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BASS REVIEWS | COLUMNS | INDUSTRY NEWS | FULL REVIEWS

Know Your Gear Issue 22

bassgearmag.com

BASS GEAR MAGAZINE

MICHAEL GILLETT TAKES THE WORLD BY STORM IN NASHVILLE

Yamaha BB735A

Westone AM Pro 30


Bassic Reviews

Full Reviews

08

Westone AM Pro 30 In-Ear-Monitors

36

Journey Instruments OB660 Overhead Bass

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Beneath the Bassline Documentary

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Smith Creek Mandolin – Christopher Bass DBG

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Kiesel Vader VB5 Bass Guitar

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Yamaha BB735A Bass Guitar

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The Guild Jumbo Junior Bass

66

Genzler BA410-3 & BA210-3 SLT Bass Cabs

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The Fender American Professional Precision Bass V ® and Jazz Bass Fretless®

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For about half to one-third the cost of comparable, but acoustically sealed, custom-molded phones, the AM Pro 30 delivers all the performance. If you’ve been scanning the digital pages of Bass Gear Magazine lately, you may have noticed that we’ve started to include more reviews of bass-related media; This bass is Kiesel’s take on a headless design. There are others out there, but Kiesel puts their own special sauce in this one with their custom electronics, headpiece, and other previously mentioned attributes and features.

Fractal Audio Systems AX8 and Line 6 Helix

To get one thing out of the way upfront, this is not a shootout and there will be no winner. Neither is this meant to be an exhaustive review of each unit on all of its own merits.

Darkglass Hyper Luminal Hybrid Compressor Pedal

Darkglass products have become hot commodities over the last few years, with each release garnering a ton of buzz.

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Scale Colour System

The Overhead bass plays great, has impressive acoustic volume and tone, and easily folds up into a ridiculously small package.

By its very nature, this bass is not for every player. But for those who are intrigued by its virtues, it will not disappoint. The BB735A may lean a little more towards the classic side of the spectrum tonally and in feel, but it definitely has some real brawn and bite. This bass is legit. I’m surprised at the playability, as well as the authority and consistency of the sound, despite its size, and especially its price. Whether you are a “10’s guy” or a “12’s guy,” Genzler Amplification has several options for you.

I’m a fan of both these basses. You could say these are the finest no-frills basses Fender has ever made, and as such, a particularly great value.

I was the logical reviewer to take a (somewhat) educated look at Alex Lofoco’s new bass and music theory demystifying tome, Scale Colour System, Bass, Vol 1 - Scales.

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AudioKinesis Changeling C112T Bass Cab

Ultimate Ears CSX 18+ Earphones

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Ibanez SRMD200 Mezzo & AFR4FMP Affirma Bass Guitars

Ultimate Ears PRO has been an established mainstay in the field of on-stage in-ear monitoring for many years. With the new CSX line, Ultimate Ears brings their know-how and fidelity to the recreational listener.

AudioKinesis is literally a one-man shop: Duke. And he also builds some fabulous (award-winning!) home stereo speakers.

Unquestionably killer values, and exhibit an overall quality and attention to detail that I don’t believe.

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Ultimate Ears CSX 18+ Earphones


CONTENTS

www.bassgearmag.com

86

Ibanez Mezzo & Affirma Bass Guitars

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Industry News 96

2019 Winter NAMM Awards

98

2019 Winter NAMM Show Gallery

102

2019 Summer NAMM Awards

104

2019 Summer NAMM Show Gallery

Columns 06

How I See It

108 Philthy Thoughts - GAS Blockage

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Guild Jumbo Junior Bass

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Luthiers’ Round Table

109

Bartolini 2J Squared quad-coil pickups vs Bartolini MTD USA proprietary pickups

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Philthy Thoughts – How Oliver Jaggi Freaked Me Out at NAMM

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Philthy Thoughts – Bucket-o-Chicken, July 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com 97 Bucket-o-Chicken … or How Bickity Bickity is Killing NAMM

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In The Doghouse – The Four Seasons: Aging Gracefully as a Bassist Part II – Spring

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Philthy Thoughts – Modern vs Vintage. Old vs New

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Journey Instruments OB660 Overhead Bass


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COLUMN

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

“Perfect is the enemy of good.” Yes, I know that’s a bit of a misquote of Voltaire, but that is the common colloquy, and it is a truism which I find to be more and more relevant as I progress through life. Of course, my tendency towards behaving as a “part-time perfectionist” probably has much to do with this (for whatever reason, I am at times decidedly “non-perfectionist”). Many of my most grand and ambitious ideas have yet to see the light of day, as I plan them out to unrealistic degrees, and keep putting them off until all the dominoes are stacked just right. Which, of course, they never are… To be fair, I do believe that a baseline level of competence/relevance/artistry is important. Just as many ideas remain in the dark because they weren’t “the best,” I’m sure that we’ve all had half-baked ideas thrown about and wished that they would have stayed in the oven a bit longer. The trick is to be cognizant of this baseline, while knowing when to stop chasing perfection. This concept definitely applies to me as Editor for Bass Gear Magazine, but it also applies to me as a creative musician. I have lots of song ideas bouncing around my head: lyrics, riffs, hooks, rhythms… Sometimes, I do jot them down, or make a quick recording, with the idea that I will piece the various parts together once I get a few of the

missing pieces worked out. But most of the time, I keep bouncing them around inside my own head, waiting for things to sound “just right.” All it not lost, though. As with many of life’s conundrums, solutions may be found. Collaboration is the key to escaping various types of paradigm paralysis – including the “perfection” problem. The most obvious example of this for me, personally, would be collaborative song writing. There is no better way to get the creative juices flowing and to give a song life than bouncing ideas off of fellow musicians whom you trust. Likewise, some of the best ideas for Bass Gear Magazine have been the result of sitting around with a group of “bass buds” shooting the breeze and talking gear. Part of that “trust thing,” though, is being able to point out when your particular ideas/ concepts aren’t hitting on all cylinders. There really is no substitute for honest feedback. So, if you suffer from a bout of perfectionism, get your ideas off of your chest. Share them with someone you trust, and let things go where they may. 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

Joshua Randell

joshua@bassgearmag.com

STAFF REVIEWERS

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

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

BGM online Resources Our Website:

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STAFF CONTRIBUTORS Chris Fitzgerald bassfitzgerald@yahoo.com Mike Czeczele mczeczele@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: joshua@bassgearmag.com +1 419-307-2674 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 ©2019 by Bass Gear Magazine, Ltd.

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BASSIC REVIEW

Westone AM Pro 30 In-Ear-Monitors By Sean Fairchild

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often play too hard when playing live. I often push too hard when singing live. I tend to do these things because I just can’t hear the nuances of what I’m doing well enough; the attack transients my right hand is generating tend to get lost in the live milieu, leading me to try to emphasize them for my own benefit. And while I know it’s important to protect my hearing, wearing my custom-molded musician’s earplugs can make monitoring my vocals from poorly positioned stage wedges (that are no match for unruly, loud instrument amplifiers) a fairly tricky endeavor. I had a pretty good idea that transitioning to an in-ear monitoring (“IEM”) setup would be an interesting experiment, if not a total paradigm shift. Now, many gigs in, I can happily say that I no longer pluck or push too hard, my amp stays at a respectful level, and I’ve never been more pleased with my live performance experience. To state upfront: I am an IEM novice, but someone who understands the concepts inherent in the design and who is also aware of the frequently maligned elements of using an in-ear-monitor setup; a skeptic unbiased by previous experience, if you will. One oft-heard complaint I’d been privy to many times from the IEM literati is that the extreme aural occlusion most earphones necessarily create can be very isolating and off-putting. Audience reac-

tions become difficult to perceive and everything can sound uncomfortably direct. I’d also dug up information suggesting that the sealed pressure chamber created between the drivers and your eardrums may actually pose somewhat of a threat to hearing, allowing for no way to equalize pressure in the ear canal. I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied with all that noise.

Nice Ambience Upon researching alternative solutions to these problems, I came across the Ambient category in Westone’s IEM line, which promised to resolve the issues of isolation and pressure equalization via a novel technology called SLED that allows partial porting of the column of air in the ear canal, without sacrificing low end and attenuation, as other previous designs have done. This porting involves a -12dB attenuating ambient noise filter, similar to the ones employed in my musician’s earplugs, which by no coincidence are also made by Westone. Westone says of their SLED technology, “Ambient sound is seamlessly integrated with the monitor mix with no compromise to the frequency response of the monitor signal… Enjoy full-frequency response from your in-ear monitor signal, hear and feel your surroundings, engage with fellow performers and your audience like never before.” The Westone AM Pro 30 kit is a triple-driver, universalfit monitoring system that comprises a pair of the passively crossed-over earphones, a twisted, detachable Y-cable with 3.5mm stereo plug and MMCX earphone attachment system, 10 pairs of replaceable eartips (5 pairs of silicone rubber and 5 pairs of dense “comfort foam”), and a bright orange, hard-to-lose-on-stage, hard plastic protective caddy. They retail for $439.99.


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

What’s That Now? When we think of professional grade IEMs, we almost exclusively think of the custom-molded variety that fully fill the voids of the middle and outer ear; the assumption that I’d always made being that this design was necessary for complete occlusion. So I was doubtful that any universal-fit system was really going to give me the kind of total bariatric seal necessary to make the design function correctly – and I was joyfully mistaken. I have found that the red color-coded silicon tips work so well for my ears, they might as well have been made for me. And while you may be thinking that I don’t have a proper basis for comparison (as I’m new to IEMs), I have worn those custom-molded plugs for the last 15 years, religiously, at almost every show I’ve played or attended in that time (I’m on my 3rd pair since then), so I have significant experience with custom-molded aural appliances. The seal from the silicone tips is so good and the tips themselves so flexible, I’ve had fewer instances of seal-breakage while wearing them than with my custom-molded plugs – even on several 4-hour casino gigs and a recent 5-hour flight. More impressively, I was able to wear them for the majority of that flight without pain or discomfort – which I can’t say of the plugs.

