my jobs, I had access to the internet. This was late ‘90s. I searched out hand-made bass guitars and found Carl Thompson’s page. Just looking at the pictures of his basses got me thinking about how I could make a bass from scratch, with next to nothing for power tools. Carl has a kind of ‘craft-like’ quality to his building. His instruments look more like art, and less like something bought at a store. I liked that vibe. Then, it was just buying some wood and screwing up enough times to learn what and what not to do; still learning. ”

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FULL REVIEW Wow! Dude sounds like a natural, to me!

On the Gig I couldn’t wait to hear this bass amplified, and as my band had a gig the night it arrived, I didn’t have to wait long. That whole “full-bodied, evenly balanced, punch and clarity thing” I mentioned above was certainly there in spades. The initial tone profile with all controls set “flat” definitely has some characteristics of what I will call the “EMG tone” – which is a rather unique blend of “low-tomiddle midrange punchiness” with good cut and clarity. I had long associated that tone with EMG pickups, but more recently, I have come to think it has more to do with their preamps than their pickups. Either way, it’s a tone profile that works very well in a mix, and the various tone woods on this instrument certainly contribute to its full, cutting, “punchy yet clear” tone. Those Aguilar DCB pickups are known for their dynamics and sustain, and that certainly proved to be the case with this Drake M7. This thing has sustain for days! Deviating from the “noon” settings yields a huge variety of tonal options. Favoring the neck or bridge pickup on the blend knob has predictable and meaningful results. Blend towards the neck, and it gets a bit more woody/growly. Solo the bridge pickup (and dial in a little bit of bass boost), and you have a very tight, punchy, “quick” tone. Blend back to the middle, and you get the slightly scooped humbucking tone. I am very happy to say that there is no noticeable hum or noise in any of these settings. The treble control is the most subtle control on the bass. It did not add any significant hiss, even when cranked, and I like the enhanced life and texture it added. I did note that I couldn’t roll off a significant amount of high end (for songs that call for it) and it might be nice to add a passive tone control. The BQC system does allow for four different treble response options (controlled by two dip-switches located on the small board in the control cavity). However, I found that none of them allowed for the kind of roll-off you get with a passive tone control. After trying the four different options, I actually ended up preferring the way Andrew had it set up, out of the box.

The bass boost/cut (+/- 12dB centered at 50Hz, with a 6dB per octave slope) is more powerful than the treble control. It is certainly effective and behaves predictably. The parametric midrange is where the real tone-tweaking power lies. The ability to sweep the frequency (from 100Hz to 1kHz) and then boost or cut at that frequency (by 12dB) allows for quite a range of tonal adjustment. This kind of control is very helpful on the gig, especially if a particular stage/room often has some frequencies which tend to resonate more than others. In these settings, I like to boost the mids, then sweep the frequency until that unwanted room resonance gets worse, and then turn that boost into a cut. This technique is fast and effective, and one of the reasons I love on-board semi-parametric mid controls. Of course, this same concept also works as a “global tone control” for the instrument, as well. That being said, Andrew currently uses mostly Nordstrand preamps in his current builds (which are some of my favorites; I love their inherently open and neutral tone). On the gig, I felt immediately at home with this bass. The neck width is akin to a narrow J-bass, though it is a little bit thinner, front-to-back, but not by a lot. The result is a comfy, “fast” feeling neck that still has that overall “familiarity factor.” Somewhat to my surprise, I didn’t really even notice that this a 33” scale instrument. I play 34” scale basses most of the time, but I can generally pick out a 34.5” scale instrument pretty easily (having played a Thunderbird for years). Of course, 35” and 32” scale basses have a noticeably different feel, as well. But for someone who is used to 34” scale basses, 33” is remarkably similar. It does have that “easy to play” feel to it, though, and I am sure that the scale length is part of that equation. Regarding the stainless steel frets, I have found that on certain, more inherently bright-sounding, basses, they can be a little bit much for my liking. But on basses with somewhat warmer body woods (like alder and mahogany), I like them just fine. Certainly, they work very well on this bass. I have since played this bass on multiple gigs, throughout a variety of seasons, and that neck has proven to be


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

who bought this beauty). The Nordstrand NJ5S pickups are housed inside custom wood covers (which Andrew made from leftover body woods). The foil shielding inside the control cavity is only partially applied, so that you don’t see a shiny reflection coming through the f hole. In its passive configuration, though, that is not a big deal, and this bass proved to be free from noise or interference. Once again, Andrew has opted for Hipshot (A-style) bridge and (Ultralite) tuners, and Dunlop Dual Straploks. Like the 4-string, the fit-and-finish and overall construction on this bass are amazing. That neck feel is just to die for! Speaking of the neck, this instrument features Andrew’s wider neck profile (an intentional choice, to illustrate the range of neck shapes available). Truth be told, it is a bit wider than I prefer, but even so, it is still very comfortable, and those who prefer wider necks will love this profile. The simple, but elegant, ebony knobs are a nice touch. Tonally, this bass has a very organic tone, with great sustain and clarity. It has that somewhat warm and envelop-

amazingly stable. I have not had to adjust the truss rod or bridge height, at all. What’s more, this bass seems to hold tuning better than most other (comparably high-end) basses. There just might be something to that concept of tempered woods being more stable…

No Hollow Threat When Andrew offered to send us a second bass to highlight a bit more of his diversity, how could I say no? This second review bass is a 5-string, single-cut, semi-hollowbody, with a bolt-on neck. Like the 4-string, this bass has a one-piece body, this time made of tempered ash, topped with tempered, flamed western maple. The polyurethane finish is polished to a satin sheen, and looks fantastic. The neck on this bass is also similar to its sibling, in that it is made from quarter sawn, tempered (but not flamed) maple – again, with two carbon fiber bars and a dual-action truss rod. Other similarities include the 33” scale, Macassar ebony fingerboard, and narrow-gauge stainless steel frets. Both basses are equipped with the very cool Luminlay side dots, which glow in the dark. The headstock is capped with tempered, flamed maple on the top, and tempered ash on the back. The graceful f holes and black binding add a definite level of class. This bass was set up as a fully passive instrument for our review (though I understand that Andrew later added a Nordstrand preamp and piezo pickup for the customer

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FULL REVIEW ing tone you expect from a good semi-hollow-body, but with more of a solid-body ‘70s Jazz-style clarity layered on top. It is very solid and focused, without getting muddy or boomy. The sweet, clear high end, and the crisp – but not brittle – attack is up there with the best basses I have heard. Once again, it feels like a perfect marriage of tone woods and pickups. I really had a hard time sending this bass back to Andrew…

Crickets… Building each instrument as a custom-tailored project is not only time-consuming, but it can be difficult to plan for (in terms of what woods/pickups/electronics to have on hand) and a luthier may find themselves continuously tweaking their workbench setup, or even rearranging the shop for different stages of a custom build. Needless to say, this is not the most compelling business model. In order to add some production stability, Andrew has recently introduced a somewhat more standardized bass model, the Cricket. These are still custom, hand-built basses, for sure, but Andrew can build several Crickets at a time, using standard parts. These are semi-hollow basses, with multiple scale length options available (I’ve seen 32”, 33” or 34” models, so far). The Crickets – and a few small runs of prior models – will be built as “sales stock,” so there will be a variety of stock offerings. Andrew will also accept custom orders, and he anticipates that going forward, about 30% of his time will be spent on customer-specified builds. These Crickets look pretty awesome, and it appears that they are (at least in part) inspired by the BG5 review bass, with some notable differences. The single-cut Crickets sport one f hole, and Andrew has been using the TV Jones Thunder Blade pickups in these basses. While the stock setup is passive, he has added various electronics, including an LR Baggs piezo option.


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

The Bottom Line It is always exciting to discover “new” luthiers, and we are fortunate as bass players to have a number of custom builders to choose from. After spending some time with Andrew Drake’s basses, I feel confident putting his work up against the very best in the business. I know I am gushing, but this guy deserves it! My advice is to hurry up and buy a couple of Drake basses before he figures out how much he could – and should! – be charging for his work.

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test

TECHNICAL REVIEW

Drake Custom Bass Model 7

BASS GEAR

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CONFIGURATION Strings: Style: Overall Length: Body Dimension: Body Contouring: Weight:

4 Double cutaway 43 ½” 19” long x 13” wide at lower bout Moderate 8.6 lbs

NECK Scale length: Neck width at nut: Neck width at 12th fret: Neck width at joint: Neck thickness at nut: Neck thickness at 1st fret: Neck thickness at 12th fret: Neck thickness at joint: String spacing at nut: String spacing at saddle: Fingerboard radius: Descriptor for neck shape: Peghead break angle: Bridge break angle: Afterlength at nut: Afterlength at saddle: Attachment: Pocket gap: Truss rod type/access: Fret count: Fretwire:

33” 1.524” 2.113” 2.301” .916” .788” .944” 1.023” .416” .739” 12” small C 11 deg 14 deg 2.66” to 4.87” 1.5” Set neck N/A dual action / peghead access 24 76x43 (stainless steel)

ELECTRONICS Pickups: Pickup location(s): Electronics: Controls: Shielding: Preamp circuit voltage:

Aguilar DCB 11 ¼” and 14 ¼” from 12th fret EMG BQC Volume, blend, bass/treble stack, midrange stack (boost/cut and frequency sweep) Foil 9V

CONSTRUCTION Body Woods: Neck Woods: Fingerboard: Body Finish: Neck Finish:

Mahogany body, with quilted western maple top Quarter-sawn flamed maple (tempered/roast ed), with 2 carbon fiber bars Macassar ebony Urethane (clear) Urethane (clear)

HARDWARE Strings: Gauge: Attachment: Bridge/color: Nut: Tuners/color: Knobs/color: Pickguard: Control cavity cover:

D’Addario XL (nickel roundwound) .045, .065, .080, .100 At bridge Hipshot A-style / black Black TUSQ by Graphtech Hipshot Ultralite / black EMG (plastic) / black N/A Matching body wood, magnetic attachment

GENERAL Company:

Drake Custom Bass Nevada, Iowa Phone: (641) 891-6404 Email: drakecustom@live.com www.drakecustombass.com County of origin: USA Warranty: Limited lifetime (original owner) Price: $3,000 (direct) Available colors: Numerous Options: Numerous Accessories: Mono Vertigo gig bag Acquired from: Drake Custom Bass Dates: Fall 2016 to Summer 2017 Locales: Ohio Test gear: Bergantino B|Amp, Bergantino HD212, Fender Bassman 800, Fender Bassman Neo 410, Quilter Bass Block 800, Trace Elliot 2x8, F bass BN4, Fodera Monarch 4, 1974 Fender Jazz Bass

TEST RESULT 1-5 (unacceptable to impeccable)

In-hand

Features: Tonal Flexibility: Ease of Use: Aesthetics: Ergonomics: Tone: Value:

On-bench

4 4.5 5 5 5 5 5

In-hand SCORE

4.79 average On-bench

4.94 average

Overall construction Wood choice Materials choice Joinery Fretwork Fit and Finish of adornments Quality of finish work Ease of repair Potential range of setup Balance on knee Balance on strap Overall electronic quality Solder joints, wire runs Clarity Noise Shielding Quality for Price Range

SONIC PROFILE:

Low: Warm and punchy, but articulate Mids: Lots of control; easily goes from mid-forward to scooped Highs: Organic, lots of sustain; clear, but not a lot of sparkle

TONE-O-METER: This bass brings a balanced tone, with a great mix of punch and clarity. The pickups and electronics allow for a wide range of tonal options.

5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 4.5 5 5 5 4.5 5


Phil Maneri’s

BASS LAB

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Drake Custom Bass Model 7

arely do builders decide on scale lengths shorter than 34” (the Fender standard). Usually, they opt for longer scale lengths, certainly when using a low B string. There are some short-scale instruments throughout the history of the electric bass – like some hollow-bodies – that settle with 30” or 32”. This bass sits at 33” – a somewhat unusual, but increasingly popular choice – and it shows no symptoms of E string weakness. In fact, it’s quite balanced through its range. The neck is smaller than most Jazz basses. It is my understanding that Andrew Drake offers a variety of neck widths, and this particular instrument represents one of his thinner neck builds. It certainly works well, here, and doesn’t seem weird. The instrument is very well made; lots of great choices and skilled execution. The body is a mahogany slab, topped with a lovely figured maple. The neck is another hunk of roasted, flamed maple, topped with figured ebony. It is a glued set neck. The Aguilar® DCB® pickups feed an EMG BQC preamp. Interesting choices, which I don’t see often; but again, here, they work well together. I love the magnetic control cavity; it makes battery changes and mods easy work. An interesting side effect of this system is that it floats the cavity

cover over the well-shielded cavity box, leaving a disconnect between the back cover shielding and the main cavity. Although they are connected via the magnetic holders, there is a gap all around that opens what should be a sealed box. The bridge and tuning keys are from Hipshot, which is the “standard modern bass choice.” This bass sports a de-tuner on the E string; nice to have that option. The joinery and carvings are all really great. Clearly, the builder has great skills. The finish is a urethane that is well-applied and looks great. The bass has a pleasing design and shape, allowing great access and balance standing or sitting. The bass flat-out sounds great. Add some preamp EQ, and it starts roaring. This is a great-sounding instrument that plays easy and has potential to adjust however a player would prefer. The shorter scale and skinny neck are at odds with how huge the instrument sounds. It’s an unusual and pleasing contrast to play this bass. At $3,000 (list), this should be on anyone’s short list for an audition in this price range. It could easily sell for much more.


test

TECHNICAL REVIEW

Drake Custom Bass BG5

BASS GEAR

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CONFIGURATION Strings: Style: Overall Length: Body Dimension: Body Contouring: Weight:

5 Single-cut 44 ½” 18 ½” long x 14 ¾” wide at lower bout Minimal 8.5 lbs

NECK Scale length: Neck width at nut: Neck width at 12th fret: Neck width at joint: Neck thickness at nut: Neck thickness at 1st fret: Neck thickness at 12th fret: Neck thickness at joint: String spacing at nut: String spacing at saddle: Fingerboard radius: Descriptor for neck shape: Peghead break angle: Bridge break angle: Afterlength at nut: Afterlength at saddle: Attachment: Pocket gap: Truss rod type/access: Fret count: Fretwire:

33” 1.884” 2.649” 2.797” 1.138” .924” 1.058” 1.884” .369” .735” 10” Flat D 12 deg 19 deg 2.22” to 5.517” 1.140” N/A N/A dual action / peghead access 22 77x42 (stainless steel)

ELECTRONICS Pickups: Pickup location(s): Electronics: Controls: Shielding: Preamp circuit voltage:

Nordstrand NJ5S 11” and 14 ½” from 12th fret N/A Volume, volume, tone Foil (partial) Passive

CONSTRUCTION Body Woods: Neck Woods: Fingerboard: Body Finish: Neck Finish:

Company:

Drake Custom Bass Nevada, Iowa Phone: (641) 891-6404 Email: drakecustom@live.com www.drakecustombass.com County of origin: USA Warranty: Limited lifetime (original owner) Price: $3,200 (direct) Available colors: Numerous Options: Numerous Accessories: Mono Vertigo gig bag Acquired from: Drake Custom Bass Dates: Fall 2016 to Summer 2017 Locales: Ohio Test gear: Bergantino B|Amp, Bergantino HD212, Fender Bassman 800, Fender Bassman Neo 410, Quilter Bass Block 800, Trace Elliot 2x8, Sadowsky P/J5, Nordy vJ5

TEST RESULT 1-5 (unacceptable to impeccable)

In-hand

Features: Tonal Flexibility: Ease of Use: Aesthetics: Ergonomics: Tone: Value:

On-bench

3.5 4 5 5 5 5 5

In-hand SCORE

4.64 average On-bench

Ash body (tempered/roasted), with flamed maple top (tempered/roasted) Quarter-sawn maple (tempered/roasted), with 2 carbon fiber bars Macassar ebony Polyurethane (clear) Polyurethane (clear)

HARDWARE Strings: Gauge: Attachment: Bridge/color: Nut: Tuners/color: Knobs/color: Pickguard: Control cavity cover:

GENERAL

D’Addario XL (nickel roundwound) .045, .065, .080, .100, .130 At bridge Hipshot A-style / black Black TUSQ by Graphtech Hipshot Ultralite / black Ebony / black N/A Matching body wood, magnetic attachment

4.81 average

Overall construction Wood choice Materials choice Joinery Fretwork Fit and Finish of adornments Quality of finish work Ease of repair Potential range of setup Balance on knee Balance on strap Overall electronic quality Solder joints, wire runs Clarity Noise Shielding Quality for Price Range

SONIC PROFILE:

Low: Warm, solid and focused Mids: Organic and enveloping, with great clarity Highs: Sweet and clear, with a crisp attack and lots of sustain

TONE-O-METER: This bass is the ultimate mash-up between a high quality semi-hollow-body and a great Jazz Bass. The tone is solid, organic and connected, with a sweet high end and great attack.

5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 4 4 4 5 5 5 N/A 5


Phil Maneri’s

BASS LAB

I

Drake Custom Bass BG5

’ve always been a sucker for a hollow-body bass. This one, in particular, looks really great. Nice lumber selection, here. Swamp ash body core with a flamed, roasted maple top mates up with a neck of roasted maple, capped with an ebony fingerboard. The body appears to be a hollowed-out blank, rather than laminated or constructed otherwise. The control cavity cutout matches up, as well. Pretty cool woodwork, all around. This bass was kept simple, with a Jazz Bass style passive three-knob setup mating to Nordstrand pickups, nicely covered with wood from the top plates. The control cavity plate cover (so conveniently magnetically held in place) protects a space with tons of expansion room in it for those that want to pack the bass with other things. Shielding in this would always be challenging – thankfully, as a passive instrument, it’s largely irrelevant. Adding active circuits, although there is plenty of real estate, introduces a shielding conundrum. The Hipshot A-style bridge and Ultralite™ keys featured on this bass represent the usual boutique bass hardware choices. Like its 4-string brother, the slightly shorter 33” scale is an interesting choice, with string balance that is better than one would expect on a shortened scale with lower-tuned strings.

The finish – which appears to be poly – is well-applied, and accentuates the lovely wood choices. Everyone who saw this bass in the shop commented about how cool it looked; great shape and lines. The f holes are cool. This bass is comfortable to play in any position, and has very little neck dive, considering it is a hollow-body. The sound is quite good, although not as far from the norm as its aesthetic might suggest. The instrument is built very well and plays great. There is plenty of adjustability available in the setup parameters to do anything you might like with it. At a list price of $3,200, this instrument is quite good for the money. Great construction like this often is well over $4,000. If you dig this instrument, I’d buy one now, lest he come to his senses and charge what it’s worth.


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BASSIC REVIEW

Fender Flea Jazz Bass The Company Line

W

e provided a short synopsis of the fantastically rich lineage of Fender basses in the Fender Elite Jazz Bass® V review (back in BGM issue #19), so we won’t do a recap here. However, it’s interesting to note that the bass we’re covering here represents a case where Fender has gone in the opposite direction, by comparison. Where the Elite Jazz is a culmination of the latest and greatest Fender has to offer from lessons learned over decades of Jazz Bass development based on market feedback, the Flea Jazz Bass® is all about recreating (though not reinventing) a historical marker in time. I’ve been a Jazz Bass guy since I picked up my first quality bass. Most of my instruments are Jazz Bass-inspired models. I always have at least one Fender Jazz in my stable (and currently own two – one of which is a Geddy Lee Jazz Bass®). It’s interesting to note that the Flea Jazz Bass and the Geddy Lee artist model share something in common. They both represent cases where an artist originally became known for playing another brand/ model of bass, and then switched to a Fender Jazz Bass after having played (and fallen in love with) a vintage Jazz Bass they happened across in their travels. This is not the only case of this, by a longshot; just the first that comes to mind, and still very interesting to me.