Plugging In – And Away The wireless transmitter and receiver system I settled on for testing was the Shure PSM 300 (with upgraded P3RA bodypack receiver) after initially also testing with a Sennheiser EW 300 G3 system. I preferred the Shure’s sync function workflow and apparent noise gate on the receiver that completely disconnects the headphone amp from the phones at very low volume settings on the bodypack for total silence during set breaks and down time. General audio performance testing equipment also included a

Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 audio interface, a Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 tablet, Samsung Galaxy S7 phone, and Asus laptop (built-in soundcard). Being a bassist, I was understandably a little hyper-concerned with low end response – would there really be much to speak of? Could an ambient/attenuated filter type product compete with studio or bass-heavy consumer headphones? Yes. Yes, they can. And having the patience to take the amount of time required to find the best-sized eartip for you is crucial here; too big and they can be uncomfortable or painful, too small and the air seal is only partial, and your bass goes bye-bye. While there are undoubtedly more bottom-heavy options on the market – especially in those models that Westone and others make that include a driver specifically meant to handle sub-bass frequencies – I was very pleasantly surprised at the low-end response and overall evenness of the AM Pro 30. Of course, it doesn’t feel the same as playing in front of a fEARful cab, but I’ve not been wont for more low-end while not able to achieve it with a small EQ tweak. In fact, more of that is due to monitoring the direct sound of your bass rather than the mid-suppressed, bottom-enhanced amplified tone through your favorite speaker cab(s).

Free At Last Another component of going IEM that may be less often discussed is the glorious freedom it provides! I’ve been fond of wireless instrument systems for many years, and when paired with the ability to not only play from wherever you want, but to hear yourself and everyone else from exotic stage locales, as well, as if you were right in front of your own very well-mixed monitor… well that’s a unique feeling of utter freedom! I was recently goaded into the audience on a high-energy set-ender by the band’s guitarist, and before long, I was duck-walking through and

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around the congregation of dancers in front of the stage, with a smile on my face more due to the fact that it didn’t sound like I was moving away from the stage and my beloved amps, all while I gallivanted around foolishly – and the less-severe ambient noise attenuation meant I could actually hear and respond to the crowd’s groans and exaltations! This is worth the price of admission, alone. The total experience of an in-ear system will necessarily involve both the phones and hardware, so the wireless (or wired, if you prefer) system you choose will have bearing on your overall opinion of performance and quality. I have found the Shure system to be impressively up to the task in a varied set of environments, from a recent 4th of July outdoor festival with several thousand in attendance, on a massive stage set for a later symphony performance and with many channels of wireless flying around at once, to smoky and cavernous indoor casino rooms with questionable FOH support, to quieter and more introspective dinner club dates. I have noticed the occasional signal interruption that seems to last for maybe 25 milliseconds – just long enough for you to notice something had happened but has been rectified, but I believe this performance to be somewhat indicative of many wireless IEM systems working in the sub-600 MHz range. I appreciate the PSM 300’s low boost/cut and high boost/cut options and some of the more advanced menu capabilities that are out of scope here, but most of all I appreciate the quickness and ease of scanning for a clean group and channel in a new environment and syncing up with the receiver without any fuss. The impedance of the AM Pro 30 seemed to be a good match with the output of the P3RA bodypack receiver, exhibiting a little bit of white noise when set above the gate’s noise floor with little to no signal being received, but not overly sensitive as to make for a distraction during performance. As a side note, Shure

have offered to send us a pair of their SE535 in-ears or a complete Shure ecosystem review – watch for that in the coming months.

Hear, Hear I’m glad that products that do their work deep inside your ear canals are not expected to be returned, because I wouldn’t give the AM Pro 30s back! For about half to one-third the cost of comparable, but acoustically sealed, custom-molded phones, the AM Pro 30 delivers all the performance of a crossed-over 3-driver system, while featuring some innovative and relatively new tech that allows you to remain more attached to and present in your surroundings, and also offers the flexibility to find the fit that’s just right for you. I wouldn’t expect anyone who has already invested in custom plugs to banish them to the junk drawer and run to their open Amazon tab to order a pair of these Westone’s, but for those who are currently shopping for an IEM solution or those who’d like to move up to a 3-driver from a single or dual, the ambient feature of the AM Pro 30 for me is the decision-firming factor in a competition between these and other similarly performing models. Due to the much higher level of fidelity than I was used to, my live performance is better than ever and I’m much more free to move about the stage without fear of a monitoring dead zone. If all this sounds attractive to you, you may well appreciate what Westone has done with this product.


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

Manufacturer: Westone Laboratories, Inc. 2235 Executive Circle Colorado Springs, Colorado 80906, USA Phone: 719-540-9333 Toll Free: 800-525-5071 Fax: 800-736-9576 Email: music@westone.com Website: https://www.westone.com/store/music/index.php/am-pro-30earphones Country of origin: Designed in the USA, produced in the Philippines. Warranty: 2 years Technical Specs: Three balanced-armature drivers and a 3-way passive crossover, with 124 dB @ 1mW sensitivity, 20Hz - 18kHz frequency response, and an impedance of 57 ohms @ 1kHz; passive ambient SLED technology Available Colors: Clear, black cabling (other cable options available as accessories) Accessories: MMCX Audio Twisted Cable, 10 pairs of silicone and foam ear tips (5 of each type, different sizes), plastic phones micro vault, cleaning tool Price: $439.99

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By Sean Fairchild

Beneath the Bassline Documentary

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f you’ve been scanning the digital pages of Bass Gear Magazine lately, you may have noticed that we’ve started to include more reviews of bass-related media; most recently an instructional book aimed directly at bass players, and now with coverage of Nick Wells’ highly enjoyable feature-length film, Beneath the Bassline. As bassists in the modern era, it helps to be aware not only of the newest gadgets and bizmos (that’s a bass gizmo, if you were wondering), but also of the popularly circulated content that comprises our shared “lowly” experience. Using the tried-and-true unseen interviewer/artist storytelling format that has helped to make so many documentaries engaging and fresher-feeling than a two-person onscreen debrief, Nick and his small crew were able to elicit some very unique and special moments from some of the biggest artist and luthier names in North America and the UK, particularly centered around those in New York and the East Coast of the US, and in the greater London area of the UK. Being an Englander himself, it is admirable that Nick was able to accomplish so much on the US side of things in what he has described as a relatively short production trip. The film runs one hour and 31 minutes, and you’ll hear anecdotes, playing, origin stories and more from famed artists, gear producers, and luthiers, including: Bootsy Collins, Roger Sadowsky, Marcus Miller, Will Lee, Vinny Fodera, Duff McKagan, Richard Bona, Stefan Redtenbacher, Dave Boonshoft, Mark King, Stanley Clarke, Nolly Getgood, Sheldon Dingwall, Thundercat… the list really goes on and on, and it’s challenging to start listing any of these names without continuing to go through them all (my apologies to all the other A-list names I neglected to mention here!). Moments I found particularly interesting were scattered throughout the film’s entirety like little secret Easter eggs of wisdom and personal “a-ha” moments, such as when

Duff is breaking down specifically who and what comprised his iconic, chorus-laden bass tone, from pick use to melodic influence to the genesis of the (conscious) choice to use the chorus effect nearly full time; the special relationship that’s so clearly on display between Will Lee and Richard Bona as they talk and play with one another, both of whom feature prominently in the documentary; Michael Manring’s retelling of Joe Zon’s courtship of him as an artist and the origin of the Hyperbass; John Patitucci’s sentiments on playing solo bass as well as more traditional supporting bass roles and not needing to choose between the two; and of course Will Lee, again, getting down – on vocals. There are once again too many to list. Upon watching for the first time, it did strike me that Beneath the Bassline was perhaps a bit skewed towards the New York scene, which upon discussion with filmmaker Wells was indeed largely a logistical byproduct of filming overseas and needing the greatest density of available interviewees in the time allowed. I would have loved to have seen some of the LA and West Coast players and manufacturers included, as well, but I can certainly understand the constraints imposed on the undertaking of such a grand project; and really, after you watch it, you’ll be simply impressed by how many heavyweights of the bass world were in fact a part of this film! It’s really a gift to us bassists. So the next time it’s looking like a Netflix night for you, or you’ve got some time to yourself but you just can’t stomach anymore super locrian arpeggiation exercises, head over to https://beneaththebassline.com instead and download the movie – allow yourself some bass-related entertainment! The digital download will set you back 9 quid (about $12 USD). Physical media is also available. The download server spirited the 5.15 GB to me very quickly, and I was ready to watch in full 1080 HD. Being that there are so few labors of love like this available to and produced by us bassists, I’d like to personally thank


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BASSIC REVIEW Nick Wells, on behalf of all of us thick-stringers, thank you for the effort. Your work is much appreciated! Written, Produced and Directed by: Nick Wells Website: https://beneaththebassline.com/ Price: £8.99 (digital download), £12.99 (DVD)


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

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BASSIC REVIEW

By Vic Serbe

Kiesel Vader VB5 Bass Guitar “This Ain’t No Headless Horseman!” The Company Line

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s mentioned in our prior JB 5 review, as of February 2015, the guitar-building company that started out in 1946 as the L.C. Kiesel Company, later becoming Carvin and expanding product lines into other areas, has returned to its roots and is now called Kiesel Guitars. The company is headed up by Mark and Jeff Kiesel, and all their basses and guitars are made in Escondido, California. The bass we’re reviewing here is a Jeff Kiesel design. Mark is always innovating in every aspect of the instrument, including body shapes, finishes, pickups, and even overall design such as this one. I believe this represents the first headless bass design from Kiesel, or even Carvin before it.

Details This is a “neck-through” design, meaning the neck runs all the way from the nut end to the strap button end. The “body” is in fact just a pair of “wings” that are glued to the sides of the neck to provide a place for electronics, strap buttons, and a more traditional feel on a strap. For the woods, the neck is eastern hard rock maple, with a tung oil finish (my favorite neck finish). The fingerboard is a beautiful “flamed” ebony on this particular bass, with 24 of the optional Evo Gold vintage-size (smaller) frets (24 medium-jumbo stainless steel frets are standard) and

pearl dots. The 34”-scale neck is slender, with what I call a “shallow C” profile and a 14” fingerboard radius. The neck also employs two carbon rods, increasing the neck strength and rigidity, and a dual-action truss rod. The body wings are chambered (to reduce weight) mahogany (alder is standard), and this bass includes a beautiful quilted maple top, giving the Deep Dragonburst (green to blue fade) finish a very three dimensional look. It’s really quite stunning in person and especially under lights. This bass uses their 18V 3-band preamp with a “sweepable” (semi-parametric) midrange control (a 2-band without the sweepable mids is optionally available). The controls start out as volume and pickup blend (dual volume controls are also optionally available). Then comes the stacked sweepable midrange control, providing 15dB of boost/cut at anywhere from 100Hz to 2.2kHz (the center click position base frequency is 550Hz). The boost/ cut is the top of the stack, and the frequency sweep is the ring. Finally, there is a treble/bass stack. The top control is the treble, providing 20dB of boost/cut at 10kHz, and the ring is the bass control, providing 20dB boost/cut at 30Hz. The volume control is also push/pull, where when pulled out, the bass is in passive mode. However, there is no passive tone control on this bass, so in passive mode, you just have volume and blend controls (passive tone control is available as an option, however). A pair of the recently designed Kiesel Radium KRH radiused-top Alnico humbuckers are standard, but this bass has the optional


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

radiused-top single coil Kiesel Radium KRJ pickups. The idea is that the radiused top of the pickup closely follows the radius of the strings, allowing for more consistent output across the entire instrument. In my experience, this does have a positive impact. The hardware is unique on this bass due to the headless design. The bridge is made by Hipshot, which is also where the tuners are located. At the other end, Keisel uses their own locking headpiece which accepts standard strings (instead of the less widely available “dual-ball” design some headless hardware design types require). Essentially, the strings pass through channels on the headpiece with a heavy duty Allen-key set screw to anchor them down. Then, you just cut off the excess. The strap buttons and knobs are typical widely used button and metal dome, respectively. There are two strap buttons on the back of the bass. One above the center point, and one below. I never needed to use the lower one.

Fit and finish I’m going to sound like a broken record on this, but this is an area where Kiesel really has their game on. I can find no flaws in the paint, the finish, or the neck joint. The fret work is top notch, the fretboard is smooth and clean, the fret level is excellent, and the nut is great. I cannot find a single flaw worth mentioning in the construction fit or finish of this instrument.

On the gig This topic boils down to two areas: tone and ergonomics. Under the category of ergonomics, the headless design not only gets into playability, but also portability. This bass definitely has an advantage over traditional designs in that it makes for a much smaller gig bag, and a more compact overall carry to a gig. You can’t fit it in most airplane overheads, especially with more smaller aircraft being used these days, but it’s definitely more compact and easier to carry around or get in and out of your car. However, by removing the headstock, the center of gravity move back towards the bridge. This means you also have to move that top strap button back towards the bridge to offset the balance change. Many basses have that strap button around the 12th fret, but this one sits over the 14th fret. The result is it moves the first position further away from your body (you have to reach farther out for the first fretted notes). While it’s not a huge deal, it is noticeable, and little less comfortable to play, at least for me. Other than that, the setup and action were great right out of the box, and at a comfy 8.2 pounds, it’s easy to shoulder all night. The optional single-coil pickups were chosen, to favor a bit more of a J-style sound; fat on the neck, burpy on the

bridge, and funky when blended. Plus, these newer Radium pickups seem to represent the widest tonal palette yet for their pickups. Very deep lows and very crystalline highs, with a full midrange landscape between. The preamp controls work very smoothly and offer a wide variety of augmentations to tone using the blend control and EQ. The treble and bass are very musical and voiced perfectly for these latest editions of their pickups. The bridge pickup has burp and growl for days, and if you want to fatten it up, add a little bass. To narrow its focus, take some of the treble off. The neck pickup is big and bluesy. No need to add bass to it, but if you want to drop some treble, it goes classic on you real fast (in a good way). One thing I did notice is this bass seemed a bit on the noisy side, even amongst other single-coil setups I’ve played. Not terrible, but noticeable. It was the usual venue-dependent and standing position stuff (some venues weren’t as bad, and the noise would change based on which direction I was facing). So I feel maybe the grounding and shielding might need a bit of work. I’d also personally get one with a passive tone control, because to me, passive mode is not just for backup. It’s a different sound, and one I like to use from time to time. The action was pretty much perfect right out of the box, and the entire time I had this bass, I never needed to adjust it. That’s a testament to their dual carbon rod neck design, wood selection, and construction. I don’t remember noticing any hot or dead spots across the fingerboard, and the smaller vintage style frets are great for a lighter touch and accuracy of intonation. The frets were smooth, no sharp edges, and the neck shape is very comfortable. Very well done.

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The Bottom Line This bass is Kiesel’s take on a headless design. There are others out there, but Kiesel puts their own special sauce in this one with their custom electronics, headpiece, and other previously mentioned attributes and features. It’s extremely versatile and full of wonderful tones. I’m personally not too keen on the location of the first position (though that’s highly subjective), and the optional single-coil pickups allow for a bit of noise, but other than that, if you’re in the market for a particularly good value on a very high quality headless style bass with a very broad palette of sounds – especially considering a fully USA-made instrument – you need to grab one of these and check it out. It’s worth it!


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

Manufacturer: Kiesel Guitars / Carvin Guitars Model: Vader VB5 5 String (4 and 6 string models available)

Website: www.kieselguitars.com Made In: USA

Warranty: 5-Year Limited

Body: Mahogany “wings” with quilted maple top

Neck: Maple

Fingerboard: Ebony

Bridge/color: Hipshot / black

Nut (Guide): Graphite-teflon, with Kiesel headpiece

Tuners/color: Hipshot / black

Knobs/color: Dome / black

Pickguard: N/A

Control cavity cover: Black plastic

Pickups: Kiesel Radium KRJ (single-coil)

Preamp: Kiesel 3-band (18V)

Controls: Volume, Blend, Bass, Mid (sweepable), Treble

Body Finish: Deep Dragonburst

Neck Finish: Tung oil

Scale Length: 34” (optional 30” available)

Number of Frets/Positions: 24

Strings: Dunlop Super Bright nickel roundwound

Gauge: .040 .060 .080 .100 .120

Fingerboard Radius: 14”

Accessories: Black Ultimate Soft Bass Case

Price: $1,349 ($2,099 as tested)

Options: 30” scale, various woods, electronics, frets, etc. Highly customizable, made to order from a very broad spectrum of options via “builder” tool on the website.

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“A Model Comparison”

Fractal Audio Systems AX8 and Line 6 Helix By Sean Fairchild

Managing Modeling Expectations

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o get one thing out of the way upfront, this is not a shootout and there will be no winner. Neither is this meant to be an exhaustive review of each unit on all of its own merits – you’ve already got a long read in front of you and there exist many of these in written and video form as it is! Rather, the following is a comprehensive comparison of the Fractal Audio Systems AX8 and Line 6 Helix from a real world, bass-playing user’s point of view. My suspicion is that you will prefer one of these incredibly capable processors to the other depending on what value set you hold for modeling – i.e. whether you’re most concerned with amp models, usable factory presets without tweaking, wide effects options, ease of use, or a number of other factors. I found neither to be superior in a measurable way, but also found each to be capable in ways the other was not.

Fractal Audio’s and Line 6’s product offerings have matured greatly in recent years, with their respective AX8 (currently $1,099 direct) and Helix ($1,599 MAP) amp and effects modeling systems reflecting that growth, even during each product’s own lifecycle; both have enjoyed numerous firmware updates that have brought tons of added functionality and gear models, and the updates don’t seem to be slowing. Each company offers multiple products in their lineup to appeal for players with different needs. The AX8 is the “little brother” to Fractal Audio’s flagship Axe-Fx III (with a list price of $2,499), but if you want effects-only, they offer the FX8 for $999.99, list. Line 6 offers the more streamlined Helix LT (which comes in at the same price as the AX8), and for effects-only, they offer the HX Effects and HX Stomp (both at $599.99 list). For this review, however, we are focusing on the two floor-based flagship models that do both amp and effect modeling – the AX8 and Helix. Little has been said about both from a bassist’s perspective. Allow me to rectify (pun intended) that situation!