About The Artist

By Vic Serbe

Among the bass community, Flea (Michael Peter Balzary) is best known for being the highly animated bassist for Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP). His generally animated character, both on and off the stage, is where his nickname comes from – though there are various specific stories on exactly how and when the name came about. Flea was born in 1962 in Melbourne, Australia, though his family moved to the USA in 1969. He’s led a storied life, though not all those stories are good. However, he also had the benefit of being in a house where many jam sessions happened, and was exposed to a broad spectrum of music from some great musicians who played there. His first instrument was drums, but his first “instrument love” was for the trumpet – which he still loves and plays, even today, including with RHCP (as well as piano, as long as we’re at it). One of the highlights in his life was meeting Dizzy Gillespie, one of his jazz heroes. Over the years, he’s been successful in the music, as well as film industries. He’s been in movies such as The Big Lebowski (one of my favorites), Back to the Future (parts II and III), and others – including being the voice of Donnie Thornberry in The Wild Thornberrys animated television series. Musically, he’s collaborated with the likes of Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Alanis Morissette, and Young


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

MC. In 2001, he co-founded the Silverlake Conservatory of Music (http://silverlakeconservatory.org/), a non-profit music education organization for underprivileged children. In short, he stays very busy, and he’s focused on “giving back.” Just as this bass is a great example of an instrument, Flea is also a great example of a human being, despite hardship … maybe because of it. It wasn’t until around 1979 that Flea picked up the bass. He did it to join the band Anthym – formed by schoolmates at the time – who had all instruments covered, except the bass. Due to his impressive natural talent and unique perspective on music, he quickly developed his own style, which he is now internationally known for. He is a critical component of RHCP’s sound, which helped land the band in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. Flea’s original 1961 Jazz Bass (in rare Shell Pink) was gifted to him by a fan sometime around 1990, after he posted in his online journal that he was looking for a pre-CBS Jazz Bass, in an effort to be “as cool as John Paul Jones.” According to the folks at Fender, Flea used this bass on the Chili Peppers’ albums, Stadium Arcadium and The Getaway, as well as with the “super group,” Atoms for Peace. He’s quoted as saying it’s the greatest bass he’s ever played. And it should carry some serious weight that he feels this Mexican-made signature model does a good job of representing that bass. So, let’s get right into it.

Details The body of this bass is made of alder. The Shell Pink finish is Road Worn® nitrocellulose lacquer, which has been distressed to mimic Flea’s original bass’ wear and tear. The bass is 34”-scale, using a 20-fret maple neck, with a classic “U” shape. The U shape is basically a deeper and rounder version of the popular “C” shape we’re more familiar with, these days. It’s held on by a classic 4-bolt plate, except it’s inscribed with artwork Flea created. The “slab” rosewood fingerboard has a vintage 7.25” radius, aged white dots (to simulate the old clay dots Fender used back in the day), and a 1.5” synthetic bone nut. The tuners are distressed and “reverse” operation, just as the old Fenders used to be. The pickups on this bass are Pure Vintage ’64 Jazz Bass single-coils, and the controls are the “stacked” (concentric) knob configuration of a separate volume on top and (passive) tone control for each pickup, which is the black ring on the bottom. The tone controls also have detented action (they “click” several times as you rotate them). The bridge is vintage-style bent-plate, with adjustable barrels for each string, and the truss rod

adjustment is faithful to the original, being a “flat-head” style, and pretty much buried in the neck pocket. The strap buttons are the classic cone shape. The bass comes with a fairly basic gig bag.

Fit and finish This is the part where I usually say it was hard or impossible to find a flaw when reviewing a high quality bass such as this one, but in this case, it’s highly “flawed” – but that’s by design. Whether you want to call it “road-worn,” “fatigued,” “stressed,” “aged,” or whatever, this bass does look and feel like a well-played bass. I’m generally torn on the whole “relic-ing” process. I understand why it’s done – especially on artist models – but part of me feels like I’d rather just have the instrument earn its own. That being said, where the “imposed wear” mimics wear from play (as opposed to damage), it does represent a noticeable improvement in feel. The smoother bare wood where your arm rests and the added warmth to the back of the neck are really sweet. In fact, I’ve been known to take sandpaper to a finished neck and go with a natural wood/oil feel; I love it. Regardless of your personal take on the Road Worn finish, the overall fit and finish are really good, especially for this price range. Just be careful to note that this is nitrocellulose, so you’ll end up with dings and wear of your own (in addition to the Flea-copied wear-and-tear) much easier than with more modern instrument finishes. The woodwork is very good, the frets feel good, and the bass takes a nice setup, though I hate the “buried” truss rod adjuster. Yes, I know it’s just to be faithful to the original, but it’s still a pain. The neck pocket could be a little tighter, but that’s a small niggle for what’s being offered at this price point, and I don’t think it affects tone or playability of this bass.

On the gig This bass weighs in at about 9.3 pounds, which is maybe a bit on the heavy side for a standard 4-string Jazz Bass, but not bad. It’s a familiar hang, as any J-bass would be, so it’s comfortable all night long. The “player wear” on the body and neck felt great, and the classic neck profile was also a joy. The controls are simple and effective. The pick-

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BASSIC REVIEW

ups sound wonderful. I’ve played a few vintage Jazz Basses in my day, and these sound legit to me. There’s plenty of sweet burp/growl from the bridge, and lots of fat, round sweetness from the neck. I was also impressed that the tone controls were wired in such that they seemed to be a little better isolated from each other than I had expected. For example, it seemed that the tone for a given pickup was only relevant if that pickup was also turned up to some level. This is the proper way to wire this configuration (though I have played some similarly configured basses from other manufacturers where this was not done correctly). I have to admit, the reverse tuners bit me every time, and I had to laugh. The gig bag is really basic. Personally, I would get something with more padding/protection if you gig pretty regularly, but for the occasional player, it’s fine.

The Bottom Line This bass is another win for Fender. It’s a faithful and affordable representation of a highly sought after vintage instrument most of us will never see in our lives, let alone touch or play. I love this bass, and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a passive 4-string Jazz Bass, especially vintage-style. This bass is very faithful to the classic Jazz Bass sound and feel many of us, including Flea, love so much. It’s a familiar sound that can work with pretty much any style of music. If you’re looking for a surprisingly close representation of a vintage Jazz for a tiny fraction of the money – especially if you’re a Flea fan – get one. It’s that simple.


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

Manufacturer: Fender Musical Instrument

Website: http://www.fender.com/

Model: Fender Flea Jazz Bass

Made In: Mexico

Body: Alder Neck: Maple

Warranty: 2-Year Limited Fingerboard: Rosewood with “Aged White” plastic dots

Bridge/color: Fender vintage, chrome

Nut (Guide): Synthetic bone

Tuners/color: Fender, distressed chrome, reverse operation

Knobs/color: Knurled metal dome/ring, chrome/black

Pickguard: 4-ply tortoiseshell

Control cavity cover: N/A

Pickups: Pure Vintage ’64 Jazz Bass (single-coil)

Preamp: None

Controls: Volume/tone, volume/tone Neck Finish: Road Worn Faded clear nitrocellulose

Body Finish: Road Worn Faded Shell Pink nitrocellulose Scale Length: 34”

Number of Frets/Positions: 20

Strings: Fender USA NPS (nickel plated steel)

Gauge: .045, .065, .085, .105

Fingerboard Radius: 7.25”

Accessories: Gig bag

Options: None

Price: $1,224.99

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BASSIC REVIEW

Etymotic Research mk5 Isolator Earphones By Tom Bowlus

The Company Line

I

n the past, we have introduced you to several of the hearing protection products offered by Etymotic. In this review, we’d like to focus on one of their products which is meant to deliver sound to your ears, as opposed to protect them from it. This time up, we take a look at the new mk5 Isolator Earphones, which is the newest addition to Etymotic’s Isolator line of earphones. As you might suspect from the name, one of the goals with the mk5 Isloator Earphones is to isolate the sounds you want to hear from the sounds which you don’t want to hear (like background noise). By sealing the ear canal, you can hear your music without needing to blast the volume. The mk5’s reviewed here represent the lowest-profile and lowest-cost model in the Isolator line.

First Impressions My first experience with Etymotic came many years ago with the purchase of a pair of ER-6i earphones (which I still own and use). The ER-6i’s really set the standard for “affordable high fidelity” in a compact earphone. They were a great way to experience a notable increase in sound quality, without breaking the bank. Comparing the mk5’s to the 6i’s, I did notice that the mk5’s did a better job of making a seal in my ear canal, and this resulted in slightly better bass response. I will say, though, that the eartips on my 6i’s are quite old, and might not seal as well as new eartips would. The upper mids and high end on the 6i’s seemed to be more extended and clear, but the mk5’s were more smooth. At lower volume settings, the ER-6i’s seem to have more output, but as I turned up the volume, the apparent output from the two became more or less equal. Though the 6i’s are not an overly large set of ear-

phones, the mk5’s are noticeably more compact. It is worth noting that the ER-6i’s employ a balanced-armature driver, which is a different technology than the moving-coil dynamic drivers used in the mk5’s. While Etymotic no longer offers the ER-6i’s, the current hf5 is based upon similar technology (balanced-armature driver) and is priced at $139.95. The mk5’s ship equipped with a pair of standard-sized “frost” 3-flange eartips. Inside the packaging, Etymotic provides two alternate sets of eartips: one set of foam eartips, and a second, slightly larger set of 3-flange clear silicon eartips. There is also a removable shirt clip, and a zippered pouch to store everything. Etymotic does recommend getting new eartips every so often (every 3-6 months for the 3-flange tips), and you can buy them at a very reasonable price (in packages of ten) from the Etymotic website. Swapping or replacing the eartips is quick and easy. The 4’ cable is Kevlar-reinforced, and terminates in a 3.5mm jack.

A Real Earful If you are in the market for earphones (ear buds, in-ear monitors, whatever you want to call them), there are an increasing number of products on the market. Etymotic helped to pioneer this particular market segment, and within their own brand, they have a number of different offerings, from the higher-end (and higher-priced, at $349.00) ER4’s, to the ETY•Kids® earphones (priced at $19.95, and designed to keep the SPL’s down to a safe level). At the same price point as the mk5’s ($64.95), Etymotic also offers the HD•Safety™ earplugs+earphones and the mc5 Earphones. The HD•Safety’s carry a noise reduction rating, offering up to 27dB of reduction. This is distinguished from noise isolation (and all of Etymotic’s


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

Manufacturer: Etymotic Research, Inc.

Website: www.etymotic.com/consumer/earphones/mk5.html

Model: mk5 Isolator Earphones

Made In: USA

Headphone Jack: 3.5mm

Impedance: 32 Ohm

Maximum Output: 120dB Noise Isolation: 98% (35-42 dB)

Manufacturer’s Stated Frequency Response: 20Hz to 15kHz

Accessories: Zippered pouch, shirt clip, foam eartips, standard and large 3-flange eartips

Drivers: 6mm neodymium moving-coil drivers, with Accu• Chamber® Technology

Price: $44.95

Warranty: 1 Year

earphones carry about 35-40dB in terms of noise isolation). The HD•Safety earphones also designed to be less sensitive than the mk5’s, with a maximum output of 88dB. The mc5’s go in the opposite direction, and are a little more sensitive than the mk5’s (100dB for the mc5, versus 95dB for the mk5) and utilize a high-output 8mm neodymium moving-coil driver. The mk5 and HD•Safety models employ high-output 6mm neodymium moving-coil drivers, which are a bit more accurate in the highs and are a little more true to Etymotic’s “target response curve.” I have to admit, I have not had a chance to compare the mk5’s to their identically priced brethren, but it’s good to have options, eh?

Lasting Impressions Considering the wide number of brands and products to choose from in the general earphone market, it is comforting to have a well-established, highly regarded brand such as Etymotic putting out a nice range of options. It is worth noting that Etymotic has its roots in hearing protection, and I feel confident that I can trust my ears with their products. The mk5 Isolator earphones sound great, and seem very sturdy. These are definitely a great bang for the buck.

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BASSIC REVIEW

Ampeg Classic Bass Preamp and Scrambler Bass Overdrive Pedals By Jacob Schmidt Like many of you, I remember my first bass amp. It was an Ampeg BA115. At the time, I couldn’t afford a full-blown SVT stack, and this was as close as I could get to “that Ampeg tone.” If you are in search of that classic tone/distortion in a format that is nicer to your budget, this review is for you. Up for review are two pedals from Ampeg: the Classic Bass Preamp and Scrambler Bass Overdrive. Bass Gear Magazine reviewed the combined version of these pedals (in the form of the SCR-DI) back in issue #17, and you may want to give that review a read-over, as these two pedals share the same circuits as the BA combos and the SCR-DI, just separated into different chassis.

A Classic Choice

F

irst up, let’s take a look at the Classic Bass Preamp. The preamp section allows for a hefty + 18 dB gain, and the 3-band EQ provides +7/-20 dB @ 40Hz (Bass), +5/-11 dB @ 500Hz (Mid) and +10/-10 dB @ 4kHz (Treble). In addition, the Classic offers the Ultra-Hi (+7 dB @ 8kHz) and Ultra-Lo (+2 dB @ 40Hz, -10 dB @ 500Hz) buttons. My personal favorite is the Ultra-Lo, as that’s where my favorite slice of the Ampeg magic resides. A blue LED indicates when the preamp is engaged. The Classic seems like a clear choice if you are after that solid Ampeg sound, but I was curious as to how well it would work when fed into a non-Ampeg rig. To this end, I ran the Classic irectly into the input of my GK MB Fusion 800. I thought this would be an interesting test, figuring the “baked-in” tones would clash against each other a bit. They did seem to fight each other a bit, at first, so I dialed down the grit a bit on the GK and was pleasantly surprised to hear an SVT coming out of my cab. After dialing things in a little further

using the 3-band EQ on the pedal, it got fairly close to that classic Ampeg sound. After this, I tried running the Classic through the effects loop on my head. This resulted in a more clear tone, with added punch, as well. For whatever reason, the inherent tone of my GK head didn’t seem to fight against what the Classic was bringing to the table when I ran it in the effects loop. But again, with a little tweaking, it worked fairly well in front of the amp, as well. Either way you prefer to run it, I was pleased to find that the Class Bass Preamp allowed me to punch in a convincing “Ampeg tone” with the flick (or “stomp,” as the case may be) of a switch. One thing is for sure, the tones you can get out of this pedal definitely make you think twice about lugging around several hundred pounds of gear! The Classic Bass Preamp does have a true bypass switch, but I would probably never turn it off; it sounds that good. I would have liked to see an XLR out, and at first, I was a bit disappointed it didn’t have one. Once I thought about it a bit, though, the SCR-DI has an XLR out, and also comes attached with the Scrambler circuit. If you want an XLR, you would clearly opt for the SCR-DI. The player who buys a Classic Bass Preamp will likely use it in conjunction with a head that already has an XLR output, so there is no need to duplicate functionality and add to the cost. Once nice thing about separating these functions into two pedals, it allows you to run them in different order, or run one in the effects loop and one in front of your amp head.

Scramble On If you’re in the market for a solid overdrive pedal, the Scrambler should be on your short list. It’s a small little guy that packs a fairly big punch. Like the Classic, the Srambler features an internal jumper that cab be switched to knock the input gain down by 15 dB. The Drive knob adjusts the amount of the Bass Scrambler™ overdrive


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

Manufacturer: Loud Technologies Inc.

Website: www.ampeg.com

Model: Classic Bass Preamp

Made In: China

Enclosure: Die Cast Zinc with rubber feet

Inputs: ¼” Input, 9v-12v DC 100mA center negative power input Dimensions: 4.5” D x 2.6” L x 2.2” H

Outputs: ¼” Output Controls: Volume, Bass, Mid, Treble, Ultra-Hi & Ultra-Lo switches, On/Off switch Weight: 0.6 lb. Price: $139.99 list, $99.99 street

Other Features: Purple LED preamp active, -15dB pad jumper located inside the enclosure Warranty: 1-year, nontransferable

Manufacturer: Loud Technologies Inc.

Website: www.ampeg.com

Model: Scrambler Bass Overdrive

Made In: China

Enclosure: Die Cast Zinc with rubber feet

Inputs: ¼” Input, 9v-12v DC 100mA center negative power input

Outputs: ¼” Output

Controls: Drive, Blend, Treble, Volume, On/Off switch

Dimensions: 4.5” D x 2.6” L x 2.2” H

Weight: 0.6 lb.

Warranty: 1-year, nontransferable

Price: $139.99 list, $99.99 street

Other Features: Purple LED preamp active, -15dB pad jumper located inside the enclosure effect, and the Blend knob allows you to blend the overdriven tone with your clean tone – a supremely useful feature. The Treble knob on the Scrambler offers +17/-14 dB @ 4kHz. I tried this pedal solo at first and was able to get a nice overdriven SVT sound. Even when everything was cranked, it held its own and didn’t make me cringe. With everything cranked, it gave a dirty drive sound with a hint of fuzz mixed in. I like it because it’s simple to use – there are only four knobs – but it can contend with some high-end overdrives. This does have true bypass, so if you run it inline with the Classic, it won’t interfere until you switch it on.

The Bottom Line Both pedals have a nice bright LED to signal when the effect is engaged and each sports an internal compartment for a 9v battery, if you don’t want to use a standard 9v power supply. I would personally use these in my amp’s effects loop, but you could certainly go in front of the amp to give you more options. These pedals are compact, durable, and the controls are intuitive. Most importantly, they sound really good. Classic Ampeg tone has never been more easy to come by, nor so easy on the wallet.

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INDUSTRY NEWS

Fender American Original Series By Tom Bowlus This past November, I and several other representatives of the music media industry were treated to a firsthand look at the newest series of USA-made guitars and basses from Fender: the American Original Series.

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hese new models represent “best-of-the-decade” versions of Fender’s most iconic instruments, combined with some intelligent modern updates. Clocking in at just under $2,000, the American Original Series instruments are priced less than the American Vintage Series, which is nice. There are four bass models in the American Original Series lineup: the ‘50s Precision Bass, the ‘60s Precision Bass, the ‘60s Jazz Bass and the ‘70s Jazz Bass. The ‘50s Precision Bass sports an alder body with a lacquer finish, a Pure Vintage ’58 P-bass pickup, and a thick “C” neck profile, with a 9.5”-radius fingerboard – with this fingerboard radius being a more modern feature shared by all four models. The ‘60s Precision Bass also rolls with an alder body with a lacquer, but has a slightly different neck profile, called the “1963 C,” and has a Pure Vintage ’63 P-bass pickup. The ‘60s Jazz Bass features an alder body (lacquer finish), rosewood fingerboard, a slim “’60s C”-shaped neck profile, and has two Pure Vintage ’64 single-coil J-bass pickups. The bridge pickup features the “over the paint” copper grounding strip, which connects up to the bridge. The ‘70’s Jazz Bass comes in the expected “ash body with a maple fingerboard” configuration, and the fingerboard is nicely dressed with blocks and binding. The body on this model is finished with polyurethane. The neck profile is a “’70s U” shape, and the pickups are the Pure Vintage ’75 single-coil J-bass variety. All three models offer a limited number of color options (two or three) and come with a vintage-style hardshell case. We look forward to a more detailed review to follow!

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Fender American Professional Series By Tom Bowlus

Evan Jones, CMO, poses with an American Professional Precision Bass in Antique Olive.

A Story of Three Parts

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hen the most iconic American-made line of basses (and guitars) gets a design makeover, you know it’s going to be a big story. But what always interests me are the stories behind the story. Like most good stories, this one has several sides; three, in fact.

Part 1 – The New Lineup The primary message on point is the introduction of the new Fender American Professional line of guitars and basses, so let’s cut to the chase and talk about what’s new. The American Professional series replaces the American Standard series, and the bass lineup consists of 4-string and 5-string fretted Jazz Bass and Precision Bass models, as well as a fretless 4-string Jazz model. The most obvious changes are the two new colors, Antique Olive and Sonic Gray. These are not “throw-back” colors; they are brand new mixes of tints. However, they certainly do have an authentic vintage vibe to them. Once you have them in hand, perhaps the next most obvious change involves the neck shape. All four of the neck options (4 and 5-string Jazz, 4 and 5-string Precision) are technically “new,” though they all find their roots in favored neck shapes of yore. The 4-string Precision neck seems particularly spot-on, and hearkens back to the classic ’63 P-bass shape. All of the 4-string J-basses sport a

1.5” wide nut and a thin profile, front to back. The fretless neck is especially compelling. Both 5-string necks feel like logical extensions of their respective 4-string brethren. If you have a keen eye, you may notice the HiMass™ vintage bridge, which allows for through-the-body stringing, or attachment at the back of the bridge. Once you’ve played them for a few minutes, you will notice the narrow/tall frets. Fender chose this option after play-testing numerous fret setups, and they tout the ease of bending notes as one selling point. Personally, I prefer thinner frets so that I have more room to place my thick fingers when I get above the 12th fret. One of my favorite innovations are the new “fluted” tuning shafts. Instead of the normal “hour-glass” shaped tuning shafts – which naturally force the string windings to the middle of the shaft – the fluted shape means that the strings are forced down against the headstock, creating more downward force on the strings at the nut (offering better sustain and less chance of string rattle). So simple, and so smart! The final tweaks are not immediately obvious. The new Posiflex™ graphite rods in the neck actually work harder to keep the neck straight when there is more force trying to make them do otherwise. Perhaps the most significant change, though, involves the pickups. The new V-Mod single-coil employs two different magnet materials in the poles. Alnico 2 magnets are used for the pole pieces serving the lower strings (E and A, plus B on the 5-strings) and Alnico 5 is used under the D and G string. Oftentimes, the decision of what magnet material to use in-


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Senior VP Justin Norvell shows us the American Professsional Jazz Bass in Sonic Gray.

volves a choice of trade-offs, as what is best for the higher strings is not always best for the lower strings, and vice versa. This “mixed-magnet” approach attempts to offer the best of both worlds, and I have to say, it delivers! The higher strings have a very open, airy feel, which I don’t normally experience in fully passive instruments. Overall tonal balance and volume stay very even as you move from string to string, especially if you dig in a bit or play with a pick.