But ...Why? Well, whether or not you like it, modeling of some part of your signal chain will very likely be an increasing dimension in your musical world. Existing amp sims like the venerable SansAmp completely aside, we at Bass Gear Magazine have noted the quickly growing trend towards inclusion of speaker cabinet “impulse responses” (digital, sonic fingerprints of a physical speaker cabinet’s performance and vibe) in popular pieces of gear, from


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Darkglass pedal DIs to Bergantino bass heads to DAW plugins. There are more powered cabinet options on the market than ever before and amplifiers are rapidly shrinking and becoming deemphasized; while class-D and SMPS power sections continue to grow in wattage and ability to impress. You’ve doubtlessly heard of large acts going totally ampless on stage by now, which has some incredible benefits for reproducing and controlling live sound. But it’s not just for the big guys anymore. Welcome to the dawning era of fully virtual amplification and effect modeling for the everyman. As I mentioned earlier, I believe users will gravitate to one of these over the other depending on their individual “use case.” Allow me, then, to clarify my own “use case” for the reader. I’m generally more a fan of clear bass tone than a highly colored one, but as I’ve entered the glorious (but often sterile) world of in-ear monitoring and ampless gigs altogether, I’m now more inclined to want some degree of speaker cab or amplifier coloration in my live tone – just as I prefer a mixed DI/mic’d recorded sound. I also really love effects. Having enjoyed owning effects pedals almost since I started playing in the mid ‘90s, I’ve alternated back and forth over the last 10 years between MIDI-controlled, laptop-hosted plugins for live effect use and an ever-evolving and growing physical pedalboard. All-in-one effects processors face a tough challenge in impressing those who have drunk from the near-infinite well of a painstakingly curated collection of VSTs housed within a great host (I prefer Ableton), and have made me feel a little trapped and painted into a corner with their more limited in-built parameters and options. More than anything else, what I look for in something like this is expandability or malleability; if it doesn’t have something I need, can I create it in the native environment? I was very interested to see how my experience might differ with these all-in-one processors this time.

Bass / Guitar But here’s potentially the biggest bassist-specific piece of this puzzle, as I see it, and the question that begs asking: are bass players as in love with their amps as guitarists tend to be? One of the arenas in which bassists and guitarists generally behave very differently is that of the almighty amplifier; more pointedly, how important amps are to what we think of as our own sound. Dangerously speaking in broad generalities, I submit that a majority of guitarists consider their amplifiers to be much more integral pieces of their signal chain than do most bass players. Heresy? I can point to a few examples, such as the bass gear marketplace’s present abundance of “clear” and “transparent” amps to match full-range and near-flat response speaker cabinets. And of course the fact that, more often than not, bass players’ signals to

FOH are commonly run only through a DI, rather than being mic’d as often as guitarists’ amps are in live scenarios. This can lead to a certain agnosticism on the part of bass players toward the perceived importance of having unique tonal character added by the components of their amplification systems. This difference in amplifier reliance and typical usage is at the heart of the difficulties that companies like Fractal Audio and Line 6 face in marketing what they essentially see as amp modelers to bass players, and subsequently why there are comparatively so few bass-friendly models and patches to choose from out of the box. But modern bass players, along with the gear they use, are evolving into different ways of thinking and playing and will eventually come to hold a new set of expectations from their predecessors. From acceptance of de rigueur live sound standards to a growing interest in quickly accessing vastly different tones, modern bassists are slowly driving some of these market forces to innovate and provide novel solutions for a new generation of thumpers and pluckers.

What’s in the Box?? Fractal Audio’s AX8 weighs in at 11.8 lbs, in a 16.4” x 10.3” x 3.1” sturdy steel enclosure. It is the more diminutive of the two, foregoing the Line 6’s built in expression pedal and extra column of footswitches (the AX8 employs 11 switches arranged in 5 columns). Line 6’s Helix in turn is a stout 14.6 lbs of equally sturdy aluminum construction, in a considerably larger 22” x 11.85” x 3.58” form factor, and presents 12 footswitches (not counting the expression pedal’s toe switch) in 6 columns. While each can be seen as a pedalboard replacement with comparable footprint, neither of them can accurately be described as lightweight or portable in the way we’ve come to think about smaller class-D amp heads or 3-button effects processors; neither of these is going in your gig bag. Both products rely upon two dual-core 450 MHz ADSP-21469s processors. AX8 has a fixed audio sample rate of 48 kHz, with Helix’s being user-selectable up to 96 kHz. I measured the AX8’s monochromatic blackon-green display at just under 3.5” diagonally; Helix’s color display spec is 6.2”. Both systems feature universal voltage switching internal power supplies, rugged and non-clicking footswitches, stereo XLR outs and S/PDIF outs. The AX8 provides a single ¼” input while Helix adds an additional ¼” aux input (also suitable for low-impedance sources like active basses), an XLR mic input with available 48v phantom power, and a Variax input. Regarding the Helix’s XLR in, with a well-planned parallel effects chain that’s separated by input, this would seem to be a great solution for the solo artist or singer/songwriter that would like to wring as much value out of one processor as possible, via the added bonus of simultaneous, yet separate, vocal or mic’d instrument effects. Helix also uniquely sports a headphone output with dedicated

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BASSIC REVIEW volume control on the front panel, S/PDIF in as well as out, and an AES/EBU out. Both units offer MIDI in and out/through, as well as USB connection, although the AX8 does not allow for audio over the USB connection – you cannot use it to pipe sound into your DAW via USB surprisingly, but it can accept and send MIDI commands via USB. Conversely, the Helix can be operated as an 8-in/8-out audio interface via its USB connection. One stereo pair of effects loops are provided on the AX8 to the Helix’s four mono loops. Fractal Audio’s AX8 unit, differentiated from their effects-only FX8 platform, boasts a very cool dedicated rotary encoder knob section for the amplifier model in your current preset, for easy and quick adjustments of common amp settings right at your feet. Provided are controls for Drive, Presence, EQ, Gain, Master, and more. Each encoder is ringed by green LEDs that dynamically display that control’s setting along the virtual amp knob’s rotation – a fantastic feature not found on Line 6’s flagship. Helix’s answers to ease of setting changes and navigation come in the form of a multi-direction joystick for block selection and capacitive, touch-sensitive footswitches, as well as one-touch Home and Amp block buttons that take you right where you need to go when you need to get there in a hurry. Helix supports up to four simultaneous amp blocks, and pressing the AMP button (or touching a switch assigned to an amp) instantly jumps to and cycles through the tonestack knobs of any Amp+Cab, Amp, or Preamp blocks in a preset. Both boxes use a single row of (non-lit) multi-function rotary encoders to adjust parameters, to navigate through menus, and more. The function of these encoders changes depending on what’s currently selected.

User Interface & Experience A floor-borne effects system to me, at an essential level, must be highly intuitive and configurable on its own – this is what really separates a rack-mounted or studio-intended system from one meant to live under your feet and be used and modified, if need be, on its own accord. After considering how to describe the differences in user experience between these two companies’ hardware solutions,

a simple metaphor occurred through use of the computing technology we all use and have used in the past. Interacting with and using Line 6’s Helix is somewhat akin to using a current Android or iOS smartphone or tablet; it largely uses an icon-based, intuitive graphic interface, displaying the signal chain plainly, not to mention the touch-sensitive footswitches that are handy for quickly selecting their assigned block for easy editing. If Helix is like a modern mobile device, Fractal Audio’s AX8, with its monochromatic and slower-to-render display and more utilitarian (perhaps even militaristic) build, would be closer to the very stable, but outdated, Windows XP operating environment. Hey, it’s no frills – that is understood and intentionally stated in the company’s own materials and messaging – and that may well make it more stable under harsh, pro-user conditions. One could understandably be suspicious that an overly adorned book’s cover may be hiding much blander prose within, so neither of these assertions mean much on their own. If you have previously read about the Helix elsewhere, you may have seen comments to the effect of being able to program and use every facet of the Helix’s offerings directly from the unit’s front panel itself, without need of the software; I’m attesting that this is not just hyperbole. After you’re comfortable with the Helix ecosystem, you can create whole presets, snapshots, routing and more directly on the hardware – and there’s even a deeper editing mode which allows you to stay standing or sitting and edit selected parameters with values you input via the expression pedal. Very cool. Shifting focus to the AX8, while it’s more graphically simplistic display might be the less alluring of the two, it does offer visual representations and listing of all the deep editing functions its virtual software allows – and here’s where a decidedly stronger value point for this unit comes into play. The AX8 Edit software is to HX Edit what the Helix’s display screen is to the AX8’s. Again, familiarity with the Fractal Audio way of thinking and accomplishing tasks is necessary, but after that is gained, AX8 Edit is a very intuitive, incredibly fully featured, and dare I say “attractive” piece of programming. This is clearly the best path to customization and tweaks for this product, and it’s immediately obvious that Fractal has invested heavily in the development of the accompanying


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software. While both Helix Edit and AX8 Edit can accomplish any task their physical counterparts can, AX8 Edit makes it a much easier and more enjoyable experience.

Those TONEZ I can hear you out there, “But what about those TONEZ, bro??” Here’s an answer seemingly steeped in diplomacy, but in truth as well: in stark contrast to most of what I’ve read or heard one way or the other in countless reviews and video demos I’ve delved into, I’ll go on record saying neither unit sounds superior to the other. Expanding on that, the quality of audio and of the models from both units is fantastic. You won’t find fault with bit rate, noise floor, poor sampling frequency or any such formal metric; both Helix and AX8 are professionally usable and highly capable processors. Where players who have real firsthand experience with both systems will likely squabble and debate is in WHAT has been modeled, how it was done (i.e. type of mic used in the case of cabinets, any parameters or functions ignored in an effect’s model, switching and channel variables on amps), and how close to the real world piece of gear that model sounds. And this brings up an interesting point: that of modelling veracity. I’ve discovered through this process that I actually don’t much care if a model of a particular piece of gear sounds just like I think I remember that piece of gear sounding (or can imagine it sounding as a part of my larger signal chain). I only care if it sounds good. In fact, I’ve learned that I prefer models to be more generic and offer lots of tweaking flexibility than to be based on a certain metal box that was once produced under a thousand real-world compromises – manufacturing cost, viability for the marketplace, size and weight notwithstanding. Case-in-point; although the Helix has a perfectly serviceable Mu-Tron envelope filter model that’s relatively faithful to the original stompbox, I like to have way more options when it comes to that type of effect and preferred the AX8’s approach to this effect category specifically, and others more generally. On the AX8, many effects are more comparable to highly configurable VST studio effects than are intended to mimic a classic piece of gear, with its

inherent physical limitations. For the envelope filter I edited in AX8 Edit, I enjoyed being able to really closely approximate my favorite real-world filter (the 3 Leaf Wonderlove) by altering the curve of the envelope, the low and high-limit frequencies of the filter, an offset to better match my input volume with the desired filter behavior, drive level, and several other tonal ingredients. To be fair, many of these dimensions were also available and editable on the Helix’s 3 envelope models, but were perhaps easier to discover via the AX8 Edit software, initially. I preferred the AX8’s in-house created FAS bass amp to models of other real-world amp offerings, which include of course the ubiquitous Ampeg SVT (which both the Fractal Audio and Line 6 units boast), as I felt it very closely approximated clean settings of my Genzler Amplification Magellan MG 800 head after some tweaking. In fact, what I found I wanted was a more or less transparent amp to occupy the preset’s amp block, allowing me to make use of the dedicated amp controls on the AX8’s panel. If there’s no amp loaded, those rotary controls do not function and can’t be mapped to anything else. I wanted to be able to boost drive for some grit of course, as well as to make EQ adjustments, and this amp model performed admirably. In fact, there are so many amp-specific variables you can adjust in any of the Fractal Audio’s amp blocks that, even for a gearhead like me, a person can quickly find themselves out of their depth! You’d never have access to this many options on a physical piece of gear. I found that I didn’t love any of the included cabinet models – ironically, none were “full-range” enough for me (but I didn’t want to go completely full-range, as in direct!). This was the case for me with the Helix, as well. However, both systems accept 3rd party IRs, and I was able to test a good number of aftermarket responses with help from my friend, initial Fractal Audio pusherman and modeling enthusiast, Ray Salamon. On the Helix side, I honed in on their model of a Pearce bass amp; a make with which I was previously unacquainted. Again, more for its relatively neutral tonality when set to sound that way, while providing an amplifier to fill the amp designation within the preset and give me the ability quickly adjust amp EQ and drive settings. A major boon to the Helix’s workflow and processing arrangement is the possibility of multiple amp and cab modeling in the same preset; the AX8 allows only one of both types of blocks, although it should be noted that each block has switchable channels “X” and “Y,” allowing for two sets of sounds from within a single preset. It was easy to try out multiple amp and cab

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BASSIC REVIEW scenarios in parallel signal paths on the Helix, with the ability to adjust the send level of each leg of the signal’s Y-split and stereo balance from the junction points themselves along the audio path – an extremely useful and well-thought-out feature that is inherently available whenever you split the signal path, without invoking another block and its accompanying CPU usage to control those elements, as is necessary on the AX8. When using that ever-present SVT model or other tube power amp-based models (several guitar amps included), while the AX8 certainly goes the extra mile in modeling depth and configurable options, both the Helix and AX8 produced thick and marbled results that to me were so realistic, I wasn’t able to discern recorded and played back tracks of these models from the real thing. The reason I state it that way is because, frankly, an amp model – or even a real amp connected only to an interface – is never going to “feel” the same in real time as plugging into a big speaker cabinet and experiencing all the sensation and psychoacoustics that are part of the experience of amplified real-world playing. You’re hearing it through headphones or studio monitors, at lower volume levels, etc. But I’m no stranger to recorded tube amp bass tones (full disclosure: I was once an Ampeg employee), and when I hear the tracks and looper audio that both Helix and AX8 are capable of producing with personally preferred settings, if I were to compare with a control track of the same bass recorded at the same time through a real SVT, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which were the “real thing” and which weren’t, truthfully. There’s so much variety in the way any real-world thing can be recorded for future playback, all of which have massive implications on the resulting tone, that each of the units’ tube models were for me fully believable after playing with some digital knobs. On the logistical side, I really liked how Helix offers almost completely customizable footswitching action, having a leg up on AX8, here. All footswitches on the AX8 can be custom-assigned to any single function in each preset, while two per preset can be programmed macro controls that can perform multiple functions at once. On the Helix, any footswitch can perform up eight functions at once. To further explain, say that I decide I want to press one switch to simultaneously turn on my distortion block, a compressor, reverb, and octave-up harmony (perhaps even switching the harmonist block from octave-down to octave-up if needed), but I don’t want to change to a different preset to do this, because I want to retain one-to-one, stompbox style on/off capabilities in a pedalboard-like fashion. I can accomplish this with both Helix and AX8 in different ways. However, with Helix I can setup many of these macros, in contrast with the maximum of two that AX8 allows. Admittedly, this sort of functionality is largely what Scenes (AX8) and Snapshots (Helix) are meant for – but the experienced user will discover some potential frustrations going that route if, like me, they like for their

footswitches to be a representation of a pedalboard layout, using one Scene or Snapshot in a global way most of the time; if you forget that a Scene or Snapshot you plan to switch to doesn’t have a certain block-on or -off to match its current state prior to switching, you may get the macro action you want, but an unintended on/off block state oversight can really crash the party. Especially if it’s a very noticeable change, such as a strongly voiced amp or cab being defeated or added in as you switch over. I’m also a huge fan of AX8’s Block Library, and I’m a little awestruck that Helix doesn’t offer a similar inventory of user-defined individual effect and amp settings (am I missing something?). When using the AX8, you will invariably play around with all the options they generously give you for each block, which you can then conveniently save as an effect/amp level preset (i.e., not a whole “patch,” just your favorite settings for a block saved and recallable by stored name). So when you get that Darkglass just right and want to put that into a new preset, you can call up your own edited and saved version of it, ready to go. Near as I can tell, Helix doesn’t have an obvious way of doing this, so if you remove an edited block to try something else out in your preset, or if you’re building a new one and want to use only one of the block’s from a previously perfected preset, you have to start from scratch. I feel like I almost must be missing something here with Helix. Kudos to Fractal Audio for this feature, which also provides access to an edited block library for a list of available settings. Neither system is likely to ferry a bassist to sonic nirvana right out of the box. Both will require you to find individual components you prefer from the sometimes cacophonous factory presets, mess with and tweak them, then start building your own presets out of the inventory of components you like … then do that several more times, discovering other blocks and models that get you closer to oneness with the universe; rinse and repeat. It’s this process that I find often separates those who eventually end up happy with modeling and with processors and who throw in the towel, and playing heavily into that is how easily a user is able to grasp the ins and outs of editing and the operational environment to stick with it long enough for that sweet sonic payout.

Processing It All here’s so much to be said about both of these modelers, there may be no end. And that, in and of itself, may be the greatest argument for both systems – that the conversation and comparison can go on almost indefinitely with pros and cons on one side being disputed one-for-one against a differing set of pros and cons on the other, ad infinitum. My finding is that a bass player who has the patience and level of interest required to make an effects processor work for them is going to be very happy with either the Fractal Audio AX8 or Line 6 Helix. They don’t


Fractal Audio Systems AX8 Company: Fractal Audio Systems https://www.fractalaudio.com/ Warranty: 1 year, limited Price: $1,099 (Direct) Conditions: Acquired from: Fractal Audio Systems Dates: Fall-Winter, 2018 Locales: Seattle, Washington and surrounding region Test gear: Genzler MG-800 and two BA12-3s, MTD 635-24, MTD 535-24, Focusrite 18i8, Sennheiser studio headphones, live venue sound systems Configuration: Dimensions: 16.4” x 10.3” x 3.1” Weight: 11.8 lbs Construction: Steel chassis, aluminum end caps I/O: (1) ¼” in (4) external controller ins (1) 5-pin MIDI in (1) stereo pair L/R XLR outs (1) stereo pair L/R ¼” outs (1) stereo pair L/R effects send or auxiliary output (1) stereo pair L/R effects return or auxiliary input * All ¼” outputs feature Humbuster™ ground loop protection (1) SPDIF out (1) USB out (1) 5-pin MIDI out/through (1) IEC power in, universal voltage switching Models Included: Amps: 263 (discrete count closer to 160 when you consider that multiple inputs/channels/mods of the same amps are included on the list; 6 bass models) Effects: 198 types in 23 categories, many iterations of several provided Speaker Cabs: 130+ (6 bass models with mic variations of several, 3rd party IRs accepted) Mics: N/A

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use all the same bass amplifier models. They don’t have the same cabs (but accept 3rd party IRs). What they both DO is sound good! I can say with confidence that either can be made to sound great, no matter your tonal preferences, due to the near-infinite tweakability and modification to models and presets allowed for. Chances are, if you run into a wall trying to get a certain sound, or are bummed out by the lack of a factory programmed sound you wanted, there’s another path to that aural glory that you will discover; perhaps by means of a combination, routing, or parallel chain you hadn’t thought of before. Which option you choose will probably come down to which cognitively makes more sense to you at first touch (informing your subsequent desire to stick with it), as well as your own highly individualized use case (e.g. whether or not you absolutely must have a headphone output or LED-ringed encoders), or something much more mundane, such as dimensional requirements. For my own personal use – and not to be confused with a prescriptive statement – I’ve found that Line 6’s Helix Floor system offers slightly greater value for me. The Helix attracts me to it more strongly than the AX8 does, which makes me more likely to use and play with it in real time, adjusting parameters as I go. It may not plumb the depths of amp-modeling physics as deeply as Fractal Audio’s gear is so well-known for doing, but again, for my own scenario and as a bassist who prefers a somewhat “modern” tone in the first place, I derive greater value from the more pliable user interface and feature set presented by Helix. No doubt, factoring into this conclusion is my previous experience and mild frustration with PC-based, MIDI-controlled virtual plugin setups, which always left me pining for a better all-in-one floor unit that can provide the VST hosting environment itself, without the use of an additional laptop. This last piece echoing my experience with Fractal Audio’s AX8, which felt like I needed a laptop for intuitive editing. Obviously, each has its strengths, and both processors offer awesome attributes that the other makes less accessible, or fails to provide. But I am incredibly satisfied with both the Line 6 Helix and Fractal Audio AX8 and look enthusiastically to an expanding horizon of this caliber of pro/prosumer gear being more readily available. It’s a good time to be a bassist, musician, and gear head! More details can be found at the manufacturer’s website: https://www.fractalaudio.com https://line6.com/helix/