The Winds of Change To understand the significance of the American Pro line, I’m going to take you back to the 2016 Winter NAMM Show, when our friends at Fender were showing us the new Elite series (which replaced the USA Deluxe line). These basses are phenomenal (and you can find our full review of the Elite Jazz V in our Summer 2016 issue), but I was also struck by the genuine excitement and depth of knowledge displayed by the Fender NAMM Show staff. While we had always enjoyed our trip to the Fender room at NAMM, there was a new level of excitement in the air. Something had changed… Following the Winter NAMM Show, we quickly had an instrument in our hands for review, and several other reviews in the works. Later, when Summer NAMM approached, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Fender would have a booth (Fender had not officially attended the Summer Show for a number of years). In Nashville, the palpable level of excitement continued, as Fender

showed us the new products for the Show, including the seriously cool Mustang P/J bass, the Flea Bass (Jazz reproduction), the new Deluxe line, and the gravity defying Fender Bassman 800 head. A pattern was forming, and initially, I was mostly impressed by the pace and extent of the new product offerings, themselves. The USA-made Elite series are challenging the highest end of the custom-made J and P-style basses. The new Deluxe line brings full features, iconic looks and more to a highly competitive slice of the market. The Mustang P/J takes advantage of the renewed increase in short-scale basses, and the Bassman 800 allows Fender to keep up with the class-D arms race among bass heads. But still, I sensed that I was missing a critical element of the back story…

A Private Audience In November, Fender invited members of the guitar and bass media to attend a private event in Hollywood. The purpose of this event was to allow us to spend some time with the new American Professional models, and to allow us to speak with the people behind the design changes which led to this new line. Afterwards, we were treated to a dinner with several members of Team Fender, including the newest “big guns,” CEO Andy Mooney and CMO Evan Jones. This level of access to not only the design team, but the highest levels of management is unheard of in a company of this size. Once again, as impressed as I was by the new instruments, a more significant change was in the air.


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Part 2 – The 70-Year-Old Start-Up As mentioned above, I first noticed the new attitude at Fender starting at the 2016 Winter NAMM Show, and every interaction I have had with Fender staff since then has reinforced this feeling. This new attitude definitely starts at the top. Both Andy Mooney and Evan Jones have experienced great success in taking well-known brands (like Nike and Disney) and making them even better. I decided that what was really making a difference in pretty much all of my dealings with Fender staff over the last year or so is that talking to them was like talking to a new startup company. They were earnestly excited about their great new products, and literally bursting at the seams to tell us all about them. What’s more, they really knew the details regarding what was new and exciting about their latest products, and they were doing a great job of explaining it all. This is quite a contrast to what we have come to expect from some of the “big names” in the industry, where the products (and their lineage) are supposed to speak for themselves, and the staff seems disinterested, at best, or else annoyed (or not even present). Following the media event, I had an opportunity to interview Evan Jones and Justin Norvell, VP Electrics, Guitars and Basses. TM – With regard to some of the features, such as the fluted tuners and the pickups, will these remain unique to the American Professional line, or might we see them pop up in other models? JN – As of now, they were invented for the purpose of this series. There’s always the possibility that things will cascade into other models, but for right now, they’re brand new and only available on the American Professional. TM – Is the same true for the two new colors? JN – Yes. We like to keep the different series pretty different, so that each player can find their fit and their sound. Where the Elite is the passive/active, kind of high-performance, compound-radius type instrument, this series is a little more meat-and-potatoes. Each one has its own identity. So, those features will probably just be core to the American Professional. TB – The one feature I was thinking about which offers a slight, but clear, advantage are the fluted tuners. Might we see those further down the line in the Elite series, or other instruments? JN – Over the next year or so, we’ll see how people react, and obviously if there’s something that is of great benefit, like the fluted poles, it could be incorporated into different styles of tuners. It’s definitely something that we were looking at, which especially on a Fender bass, can be problematic. The string angle starts to pull the string up, and you get that rattling A string. In order to get that break angle, in the past on the American Elite series, we’ve used that little retaining bar underneath the washer that holds the A string down. But this is a pretty elegant solution. The big deal is that we had to tool-up in manufacturing in order to make them this way, but we thought it was totally worth it. TB – I think it’s brilliant. A lot of people, either through lack of experience, or whatever, end up wrapping their strings wrong, and they get that buzz/rattle, and they don’t know where it’s coming from, and they think it’s coming from their setup or their frets, and then you press down on the afterlength, and say, “Guess what, buddy? Here’s where it’s coming from.” JN – Absolutely. And it’s simple; it’s just gravity and the geometry of being able to adjust the taper of the way that the string just naturally wants to wrap, instead of worrying so much about having to get it perfect when you’re restringing. We don’t really set


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out at one point to say we’re going to do this series or we’re going to remake this whole deal. We wake up each day think, “How do we make it better?” – whether it’s a Jazz Bass, Precision Bass, etc. Then eventually, we begin to see an amalgamation, where all these small improvements all added together could be very complimentary and improve some of our core families of instruments. Even just going to a real bone nut – from the melamine or cyclovac one that most people usually use – is another upgrade that we thought was great. They’re all small things, but that combination of a bunch of small things makes a huge difference. It’s greater than the sum of the parts. Instead of a list of ingredients, it’s more like a recipe. The pickups were a big part of that, as well. TB – What nut material were you using on the American Standard basses? JN – It was melamine. TB – On the Elites, are those bone? JN – Those are also the synthetic, melamine material. This is the first time on a production-level instrument that we’ve been using bone nuts. TB – That’s interesting; I did not know that. With regard to the pickups, is this the first time that you have used two different types of pole piece materials? JN – Yes, and that was a pretty interesting dive. It ended up a little different on the basses than it did on the guitars, and it kind of went against our natural hypothesis. We tried, literally, almost every type of magnet materials. We had alnico 4, 3, 2, 5, and all different kinds of combinations. We had combinations where in the clustered pairs, we would use the 5 and the 2, and it didn’t work as well. It created a little imbalance in the magnetic pull; they weren’t equalized. Initially, we thought maybe having 5’s for a little more punch and attack on the low strings and putting 2’s to warm up the higher strings would be a nice complimentary combination that would move everything into the middle. But what we found was that it was much better when we inverted that, and just accentuated the core, fundamental purpose of each of those pairs of strings. On the low strings, the alnico 2’s are much warmer, rounder, and enhance their natural sound. On the G and D string, we went with the alnico 5’s, which should “up” the punch, and snap and clarity a little. TB – I know you guys spent a lot of time working on the neck profiles for each of the models, and I wondered if you could give us a little insight into the target for each profile? JN – The main ones – the J and the P –, we felt like this series is supposed to be the “center of gravity” of the Fender line. For instance, in 1963, the ’63 P-bass was just the P-bass of that year, and the American Professional is kind of today’s version of that instrument. People seem to gravitate towards a little more substantial P-bass neck, and a little thinner J-bass neck. So, we started off with the ’63 P-bass neck shape; it’s nice and fat, and it’s got a nice taper on it. We actually had a couple of different variations, and we did a lot of real-world testing. We utilized our Artists Relations department, and had blind tests with artists and players, ending up with pretty unanimous winners in those circles. We wanted a substantial P-bass neck shape – more wood, more contact; a nice fat shape that’s rock solid and stable. On the Jazz, many of the most popular instruments we’ve had were the old ’62 Jazz Bass – which had a very thin neck – and the Geddy Lee – which has a really thin neck. People love those, but it’s very hard to make those in a way that you can retain the stability, with the amount of tension that those necks can be under. To address this, we use our Posiflex rods – which are graphite-covered dowels that go inside two channels on either side of the truss rod – to a counterweight to increase the stability of the neck. That way, you’re able to get that small, fast, fleet-fingered shape, but retain the stability that you want in a Jazz Bass. Then the 5’s were based on the 4-string designs, but moving into the wider fret board, wider nut width; just getting to a place where we retained the comfort and have a comfort-

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INDUSTRY NEWS table neck that feels like what it should be. It’s really more about being able to bring out the strengths and the character and the identity of what we feel a P-bass and a P-bass player is, and what a Jazz Bass and a Jazz Bass player is. TB – That’s a big challenge on a 5-string, because you hold it differently; you position your hand differently than you do on a 4-string. JN – Yeah, your thumb’s on the back … yeah, totally. They’re a little bit slimmer, just to make that work. TB – Well, I thought they all felt great, and especially that P4 neck is just to die for. JN – Thank you. TB – Did you have a specific development period for this series, or is it all just the result of a long string of thoughts/improvements? JN – It’s kind of an on-going thing that we’re always working on. We’re always looking at the things which really matter, whether it’s the bridge, the nut, the neck, the pickups, the electronics, etc. I would say on this series, when it really started coalescing was probably about two years in development. It was, literally, dozens of sets of pickups, and probably close to that in some of the core neck shapes. In our R&D group, we have a model shop, where we are able to do some fast prototyping. The guys back there do a lot of our first prototype builds, and stuff for artists, and they’re building by hand every day, so they were always bringing us new neck shapes and new designs. TB – Since I began covering the music industry, back in about 2005 or so, I have been through several “changing of the guards,” in terms of whom I interface with at Fender. I have to say, this current team that you have in place, is unlike any I have worked with in the past. The energy and excitement and product knowledge is much more similar to what I would expect from an up-andcoming brand, as opposed to the biggest name in the business.

Can you tell us a little bit about the current corporate philosophy at Fender? EJ – I look at it this way. I’ve been here about twenty months, now [Ed. Note: as of December, 2016], and one of the awesome things when you walk into a brand like Fender is they have seventy years of authenticity and credibility and artist adoption. The product team’s doing an amazing job of building exactly what the artists want, and there is a commitment on the artist relation side to providing a real service to artists. As a team, the stuff that Justin, myself and others talk about now is, “How do we make sure we stay relevant to where today’s consumer’s going?” In that respect, I describe us as a 70-year-old startup. TB – That’s funny, because I recently came to that same conclusion, myself. EJ – The reason I say that is, a “startup mentality” means you take nothing for granted. The best startups know who their target audience is. For us, it’s really been trying to hone in on who our consumer is. I think for many years, Fender worked really hard to build great relationships with retailers, so that retailers had what they needed to sell. I think what we’re trying to do right now, is build on that success, but also really start honing in on what a 16-to-23-year-old, a 36-year-old, or a 45-year-old want? It’s important that we make sure that the brand stays relevant, from a marketing standpoint. I believe we have a real responsibility to keep guitar vital in music and culture. So we don’t take any of our consumers for granted, we don’t take any of the experiences for granted, and we don’t assume that just because we launch a new line, everybody’s going to high-five and adopt it. We really want


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to make sure that we get the storytelling right, and that we do the best job possible in positioning it so that people can find a way into it, and fall into the story – as opposed to just launching product and hoping that things go well. The way consumers work today, you have to prove it. Every touch. Every time you’re happening. JN – On the product side, I would say that we have a long, rich history in music, but the way that music is being made always evolves. Sometimes, it’s not an overnight, complete 180-degree change, but it’s something that we’re watching and we’re listening to. The way music is recorded is different, now. We want to make sure that our product still embodies everything that has made it what it is, and what’s great; however, we are also making sure that as things change, and people want some different things out of their tools, that we have tools that work for new music, and new artists, and the new sounds that they’re looking for. As an example, Justin Meldal-Johnsen – who is of course, a bass player, musical director and a producer – talks about a lot of people using synth bass, and he’s trying to find where to use the string bass and the electric bass complimentary to that. And those are things that maybe thirty or forty years ago were not at the front of our mind – making sure that what we’re doing works for all types of musical expression. A P-bass and a J-bass are a pretty well-known sound that “sits perfectly in the mix,” but as other instruments come in, we want to make sure that our basses are still cooperating and they’re still the bell-weather sound that’s keeping everything going. TB – Absolutely. EJ – We’ve looked at the revitalization of various lines within the overall electric guitar family. For example, if you look at how we marketed the Elite series and positioned it this year, versus the Offset series, they were two very different approaches based on two very different insights around how we anticipate artists and players would use the products. The Elite series are much more technically advanced, a more forward-leaning, high-performance line. The Offset, a little more strippeddown, but still powerful, offering a product at around $500. We probably had studio musicians and players who are super devoted to their craft playing the Elite series, and we have many college-age and 20+ year old players come into the category with things like the upgraded Mustang and Duo-Sonic™ offset guitars and basses. I think for us, it’s really just trying to figure out how do we get the consumer what they want. Learning from what do the artists want, how do we make sure we position our products in such a way

that it appeals to the consumer? TB – It’s interesting that you mention the Mustang. I have a big collection of basses, and I have a lot bass-playing friends, so people will come over and play different things. I would say that the bass which has probably raised the most eyebrows recently and just really gotten people’s attention has been that Mustang. They lose their mind when they actually play it. It really sounds great. JN – It’s sort of thought of as that “student model bass,” that “training wheels bass,” but it’s not. The last probably ten years, there’ve been a lot more bands using those and playing those. Especially with the P and J pickups, it’s really just kind of been the right instrument at the right time. TB – I, myself, play a lot of P/J’s, and I’ve really found that to be a super-versatile mix, so I definitely get where you’re coming from. I like what Evan said about being a 70-year-old startup company. That is the vibe that I’m feeling. You’re all energetic and fired-up, and excited about your product line, which is not something you’d expect so much from someone who going through the motions, because their company has been doing a very similar product for so many years. You guys have that more excited vibe, and it’s evident. EJ – Thank you, that’s good to hear. It’s hard not to get excited. Leading into the American Professional, the discussions that we’ve had with various artists about how they look at the innovations that Justin and his team have

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INDUSTRY NEWS brought in, it’s inspiring. In our overall effort to take a step back and think about music, in general, the best artists and musicians are really storytellers. And from a brand standpoint, we think there are a lot of stories that should be told and elevated, both in terms of how individual artists are creating, but also how the depth and breadth of how guitar is being used today. We sort of look at it as, “If we don’t do it, who’s going to?” And it’s not to say that there aren’t other brands that are doing a great job, but we’re in a unique position because we have such a broad diversity within our line, and because we have this authentic relationship with artists – which we don’t take for granted – we really want to push the story telling and we really want to push the overall community engagement and involvement. That’s ultimately what will keep guitar relevant and growing, not only within the music instrument industry, but within the culture, at large.

ing the introductions out in Hollywood was your title Evan; CMO – Chief Marketing Officer?

TB – You guys are really doing a great job of putting product out there that appeals to a wide variety. I haven’t said much about the Elite series, but we’re all very gaga over those. I know [BGM staff reviewer] Vic Serbe is playing the heck out of that Elite Jazz V. Phil Maneri, our Technical Editor – who has experience with many vintage Fenders – said in his review that [the Elite Jazz V] is the best Fender he’s ever played. So, those Elites are really nailing it, but then on the other end of the spectrum, what you guys are doing with the Squier brand… For the amount of money that someone can get into a very gigable, high-quality instrument, the Squier brand is fantastic.

EJ – He did, yes.

JN – Awesome, thank you. TB – One thing that stood out to me when they were do-

EJ – That’s right. TB – I don’t recall hearing that associated with Fender before. Is that a new position, or did I just miss the previous people in that role? EJ – No, it’s a new role that was created. According to Andy Mooney, my job, essentially, is to head up all the marketing functions for the brand, globally. TB – It’s kind of telling to me that Fender’s looking in that direction, as I think that’s what helping to bring this new excitement. I was going to ask you, Andy came on around the same time you did, right?

TB – You both have experience with Nike, and I think he has experience with Disney. What does Andy bring to the Fender mix, to put his unique stamp on things? EJ – First and foremost, Andy brings a wealth of experience that is really compelling for a brand like Fender, today. He brings phenomenal experience from his years at Nike (he was twice the CMO, there, and started up the equipment division). He joined the company when it was $500 million, left when it was $8 to $10 billion. I joined Nike when it was an $8 Billion company, and left it at $16 billion. With his background at Disney, as well, and the breadth of products that he’s worked across, he has a tremendous amount of experience and perspective. Then,


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you couple that with his own personal passion for guitar, and the fact that he has over 50 Fenders of his own that he’s been collecting over the years; he’s a real committed player. I think we’re really fortunate to have someone with both the experience and the personal passion for what we’re trying to create. I think for Andy and I, because we both spent time at Nike, there’s a built-in way of looking at things that has been a really good fit at Fender. Nike used to say, “Always listen to the voice of the athlete, and ultimately the consumer decides.” If you just take that approach, and look at what we’re trying to do at Fender, the only difference is we’re talking about artists and music, versus sports. Think about things that transcend religion, life and culture. For sure, sports is one, but I think music’s at a high level, too. For example, if you’re going to try and define what the Fender brand “voice” is, in reality, it’s just the sum total voice of all the artists who use our products. And so on the product side, our job is to create products that are going to meet and exceed the expectations of those artists and players. And on the marketing side, it’s our job to amplify those stories, and amplify that message. So that artists’ voices – which tend to be the most inspirational element of music, which is the reason why most of us pick up a guitar in the first place – amplify those stories, but then bring them to consumers in ways that they can digest and engage with. I look at is as investing in the level of storytelling and content and messaging and experiential marketing that’s on par with the way that our guys create product. JN – Yeah, and on the product side, it’s hard to believe,

but in the 70 or so years of Fender, Andy is one of only a few CEO’s that were players. TB – Oh, really? JN – Leo wasn’t. Maybe during CBS there was, but Bill Schultz, who kinda brought the company back from CBS, played a little bit of saxophone. Of the subsequent CEO’s, Larry Thomas is a player, so I guess Andy’s the second one. But basically, having a player leading the company is very important. There are subjective things that are harder to explain or quantify. You can voice them to the CEO, and he gets it. You can talk about the way something sounds, or if it’s not right, or why you would want to change this or that, and he has a much more complete knowledge base. You can talk as a player, and as a business man, to him. TB – That’s cool. EJ – I also think the other piece of the equation on the consumer side is having the guts, the confidence, and willingness to assume for a second that we don’t have the answer to a problem, and that the answer does lie with consumers and players, first. That’s not something that’s easy to do. It takes a lot of confidence and trust. For me, it’s one of our most exciting aspects of being at Fender. The ability to take all this history and then really spend time to figure out how do we get the next generation of players to fall in love with the brand. To Justin’s point,

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INDUSTRY NEWS because of Andy’s background, those conversations are really important, and we take those seriously. TB – I liked your sports and music analogy. There are a lot of parallelisms, there, and it makes a ton of sense. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today. EJ – It’s our pleasure. Honestly, these aren’t just words, but I feel we have a responsibility to evangelize guitar. Whatever we can do to help you with your storytelling and to help get the message across, we’re here. TB – Thanks. And I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I think you guys are also kicking butt on the amplification side of things. In my mind, Fender has never been more relevant in terms of bass amplification than right now. The Rumble series is fantastic and the Super Bassman is one of the best all-tube heads on the market right now. I recommend it to tons of people who still want to go alltube. You guys are doing a great job on that front, too.

JN – Awesome, thank you so much. EJ – That’s great to hear.

Part 3 – Two Birds in Hand Now, this is all well and good, but at the end of the day, if you are considering plunking down your hard-earned cash on a premium instrument, it needs to do more than look good on paper and come with an interesting back story. It needs to be a great instrument based upon its own merits. And while I was impressed with all of the instruments I played at the Hollywood event, I wanted to spend more time with one or two of them and really put them through their paces. To this end, Fender shipped us two models, the American Professional Precision V, in the cool, new Antique Olive color, and a sunburst Fretless Jazz Bass (4-string). But, alas, this tale has gone on for a while, already, and that chapter will come at a later date…

The Bottom Line It might seem unusual to be talking about Fender as one of the most exciting bass manufacturers in 2017, but I have to say … get used to it. First off, Fender never really “went away.” They have been the dominant brand in overall bass sales for decades. In addition, there was really no need to “reinvent” anything. How many times have you heard the phrase, “Leo got it right?” But what is happening is that Fender is undoubtedly “reinvigorated,” and that’s good news for all of us. The American Pro Precision V brings authentic P-bass tone and punch all the way down to a low B, and feels like it was designed by Leo, himself, back in 1963. The Fretless Jazz Bass is so much more than a “Jaco machine.” It’s a fantastic, quick J-bass with great feel that just happens to also be fretless. These two basses present a nice cross-section of what the American Professional series has to offer, and we will bring you detailed reviews in future installments. Whether you fancy a P or a J, a 4 or a 5, skinny/tall frets or no frets at all, the American Pro series has your bass.


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Manufacturer: Fender Model: American Professional Precision V

Website: http://www.fender.com/ Made In: USA

Body: Alder

Body Finish: Gloss polyurethane

Color: Antique Olive

Neck: Maple

Neck Shape: 1963 C

Neck Finish: Gloss urethane front, satin urethane back

Fingerboard: Maple

Bridge: HiMass Vintage

Tuners: Fender “F” lightweight, vintage-paddle keys, with fluted shaft

Pickup: V-Mod Split-Coil

Preamp: N/A

Controls: Volume, Tone

Pickguard: 3-ply Mint Green

Scale Length: 34”

Number of Frets/Positions: 20

Fingerboard Radius: 9.5”

Strings: Fender 7250M, NPS (.045-.125)

Accessories: Elite hardshell case

Options: 4 colors; rosewood fingerboard (with Olympic White or 3-Color Sunburst finishes)

Price: $1,549.99

Manufacturer: Fender

Model: American Professional Precision V

Website: http://www.fender.com/

Made In: USA Body: Alder Body Finish: Gloss polyurethane Color: Antique Olive

Neck: Maple Neck Shape: Slim C Neck Finish: Gloss urethane headstock face, satin urethane back Fingerboard: Rosewood Bridge: HiMass Vintage Tuners: Fender “F” lightweight, vintage-paddle keys, with fluted shaft Pickup: V-Mod Single-Coil Jazz Bass Preamp: N/A Controls: Volume, volume, tone Pickguard: 3-ply Parchment Scale Length: 34” Number of Frets/Positions: Fretless (white line markers) Fingerboard Radius: 9.5” Strings: Fender 9050L, SS flatwounds (.045-.100) Accessories: Elite hardshell case Options: 3 colors Price: $1,499.99

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FULL REVIEW

Genzler BA12-3 SLT Bass Cab By Tom Bowlus I had the pleasure of reviewing the Genzler Magellan™ 800 head and the BA12-3 “Bass Array™” cabs back in Bass Gear Magazine issue #19. During the course of that review (and for many gigs since the review was published), I have put my Genzler rig (an MG-800 pushing three of the BA12-3 cabs) through its paces in a pretty wide variety of gigging environments (both indoors and outdoors). It has always delivered exceptionally well, and some of the standout characteristics include a powerful, balanced (not over-hyped) tone, and crazy good off-axis performance. However, as well as this rig performed, I was very intrigued by the slanted design of Jeff’s BA10-2 cabs (which feature a single 10” driver and four 2.5” arranged in a line array, combined with an angled front baffle). I really liked the idea that the front baffle was tilted up towards the player’s ears, and that the more cabs you added, the more it “aimed up.” The angle was subtle enough that even when you stacked three of them, it was still a stable stack. Well, Jeff must have liked what the slanted BA10-2 brought to the table, because he has just announced the availability of a slanted version of the BA12-3 called the BA12-3 SLT.

A New Angle

A

s you might expect, the BA12-3 SLT has a lot in common with its “older” brother, the BA12-3. Namely, it is a ported enclosure with a single Faital Pro 12” neodymium-based woofer mated to four 3” neodymium drivers (also from Faital Pro) configured in a line array. The SLT sports a pair of Speakon inputs, a pair of ¼” inputs, and is rated to handle 350 watts. The most immediately noticeable difference is that the cab is slightly wedge-shaped, and the front baffle is angled back a bit (just like in the BA10-2). The second difference you observe is another great improvement, which nicely addresses one of my few gripes with the BA12-3 design. Instead of the strap handle mounted on the side

of the enclosure, the SLT has a recessed metal handle set into the top of the enclosure. In my prior review, I commented on the compelling performance shown by using three of the Bass Array cabs. Initially, I was a little bummed that I was only going to get to play around with one of the new SLT cabs, but then Jeff pointed out that the SLT’s were intended to be used in conjunction with the normal BA12-3’s, and that the mix-and-match of the two cabs allows for a number of different cab configurations. Indeed, just adding a single SLT to the equation can change things up in a variety of ways, depending on where you place it in the stack. After some experimentation, my preferred arrangement was a straight BA12-3 on the bottom, the SLT in the middle, and another BA12-3 on top. Jeff Genzler has definitely dialed up some killer designs for both amps and bass enclosures, and his newest offerings seem to keep hitting new heights. I asked him to tell us a bit about the inspirations and design considerations behind the BA12-3 SLT. Here is Jeff’s response:


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“ The Bass Array design from its inception has been groundbreaking in a number of ways. And with so much of our product design, listening to users and player feedback is critically important to validating designs or the progression of designs. Our BA10-2 cabinet design launched in 2017 was a turning point as to how we could better focus the dispersion and projection of the BA design. Because the BA10-2 was so small, we knew we had to do something to accommodate its use on the smallest of stages. We’d also noted that so many users of small cabinets were turning to small amp stands for tilting of single cabinets on tight stages. We certainly were confident that a large part of the BA10-2’s popularity would be for the cabinet shape. And of course, we found that the benefits of this new slanted cabinet design would transfer nicely to the BA12-3 cabinet. Along with the benefits of the improved projection and dispersion, this angular shaped cabinet with a 6-degree front baffle tilt also reduces standing waves that you find within any normal-shaped cabinet design with 90-degree/perpendicular internal panels. While we find the new BA12-3 SLT offers a different tonal/performance characteristic, it blends exceptionally well with the standard BA12-3’s straight cabinet design. The true benefit is that now the player using a blend of a Slant or Straight BA12-3 cabs can fine-tune the dispersion characteristics for a specific stage or venue. ”

Real World Impact After some A/B comparison between the SLT and one of my existing BA12-3’s, the two cabs have more in common than they have differences – which is to be expected. However, with different dimensions, less internal volume and the reduction of internal standing waves inherent with the SLT, there are some audible differences between

the two. The lows seemed about as deep coming out of the SLT, but the normal BA12-3 seemed to have a bit more upper-low end to low-mid presence, and sounded a little warmer, overall. This made the SLT sound a bit more tight and articulate, by comparison. I did not think that the angled baffle would make much of a difference when only using one cab (especially when standing fairly close to the cab), but to my surprise, the upper-mids and high end definitely seemed more present when using just a single SLT sitting on the floor. When I added one BA12-3 on top of the SLT, though, and compared it to two of the straight-baffle BA12-3’s, the difference was even more audible. With the SLT on the bottom, both its baffle and that of the cab on top are tilted back at the same angle (6 degrees), and since the stack is now twice as tall, the vertical spread of the combined line array is even larger – pretty slick! Putting another straight BA12-3 underneath just bumps the whole deal up a little higher – and allows you to hear even more of the upper mids/highs when standing closer to the cabs. For maximum vertical spread from one SLT, you would of course put it on the bottom, and then stack the two BA12-3’s on top. The angle at the top of the third cab is not so steep as to cause your bass head to slide off (presuming your head has feet with a little grip), but I found that the benefits of one SLT sandwiched between two BA12-3 worked out quite well (and made me a little less nervous about things sliding off the top of my stack). If I were just using two cabs, then I would definitely put the SLT on the bottom. The truth of the matter is that even with three SLT’s stacked on top of each other, your bass head would likely stay put, especially if you do the “loop your cables through the recessed top handle trick” that Genzler recommends. But I’d be worried about picks or drinks set on top – of course, what respecting bass player would break either of these taboos!?! One factor that definitely stood out when I was trying the different cab combinations was that these two cabs play very nicely together tonally, as well as physically. I liked the somewhat tighter low end and slightly enhanced overall clarity from the SLT when combined with the added warmth and fullness of the BA12-3. These comments are, of course, in relation to one another. The BA12-3 certainly has plenty of tight lows and great overall clarity, and the SLT does not sound thin. Only when you compare these two cabs to each other do my observations noted above become apparent. I was able to gig with the mixed BA12-3/SLT stack with a variety of bass heads, including several from different manufacturers, and these cabs performed very well, regardless of the amplifier used.

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FULL REVIEW

The Bottom Line The BA12-3 has already made a name for itself in terms of expertly balanced tone, and great off-axis clarity. Adding the SLT to the Bass Array lineup maintains all of these prior qualities, and adds the option for even better vertical dispersion. Throw in the nifty recessed handle on top, and Jeff Genzler definitely has another winner on his hands!


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

CONDITIONS

GENERAL

Acquired from: Dates: Locales: Test Gear (in-hand review):

Company:

Genzler Amplification Winter 2017 Ohio Genzler MG-800, Genzler BA12-3, Celinder J-Update 4, Alpher Cobia 4, Skjold JP Zia 5, Clement Fretless 4, Bergantino B|Amp, Reiner Studio 1200

IN-HAND SUBJECTIVE SCORING Features: 4.5 Tonal Flexibility: 4 Ease of Use: 4 Aesthetics: 4.5 Tone: 4.5 Value: 3.5

Country of Origin: Year of Origin: Warranty: List Price: Street Price: Test Unit Options: Accessories: Available Colors: Available Options:

Genzler Amplification info@genzleramps.com www.genzleramplification.com USA 2017 3 years $899.99 $899.99 None Heavy duty padded cover (optional, $79.00) Black None

Enclosure In-hand SCORE

4.17 average

SONIC PROFILE:

Low: Deep, but tight and clear Mids: Nicely balanced with great clarity; great off-axis dispersion Highs: Very present and clear, but not harsh

Tone o Meter: The BA12-3 SLT shares many of the strengths of the excellent BA12-3, but with tighter-sounding lows, a bit less midrange warmth, and slightly more perceived high end. The off-axis tone and balance is as strong as that of the BA12-3, but the vertical “spread” is notably more impressive.

Configuration: Listed Impedance: Rated Power Handling: Inputs/Outputs: Dimensions: Weight: Ports: Covering: Baffle Board: Cabinet: Grille: Handles: Feet: Casters: Corners: Driver Mounting:

1x12, 4x3 line array 8 Ohms 350 watts Two Neutrik® Speakon® jacks; two ¼” jacks 19” W x 16” H x 18” D 33.8 lbs Front-ported (two; triangular) Tolex 15mm 11-ply Lite Ply® 12mm 11-ply Lite Ply Metal (18 gauge steel, powder-coated.) One (top-mounted recessed handle) Four, rubber (on bottom) N/A Metal, non-stacking Four bolts into threaded inserts

DRIVERS/CROSSOVER Woofers: Cone Material: Voice Coil: Magnets: Mid/High Driver: Mid/High Driver Adjustment: Protection: Speaker Connections: Crossover:

Faital Pro 12PR300 (cast-frame) Lightweight paper 2.56” diameter (aluminum), dual winding Neodymium slug Faital Pro 3FE22 (neodymium) N/A N/A Compression posts (woofer); Faston (mid/high) 1st-order, 6 dB/octave, centered at 800Hz

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BASSIC REVIEW

“The Little Horse That Kicks”

Fender Mustang® Bass The Company Line

F

ender is honoring its rich heritage with yet another example of taking a previous model to a new level. The original Mustang Bass was originally introduced in 1966 as a companion to the Mustang guitars, though as a single-pickup model. The pickup was kind of shaped like the P-bass pickup in this bass, but with smaller oval segments, instead of the larger rectangular ones. It did, however, have a fully intonating bridge (separate saddles for each string) and a mute function. It was the last original Fender bass designed by Leo Fender (in 1965). The finish was done in solid colors (nitrocellulose) until 1968, when Fender began using the more modern and durable polyester finish. In 1969, they were released with “competition” finishes, including racing stripes. Sunburst finishes were also added, eventually. The bass stayed in production until 1981, when it was discontinued, and then reissued by Fender Japan in 2002. Fender later reintroduced the Mustang as a Squier product in 2011. In 2013, Fender launched three new Mustangs in the “Pawn Shop” series, which were made in Mexico. The bass we have in for review was introduced as a new model at the 2016 NAMM Show, and it is the first dual-pickup model of the Mustang, adding the newer P/J pickups and a selector switch.

Details

By Vic Serbe

The “slab” body of this bass is on the thin side, made of alder, and finished in durable Olympic White polyester gloss. The bass has a 30” (short) scale, with 19 “medium jumbo” frets and a maple “C”-shaped neck. The neck is held on by a classic 4-bolt plate, just as the original was. Our review bass shipped with a rosewood fingerboard sporting a 9.5” radius, with white marker dots, and a 1.5” synthetic bone nut. However, in light of the increased regulation regarding the use of rosewood, current production Mustangs will ship with a pau ferro board. The tuners are chrome (normal operation). The bridge is classic plate-style, fully intonating (though no mute function on this model, as it was never popular on the original, and most typically removed). The pickups on this bass are “Vintage Style” Precision (split-coil) and Jazz (single-coil). The controls are volume, (passive) tone, and a 3-position pickup selector switch (neck, both, bridge). The truss rod adjustment is happily accessible at the headstock, so no removing the neck to adjust relief. The strap buttons are the classic cone shape, in chrome. The bass is sold without a case or gig bag.

Fit and finish The finish is good – I can’t find any significant flaws – and


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

the neck pocket is a good fit. The fret level is good, but I’d like to see a bit more rounding on the fret ends and fingerboard. That said, it’s as good as anything else in its price range. It’s a pretty simple instrument in the grand scheme of things, but it’s made very well. I really can’t find anything to complain about.

On the gig This bass weighs in at a paltry 7.3 pounds! The light weight, combined with the short scale, makes this completely effortless to play and shoulder. Speaking of which, when I first took this bass in for review, I had shoulder issues due to a recent surgery (which I hadn’t fully recovered from). The shortened reach and lighter weight made possible gigs where I would have otherwise had to cancel or pass on. While the original Mustang was thought of as a beginner or student instrument (especially for younger/ smaller people), this bass is actually quite gig-worthy. It doesn’t feel “cheap,” at all. It won’t replace my Jazz or Precision bass, but I wouldn’t kick it out of bed for eating crackers, either.

The slab body doesn’t have a contour, but on this small of an instrument, it doesn’t bother me. The neck profile is nice and thin for a “C” profile, so that was quite comfortable, too. Despite the short top horn, it balances well on a strap. All the controls and mechanics (tuners/bridge) work well, except I did have a minor issue with the switch not making proper contact a time or two. In fact, in general, I’m not a fan of the pickup selector. I’d much rather have dual volumes or a blend/pan control. I’d also like to see a hum-canceling J pickup, because with a single-coil, you get the single coil buzz in two out of three pickup positions. This is because the neck pickup is already hum-canceling, so the bridge can’t use it as a hum canceler, like on a J-bass. That said, I’m generally a fan of the single-coil sound, so given a decent environment to play in (from a noise perspective), it does sound good. The bridge pickup is a little thin when fully solo’d, but if you back the tone control off, it fattens up a bit. It’d be nicer to be able to blend just a touch of neck pickup in, but with the selector switch, that’s not possible. The neck pickup is nice and big/fat. It certainly has that P-bass woody/ earthy tone. Finally, the bass feels surprisingly “alive” all the way up and down the neck. I didn’t expect this on a short-scale instrument.

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BASSIC REVIEW

The Bottom Line The most important aspect of this bass is its scale length. Personally, I am far more used to 34”- and 35”-scale instruments, but I know that 30”-scale basses seem to be making a bit of a comeback. In addition to the different feel when playing a short-scale bass, they do sit in a mix a little differently, as well. For those who prefer (or just enjoy) short-scale basses, the Mustang is no toy. It plays just fine, sounds good, and is worth every penny Fender asks. Although the Mustang is based on a somewhat limited classic model, with the updated pickup configuration, it covers a lot more musical and tonal ground than its predecessor.


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

Model: Mustang Bass

Website: http://www.fender.com/ Made In: Mexico

Warranty: 2-Year Limited

Body: Alder

Neck: Maple

Bridge/color: Fender Vintage, chrome

Manufacturer: Fender Musical Instrument

Fingerboard: Pau ferro (our review bass had a rosewood board) with white plastic dots Nut (Guide): Synthetic bone

Tuners/color: Fender, chrome

Knobs/color: Vintage style, black plastic

Pickguard: 3-Ply Parchment

Control cavity cover: N/A

Pickups: Precision (split-coil) neck, Jazz (single-coil) bridge

Preamp: N/A

Controls: Volume, Tone, 3-way switch

Body Finish: “Olympic White” Polyester

Neck Finish: Satin clear Polyester

Scale Length: 30”

Number of Frets/Positions: 19

Strings: Fender USA NPS (nickel plated steel)

Gauge: .045, .065, .085, .105

Fingerboard Radius: 9.5”

Accessories: None

Options: None

Price: $574.99

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BASSIC REVIEW

By Sean Fairchild

Bass players are increasingly called on to enter the electronic realm on key bass and more, or are sometimes replaced by those more familiar. For anyone desiring to use their chosen instrument to make sounds typically belonging to another, MIDI (“Musical Instrument Digital Interface”) is a very tempting way to go. Jam Origin’s polyphonic MIDI Guitar and monophonic MIDI Bass programs have dramatically lowered the barrier to entry in this field, and have done so in unique and outstanding fashion. While one might expect the MIDI Bass offering to be the subject of review in a bass-specific magazine, I’ll actually be focusing on MIDI Guitar 2 and tandem use of both platforms.

Ja

& MIDI Bass Real-Time A Choose Your Vehicle “Remember, you’re a musician first; a bass player second.” So went the words of my first teacher (himself an accomplished career guitarist), whom I don’t really recall ever holding a bass. That was one of the most salient lessons I learned in those early days of studying, and the further I get into my own musical career, the truer it rings.

F

or anyone who has put an inordinate amount of time into mastering a specific instrument, the concept of a link to the wider world of musical creativity, timbre, and expression via the instrument they specialize in is incredibly enticing. Although far from perfect, the best protocol for that job is MIDI. If you’ve never used a MIDI device, the basic idea is that you use a controller of some type to codify musical tones and expression into a series of digital numerical values, which can then be “plugged into” something else that generates sound – usually a hardware or software synthesizer in one form or another. Keyboards work great for this, because the information that keys being depressed and released with varying intensities create is easily digitized – the electronic keyboard is a “clean” instrument with no possibility of sympathetic string vibration, multiple locations of the same pitch in the same octave, no worries about intonation, etc. Guitar instruments – really any stringed instruments - are


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

themselves need to be electrically connected to a processor that detects which fret you’re depressing a string onto, such as with the FretTrax or older Peavey systems, or you split each string’s output into its own individual channel by means of a hexaphonic pickup (Roland system) or piezo elements (RMC Ghost) and send those divided signals out to a separate hardware brain that then converts them into MIDI.

am Origin MIDI Guitar 2

Audio-to-MIDI Software much more imperfect in comparison, so reliable and quick translation of their tones and nuances to MIDI has been elusive, at best.

All Roads Lead to Bloop There are several ways to get there: you may have seen Victor Wooten using the new FretTraX system to trigger MIDI sounds and events, or a guitarist or bassist with an odd-looking and somewhat bulky Roland unit attached to their axe, or maybe just someone with piezo-equipped bridge saddles and a 13-pin output from their instrument feeding a rackmount unit or floor processor. Fishman® has the very impressive TriplePlay system; a wireless unit that converts to MIDI without need for an external brain – for guitar only. But there’s another way, still in its nascency, and in my opinion the most exciting and most widely applicable method – real time, negligible latency, polyphonic audio-to-MIDI conversion software. I’ve experimented with this since about 2008, but at that point there was nothing I knew to be available like Jam Origin’s MIDI Guitar 2. I had been using a far more basic and underperforming program from a company called WIDIsoft. I won’t mince words about what Jam Origin has made available and is actively developing; it’s nothing short of revolutionary. Typically, one of two methods need be employed to convert your strings’ sounds into MIDI; either the frets

Each method has its benefits and drawbacks. Electrically capacitive systems that involve wired frets require expensive, invasive installation or need to be wired-in during construction and often have difficulties with sensing right hand articulation. Fret replacement becomes a more complicated process, as well. On the other hand, hexaphonic and separate piezo pickups are not easily or quickly installed and uninstalled, and they require an external piece of hardware such as Roland’s GR-55 Guitar Synth to actually carry out the MIDI conversion. If it wasn’t before, it should now be clear why simply plugging your normal, non-modified bass or guitar into your audio interface and firing up MIDI Bass or MIDI Guitar 2 is such a big deal – and better yet, MIDI Guitar performs arguably better at the task of true MIDI conversion with fewer overall drawbacks than any other method I’ve tried. And at $99 for a lifetime buy-in for both MIDI Guitar and MIDI Bass, it’s a mere fraction of the cost of any other MIDI conversion system.