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Dark

Line 6 Helix Company: Line 6 https://line6.com/

Comp

Warranty: 1 year base, 2 years extended with product registration Price: $1,599 (MAP) Conditions: Acquired from: Line 6 Dates: Fall-Winter, 2018 Locales: Seattle, Washington and surrounding region Test gear: Genzler MG-800 and two BA12-3s, MTD 635-24, MTD 535-24, Focusrite 18i8, Sennheiser studio headphones, live venue sound systems Configuration: Dimensions: 22” x 11.85” x 3.58” Weight: 14.6 lbs Construction: Brushed aluminum chassis I/O: (2) ¼” ins; high-Z Guitar and low-Z AUX (1) XLR in; phantom power available (1) Variax in (3) external controller ins (1) SPDIF in (1) 5-pin MIDI in (1) ¼” amp relay switch out (1) stereo pair L/R XLR outs, stereo pair L/R ¼” outs (1) ¼” headphone out; independent volume control (4) stereo pairs L/R effects sends and returns (1) SPDIF out (1) USB out (1) AES/EBU/L6 Link digital outs (1) 5-pin MIDI out/through (1) IEC power in, universal voltage switching Models Included: Amps: 77 (includes same amp model with up to 3 different channels or settings, discrete count lower; 9 bass models) Effects: 200 (not counting Line 6’s archival library from previous products, added in latest firmware revisions) Speaker Cabs: 37 (7 bass models, 3rd party IRs accepted) Mics: 16

Darkglass products have become hot commodities over the last few years, with each release garnering a ton of buzz. The Hyper Luminal Hybrid Compressor pedal is certainly no exception, and Bass Gear Magazine has finally gotten its chance to put the designed-in-Finland signal squasher through its paces.

Hat Trick The Hyper Luminal achieves a neat trick that is at the core of its value proposition: it employs a digital side-chain algorithm, essentially a model of a specific compressor, to affect an all-analog signal path. Your signal never travels out of the analog realm, but this allows the pedal to offer three different models of compressor with very different sonic attributes in one. You can choose from the BUS, SYM, or FET modes of operation, which represent models of a Solid State Logic (SSL) bus compressor, Darkglass’ own discontinued Super Symmetry 115 GeV unit, and a model based on the famous Universal Audio 1176 rack compressor.

Nuts & Bolts The pedal is relatively easy to operate, featuring a single quarter-inch input and single quarter-inch out, a 9VDC input (the pedal will not run on batteries), potentiometer controls for Blend, Time, Output, and Compression, and the coolest part – the touch-sensitive flush control pads that adjust Ratio and Mode type. It’s unclear whether or not these last two controls are intended to be simply touch-sensitive like the screen of your mobile device or actually sensitive to slight pressure, but in my experience with the test unit, they seemed to require some pressure to engage. The Hyper Luminal uses classy blue LEDs to provide user feedback of control and on/off states, which can sometimes be blinding on a dark stage, so it was a relief to see that the way in which they were implemented prevented them from becoming more of a nuisance or distraction than helpful indicators. The Gain Reduction is also represented visually by a line of mini blue LEDs that pulse from right to left with your input signal. The form and layout of the pedal are very attractive, being roughly 2/3rds the height of a BOSS pedal and relatively slim from side to side (full dimensions are 2.95” W x 4.37” H x 1.77” D). It uses the momentary, non-latching type of footswitch that has grown in popular


kglass Hyper Luminal Hybrid

pressor Pedal immensely in recent years, and feels quite sturdy with minimal switching noise from the actuator A micro USB port is provided for fine tuning of the software parameters and potential firmware updates.

Smooth Criminal The Hyper Luminal is a very usable compressor; its three modes of operation with their varied parameter sets virtually guarantee that the user will enjoy at least one of the compressor models, if not all of them. I found that I preferred the BUS mode, due to what I perceived as its slower attack time for a nice initial punch and its general tone – in that it seemed to mostly leave mine alone. The FET mode was also a nice choice when I wanted a much faster onset of compression, without changing my tone dramatically, and the SYM mode offered a decidedly warmer, certainly colored tone that I might prefer when I want to not only compress but thicken-up the signal. I favored the 3rd setting of the Ratio control (3rd setting from the left). However, Darkglass seems not publish the specific ratios available – and to the same end, avoids publishing specifics on the Time and Compression controls, as well. My experience with the Hyper Luminal makes this seem likely to be because the controls behave in notably different ways in each mode; each mode ostensibly has its own set of assignable compression ratios, attack and threshold amounts, etc. Darkglass offers increased tweakability via a micro USB port which I did not feel the need to make use of, but which they explain allows you to access, “Time settings, parameters, and future firmware upgrades via the Darkglass Suite.” I did at times notice a significantly raised noise floor with higher compression and output settings – especially while using the BUS mode – but to an extent, these are byproducts of the way a compressor functions, lowering signal peaks and making up the gain by amplifying the entire resulting signal – noise floor and all. The very first time I plugged in the Hyper Luminal pedal (next to a floor processor and in front of my amp stack), with the pedal being powered from a One Spot behind everything, I was immediately confronted with a minor logistical issue for my own scenario; the placement of the 9VDC jack in front of and very close to the quarter inch input jack (toward the foot of the pedal) led to a situation where the plug head for the power supply conflicted with the input cable somewhat, fighting for some of the same space. Orienting the power supply behind the pedals, this meant that the PS cable had to pass under or over the input cable. Of course, this would be completely nullified by threading the PS cable downwards toward the foot of the pedal; for instance, if mounted on a pedal board and being fed power from the foot-end of the box. One other observation is that my test unit was less than 100% responsive to quickly engaging and disengaging the effect by stomping on the footswitch in

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By Sean Fairchild

semi-rapid succession – though the switch did perform with 100% accuracy when longer pauses were allowed between presses; perhaps a second or so. This is the sort of thing that may be a complete non-issue for most users, as you’re probably not going to want to be turning a compressor on and off that quickly. But it did raise a shadow of a doubt in my mind regarding the confidence I should place in the momentary-type footswitch. [Editor’s note: Darkglass is aware of this behavior and note that it is a side effect of debouncing the switch, which prevents the momentary switch from being toggled multiple times very fast if the switch, itself, oscillates. The debouncing is too slow. Darkglass is planning a firmware update fairly soon to solve this issue. Firmware updates are done through the Darkglass Suite.]

Make-up Gains A couple of relatively minor foibles aside, I really enjoyed my time with the Hyper Luminal (which, as someone who’s not particularly enamored with compression on my bass signal, is saying a lot!). Being that it does offer three quite sonically varied modes of operation, I would expect that virtually any bassist would be able to tailor it to their liking. Add in the expanded functionality of being to tweak settings further through use of a computer running the Darkglass Suite, and you’ve got a lot of value and functionality. Power placement and switching issues notwithstanding, I feel Darkglass’ Hyper Luminal Hybrid Compressor is among the A-list crowd of current pedal-format compressors, and should definitely be considered if variability and adjustability are primary interests and value points for you.

Manufacturer: Darkglass Electronics Model: Hyper Luminal Hybrid Compressor I/O: ¼” Input, ¼” Output, 9VDC input, Micro USB Input Impedance: 1M-Ohm Output Impedance: 1 K-Ohm Current Consumption: 250mA, 9V DC (center Negative) Controls: Blend, Time, Output, Compression, Ratio, Mode Battery Operation: No Width: 75 mm (2.95 in) Height: 111 mm (4.37 in) Depth: 43 mm (1.77 in) Weight: 250 g (0.55 lb.) Chassis: Aluminum Price: $249.99 (street price/MAP) Warranty: 1-year (USA), 2-year (Europe) Website: https://www.darkglass.com/