Bit by Bit MIDI Guitar 2 and MIDI Bass come packaged together,

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BASSIC REVIEW and as both standalone programs and plugins for use within a digital audio workstation, in VST (“Virtual Studio Technology”) and Audio Unit formats. When used as a standalone host, either is capable of hosting your other VST effects and instruments, so there’s no need to use a separate DAW (“Digital Audio Workstation”). A respectable library of proprietary synth voices, guitar effects, amp simulators and cabinet models are included. However, the majority of effects and virtual instruments I use are native to Ableton Live, so I preferred to use the VST plugins within Live. There is absolutely no difference in performance when used within a DAW, as opposed to standalone mode. As with any MIDI conversion system, setup is an important factor. MIDI Guitar gives you some parameters you should spend time tweaking for optimal results, and they have a handy walkthrough of these settings available via the Help menu. In particular, getting the input level through the audio interface right is key, as is setting the noise gate. You can adjust the buffer size and subsequent latency, but although my Intel i7-equipped PC with 16 GB of RAM performs admirably well in most media and audio tasks, I wasn’t able to set my buffer size to less than 64 samples without the CPU meter maxing out – a warning that your computer can’t quite keep up with the task at hand. Lowering the buffer size equates to lessening latency, so experimenting here is also worth your time.

So What’s the Catch? MIDI conversion is always a compromise. You’re either neglecting some right or left-hand articulation, dealing with a bunch of outboard gear, or in this case, with the limitations of the software in its current form. But the excellent thing about software is that it can be updated and augmented, again and again. MIDI Guitar and MIDI Bass are made to be instrument-specific converters, and the way in which they recognize pitch requires the notes in the standard range of those instruments to be specifically programmed in, and that only those notes are recognized. This means that unlike the monophonic MIDI Bass, which currently detects notes between open E and the G two octaves above your open G string, MIDI Guitar currently will not detect a note lower than the D at the 10th fret of your E string on bass (it’s capable of detecting a guitar’s drop D tuning, which is one octave above the lowest D on a 5-string bass). This is obviously an issue, being that it divides a 4-string bass in half, as far as usable polyphonic triggering goes. However, there is a very cool workaround – you can use a special script in one of the Midi Machines effects in MIDI Bass that stops note recognition where it’s picked up in MIDI Guitar (to prevent against any overlap of note recognition and output), and you can use both programs in tandem, feeding the same synth voice! This gets you whole-fretboard recognition with polyphonic capability above D, and it works very well. I’m set up this way in the companion video that accompanies this review.

Provided in the Articulation module are controls for pitch bend and range, legato, and aftertouch settings. For those unfamiliar with these terms, the program’s tutorial does a good job of explaining why you might or might not want to alter these parameters, depending on the synth/voice you’re using. There are also very convenient and easy to operate MIDI velocity controls, including gain, tone, and curve – again, explained well by the tutorial. The next module is titled Midi Machines, and this is an interesting one. Here you can basically configure the MIDI equivalent of audio effects pedals, but ones that are MIDI specific, to do some pretty fun things; an arpeggiator to create cool, automatic arpeggio runs based on a single pitch you play, a transposer to pitch your MIDI notes up or down several octaves or semitones (very important for practical usage), and more.

Bass as Interface

The Instrument module is for selecting what synthesizer or virtual instrument, you’d like to use, and if you’ve added your own VST’s into the software, it will show them among the available voices here, along with its own builtin tone generators. Next to that module is Guitar, which gives you options for amp and cab modeling on your dry audio (non-MIDI), as well as audio effects. If you have VST effects that you’ve scanned in, they will be available here, as well. Below the last two modules is the Mixer, which allows you to control the mix between your dry audio and wet MIDI sound, as well as master gain and a cool sync control that can slightly delay your dry signal to better match the latency of the wet one.

Here is what I would offer to the doubtful at this point: when using the bass as a controller, it ceases to be a bass. A controller’s keys and knobs have no intrinsic musical value; a C on a MIDI controller keyboard is only a C if the synth it’s hooked up to says it is. This understanding and mindset makes it far easier to see the greater value proposition of using a system like this, and using electronic manipulation to achieve the desired output. Just because you can’t use your open low B string to trigger a low B synth sound, doesn’t mean you can’t get the pitch of a low B. Play it an octave higher on your instrument or map that output sound to any fret you like (that’s within the program’s detectable range), and enjoy dropping low B

Additionally, in speaking with the developer, it’s clear that they will be adding several lower recognized pitches, which I’m assuming will be Db, C, and B, likely to accommodate 7-string and highly detuned guitars. That may not seem like much, but it could make a considerable difference in real-world practicality. The developer also states they would like to make MIDI Bass polyphonic at some point in the future, but didn’t give me any reason to expect that to be imminent.


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Manufacturer: Jam Origin Model:: MIDI Guitar 2 and MIDI Bass

Web: http://www.jamorigin.com/ Accessories: Zippered pouch, shirt clip, foam eartips, standard and large 3-flange eartips

Price: $99.95 for both MIDI Guitar 2 and MIDI Bass, standalone and VST/AU plugins, Windows/Mac;

“MIDI Guitar for Garageband” is a light, standalone edition without plugins, only for MacOS, and only available from Apple’s App Store for $39; a separate app is available for iOS ($30 via two IAP purchases for full functionality)

bombs all night! I’ve had a lot of fun playing with an 808 drum machine synth, in which the 12th fret of my high C string is for some reason the 808’s infamous, deep sub bass hit. It feels odd at first to trigger such a profound sound with such a seemingly high note, but that’s just it – when I’m using the bass that way, it’s not a note, it’s a command. With understanding and use of the Transpose control and controls within the plugins you’re using, there’s no missing capability, whatsoever. Additionally, I’ve had some interesting and fun results pitching my bass’ input into the audio interface up one octave via a Bass Whammy pedal first, which essentially turns it into a guitar as far as MIDI Guitar is concerned. It adds a little to the latency, as the Whammy imparts its own, but is another way of looking at solving an electronic conundrum with an electronic solution. As with most MIDI converters, some latency is detectable and worsens slightly with decreasing pitch (another reasonable argument to keep your triggering up higher), but it’s nowhere near deal-breaking or show-stopping in its effect on one’s playing, here. While the Interface module’s parameters list selectable latencies as low as 1ms, the program doesn’t report genuine latency. But hopefully the accompanying video example serves to show that it’s not an arresting factor whatsoever, especially after five minutes of use. And again, the latency you’re able to run at will depend upon your computer’s specs and abilities, and how well tuned it is for audio use. Note that you can mix the output of your bass with the affected MIDI sound through the software’s Mixer, and even add effects, amp, and cabinet simulation to your bass tone and control the mix in real time via an expression

pedal or other MIDI controller, so it’s possible to essentially perform your own voicing split between real bass and MIDI output, allowing you some pretty unique soloing opportunities. Bass on E and A string, Rhodes on D and G string, anyone? On the DAW side, you’re only limited by your imagination as to what MIDI splits, voicings, DAW controls or other MIDI events you can program.

Mixdown You can try both of these programs for free; downloads are available on Jam Origin’s site. The trial versions don’t lack any functionality – their stream is simply interrupted every several minutes. This is the best way to investigate for yourself whether or not the company’s products hold significant value for you. MIDI conversion can help you explore sounds and textures you might like to use for a recording, without needing to locate, purchase, and learn another instrument (or hire a whole orchestra). Regardless of the trajectory Jam Origin takes with these already impressive offerings, I predict that real-time pitch-to-MIDI conversion will become the dominant paradigm, likely in the not too distant future, rendering most of today’s clumsy hardware solutions more or less obsolete. Jam Origin appears to be on the cutting edge of this movement at the moment, and I’m hoping wider adoption of MIDI Guitar and MIDI Bass will solidify commitment to development on their part and others. I’m ready for the brave new world! Here is the demo on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xN5rqrQClg

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BASSIC REVIEW

Wampler Low Blow Bass Overdrive & Distortion Pedal By Sean Fairchild Coincidentally, the introduction of my most recent review focused on how vast the field of bass overdrives, distortions, fuzzes, and wave discombobulators has become (what a great time to play bass!). So it’s fitting that the subject of my focus here is another excellent offering in that general vein, but with some unique properties all its own.

In This Corner…

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hile not diminutive, the Low Blow comes in a very manageable size, relatively on par with the form factors of most similar stompers. I’m always happy to see input and output jacks on the top/back of the pedal, rather than the sides, as it alleviates the pedal board creep that many side-jack-mounted pedals exhibit. The power jack is also located on this panel, leaving the pedal able to buddy right up to your next closest effects. The metal enclosure is sturdy, as expected, and the robust knobs inspire a good deal of confidence and look pretty cool. One of my favorite features – which we’re seeing more of these days than in years past – is the non-latching, momentary footswitch. This type of switch – when paired with a relay – still gets you mechanical true bypass, but the element you’re punishing all night with your boot isn’t the working part doing the signal switching itself. That means more longevity for the switch and quieter operation; a more costly touch, but so nice when included. The first bass-specific distortion offering from Wampler, they clearly put some thought into what might work well for our typical use case scenario and needs. Control-wise, the Low Blow gives you most of what you might expect from a latter day bass distortion, and a couple options you wouldn’t. A 3-band EQ is always a very welcome feature on any bass wave shaper (to help better deal with the vast range of sonic ground our instr-

uments are capable of covering), as is the Blend control, making it easier to retain just the right amount of fundamental and dry tone. Volume and Gain are separate operators, ensuring you can get whatever level of crazy you desire out of the unit, while not necessitating a three-fold increase in volume (if you don’t want it). Now for the more unique factors: a mini toggle to activate a predetermined notch filter and another to switch between “Smooth” and “Jagged” distortion type occupy center stage on the Low Blow’s layout.

Fighting Dirty Although it’s billed on the Wampler site as a “Bass OD/ Dist,” I would characterize the Low Blow more in the weight class of a fuzz-type distortion, than overdrive or simple harmonic distortion. Its inherent tone tends to lean more towards a mid-focused, buzzier character than searing highs or softly churning growl. That said, at lower Gain settings, the Low Blow is definitely capable of a very nice and mild, familiar overdrive, allowing it to potentially serve double duty on your board. With all EQ controls at noon, I found the Low Blow to be a bit shy on both highs and lows, but there is a lot of usable adjustability in those three parameters to be able to sculpt your favorite tone. The Smooth setting of the distortion character’s toggle switch provides more high-end presence, whereas the Jagged setting furthers the box’s fuzzy nature, increasing mids quite a bit and making for a pregnant, midrange-bursting-out-the-seams kind of sound. The notch filter is an interesting addition. When I first read about this feature, I had assumed it to be a variable, adjustable type of narrow-band filter one could tune to a specific room’s attributes and shortcomings. The implementation works a little differently. The filter’s attributes in terms of notch width and center frequency – as well as the amount of cut – are fixed, delivering greater ease of use, at the expense of increased versatility. In this way, it seemed to me to act almost more as a mid-shift style cabinet simulator, cutting out a good amount of


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

Manufacturer: Wampler

Website: www.wamplerpedals.com

Model: Low Blow

Made In: Martinsville, IN

Enclosure: Aluminum, 0.10” thick

Inputs: ¼” input, 9v-18v power

Outputs: ¼” output Other Features: Notch filter, Smooth or Jagged gain structure

Controls: Bass, Mid, Treble, Blend, Volume, Gain, bypass switch Battery Operation: Yes

Price: $209.97 Dimensions: 3.5” x 4.5” x 1.5” (88.9mm x 114.3mm x 38.1mm) – height excludes knobs and switches Warranty: Five-year warranty (original purchaser), and 30-day, “no questions asked” return policy

midrange and low-mids to create a familiar kind of complete rig, sans-amplifier, tonality. Favoring a lead-type distorted tone, I arrived at my favorite settings on the Low Blow with the Gain control at or below 2 o’clock in general, as venturing beyond this territory yielded more fuzz-like qualities than I am usually in the market for. I preferred to keep the notch filter bypassed, as I used the pedal through a full rig, although I can see it coming in very handy if recording direct without a mic’d cabinet in the mix. I favored the Smooth clipping mode for its perceived greater presence and upper harmonic content, with the Gain set at 1:30, Bass at 1:00, Mids at 9:30, Treble at 1:00, and Blend at noon.

A Challenger Appears Wampler’s got a real contender in the Low Blow (come on, with that name, you knew that was coming!). Not only does it deftly do what many other bass dirt devils do well, but it offers some additional functionality in its notch filter and dual Smooth and Jagged clipping modes that usually aren’t seen on pedals in this arena, allowing it to fill more than one need or niche in your pedal lineup and offering some added value. It may lean more towards the fuzz side of the spectrum than other challengers, but that could be just the tone you’ve been searching for. It’s certainly worth putting up against other bruisers in your local music stores’ stable. A domestically designed and built, versatile and malleable bass distortion pedal, the Low Blow offers some exception value for the underdog who’s ready to step into the ring get a little (or a lot) dirty.

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BASSIC REVIEW

“Old School Quality, Modern Sound”

Ear Trumpet Labs Nadine Mic Ear Trumpet Labs is a microphone company based in Portland, Oregon that markets its products using the following words, which can be found on a card in the envelope that accompanies each microphone:

Look great, sound incredible Hand-built microphones combining distinctive retro-industrial style with professional sound tailored for live use. How well they succeed at both of these things is obviously subjective, but in this review, I will attempt to provide both information and audio sound files that will hopefully give the reader more information to go on, with actual sonic results.

At First Glance

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hen I was younger, my mother had a canister vacuum cleaner made by Electrolux that looked like a small cylindrical tank on wheels with a vacuum hose attached to the front. It was very heavy to move about, but the moment you laid hands on it you knew you were dealing with a very serious and nearly indestructible piece of equipment. Everything about it screamed “built to last,” from the heavy metal casing to the reinforced hose to the overpowered motor built with real metal bearings (it sounded a bit like a jet engine that would never, ever fall from the sky). Fifty years later, my mother still has and uses that same vacuum cleaner. What is the point of this seemingly random mention of my mother’s vacuum? It was the first thing I thought of when unpacking the Nadine and holding it in my hands. The mic is housed in a solid metal box about the size of a small tackle box. Like the mic itself, it feels nearly indestructible – even the clasp and handle of the box are made of metal. Opening the box reveals the Nadine embedded

By Chris Fitzgerald in heavy foam, consisting of a solid brass barrel that literally weighs more than half a pound all by itself connected by a very sturdy heavy duty Mogami cable to a capsule module that also has brass fittings, although weighing less than half as much. The resulting feeling when holding it is, “this thing will outlive me by at least one lifetime” – an extremely rare quality in today’s market of disposable audio gear. Anyone who admires old school over-engineering will likely not be able to resist this feeling of physical substance, and for such a person (I am definitely one) it tends to project confidence that whoever designed this thing wasn’t kidd-


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ing around; the thought readily occurs that if the rest of the design is as solid as the form of the thing, this is going to be a really great microphone.

Mounting on the Bass The feeling of thoughtful design continues when the user mounts the microphone on the bass. There are three innovative design aspects to the mounting process:

. the separation of the capsule and the mic from the

barrel, which allows the capsule to be easily positioned without attaching the weight of the barrel to the afterlength of the strings;

. the heavy rubber gasket that holds the capsule se-

curely between the string afterlengths, allowing the capsule to be mounted either closer to the bridge or tailpiece;

. the heavy stretching Velcro strap and rubber gasket

that mounts the barrel of the mic to the outside of the tailpiece with absolutely no vibration whatsoever. This mounting method is an engineering marvel, and speaks to the level of attention to detail in the overall design.

Because of this well thought-out and intuitive mounting method, it is extremely easy to mount the mic on the bass with minimal fuss. Once the standard XLR mic cable is plugged into the barrel, the cable points straight down to the floor and is an optimal position to be out of the bassist’s way.

In Practice The mic is designed for live use, specifically to provide a signal that will be sent to the front of house sound system, rather than fed through an onstage amplifier (attempting the latter results in the usual pitfalls of potential feedback and all that go with it onstage). The specs of the unit read very much like those of a recording mic: large diaphragm (26mm) cardioid condenser design, +48V phantom power required, frequency response of 20Hz to 15kHhz. Since as a primarily jazz bassist I didn’t have any performances during the review period that involved FOH support, I created a simulation of the conditions of live playing for this review, as described below. In a live situation, a microphone is subjected to relatively high volume off-axis sound coming at it, usually from the sides of the pickup pattern from the other instruments and amplifiers on the stage. For this trial, I tried to replicate that sound field by placing the bass at a 90-degree angle to two powered studio monitors with 8” drivers that were pumping out stage-volume level music with the bass part muted, allowing me to play along with the source and send the signal from the Nadine back into Logic to mix with the original track. To show the performance of the mic, three sound files were created:

. One track with the sound of the mic soloed in the

mix, which allows the listener to hear the mic’d sound of the bass, plus the amount of bleed from the (very loud) monitors it was near;

. One track blending the signal from the Nadine back

in with the original track to allow the listener to hear the overall result of the mic signal in context;

. One track of only the backing track itself with the bass rolled off at about 600Hz, which allows the Nadine signal to be the primary bass sound heard in the final mix.

Check out the audio on our website: https://www. bassgearmag.com/old-school-quality-modern-sound-eartrumpet-labs-nadine-mic/ I have done this kind of experiment with a number of microphones, and there is usually a significant amount of bleed, especially from large diaphragm condenser mics. In this case, the Nadine performed admirably, rejecting more of the off-axis sound than any other mic I have tried in this scenario. It helps that the capsule is so close to the

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BASSIC REVIEW included here, because I thought that sounded best). Once the high-pass filter was added to the signal chain, I felt the result retained a nice, full “old school” thump, but also enough detail to really allow the bass to speak with a full dynamic range on the part of the player. The sound was punchy but still clear with no EQ other than the high-pass filter, and it is no stretch to imagine that it would be easy to further tailor the sound to taste with a small amount of additional EQ at the board or with an onstage preamp.

Final Thoughts I don’t play the type of shows that the Nadine is designed for often, but if I did, I’d purchase one in a heartbeat. I’ve heard one criticism of the mic from a player whose opinion I respect, that he worried about putting that much weight on the tailpiece might dampen the vibrations of the bass, but honestly for the kinds of shows and volume levels the mic seems to be designed for, any such dampening might end up actually being a plus, rather than a minus.

top of the bass, and that the diaphragm is so large –it would be nearly impossible to position most large diaphragm mics in this position under the afterlengths in a live situation.

Sound and Analysis Hopefully the sound files provided will allow the reader to make up their own mind about the effectiveness of both the mic itself and the experimental soundstage. From my perspective, the Nadine did an amazing job of picking up the sound of the bass while rejecting an admirable percentage of the ambient sound around it. I really had the program material I was playing along with cranked up loud to simulate a live situation, and was very pleasantly surprised to discover how little of that ambient “stage” sound was present in the soloed track. I can only image that the mic would be a great first choice for any acoustic setting involving FOH support, even if the band in question was playing at high dB levels onstage. As for the sound of the mic itself, it is clear and detailed like a studio mic, but like any cardioid mic, it is subject to a fair amount of proximity effect when placed so close to the top of the bass table. I found that I had to use a highpass filter set higher than I expected to tame the lows that the mounting distance included in the signal (I set a steep roll off curve at about 100Hz for the sound files

That issue aside, what I see in this mic is a superbly over-engineered piece of gear that is more than road-worthy, both in terms of design and sound, and one that – as the ad copy states – looks great while you are using it. A hearty two thumbs up, with the caveat that the player should have provisions for a stage-controllable high-pass filter, if they don’t trust the sound person running the FOH.


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

Manufacturer: Loud Technologies Inc.

Website: www.eartrumpetlabs.com

Model: Nadine

Made In: USA

Transducer Type: Condenser, large (26mm) diaphragm Polar Pattern: Carioid

Electronics Type: FET Claimed Frequency Response: 20Hz to 15kHz

Claimed Sensivity: -38.9dB

Output Impedance: < 50 Ohm

Accessories:: Metal “tool case;” Velcro mount for tailpiece

Dimensions: 8” x 2” x 2” for the body; head is 2” in diameter

Weight: 1lb.

Price: $599

Warranty: Lifetime warranty on defects or internal failures (from normal use)

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INDUSTRY NEWS

Fender – Rumble Studio 40 and Stage 800 Bass Comboss

Marleaux BassGutiars – mBass 2000

2018 Winter NAMM

Awards

BASS GEAR

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By Tom Bowlus

Darkglass Electronics – Alpha · Omega Ultra Bass Pedal

This year, the NAMM Show added a new hall, increased its attendance numbers, and rearranged the Show floor significantly. One thing did not change; there was a TON of fabulous gear on display! We bring you the best of the best – the Bass Gear Magazine 2018 Winter NAMM Best of Show Award winners:

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ender – Rumble Studio 40 and Stage 800 Bass Combos Fender has been quietly taking over the bass amplification world. Sure, they have been in the market as long as anyone, but over recent years, they have been really killin’ it with regard to bass amps. The Super Bassman is one of the best all-tube heads on the planet, and the Rumble series has been not only a price point leader, but highly competitive with the top of the market. Last November, I was invited out to Hollywood to spend some hands-on time with the newest Rumble combos, the Studio 40 and Stage 800. These new combos really wowed me, but I was sworn to secrecy until the big reveal at the NAMM Show. All of the BGM staff who played through these combos were blown away. The 40-watt Studio 40 drives a single 10” driver, and is ideal for studio use (go figure!) and jamming at home. The Stage 800 features two 10” woofers, and puts out 400 watts when using the internal drivers, and 800 watts when also powering an 8-ohm extension cab. Both of these combos utilize the same impressive front end, which brings the latest modelling technology from the Mustang GT guitar amps to us bass players. The modelling includes a variety of Fender amps and cabs, as well as models of other iconic brands. The new Rumbles offer a huge range of effects, as well. All of this would not matter, of course, if they didn’t sound great. Fortunately, they do. The amp models quite usable, and the effects are not only super fun but musical. I look forward to bringing you an in-depth review in the future, but for now, let me just say that the new Studio 40 and Stage 800 impressed the heck out of us. I’m willing to throw out the phrase “game changer.” Seriously, folks, these new Rumbles are great! https://www.fender.com/products/bass-amplifiers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45HMi_bXtfc

Marleaux BassGutiars – mBass 2000 Regular BGM readers may note that we have previously doled out the Best of Show hardware for Gerald Marleaux; twice previously, in fact. This makes Gerald our first three-peat winner, and deservedly so. The first Best of Show Award was for the Marleaux Diva, a lovely and unique fretless design. The second went to the Contra Bass, which blends the materials and techniques used when building violins and violas with those used when building electric bass guitars. For this award, Gerald went back to a prior model design – the mBass – but with a very special treatment. This 6-string bass represents Gerald’s two thousandth build; that’s 2,000 instruments, which is a lot from such a small shop. The neck-through mBass 2000 features attention to the woodwork and details above and beyond the normal Marleaux high water mark. The pickups were custom-wound for this specific instrument after playing the bass with a variety of other pickups. Likewise, the preamp was custom-voiced for this bass. The result is an instrument which has notes that leap off the fingerboard, and somehow manage to hit like a ton of bricks, while sounding clear as a bell. I do not normally play a 6-string, but somehow, I felt right at home on this bass. We had some stiff competition for the Best of Show instrument this year, but in the end, it was a unanimous win for Gerald Marleaux with the mBass 2000. http://www.marleaux-bass.com/marleaux_home_eng.html

Darkglass Electronics – Alpha · Omega Ultra Bass Pedal Another repeat winner, Darkglass Electronics, continues to impress with their relentless quest to take over the bass amplification world. Perhaps not coincidentally, Darkglass won their first Best of Show Award the same year that Gerald Marleaux won his first – 2014 – and they, too, celebrated a milestone: the 10th Anniversary of Darkglass Electronics. Douglas, Hugo and Franco not only offer up the best lineup of bass pedals in the industry, they have also been making their mark with killer bass heads and cabs. The Alpha · Omega Ultra is their latest pedal, but it is far from ordinary. First off, it offers the two distinct distortion circuits (Alpha and Omega) and Growl/Bite functions offered in the previous Alpha · Omega pedal, but adds not only a 6-band foot-switchable graphic EQ, but also a cab sim function. This last feature is easy to overlook, but after Douglas showed us how it works, we realized how much it brings to the table. You can only load one cab sim at a time (and turn it on or off, of course), but you can access a number of different cab sims (aka, “digital impulse-response cabinet emulations”) on your computer and then choose which one to download to the pedal. These cab sims are modelling not only the particular bass enclosure, but also the specific microphone used to record it, and the positioning of the mic (on-axis, off-axis, etc.). The end result is that the ability to punch in a cab sim allows you to dramatically change the tone/response/feel of your overall signal, which basically doubles down on the very versatile Alpha · Omega Ultra overdrive tone. The cab sim option will be especially attractive to users of in-ear monitors who miss some of the tactile response of playing through a great cab. If you can’t find a compelling distortion tone in this box, then you shouldn’t be playing around with distortion to begin with. https://www.darkglass.com/creations/alpha-omega-ultra/


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2018 Winter NAMM Show


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INDUSTRY NEWS

Boss – GT-1B Bass Multi-Effects Processor

Trace Elliot – ELF Bass Head, Transit-B Bass Pre-amp, 2x8 and 1x10 Bass Cabs

2017 Summer NAMM

Awards

BASS GEAR

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By Tom Bowlus In the past several years, the Summer NAMM Show has really seemed to come alive. As usual, there was some excellent and innovative gear on display. Here are the Bass Gear Magazine 2017 Summer NAMM Best of Show Award winners: Wing Instruments – Wing Bass Classic, with Nano POG

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oss – GT-1B Bass Multi-Effects Processor Boss has a long history of producing the kind of “go-to” effects pedals that guitar players and bassists, alike, have come to depend upon. Back in 2002, Boss hit the market with the GT-6B, which was a bass-specific multi-effects pedal based upon an existing “guitar” pedal. Bass players loved it, and eventually, Boss replaced it with the both more advanced and more intuitive GT-10B. In similar fashion, this pedal serves as both a simpler and improved successor to the GT-10B. The GT-1B definitely impressed us with the tone and responsiveness of its models and effects, but when they told us the street price – only $199.99! – we knew that Boss had a hit on their hands. Kudos to Boss for raising the bar, while lowering the price! Check out our video demo, or head on over to https://www.boss.info/us/products/gt-1b/. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opS-0QDfGVc

Trace Elliot – ELF Bass Head, Transit-B Bass Pre-amp, 2x8 and 1x10 Bass Cabs Peavey took over the venerable Trace Elliot brand back in 2005, and they proved to honor the brand by hiring back one of its original engineers and then producing a newer range of amps, cabs and combos which paid close homage to the highly regarded originals. More recently, Trace Elliot has explored the realm of smaller, lighter bass gear. Truth be told, we saw these products at the 2017 Winter NAMM Show, but we really didn’t have a chance to play through them. Well, now that we’ve had a chance to put this new gear through its paces, it absolutely delivers bona fide Trace Elliot tone and features in a variety of compact packages. The ELF is a diminutive 200w head with a simple interface and no direct lineage to a preceding Trace product. Nevertheless, it hits in the same ballpark, tonally. The Transit-B manages to deliver a veritable “greatest hits” of Trace Elliot features – including multi-band compression, pre-shape, blendable drive, and footswitchable EQ – and the tone/ features are VERY reminiscent of Trace Elliot amps of yore. The 1x10 (300w, 8-ohm) cab seems aimed at the personal practice scenario, while the 2x8 (400w, 8-ohm) is capable of practice or full-on gig duty. The 2x8, especially, screams, “instant classic.” Learn more at http://www.traceelliot.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdKLv3xSs0s

Wing Instruments – Wing Bass Classic, with Nano POG We have told you about (and reviewed) the unique Wing Bass before, but even when you are familiar with the instruments, the Wing Bass booth is always an exciting visit at any NAMM Show. We loved their new 30” basses (which were also in contention for this award), but ultimately, it was the Wing Bass Classic with the EHX Nano POG option that really impressed us. To be fair, these instruments sound great with no octave manipulation. But once you add the on-board Nano POG, the capabilities of this diminutive instrument really open up. The Classic version retains the original “single-cut” shape, but Wing Instruments now also offers a neck-through, or NT, version of the Wing Bass. These instruments are just too cool not to check out! https://www.wingbass.com/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uub_m_imXkc

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COLUMN

Bearclaw’s Basement “HOT OFF THE PLANE” By Joe Burcaw

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few months ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with this bass legend – a man who at 73 years young refuses to show any signs of slowing down the pace. I don’t need to get into specifics regarding who Jack has played with or what he has accomplished, because the list goes on for eternity. I will say this, though; if ever there is a time for younger aspiring bass players to seek out musical royalty, they must do it now, and go see Hot Tuna perform this summer as part of the “Wheels of Soul” tour with Tedeschi Trucks Band and The Wood Brothers. Trust me, from personal experience, you will not be disappointed! For now, I hope you enjoy my indepth conversation with Jack, spanning over fifty years’ worth of lifetime achievements and milestones: JB: Last December, I had the opportunity to see Hot Tuna perform live for the first time ever in Fairfield, CT. I wish to congratulate you and Jorma Kaukonen for sustaining such a long musical partnership within the “American blues roots rock” community. Is it true it’s been almost five decades that you two have been playing together? JC: Well, we started in high school in 1958. We had a little high school band together when I was 14 and he was 17.

An interview with Jac Then, he graduated and went off to Antioch College, which is where he started learning his finger-picking style. We hooked back up again at the beginning of Jefferson Airplane. I joined a few months after Jefferson Airplane was put together – in 1965 – and then I did my twenty years out in San Francisco. JB: That is going to lead into my next question. Having this friendship/ partnership for so long, are you still learning from one another, and what is the key ingredient that has made the band last for this amount of time? JC: I don’t think we look at it as a band, as such, but essentially, Jorma and I have grown up listening to various styles – like folk, blues and the Americana genre, as well as many others. I think we realized that the gift we have requires pursuing it. It is not enough just being proficient at playing; you need to pursue that gift with all curiosity, as well as keep your standards up to a level where you want it all to be as honest as possible. So, if you do that, then you require that from each other, and that is a fun thing. This is not a chore; this is a healthy thing, and so in the musical

world, we try to do that. In the personal world, we see ourselves outside the musical confines, so that we see each other as friends and human beings who are able to do this and do it well – but also appreciate how lucky we are to be able to do it. That being said, we work very hard at it. This allows us to make sure that there aren’t any roadblocks getting in the way of our musical business. Quite often, bands come together for the business, putting up the band as a musical entity or structure. I think that it helps tremendously that Jorma and I have references that are not connected to the band or the music or the partnership that we do as Hot Tuna … and so if the elements of life and all of the distractions that come along in life get to be intrusive, we are fortunate enough to step back and say, “Listen, you know, I remember your mom coming and making a roast beef sandwich.” He wouldn’t remember that, but I remember visiting his parents and grandparents as kids before we knew that we were really going to do this for our whole lives, and I think that makes a big difference in keeping our perspective.


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of swing, and there was no noodling around the fret board. Has it been a conscious decision to make your bass lines more melodic, where each note being played really has a purpose?

ck Casady JB: Right, you established that

friendship first off, before moving on as a musical duo.

JC: Absolutely, absolutely… I get that from a lot of my early jazz listening. When I started playing guitar at age twelve, my father belonged to the American Jazz Society. He was a professional dentist in Washington, but he was an audiophile, and I always liked the small combo stuff, such as Bix Beiderbecke and Eddie Condon, and even the small New Orleans band combos that would play in and around one another. I liked in the individual players Jelly Roll Morton, and loved the the way that his left and right hands would move and interchange within each other … that is where I got a lot of my sensibility about what the bass can do. I love orchestral works, where you listen to the bass violas go up through the cello range and the music flows through the low end up to the midrange and upper midrange. I go for that in playing my music, I love the melody aspect, but it always has to swing.

JC: Yes, but a friendship – like any kind of a relationship – requires work as you get older and gain maturity and things change in your life, so JB: Yes, I can hear that. it is something that always has to be worked at. JC: I am so glad that you used the term “swing,” because people don’t JB: Have you ever felt performing use it much, anymore. Even though live that there have been moments you’re playing the melody, it’s not just (because you have this innate synabout how intricate you can make the ergy) you ventured into stretching combination of notes as you search out or extending a tune? Have you for creative stuff to play. For me, it is ever had an instance where Jorma is more about keeping the “seductive” going one place and you follow him aspect of the playing – which is the seeing where you end up meeting swing within – that to make those meeach other in the middle? lodic notes mean something. Whatever guitar style Jorma is using – which JC: We do, indeed, do that with each is primarily a thumb and two fingers other. I think that is what makes us and finger-picking style – what is hold interest with each other, and we unique about he and I playing together allow one another to do that freely. like that is our style; that is complete So if I pull something out in one dimusic, in and of itself. It is like two rection, you peep over that wall and hands on the piano, so he can sit and see what’s on the other side. play the guitar with the thumb moving back and forth between contrapuntal JB: That is what I was going to lines and groove rhythm lines – as well comment about in your bass playing. as the chords and melody interspersed I have noticed when watching you – but they are not just whole chords perform that there is this sensibility being thrashed across the guitar or

playing lead lines, like in a linear guitar approach. That frees me up to work within the melodic world, and the bottom does not drop out of the music. Now, I can’t do that with every other player. I figure if I am playing with somebody who is playing either a melody with a flat pick or is playing rhythm, then quite often, that requires more pattern-oriented playing in order to have the support there. You shift your playing around to suit the needs necessary. Doing what Jorma and I do as Hot Tuna, the way he plays allows me to do much more. My goal is always to intertwine with that, so if I am moving up the neck and playing a little more melody, it has to reach a point and a culmination, so I drop back down to the low end to pick up from that departure point to center it back in. Even when I am doing the melodies or moving around in there, they have to hook in with the rhythm going on, and hopefully the goal is not for it to be a distraction, but to just be another level within the music. JB: Would you say that when going into the lower register, are you more cognizant of the kick drum and paying closer attention to the drummer? JC: Well yeah, absolutely. I am always paying attention, because when we’re doing electric Hot Tuna, that is what you do. When I’m doing acoustic Hot Tuna, the lack of a drummer is a strength unto itself, because your playing has to be spot-on and in a manner where that groove does not go away. Now, you don’t have to have someone stating where 2 and 4 is all the time, but when you have a drummer, yes, there is another dynamic of which to work within the bass drum. It’s not just about keeping time, it’s about working within that rhythmic format of the bass, drums, guitar combo to get that rhythmic structure. JB: Do you have a preference as far as going out acoustically or electric, or do you enjoy both equally? JC: It’s like driving a different kind of car. You get into that car, whether or not you’ve got a jeep grand Cherokee or

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COLUMN whether you’ve got a Ferrari – which I don’t have.

JB: Right. How did that whole session evolve?

JB: Nor do I! [both chuckle]

JC: I think it was 1968. Jefferson Airplane was on tour, we were in New York doing the Dick Cavett show. I had known Jimi from coming out to the Fillmore and playing on the west coast, and there was his drummer who I got friendly with and really admired – Mitch Mitchell – and he and I had jammed a few times together while Jimi was playing at the Fillmore. We played the Fillmore all the time and had a rehearsal hall next door, and Bill Graham was our manager at the time, too. We had played a few times together, but really admired one another’s playing. While taping the Cavett show earlier in the evening, I went over to hear Traffic, which was the name of Steve Winwood’s band. I think it was their first American tour, actually. Jimi had known Steve Winwood and those guys in Traffic from working in England and putting together his band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, so we went over to hear them after we did the Cavett show. Jimi walked in and said, “Hey, listen. I’m recording my new album. Would you guys all come over after the show?” We watched him record the good part of the evening. We all crammed in there – probably about 15 of us, including Joram and I. Don’t forget, it was 2:00am in the morning, and at around 6:30am or something like that, he finished doing his work and said, “Let’s play the blues,” and he reworked Voodoo Chile into a long slow format. He showed us the changes in it, we ran it down one half a time and he broke a string and put another string on and did the full session. Then, we left at about 7:30 in the morning, because we had to be in DC. Jefferson Airplane piled into our Ford LTD wagons and headed down to DC to do another show. A month later, out in San Francisco at our offices at 2400 Fulton St., I get a phone call from Jimi. He said “Listen, would you mind if I put that track on the album?” I said, “I don’t mind, that would be great,” and that’s how it happened.

JC: But you know, there are different elements, and you work within those elements, and I honestly love them both. Lately, we’ve been playing as the electric Hot Tuna, which is a very odd form. There is a lot of ground to cover when you’re working with a trio like that; it’s a lot of fun. As soon as you add other people and turn it into a quartet, then you move into a more functional background. Everybody does, because there is less room to work within, so each format has different structural aspects that are best to adhere to. JB: Is there a particular drummer over the years who has kept you on your toes rhythmically, and was it a challenge that really opened you up more as a bass player/ musician? JC: That is an interesting question. They all do, without singling out a particular, and I’ll tell you why. Because whatever your preference is, it’s not like you can always pick or choose who to play with. I don’t require another drummer to fit necessarily into my format, I listen to how they play, they listen to how I play, and we work out a new team dynamic. It’s kind of like if you have a football team or soccer team and you have different players, you work around the dynamics and talent that is presented. You may be initially frustrated that perhaps you can’t get to a place you did with another player, but it needs to be dropped and you’ve got to investigate what you have in front of you. I think if you do that, then you don’t tend to look at the epitome of who did this or who did that. I can name some drummers who knocked my socks off that I have played with. They’ve all had something going on, and sometimes I don’t even realize it as much while it’s going on as later on, in retrospect. I will sometimes say, “Wow, we really did that well,” because you know, when you’re younger, you’re pushing all the time, and you’re not really satisfied too much with what you’ve done. I think as you get older, as well, I’m not really satisfied with what I’ve done. It’s really about the night that you’re playing … that night. You try to duplicate what you did the night before, and of course you never do. It is of course futile to do that, and it’s not healthy. JB: Let’s talk about you recording with Jimi Hendrix, because I know that you sat in on the Voodoo Chile jam session with Jimi, Steve Winwood and Mitch Mitchell. JC: Yeah, right, and that wasn’t a jam session. I mean, he said, “Let’s play a slow blues,” and we in today’s terms “jammed” and improvised. That was a long number for those days in timing length. Having a 15-minute song getting on an album was practically unheard of, except in the jazz world.

JB: That’s truly amazing. What happened to Noel Redding? Where was he during this session? JC: He was in the vocal booth staring at me through the glass. JB: So Noel knew that he would not be playing on this track? JC: No, no it was okay – it was a jam. They didn’t know it was going to be a double album, I don’t think. In any case, it was a freer kind of time. Jimi had broken away from his producer Chaz Chandler and was producing it on his own, so part of the things he wanted was to get more freedom in the studio. A lot of the bands were doing it. We were doing it we did it with After Bathing at Baxters, our third album. We spent much more time in the studio and started freeing up the music, and that was happening to a lot of bands. A lot of musicians were trying to get a looser


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format in the studio, where before it had all been tightly controlled by the record companies. JB: Listening to that track, it sounds like you were playing a Fender. Do you remember what you used? JC: No, I was playing the Guild modified bass. I think you see that same bass in the classic Woodstock photos. It was stolen and just got returned to me; it’s a great story. After about 48 years, it got returned. I’ve got it right now in my studio, and it’s in perfect shape. When that bass got stolen, I had one manufactured. I just added some electronics to it – this was the precursor to all of the Alembic stuff. At any case, that one is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. JB: I am so happy to hear you have that bass back in your possession. JC: Yes, it’s a great instrument. JB: Did Eddie Cramer [engineer] run your signal through the board combined with an amp to blend your sound on Voodoo Chile? JC: No, it was very unorganized. Much to the chagrin of everybody, there was just a Fender Showman bass amp on the floor out there plugged in. It wasn’t structured, we weren’t all supposed to be there, so it happened as a jam to play, and then he threw everything up to record it as best he could. If he had his way, there would be a lot more isolation and better recording. Naturally, he’s an engineer and wants to get the best out of them. So there was a lot of leakage; we were receiving some feedback coming off one of the amps, too. JB: Let’s talk about tone. I know that you’re a stickler for getting the right and I was wondering, was this a frame of mind that was in your thought process early on, or was it something that developed as you had opportunities to play with different musicians and bands? JC: Well, early on, that is what entices you to listen to music in the first place – the touch and tone of any musician that they get on their instrument, whether it be a wind instrument, and you’re talking about Roland Kirk and Eric Dolphy, or George Van Eps and Jim Hall, if you’re talking on guitar. The tone is the seductive nature of music that pulls you into it. To me, it is much more seductive than the notes, themselves. You have your melody that pulls you in, but the tone of the individual player is what brings you into the personal world of music. Otherwise, you could listen to calliopes play, or mechanical pianos… The music, itself, and the composition and structure of the music, of course, is another aspect all together, but individual players pull you into that emotional personal aspect, and I think that is something that has always intrigued me. Ever since I started playing – and I tell this

to my students when I teach at the Fur Peace Ranch out in southeast Ohio – if you develop good tone, it will lead you to your notes, and if you don’t develop good tone, it is going to sound bad to you, and how inspiring is that going to be? JB: Not at all... I am a bass player, myself. For me, I used to play with a lot of horns and sometimes relied on using a pick to cut through the dense wall of sound. JC: Yes, that’s correct. When I did my first recordings, they wanted me to use a pick on a record. There was a great musician, Carol Kaye, who used a pick and got a sound that was so clear from the electric bass guitar that was so different than a standup double bass. You had all the popular music going on in the early ‘60s, and most of it was done with standup bass players playing the electric bass guitar. You had guitar techniques start to come in and develop in the ‘50s when the Fender bass was developed. From a recording aspect, the engineers loved that, because you had the percussiveness from the pick that you often did not get with fingers. I enjoyed that, but what it made me do was develop my finger technique so that it would, as you say, “cut through the mix.” That is where your tone comes from. It’s really from your hands. It is not from the settings on your instrument. Hopefully, you want to give the engineer in the studio very little to play around with. You want to center it.