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BASSIC REVIEW

SCALE COLOUR SYSTEM By Sean Fairchild

B

eing the primary purveyor of private bass instruction on the Bass Gear Magazine staff – as well as someone who considers himself to be fairly visually oriented in the conceptualization of ideas – I was the logical reviewer to take a (somewhat) educated look at Alex Lofoco’s new bass and music theory demystifying tome, Scale Colour System, Bass, Vol 1 Scales. He has also published a similar title for guitar. Mr. Lofoco takes a novel approach in laying out repetitive fretboard shapes and fingering combinations according to color (or colour, as the Italian author has chosen to craft his messaging using the tools of British English orthography and convention). For example, whenever the single-string fingering pattern that occurs between the 6th degree and octave of the major scale is used – index, ring finger two frets ahead of index, pinky one fret ahead of ring – this specific shape is colored yellow. This helps to identify the same fingering scenario in different contexts, such as in the first three notes of the Aeolian mode. Other familiar shapes are given other colors. Patterns throughout the book are consistently provided for both one finger per fret (1FpF) and stretched, – or three notes per string – methodologies. The book is divided into sections that begin with an explanation of the color system, along with some basic elements of music theory and intervallic relationships between notes, and progress through chapters on each one of the natural modes; the modes based on the harmonic and melodic minor scales, pentatonic scales, symmetrical scales – such as the two flavors of diminished, wholetone, and chromatic – and finally includes a glossary and bibliography in the back. As you might expect, the printing makes excellent use of color, and the layout is relatively clean, easily legible, and digestible. The individual sections do a good job of establishing a template that is repeated in successive chapters with new subject matter, for ease of comparison between sections/scales, and seemingly aiding in the reader’s overall comprehension. Being a self-professed visually-oriented learner, I applaud the effort to color-code common fretboard shapes for ease of recognition and execution. When I listen to music or think of a melody, I typically “see” it in my mind’s eye laid-out on a fretboard – actually quite similar to how the illustrations in this book depict. I’m sure this is the case

for many others, as well. However, I found the data presented to have the most value when it applied to single-octave note sequences, rather than expounding across the entire fretboard, as is done frequently throughout the book. Personally, seeing a whole fretboard completely covered in colored rectangles was visual overkill for me, and I felt it may muddy the waters for other readers. My favorite elements were the one-page synopses of single-octave fretboard shapes in their corresponding color sequences and fingering charts; I could definitely see myself putting a few of these up on the wall for my students’ (and my own) benefit. The quality of the publication itself is very good, with the strong color choices reproduced well by the printer and a spiral binding for ease of flipping open to a specific point for prolonged study. There are, however, a number of spelling or grammatical errors that detract slightly from a perception of greater quality. As an American reader, these few oversights – taken together with the British orthographic usage – admittedly contributed to a bit of detachment from the material presented. My feeling after making my way from cover to cover is that Scale Colour System is perhaps best used as an excellent reference resource, rather than instructional guide; something to check into when circumstances dictate in order to rediscover a finer point of harmony, refresh the memory on a fingering pattern, or learn an alternate one for an uncommon scale, and to get a new, color-based perspective on the fretboard, itself. I came to this conclusion in part because of the way in which the information is offered, but also in part to what struck me as somewhat excessive formality of the language used in the body of the text, at times. I felt that a more accessible approach would benefit a student who’s actually learning these concepts for the first time and may be grasping for a foothold in what can be very dense material. Additionally, there isn’t really any consideration given to the why and where aspects of the material, in that there’s no discussion of when it might be appropriate to use – for instance – a super Locrian tonality in a given context, or a description of the feeling created when employing the Dorian or altered Phrygian modes over an expected Aeolian/minor scale passage or ambiguous minor chord. Those elements being crucial to the instructive component


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ambiguous minor chord. Those elements being crucial to the instructive component of harmony studies, in my view, the information that is included really lays out better as a referential asset for fretboard geography. The author has informed us that two follow-up volumes are in the works: Vol. 2 – Arpeggios & Chords, and Vol. 3 – Mechanics & Techniques. It’s not easy to reinvent the methods used to teach modal theory, stringed-instrument scalar fingerings, or conceptual components of harmony – some of which have probably been in use way, way too long. Alex Lofoco has succeeded in offering what appears to me to be a completely novel approach and methodology, and it’s specific to the bass guitar. Nitpicking editorializing aside, that’s an admirable feat and something worthy of notice, without any doubt. For highly visual learners, this could be exactly the kind of presentation needed to clarify and humanize the sometimes daunting, expansive fretboard, and may help with understanding the interrelation of modes and various theoretical and harmonic devices. If you think you may be one of these people and you’re having trouble with comprehension in these arenas, I’d certainly recommend taking a look at Scale Colour System to see if it aligns with your learning style.

Author/Publisher: Alex Lofoco ISBN: 978-9999047-9-1 Price: $24, direct from Author’s site; $10 shipping Best for: beginning students with a healthy capacity for scholastic detail, through lifelong professional players looking to fill in some gaps

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BASSIC REVIEW

Ultimate Ears CSX 18+ Earphones By Tom Bowlus Bass Gear Magazine has previously brought you reviews of the Ultimate Ears 11 Pro in-ear monitors and the UE PRO Reference Remastered in-ears (designed in conjunction with Capitol Studios). Both of these models are in the UE PRO range of custom in-ear monitors for professional and stage use. The process for ordering a set of custom UE PRO in-ears begins with getting your ear canals scanned. Ultimate Ears has refined this process over the years, and getting your canals scanned is fast, easy and no longer involves holding your mouth open with a spacer (yea!). The UE PRO in-ears are referred to as “profit for active use,” and these types of in-ear monitors do extend fairly deep into your ear canal for a tight, secure fit. For most performers on stage, this range of products are what you are after. However, the kind folks at Ultimate Ears also wanted to offer up high-quality custom earphones for everyday listening, and this is where the UE CSX line comes into play. These earphones are referred to as “lifestyle-fit for extended wear,” and these models are aimed at the different use scenario of listening to music, as opposed to monitoring your performance on-stage. With (presumably) less jumping/moving around, the earphones don’t need to extend as deep into your ear canal to stay put, and this does make for a slightly more comfortable fit (though to be honest, I have done a good bit of casual listening with my UE PRO Reference Remastered in-ears, and they never caused me any discomfort).

DIY Custom Ear Molds As previously mentioned, in order to get properly fitted for the UE PRO line of in-ear monitors, you can either order your in-ears through one of Ultimate Ears’ global dealers (who will directly scan your ear canals and build a digital image), or you can to have molds made of your ear canals by a qualified audiologist and ship the molds/ measurements to Ultimate Ears in Irvine, CA. While this process is far from onerous, with the UE CSX line, you can do all of the measurements by yourself in the privacy of your own home. The new Ultimate Ears Fitkit option includes molding tips (in two sizes), a fitting device, a mirror, a power adapter, and a return shipping label. Once you download the UE Fitkit app to your phone, step-by-step instructions guide you through the process of selecting the right molding tip size, using the fitting device, connecting your phone, inserting the tips in your ears, and initiating the impression process. When the process begins, the molds begin to warm up – which is a unique sensation – though they do not get uncomfortably hot. The heat allows the molds to adapt to the shape of your ear canals; after doing so, they begin to harden. The app prompts you to remove the molding tips after 60 seconds, and your impressions are complete! After you return the molds (using the prepaid shipping label), Ultimate Ears gets to work and promises to deliver your new custom earphones in 10 business days.

First Steps In my zeal to tell you about the new at-home Fitkit option, I skipped the first step: choosing your UE CSX earphones model and features. The UE CSX line includes four models: the 2-speaker UE 5 CSX ($499), the 3-speaker UE 7 CSX ($899), the 4-speaker UE 11 CSX ($1,199), and the


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6-speaker UE 18+ CSX ($1,499), reviewed herein. The differences between these four models goes beyond merely slotting into different price ranges, as each model offers unique characteristics and benefits. For instance, the UE 7 CSX have a focus on the midrange, making them great for vocals, classical and jazz. Much like the UE 11 PRO in-ears we previously reviewed, the UE 11 CSX are exceptionally robust in the lower frequencies, making them great for drummers, bass players and fans of “big music.” The UE 18+ CSX are very balanced across the lows, mids and highs, with exceptional detail. All models offer excellent noise isolation (26 dB reduction). Once you’ve selected the model you want, you can choose from eight different pre-defined color options: Jet Black, Clear, Translucent Jet Black, Translucent Lucky Red, Translucent King Blue, Carbon Fiber, Mother of Pearl, or Wood (the last three options do involve an upcharge), or you can design your own custom look. If you go the custom route, you have a choice of eight colors, five wood choices, or six different materials. You can then choose to add a silver halo, a gold halo (both options add $200 to the bill), or opt for no halo. Next up, you can choose between silver or gold “UE” logo, no logo, or custom initials (two characters, max). The UE CSX earphones come with a traditional braided cable as well as a Bluetooth cable (more on that in a minute), and are packaged in a quality metal case (which can be engraved for free). For the review unit, I chose Translucent King Blue, no halo, silver UE logo, and my name engraved on the case. Man, they look great!

18 and Older The UE 18+ CSX earphones feature a 4-way crossover feeding dual high Truetone Plus drivers, a dedicated midhigh balanced armature, a dedicated mid-low balanced armature, and dual low balanced armatures. The UE 5 CSX and UE 7 CSX each feature a 2-way crossover, and the UE 11 CSX has a 3-way crossover. The input sensitivity is 105 dB @ 1kHz, 1mW, which is notably lower than that of the other earphones in the UE CSX line (the UE 7 CSX holds top honors in sensitivity, at 124 dB), though compared to the UE PRO Reference Remastered (100 dB), the UE 18+ CSX are slightly louder, with the same signal. It is also

worth noting that the UE 18+ CSX has the highest impedance (least resistance), at 37.5 Ohms @ 1 kHz, while the rest of the CSX line falls between 18 and 21 Ohms. The frequency response for the entire UE CSX line is listed as 5Hz to 22kHz.