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COLUMN Now, one of the things that the Fender bass did that changed the recording industry so much was by placing that offset pickup that Fender developed in the center part, which speeds the length of the string. When you played the Fender bass, it had that space in the recording mix that was unique and almost always was able to be heard. So, you had people picking up this instrument for the first time that didn’t have any preconceptions. Later on, in 1960, when I started to play, the Jazz Bass came out, that was my first bass guitar. I wanted to go with the Jazz Bass because I liked the split pickups and more tonal aspects. I took that guitar and added the Precision pickup by the neck – right at the base of the neck – so if you look at the early pictures of Jefferson Airplane, you’ll see three pickups on that Jazz Bass. What I was able to do with that was put them all on concentric pots. You get a little of that standup bass sound up by the heel of the neck. I would then add in the clarity in the middle of the instrument with one of those Jazz pickups, getting the midrange, but at the same time getting that round low end. Then, I discovered the Guild instrument, which was a somewhat hollow-bodied instrument with a block down the center with a short-scaled neck. I really liked being able to chase the round tone of an f-holed instrument. So that pretty much is how I’ve gone most of my career; never solid bodies. I’ve taken a culmination of twenty years to develop with Epiphone the Jack Casady Bass, which is patterned off of Les Paul’s low-impedance instrument. By the way, all of those instruments have flipped over to low impedance. I was always chasing that rounder tone of acoustic or f-holed instruments, but I wanted the clarity of a solid-body, so that is pretty much what I think I achieved with the JC model that I have out there now these past twenty years. JB: This summer will be the 20th anniversary of the Jack Casady Bass. Will there be any upgrades or enhancements made to the current model that you can share with us? JC: Well, there is no need, because it’s just right, although it will have a different color. We just played the Fillmore, and Jim Rosenberg came up and did a good photo spread and video that will come out in the early summer. There is going to be a bunch of fun stuff to come with it, such as a special gig bag and strap, and a little passport folder that I just signed 600 copies of. We put out a really nice deep cherry red and striped maple top instrument that I took right out of the box, as a matter of fact. This is the prototype for the color that I okay’d and played at the Fillmore. There’s a bunch of stuff up on YouTube you can hear it yourself; it sounds fabulous!

top with 4x10s; an all-tube system. Then, in the acoustic version of Hot Tuna, I use a George Alessandro Basset Hound hi-fi top all-tube from point-to-point with an Aguilar twin 8” and 5” bottom that I helped develop with Dave Boonshoft. On the acoustic set up, I play a Tom Ribbecke Diana 1 model – a spec bass that Tom made for me three years ago in honor of my late wife, Diana. If you go on their website, you can see it has an all hand-crafted large body – he calls it a Halfling; half the top is flat, and half the top is arched, but it is a totally different development and a one-of-a-kind instrument. I have a Diana 2 out there, and you can see pictures of that when I play for the acoustic set up. JB: Are you running dry, or is there an effects pedal chain in the signal path? JC: I have used those things at different periods, like everybody, but I find that it draws away from the tone of my main instrument. JB: Do you think it makes things sound muddy, sonically speaking? JC: I don’t know if it is muddy, it just steps it back some. You can compensate for it, but I find it steps me back away from working with the tone of my fingers on the instrument; it pulls me away from the instrument. Effects are fun and all of that, and at different times, I have used them. What I use as an effect in my electric rig for sustain and growl is cranking the amp way up to distorted levels, rather than using a pedal button mimicking distortion. I use a Veristone that was developed by Bob Hall in the mid ‘60s that Carol Kaye was using in the studios. The Guilds and the Epiphones that I use now have a 35-watt bi-amp with two 7590’s on the low end, and two on the top end through a mono speaker. I used that to record the very first Hot Tuna acoustic album at the New Orleans house with my Guild modified instrument. When you turn it up at about 10 o’clock, it sounds just gorgeous, with sweet high fidelity. When you turn it up to about 12, it starts to sustain a bit, and when you turn it up beyond, you get that growl-distorted-sustain forever. I feed it through a pedal, and mic it separately, putting it through a PA system that blends out my general sound. JB: Do you ever use in-ear monitors, or are you not into that side of technology? JC: Yes, I have used them with Jorma when we’re using a bigger band and have more people on stage.

JB: Let’s breakdown your live rig setup; what are you running through for amps and cabinets?

JB: So, it’s more for larger ensembles that you’ll use them?

JC: Well, for my rig in the electric versions, I use an Aguilar 300-watt tube bottom and Aguilar 12-tube preamp

JC: Yes, exactly.


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JB: I wish to leave you with one last question, Jack. Was there a “light bulb” moment that made you realize you were destined to become a professional bass player? JC: Yes, actually there was. I started working regularly in all of the clubs in a variety of bands in the DC circuit. One of the great musicians in the area was Danny Gatton, a good buddy of mine and a year younger than myself. We traded around in various bands playing from time to time. He called me up on one occasion and says, “Listen, I have a gig coming up for two weeks in a club six nights a week, and my bass player has gotten very ill. Do you know of any good bass players?” In those days, there was 40 on 20 off, five sets a night, no sets on Sunday, and there weren’t very many people that played electric bass. We’re talking 1960, and I’m 16 years old. He says, “Why don’t you do the gig,” and I say “Listen, I’ve never played bass before,” and the joke goes, “How hard can it be, it just has four strings?” [chuckle] Anyway, I borrowed his bass player’s Fender Precision for the gig and really fell in love with the tone and thought we may have something, here. That year, Fender had come out with a Jazz Bass, and I think I ordered it from Levitz Music in northeast Washington. I started playing with it and playing along to records, and then my work quota increased dramatically, so to speak and I fell in love with the instrument and the tone and started developing a picking style on it using my first two fingers as I moved around on the instrument. There were guys in the jazz world such as Walt Montgomery, who was one of the first guys to play in that genre much to the chagrin of Downbeat magazine. It was sacrilegious, so to speak! In a lot of the country, bands and rockabilly bands started using a Fender bass, as well. So that is pretty much how I started getting into it. When I would meet up with Joram from time to time in New York in the years before I moved out to California, I was listening to a lot of the folk music world players, and then when he went out to San Francisco to play on the folk circuit out there, he was approached to start a so-called “folk rock band.” He and I were talking and he had just joined the band and I told him that I was playing bass guitar on a consistent basis. He said, “Great, I’ll call you back.” Shortly after, he called back and asked if I would like to come out to California. I said sure, so I dropped out of school and went out west, full-time. The rest is history… JB: Here you are today in 2017, still making music almost sixty years later! Thank you for talking the time out of your hectic touring schedule to sit down with me Jack. It’s been a complete honor. JC: My pleasure, Joe, and make sure you come out and say “hello” when we come to Connecticut this summer.

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By Tom Bowlus Welcome to Bass Gear Magazine’s Luthiers’ Round Table! As we have done in the past, with this column, we tap into the collective minds of some of the best luthiers on the planet. The Round Table Luthiers include (in alphabetical order): Sheldon Dingwall, Harry Fleishman, Vinny Fodera, Randall Wyn Fullmer, George Furlanetto, Mike Kinal, Kenneth Lawrence, Gerald Marleaux, Carey Nordstrand, Michael Pedulla, Roger Sadowsky, Pete Skjold, Michael Tobias, and Joe Zon.

Luthiers’ Round T Here is the question for this installment: Q: How do you (generally) set up your instruments when they leave your shop, and what tools/ instructions do you provide the customer with regard to adjusting the setup after they receive the instrument? Michael Tobias – We have a setup video on YouTube, titled, “Michael Tobias Design : Setting Up Your Bass.” https://youtu.be/yTo9SBsvrUI We also send the following instructions along with every bass we ship out.

MTD initial set up Optimal set up is individual but I generally use the low B or E (or the low E string on a guitar) as a straight edge, holding it down at the 1st and 16th fret and adjusting the truss rod until there is about .010- .015 space between the top of the 8th fret and the bottom of the string. Then I adjust the high string so that it is 1/16 (2/32, 1.5mm) from the top of the last fret. Check for buzzing ... if that is good, then I adjust the rest of the strings following the curvature of

the board and moving them up slightly until the low B which is a 3/32 or about 2.5 mm. The rest depends on your technique and attack. Pick up heights are generally set by holding down the outside strings at the 24th fret and raising or lowering the bridge pick up to about 3/16 under the strings, top parallel to the strings when loose. Then I use the blend pot to raise or lower the neck pick up to match the output.

BFTS instructions I use a Peterson VS-II or a regular strobe. The Korg DT7 has the offsets burned into the chip for intonation. But if you have a tuner that will adjust 1 cent up or down, you can do the following: When I string a bass or guitar with new strings, I usually stretch them for a bit before doing BFTS intonation … play for about ½ hour or put them on and leave them overnight. Make sure the neck is set like you want and that the action is also. Tune the bass to pitch using the tuner.


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Table Match the: F string open at pitch against the F at the 12th fret 1 cent flat C string open at pitch against the C at the 12th fret 1 cent flat G string open at pitch against the G at the 12th fret 1 cent flat D string open at pitch against the D at the 12th fret 1 cent flat A string open at pitch against the A at the 12th fret 1 cent sharp E string open at pitch against the B at the 7th fret 1 cent sharp B string open at pitch against the F# at the 7th fret 1 cent sharp If the note is sharp, that means the saddle is too close to the 12th fret, if it is flat, then it is too far away. Guitar off sets: E open at pitch against E at the12th fret at pitch B open 1 cent sharp against B at the 12th fret at pitch G open 2 cents flat against G at the 12th fret 1 cent sharp D open 2 cents flat against D at the 12th fret 1 sent sharp A open 2 cents flat against A at the 12th fret at pitch E open 2 cents flat against E at the 12th fret at pitch

Pete Skjold – Typically, I ask each customer what type of setup they prefer and how they actually play the bass (light touch or very hard touch) to determine the ideal setup for that player. Regardless of where I have the action set (the height of the strings off the fingerboard), I try to keep the neck as straight as possible, so no matter the height, the bass plays very easily. There are always exceptions to this rule, though. Some players play with such attack that more relief must be introduced to allow for string movement and for the strings not to fret out. When a customer gets the bass, there is always a follow-up call to ensure we got it right, and if adjustments need to be made I walk them through it or have them contact me when they are ready to do any adjustments. Stock basses have a low-action setup to begin with, and then before it is shipped to a customer, we go thru the same process to ensure proper setup for that customer. The standard low set up is 2/32” at the 24th fret on the G string with slightly higher measurements as we go to the heavier gauges, winding up with around 5/32” on the B string. The basses are supplied with all the wrenches you need to adjust everything and access all compartments. Randall Fullmer – Here, here on what Pete has said. I kept thinking he wrote about his process for me, as well!

I learned in about five minutes at my first NAMM show that one player would tell me a setup was perfect and he would play away with no fret buzz at all. [I’m thinking I’m a genius at this point] Five minutes later, another player with a super strong attack would sit down and grab the same bass, start wailing away and all I could hear was fret buzz… [thinking about killing myself at this point] Okay, had to level-out my emotions and start paying attention to how much the setup can vary depending on taste, preference, and for sure, right-hand playing technique. With customers around the states and the world who I often never meet in person, I really need to sus out from them a description of their specific playing style and string height preferences. When I finish a bass to the point of stringing it up, I play it and gradually adjust the truss rod as the bass stabilizes over three weeks’ time. I like to set the neck to almost flat, but with a very slight amount of relief through the center simply allowing string vibrations a bit more room to vibrate. We’re talking subtle relief, here. I set the bridge saddle heights as low as I can get them while allowing minimum-to-no fret buzz. I set the intonation of the saddles. I play and play and play and play each bass, putting it through what I would consider “real world playing conditions.” I then refer to my notes on each

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COLUMN player’s response to their playing style and adjust to the height I believe they will be happy with. I include a full set of instructions and adjustment tools, and make it clear that I’m available for any issues that come up or guidance needed to put the bass into perfect playing shape for each customer.   My hope, of course, is when they play the bass for the first time, it’s perfect. Short of that, usually the only thing necessary is to slightly raise or lower the bridge saddles, which is an easy adjustment that all players should be used to making. Pete Skjold – Randal, you touched on a few points I left out that echo my process, as well. In regards to setting up the bass, I also play it for a couple weeks, which I call the “settling in period.” This allows the strings to stretch and come to pitch properly for intonating and it allows the truss rod to engage as much as possible before the bass gets sent out. This is also usually the time I figure out what the customer wants, and if he has measurements he already knows from other basses, I will try to match them, but usually go a bit lower, because I have found a lot of players would prefer lower action or straighter necks, but generally they can’t achieve them on off-the-shelf production basses. This is just what I have found in my experience. I would be curious to what others have experienced here. I find that because of this ability to get the action playing effortlessly along with a good straight neck and level frets, this is exactly what customers are looking for when they make an investment in a handmade bass guitar. At least that is the general sentiment I have gotten over the years. I have played just about everyone’s bass here on the Round Table and I would say this is a major focus of all of ours. Harry Fleishman – This probably sounds absurd, but I don’t have any specific methods or measurements for setups. They vary too much. I have a few things I tend to do, however. I set the nut slot depth to half the string diameter, more or less. I set the depth by fretting at the second fret and lowering the nut slot until the string clears the fret by about a phone book page thickness, unless it’s for a bassist with brutish technique, in which case I go a bit higher. I like the neck pretty straight, but with a relief rise at about the 6th fret; again varying with the technique of the player and how hard she or he plays. For an electric upright, I go higher, generally. For a compact acoustic bass, I go for some “zizzz,” but also clear tone and strong attack. For repair-type setups, I try to elicit from the player how it needs to play, and watch them play before diving in. For a 35” scale EUB, like this one from 1978, or 42” from 1995, I set the low B pretty high to allow for strong digging in, and for bowing. The rest are each a bit lower across the fingerboard up to the G at about .150” or so.

Sheldon Dingwall – We have three setup specs depending on price point. The higher the price, the lower the action. We measure in imperial using thousandths for nut height and neck relief measurement, but use 64ths for bridge height. This may mean we use fractions improperly (I.E. 4/64”) but it makes things easier to understand and keep track of. As an added bonus, on our domestic bridges the thread pitch of our saddle height screws is 32 tpi, so a single revolution of the saddle screw equals 1/32” (2/64”) of change at the saddle, which equals 1/64” change at the 12th fret. Easy-peazy. We only have a height spec for the G, A and B strings. For simplicity, we quote the G-string height spec only. The A string is always 1/64” higher than the G and the B string is always 1/64” higher than the A. For example G = 4/64”, A = 5/64”, B = 6/64”. The in-between strings (E, D and C on a 6-string) are adjusted after the G, A and B strings so that they form a smooth arc along the tops of the strings with relation to the G, A and B.  


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The specs for our import line are: Nut height - .006” (+/.001”), Neck relief - .015”, G string @ 12th fret - 5/64”. The specs for our flat-headstock domestic models are: Nut height - .005” (+/- .001”), Neck relief - .015”, G string @ 12th fret - 4/64”. The specs for our angled-headstock domestic models are: Nut height - .005” (+/- .001”), Neck relief - .010”, G string @ 12th fret - 3/64”.

Roger Sadowsky – OK guys, my turn!

We include pickup and electronics specs with our basses but setup specs are dealt with on our Forum and in a series of YouTube videos. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=oHgu_bRTjY4

Our default string is our Sadowsky Stainless 45-65-85105-130.

Here are some of the tools we use to measure these specs.

Regarding the truss rod, we like to set our necks straight. Obviously, if we know a player digs in hard with his right hand, we will allow a little bit of relief. When Peter takes an order, he asks the player if they have any particular action preferences and we do our best to accommodate them.

For saddle height, we work in inches. We measure at the 12th fret, from the bottom of the string to the top of the fret, while holding the string down at the first fret. As others have commented, I will give the height for the G and B, with the understanding that the middle strings are slightly radiused to accommodate the fingerboard radius. Low Med High

2/32” - 3/32” 5/64” - 7/64” 3/32” - 4/32”

High action guys tend to be players who double on upright bass and are used to playing hard. We supply each bass with a truss rod tool and a Bondus Allen wrench for the bridge saddles. We do not provide any set-up instructions. I do the final setup on each instrument before they go to shipping. I set up all the basses we send to Japan with our low action. I set up all the others a bit between my low and med specs, depending on the bass.

Pete Skjold – Haha, Sheldon, good point about the fractions. I do almost everything in millimeters, but I started doing the imperial for this process, since I know have an assistant doing it and this made it easier than these slight changes in millimeters. I could have said 1/16th but it is easier to start at 2/32 for reading purposes. I thought I was the only one who thought like this!

Michael Pedulla – The process begins with tuning the strings up to pitch, adjusting the truss rod to set the neck perfectly straight (no bow), then adjusting the bridge to a comfortable action in the upper register of the fingerboard. I have already set the general height of the nut slots, but at this point, I file the string slots as low as possible for a comfortable action at the 1st fret (this helps with intonation also; if the strings are too high at the nut, the pitch will be sharp on the first few frets). Obviously this will not need to be done in future setups. With stings up to full tension (the Pedulla truss rod is placed to accommodate adjustment with strings tuned to pitch), I go back and forth between the truss rod and the bridge saddle adjustment to get an action that is tight and consistent from lower to upper registers and mimics the radius of the fingerboard, with slightly more allowance for the thicker strings. In the end, the neck normally is set straight, with little to no forward bow. The easiest way to check is to hold an outer string down at the 1st fret and the 24th fret and look at the space between the top of fret 9 to the bottom of the string. There should be little to no space between them (a thin pick worth at most). Too much forward bow in the neck makes for a mushy action in the middle part of the neck and a back bow will cause

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COLUMN the lower register to rattle. If the neck is made perfectly level and the truss rod applies its force in the right place (very important), this process makes it easy to find that sweet spot that everything works and the action is effortless. I do not measure anything, it’s all feel. Yes, different players like different actions, but the vast majority of players I have met all love the lower, even, and more facile action, that seems universal at a high proficiency level of playing. For those that like slightly higher actions, it’s simply a matter of adjusting the bridge saddle heights slightly; a properly set neck relief does not change with bridge height. The Buzz bass is set up much the same process, the playing test being that it growls evenly up and down and across the fingerboard.   The pickup height is then set. Pickups are set as close to the string as possible when the string is depressed at fret 24, the exception being the soapbars in the Thunderbass, which are set about ¼” below the string due to the higher output. If the pickup is too low, there will be a loss of response (speaking of Pedulla basses only).    Once the nut, neck, and pickups are all adjusted, I adjust the intonation with a strobe tuner, fretting at 12th fret and moving the bridge saddle towards or away from the

fingerboard until that note is in tune with the open string. octave. To set the intonation on the Buzz, I use a thin edge (like a credit card) applied directly on the 12th line. Carey Nordstrand – We generally set them up pretty low. At least at first to see if we got everything right. Which, these days is really not a problem. Next, we will set the bass up to our best approximation of what the customer’s taste is. And we definitely make sure we get that info before we ship the bass. I think it’s super important to get things as close as we can to what their ideal setup is. That way we get the best possible first impression and a better chance for the beginning of a long lasting happy relationship between the bass and the customer. We include two wrenches with the bass when it goes out – one for the saddles and one for the truss rod. We’ve never put instructions with the bass. I’m not really sure why, but maybe I just like the idea that if the customer doesn’t know how to adjust the bass, it’s probably better they figure it out on their own than for me to invite them to experiment and make a mess. That said, if a customer inquires about how to set up a bass, I’m extremely encouraging that they dive in and learn how everything works. My first suggestion is to get a small ruler that’s graded in 64ths. Then start measuring


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

stuff with it, like the string height at the last fret and the 12th fret. Then look at the relief, etc. Once one starts to get familiar with these measurements, they can assess and address any issues that might arise quickly and efficiently and get the bass dialed in to their taste. And if a player likes really low action, then they need to understand there will likely be more maintenance to keep the bass in optimal setup. Hopefully, if the bass was dialed in right when it left the shop, then the only thing that will need to be tweaked is the truss rod as it reacts to humidity changes. Joe Zon – Each bass comes with some basic tools (truss rod wrench, Bondhus bridge wrench, polish cloth) and an Owners Guide, which lists the specs of the bass (woods, pickups, electronics, etc), D.O.B and other useful information, including instructions for a general setup. Nothing is intensely detailed, because players all like a different “feel” and it’s our opinion that kind of micro-tweaking is best done by an experienced repairperson. Over the years, there have been a number of times where we have fielded calls from players “who have been setting up their bass for 20 years,” only to have them ask which way to turn the truss rod. It’s good to have practical knowledge on how to adjust the neck, bridge saddles, pickups and intonate the bass, but anything beyond that leave to the pros. However, if you’re the kind of person who does like to tweak, take some classes with a luthier or repairperson to learn how to do it right. Generally speaking, we string all our basses with ZON UltraSonic regular gauge (45-105 w/130) nickel strings. Due to the stable and rigid nature of composites, our basses

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are set up to have straight necks with the lowest and clearest action possible without fret buzz. Adjustment is rare, if ever at all, and relief has to be adjusted into the neck via the rod, if desired. We don’t provide specs, because some players get too caught up in those numbers, not realizing those numbers may not translate into a good set up for their playing style. By setting the action as low as possible, players can immediately sense how fast the bass can play. It’s less mystifying to know the action can be raised as opposed to how low can it be adjusted before it starts to buzz. Kenneth Lawrence – My default is to set up basses with a low action so that it can be a “starting point” for the client. I pretty much set everything to my personal playing taste, and that has proved to be a good reference point. Strangely enough, I’ve never had a bass client give me a specific set of numbers for the setup, like I have with some guitar clients, so my default setups must be working.  Along with the bass, I send along all Allen wrenches for bridge, truss rod, etc., a nice organic cotton polish cloth, the straplock caps, and – as most of my basses are oil-finished – a “Care and Feeding” document for that finish and a White/Extra Fine “Scotch Brite” pad to assist when re-freshing the wax part of the “oil and wax” finish. If there is a more involved control setup, I will include a legend for that as well. There is additional info on adjusting the wooden bridge height on my ChamberBasses, so that accompanies those instruments.  Lastly, I include a cool “swag” pen that has a very handy LED light feature. 


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Luthiers’ Round Table By Tom Bowlus Welcome to Bass Gear Magazine’s Luthiers’ Round Table! As we have done in the past, with this column, we tap into the collective minds of some of the best luthiers on the planet. The Round Table Luthiers include (in alphabetical order): Sheldon Dingwall, Harry Fleishman, Vinny Fodera, Randall Wyn Fullmer, George Furlanetto, Mike Kinal, Kenneth Lawrence, Gerald Marleaux, Carey Nordstrand, Michael Pedulla, Roger Sadowsky, Pete Skjold, Michael Tobias, and Joe Zon. Here is the question for this installment: Q: What considerations do you give to the scale length(s) of your basses? What scale length(s) do you prefer to use, and why? Michael Pedulla – I have experimented with my basses in 32”, 34” and 35” scales and have found that the 34” scale is best for my bass designs. The 5- or 6-string bass is not all about the B string; the object is to maintain the balance and feel between all strings. The simple scientific reason for a 35” scale is that the B string is thicker, and therefore requires the longer scale between the nut and bridge saddle to maximize the fundamental. However, by the same parameters, the thinner G and or C string require a shorter scale (like a 32” scale). To best visualize this, look in a piano and you will see that the “bridge” is angled so that the shortest string (highest pitch) is shortest, and progressively gets longer as the strings get thicker (lower pitches). The scale length also affects the tension and the focus of the fundamental on all strings, thinner or thicker. I found on my basses that the low B did not get any better (in feel, focus or fundamental strength) using a 35” scale, but it did noticeably affect the G string. Specifically, the bottom dropped out on the pitches in the upper register (less fundamental, thinner) and the instrument as a whole did not balance as well. The low B on my 5-string basses with 34” scale maintained balanced tension (feel), strong fundamental, and instantaneous focus (some string designs more than others), while maintaining a smooth balance across the fingerboard – which is also the consensus of the many professionals that use Pedulla basses on stage and in the studio.  Of course, there are many design features that contribute: the string design, the neck angle, the bridge; basically all

the design and crafting of the instrument can make a difference in the outcome. There is no single design feature in any instrument that determines its sound qualities or playability. It’s a matter of how all of the details of design and construction are combined. After 42 years of experience, experimenting and field-testing my bass designs, I’ve found that the 34” scale provides the best results. Harry Fleishman – The first bass I designed and built in 1969 was a 34”-scale EUB that I could play on a strap while dancing around. When I opened my first legit shop in Denver (in ’75), I didn’t make anything but 5-string, fretless basses for the first few years. That was the mid-70s, and I went to 35” for a couple of reasons. The first was that the low B sounded more solid to me at 35”. The second was that the upper notes sounded good to me, as I liked the “zizz” in the high notes. Third – perhaps most interesting to me, intellectually – was that when I started out making EUBs, I noticed that the muscles and tendons of the left hand gave a teensie bit more range of movement in the upright position than the horizontal. This is easy to test. When I did rough calculations, it seemed to be about 3% or so, which translated to approximately 35”, which seemed to make 35” feel more “normal” for bassists making the transition to EUB. Since I hadn’t seen any EUBs with an “electric bass” scale, this seemed like a good idea (and still does). The left hand fingerings felt the same as they had for one transitioning to vertical playing. However, no one made an electric, flat-wound, 5-string set for my basses (which I hadn’t even thought to check!), until GHS agreed to make me ten sets custom, which I appreciated greatly.  Around 1977, I made a multi-scale bass with a 33”-35” range of scales. I didn’t invent this idea; it was patented in 1900 by E.A. Edgren (along with micrometer tuners!) and showed up on a drawing from the 17th century of an Orpharion. I came to the idea from a friend’s invention of a tapping instrument called a Starrboard, which had 24 strings in half-steps, and 24 frets in half-steps. Stringing and tuning it was problematic with one scale length, so we brainstormed and went with, as I recall, 26” for the high end, and 32” for the low strings. Once the idea came, itseemed like a logical thing to do it for a bass to give the lows more “oomph” and highs more “honey.” I’ve made mostly multi-scale basses since the early ‘80s, although I’ve used 34” for most basses I designed for other companies, and 35” for the Jackson AntiGravity bass I designed for Fender.


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

Since everything I build in my shop is a one-off, so many other factors come into play that I cannot honestly say I have strong feelings about what works best or how it affects the overall voice. It’s a pain in the ass, but I seemed to gravitate toward the multi-scale (33.5” to 35”), and mostly fretless. But even I don’t think multi-scale fretless is easy to play…

mented with 35”, but for my basses, I do not find 35” makes a better B string than 34”, nor does through-body stringing. Like Michael, I do not like the sound of my G string at 35” either, especially in the upper register. So for me, it is 34” for everything. I understand the attraction of longer and shorter scales to some, but I can’t do everything! :-)

I have attached a photo of the newest AntiGravity: Flamenco Bass, which is a multi-scale fretless, weighing in at 4.5 lbs.

Pete Skjold – The first basses I ever made were 35”-scale, and at the time (early to mid-90’s), it was a real buzz. It got a lot of positive press and was a cutting-edge concept that many high-profile builders adopted as standard scale length on their basses. Most notably to me was Modulus Graphite. On my basses, it did make the B string more piano-like, due to the lack of overtones and the fuller fundamental. I was happy with the overall feel and tone, as well. Over the next several years, I got players asking me if I could do 34” and even 33”. Much of this was due to the way the 35” scale affected the higher strings, especially the high C string of a six. I did a 34” as a fluke, and it came out so well, I totally had to adjust my thinking. The B string had more quality to it at the shorter length – meaning more harmonic content, which made it actually a bit louder with the initial attack.

Randall Fullmer – Since I’m a custom builder, I’m willing to work with each customer on a whole variety of issues, one of course being the scale length. The factors that go into it for me are the customer’s preference, his or her ergonomic comfort level, matching scale lengths to other basses that they’re currently used to playing, the string count and the genres of music that they play. I have built 31”, 32”, 33”, 34”, 34 1/2” and 35”.  I completely agree with Michael Pedulla on his point that the scale length is just one of many factors that end up contributing to the overall playability and tone characteristics of a bass. Setting the ergonomics and comfort level aside for a moment, the tonal characteristics of the bass have led me to different preferences. For a 4-string, I have concluded that 34” is perfect. EADG just feels and sounds best to me at 34”. I have made many 5-strings at 34 1/2”. It feels a perfect compromise between a slightly more taught low B and not quite the reach of a 35” bass. I also like the sound and overall playability. Having said that, I’ve made many 35” and many 34” 5-string basses, as well. Tonally, the 34” 5-string has a slightly rounder and more raw and expressive tone to me than with a 35” scale. The 35” is slightly more pure on the harmonics, but gets ever so slightly more sophisticated and clinical in character. Words really fail at this point for me, but there is a definite character change in going to 35”, for me.    But on a 6-string bass, I love to go to 35”, especially if the player will be doing lots of chord comping in the upper register. There is a more piano-like sound to a 35” 6-string bass; a clarity and distinction. For 6-string jazz and classical playing, 35” is it, for me. In terms of going with shorter-scale lengths and keeping a taught low B, I also have drilled through the body at the bridge and installed ferrules in the back, so that the bass can be strung through the body. This can add at least an inch to the length of the string and can improve the low B, keeping it nice and solid on a 34”, or even a 33”. I have also switched the string order at the headstock to allow a longer throw to the low B and E string. There are many things that one can do to insure a solid B on a shorter-scale bass. Ultimately, there aren’t too many “correct answers” when it comes to scale lengths. There are preferences and solutions to try to make those preferences the best they can be. Those are my thoughts … and now, time to go cover myself head-totoe with sawdust! Roger Sadowsky – I am 100% with Michael Pedulla on this one. I only build in 34” scale. Of course, I have experi-

As I started making basses for players like Damian Erskine (who spent a good amount of time in the upper register and played 6-string), I was pushed to get the higher strings to have as much depth as the lower notes. One of the ways I did this was to go to 33” scale, which totally opened up the higher register, and once again, the low B was full and present. But as the scale length decreased, I could hear more overtones develop, and this is why I have made my standard scale length 34”. This is “home base” for the average player, but I still have players who benefit from 35” and 33”, depending on their playing style and genre. That is a whole other can of worms. So for me, I use 34” as my go-to, and the 33” for players spending equal time in the upper register. I love 33” for fretless, especially when there is a high C string present. There are builders going to 30” now, and it is amazing some of the results I have seen with them. I have thought of trying a 30”-scale for fun and I am interested to see what results I get. The one thing that keeps echoing in my mind, though, is, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Michael Pedulla and Roger can attest to that! And then again, you have Sheldon Dingwall, LOL! Can’t wait for his response! Sheldon Dingwall – I can’t make up my mind, so I use as many scales as possible – often on the same bass, LOL! I also found a longer G (and especially C string) was too tight and too thin-sounding for my liking. For the G, 34” works great, as does 32”. I’ll admit that the difference between those two scales on the G is subtle. However for the C string, going shorter (in our case, 33.25”) does make a pretty noticeable difference. My comments from here on are limited to our fanned-fret basses with our strings (or Kalium, in the case of F# or E0 tuning), and for the most part are focused on the B and E strings. For live work and dense mixes, I prefer our longer scales. They just have a tighter, more controlled bottom end. For us, it’s less about the fundamental and more about the

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COLUMN 2nd and 3rd harmonics. The 2nd and 3rd harmonic make up a large part of the note, and especially on the lower strings are the easiest to reference pitch from. On the B especially, they are the part of the note that I feel cuts through the mix and brings out the articulation. On lower-pitched strings, longer scales and optimized strings help keep the 2nd and 3rd harmonics closer in tune with the fundamental. Distortion and time delay effects are less smeared and messy when the 2nd and 3rd harmonics are tighter and more in-tune. The extra scale length and tension are less affected by heavy attack, helping reduce how much the pitch pulls sharp, initially. Lastly, as you play further up the neck on the lower strings, a longer scale length and optimized strings help reduce 2nd and 3rd harmonic pitch modulation (warbly, steel drum-like tone). Michael Tobias – I have done many different scales over the years, the shortest being 30”, and some experimentation with scales as long as 42”! That one was for Chris Squire… He wanted a low B, but as a 4-string, and wanted to capo the 5th fret, so he could have a normal 4-string. Fun, but a really long neck! For the most part, we do 35”-scale basses. I like the low B at that length, and the high strings, because while they are a bit tighter than a 34, I don’t believe it gets in the way. Our 34” is has a most respectable low B. We are making more 34” of late, mostly in the Saratoga series, and some regular 5’s and 6’s. We only manage a few 4-strings per year, and they split 50/50 34 and 35. We offer a 32” signature bass for our artist Lynn Keller that has a 16mm spacing. We started making 30”-scale basses this year, and I was very surprised at the quality of the low B on the prototype we made. LaBella made us a set strings designed for a shorter scale, and while the tension is lower overall, the low strings are excellent and the high strings are nice. I try to cater mostly to our customers’ needs, so after consulting with them, we build what suits them.  Mike Kinal – I have used many different scales over the past 40 years on a number of solid-body and acoustic instruments. Generally, I get most players requesting 34” for 5-string basses, with the occasional 35”. Most players that move to a 5-string have spent a number of years on 34” instruments, so to add another string with the same fret spacing comes natural. Many of these players also like the tension of the strings on a 34”. I introduced a 30” compact bass which is acoustic that has become fairly successful with players in small musical settings. These basses are generally 4-string. First and foremost, I listen to the player’s wants and needs; if asked, I will give my input from my past experience. Gerald Marleaux – We have built many different scales in past, like you guys, also. Our last big project was a 40”-scale 4-string, tuned BEAD one octave down (low B at 15.3Hz). The strings were special made (2.45”-gauge for the B). That is very, very deep!!! Our Soprano model is built with 22.5” scale. On longer scales, like 35”, I like how the B string performs sound-wise, but playability sometimes gets lost. Plus, the string action needs to be bit higher, mostly.

For the G string, I have had better experience with shorter scales, like 34” and 33”. It gives more bottom and the tone is stronger … the same as some of the other luthiers have experienced. Most basses we build employ a 34” scale. For me, it’s the best solution for great playability and balanced sound. The playability on 33”- and 32”-(or less) scale basses is very great and easy, but you have to take care for the right construction in combinations with wood choice. It’s not only different scale length that matters! George Furlanetto – The introduction of the low B on basses completely changed the design thinking for scale lengths. To accommodate a better sounding B, I went to a 34.5” inch scale, but found the higher strings a little thinner-sounding than the rest. So in conjunction with our string manufacturer and Alain Caron, we experimented with differing string gauges, windings and cores to achieve a balanced feel and tone for all six strings. To attain a better tone and feel, we developed both the bass design and string design at the same time, for the best result. Our BN series remains at 34.5” – still a comfortable length to avoid hand strain. Our vintage series, on the other hand, remains at the standard 34”, for the player who retains the muscle memory and feel of vintage instruments. We have made custom instruments in 33”, 32”, 30”, and as short as 29”-scale, at which point we design as long a string length as possible for the B and E strings. Fodera – As you know, much of our philosophy (at least with regards to our Custom instruments) revolves around what the player wants, not what we think is “best.” It is this attitude that resulted in our enthusiastically working with Anthony Jackson back in early 1980’s on the development of his 36”-scale signature contrabass guitar, then with Matthew Garrison in the 1990’s on his 33”-scale signature instrument, and again with Matthew two years ago on an updated signature instrument that is just 30.75”-scale. In recent years, we have made it a point to limit our custom bass builds to scale lengths between 30.75” and 36”, because, to us, these represent reasonable endpoints outside of which certain trade-offs start to outweigh any potential benefits – at least as far as building “bass guitars” is concerned. Although we offer literally any scale length between 30.75” and 36” in our Custom program, for our Standards – basses where we control the specs, entirely – we have chosen to build using 34”-scale. 34”-scale represents a very good “middle ground” where sonics, playability and feel are all well-balanced. It also doesn’t hurt that Leo Fender made this scale length a de facto “standard” all the way back in the early 1950’s when first developing the electric bass. Because of this, virtually every bass player has at least some familiarity/ experience with a 34”-scale bass guitar. Among the three of us, Jason plays 34”-scale, Joey plays 35”-scale and Vinny plays guitar (25 1/8” and 25 1/2”-scales, if you must know!). Finally (and hopefully interestingly), we will leave you with a list showing the percentage that each


MARCH 2018 | www.bassgearmag.com

scale length we built between September 1, 2016 and August 31, 2017, represented of the total number of basses that we completed. 30.75” = 1.2% 32” = 0.2% 33” = 5.6% 34” = 89.6% 34.5% = 0.5% 35” = 2.7% 36” = 0.2% Kenneth Lawrence – Like many of us, I have also experimented with longer scale lengths, but also like many of us, I returned to 34” as my most common scale length – with 33” as my second most common. Many of us were weaned on Fender basses, so the 34” scale feels and sounds like “coming home.” Plus, it just works! I do also love the 33” scale, and I’ve found its low B not lacking at all, and it doesn’t lose the inherent character of the rest of the strings, as long as you pay attention to the pickups, pickup placement, strings, etc. As Mike Pedulla eloquently stated, there are myriad factors involved in each of our recipes, so it can be a little misleading to isolate just one factor/feature and characterize its influence. My approach leans towards a more “organic” sound (you can call it “woody,” or “acoustic,” or whatever) at its core, and I’ve found that the 34” and 33” scales help me to stay in that ballpark and still have good clarity and tambour in the low B and E strings. One of my main approaches in working on my designs, etc., is satisfying the player in myself. I still play 10 to 16(+) gigs and sessions a month, and I want my instruments to feel a certain way on my body and respond in certain ways to my hands. As we all know, a bass (especially) will feel, sound, and behave differently in different rooms and different musical situations. Having experienced many of these, personally, has been a huge help in my work on my instruments. That said, my personal 5-strings are 34” for my fretless and 33”-scale for my fretted (both are a chambered, single-cut design). Joe Zon – We use 34” scale on all our basses. Players’ ears are accustomed to the tonality a 34”-scale exhibits, and it’s a comfortable scale length to play. A while back, we offered 35” scale on some models to accommodate player request, but found it made the voice of the instrument too bright and edgy. Due to our neck design and construction, the 34” scale functions extremely well, providing a balanced tone from note-to-note across the fingerboard in harmonic structure, clarity and articulation. String tension is also familiar to the hand, as well. More recently, we’ve been building some basses having a 32” scale with excellent results. It took a bit of doing, but we managed to get the B string to have the same focus and projection as it does on the 34” scale. It’s a bit more fun to play because of the smaller distance between the frets. Interestingly, many of the 35”-scale die-hards are now requesting 32” scale to help alleviate their carpal tunnel and rotator cuff issues.

Carey Nordstrand – I’ve been all over the road with scale lengths. When I started out, I was really all about 34.5” scale as the perfect length for a 5-string bass, combining the definition of a longer low B and not making the G string too thin. [That’s what my hero George F was doing on his basses.] It seemed to work really well and also it was something a little different for a J-bass back then, so it helped us stand out a little bit. I still think it’s a very good all-around length, but as a player, I’m personally very much into 34”, these days. It just feels so much more like “home.” I’ve also been playing 4-string a lot more these days, and 34” is really the only option, there.  Over the years, I’ve also done 35” 5- and 6-string basses. For me, they feel quite big and I tire easily while playing them. If I actually practiced and built up some chops, that wouldn’t be an issue, but I’m pretty busy these days, so that’s a tough haul. The more open piano-like tone is not really what I’m after, either, so that’s kind of a put-off, too. I’ve also done 33”, 33.5” and even 32” basses, on occasion. I really like these shorter scales for a couple reasons: 1.) when set up right, they are super easy to play (see my issue with practice time above); and 2.) they tend to have a fatter, thicker sonic character, depending on the pickups and preamp.  I personally don’t currently own a bass with a scale length longer than 34”. And I really don’t feel like I’m missing anything in my live jamming situation, or my very wide-ranging work in my studio. That said, lots of players are happier with the longer scales, and they work beautifully for them. Maurilio here in my shop is making his own line of basses, and his 35”-scale is just perfect for that instrument and his hands. In the end, I say to each his own.  BTW, if you’re curious to hear what my playing and tone ends up like in a track, please check out my recently released album at www.mobajones.com. 

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Profile for Bass Gear Magazine

Bass Gear Magazine Issue #21  

Bass Gear Magazine is the world’s leading online magazine dedicated to thorough reviews of the gear used by electric and double bassists.

Bass Gear Magazine Issue #21  

Bass Gear Magazine is the world’s leading online magazine dedicated to thorough reviews of the gear used by electric and double bassists.