It’s Good to be Blue The included Bluetooth cable really opens up a world of possibilities. The swappable cable option (Ultimate Ears IPX Connection System) gets the initial credit. The IPX connectors make it exceptionally easy to swap between the braided cable and the Bluetooth cable. If you don’t plan on straying very far from your music player, then the braided cable offers the best potential sonic fidelity – particularly if you are also using the excellent UE PRO Sound Guard buffer. But for when you don’t want to be tethered to a device, the Bluetooth option is great. The cable has a dongle housing the controls and a microphone, as well as containing the primary battery for the earphones. A snapon cradle is used to charge the dongle/battery, but the cradle is not much larger than the dongle and has its own internal battery. Ultimate Ears claims an 8-hour play time when both the dongle and the cradle have a full charge (4hour play time with the dongle, alone). I found myself charging the cradle on its own (as it takes up less space on my counter without the cable/dongle attached), and then leaving the cradle attached to the dongle when I was listening to the earphones (to extend battery life). Alternately, you could just throw the cradle in your pocket and break it out when/if you run out of juice on the primary battery, but it’s so small and light, I just left it attached. This also minimizes the chances that I will lose the cradle… When you power up the Bluetooth dongle, a pleasant voice in your ears tells you that you have successfully turned the “power on” and tells you the current charge level on the battery. It will also tell you when you have successfully connected your headphones to the Bluetooth device. The three buttons on the dongle have different functions when you are using making a phone call, as opposed to listening to music. The Bluetooth function supports Multipoint pairing, so you can be listening to

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BASSIC REVIEW music from one device, and then receive a phone call from another device. The earphones will also pair with most smartwatches, even outside of the Bluetooth range of the phone.

An Earful of Comparisons One of the obvious and inevitable comparisons when you are talking about Bluetooth-compatible, wireless earphones is that of the Apple AirPods. Yes, I know that the AirPods are not true earphones, and yes, they cost a fraction of the UE 18+ CSX, but they pretty much kicked off the whole “wireless devices in your ears thing” and I have been using them for a while. Comparing the UE 18+ CSX to my AirPods, I have to say, I was initially surprised at how much bass the AirPods seemed to be putting out. After more critical listening, though, it feels like the AirPods low-end response is artificially hyped – and the same goes for the high end. Listening to Linkin Park, In the End, the snare and cymbals seemed to stand out more with the AirPods, as did the upper range of the guitars. By contrast, the UE 18+ CSX are definitely more smooth and full-sounding. You can hear the “meat” of the rhythm guitar more, and the toms are more in balance with the snare and cymbals. The AirPods sound thin after going back to them following a listening session with the UE 18+ CSX. In contrast to the AirPods, the UE 18+ CSX feel very neutral and balanced. There is just as much low-end (and high-end) content, but they are presented much more naturally. I’m not sure how they pull this off, but the UE 18+ CSX somehow give an impression of feeling the bass with your body. Impressive! I then fired up Greta Van Fleet, Highway Tune, and on this song, the AirPods had noticeably less bass than the UE’s – which supports the notion that the AirPods are playing with some EQ, while the UE 18+ CSX are producing a full range of music more naturally. On this song, I definitely noticed that the UE 18+ CSX were less fatiguing than the AirPods, and once again, more smooth/full. Moving on to some Chicago, the UE 18+ CSX really let you hear the individual horns as they competed with guitars, bass, keys and drums. The excellent noise isolation from the UE CSX headphones really stands out, as well, and this makes them vastly more desirable in a noisy environment. Man, I wish I would have had these on my last cross-country flight… For a more vigorous test, I compared the UE 18+ CSX to my UE PRO Capitol Studios Reference Remastered in-

ears. For this comparison, I used the braided cable connection for both sets of earphones. As expected this was a much closer comparison. The UE 18+ CSX have a bit more bass, and are slightly louder (due to the slightly higher input sensitivity on the UE 18+ CSX). By comparison, the UE PRO Reference Remastered in-ears have a bit more detail, and are somehow also slightly smoother. True to their design goals, the UE CSX earphones are a bit more comfortable and are easier to put in your ears – though to be fair, after using the UE PRO in-ears for a while, I have no problem putting them in. Both sets of earphones stay in quite well when shaking/moving your head, though the Capitols most definitely extend further into the ear canal and will undoubtedly stand up to more vigorous movement. Still the UE 18+ CSX do an admirable job of staying put. During the course of my initial review of the UE PRO Reference Remastered in-ears, my joy of listening to music for the sheer joy of listening was rekindled. The UE 18+ CSX earphones continue to feed this fire, and the Bluetooth compatibility makes it oh so convenient. The detail and texture revealed by either of these earphones is far superior to more casual music playback options. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to “rediscover” a really cool whispered vocal effect in an original song my band (Gingley JoH) recorded almost twenty years ago. I had totally forgotten about that track – and I apparently couldn’t hear it through my other playback devices… In addition to comparisons involving the full-on listening experience, I also wanted to see how the UE 18+ CSX performed when making phone calls. To be honest, my expectations were that with the mic located on the Bluetooth dongle hanging behind my ear, the microphone performance would be less than ideal. However, it seems to function just fine, and the parties I spoke to told me that they could hear me even better than when I used the built-in microphone on my iPhone 10XS Max. Switching to the AirPods, the other parties did not discern much difference between the UE 18+ CSX and the AirPods, though both were better than the built-in mic. As far as hearing things on my end, both wireless options were far better than the built-in speaker, but if you really want to hear the person on the other end, the sound isolation and even frequency response of the UE 18+ CSX is fantastic. Phone conversations were much more audible on the UE’s compared to the AirPods, though I will say that if you do need to communicate with someone in the room with you


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while talking to someone else on the phone, the sound isolation can be an issue, and the AirPods do a better job of letting you hear people around you and hear people on the phone at the same time.

There’s an App for That Now, if you happen to like a more hyped tone, or if you want to have precise control over the EQ of your listening material, then you will be pleased to learn of the UE Custom app. This free app allows you to choose between one of eight presets (Flat, Bass Boost, Podcast, Tubes Amp, Warm and Clear, Rebalance, Enhanced, Extended Listening) or take full control with the “customize” function. This brings up a 5-band EQ with an intuitive touch-and-drag control for boost/ cut and frequency of each band. Once you have dialed in an EQ setting that you like, you can save it as a new preset. Very cool! Please note, this app only functions when you have the UE earphones paired. The app does not function when paired with AirPods or another Bluetooth device. As an added bonus, the UE Custom app also displays the current battery level of your earphones.

The Bottom Line Ultimate Ears PRO has been an established mainstay in the field of on-stage in-ear monitoring for many years. With the new CSX line, Ultimate Ears brings their know-how and fidelity to the recreational listener. The new Fitkit option allows you to order up a set of custom-molded earphones without leaving your own home. The Bluetooth connection option allows you to break free from the physical tether, and the UE Custom app lets you tweak to your heart’s desire (if need be). With the Bluetooth cable, your UE CSX earphones make cell phone calls much more clear and audible. This is all great news to music lovers, indeed, and the 30-day risk-free trial removes any rationale not to give them a try. Manufacturer: Ultimate Ears

Website: custom.ultimateears.com

Model: UE 18+ CSX

Input Sensitivity: 105 dB @ 1kHz, 1mW

Frequency Response: 5Hz – 22kHz

Noise Isolation: -26 decibels of ambient stage noise

Impedance: 37.5 Ohms @ 1kHz

Bluetooth Version: 4.1, Multi-point

Profiles: Handsfree, Headset, A2DP, AVCRP, SPP

In-line Mic: MEMS, omni-directional

Battery Life: 8 hours (4 hours internal, + 4 more with included charging clip)

Battery Type: 60 mAh lithium polymer (in the device)

Battery Voltage: 3.7V

Charging Time: 2.5 hours

Standby Time: 110 hours

Accessories: Road case, cleaning tool, 1/8” buffer jack

Number of Frets/Positions: 24

Strings: Dunlop Super Bright nickel roundwound

Warranty: : 1-year

Price: $1,499.00

Internal Speaker Configuration: 6 proprietary balanced armatures with a 4-way crossover Connection Options: Braided cable with universal 1/8” headphone jack; Bluetooth cable with battery/control dongle

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FULL REVIEW

“Have Bass, Will Travel”

Journey Instruments OB660 Overhead Bass By Tom Bowlus

The Company Line

J

ourney Instruments specializes in travel-ready acoustic stringed instruments, including ukuleles, fixed-neck guitars and collapsible-neck guitars and basses. We were wowed by the collapsible-neck OB660 “Overhead” carbon fiber bass guitar back at the 2017 NAMM Show. In fact, this bass won a Bass Gear Magazine Best of Show Award that year. We were initially impressed that such a small, compact acoustic bass guitar could be not only very playable, but very loud! And when they showed us how the neck comes off and stows away for transport so quickly, our heads were spinning!

Deep Purple Needless to say, I was thrilled when our friends at Journey Instruments agreed to send us an Overhead bass to check out in detail. I have to admit, I do not fly to gigs very often – or ever, as the case may be – so the major trick performed by the OB660 (the ability to very quickly detach the neck and stow it in a bag designed to fit into an overhead compartment) is not vital to my lifestyle or anticipated use of the instrument. However, I do go camping fairly often, and I do like to participate in fireside jams with my acoustic guitar playing buds. So being “travel-friendly” is nice, but the fact that this little bass puts out a ton of acoustic volume is even better, for me, personally. That’s what really won the award for this bass at the 2017 Show. The volume, tone, and playability. Sure, the


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

collapsible-neck feature is super impressive, and very well-implemented. But if you didn’t end up with a fun, playable instrument at the end of the day, it wouldn’t matter much. Fortunately, this little bass definitely delivers. The particular instrument which Journey sent us for review is the purple-top OB660P1 model. As previously stated, the body, neck and fingerboard are made of carbon fiber composite, with a bone nut and saddle, and ebony bridge pins (with mother of pearl inlays). The logo on the headstock also features mother of pearl; nice! Amplified volume is provided courtesy of a proprietary under-saddle passive transducer pickup system, and a dual-action truss rod allows for tweaking the relief. The flat portion of the top of the bass is “electric purple,” as is the top of the (very small!) headstock. Instead of a “cutout,” the Overhead Bass features a Scoopaway™ at the neck/body joint, allowing greater access to the higher frets. The body features a Manzer Wedge©™ design that is supposed to increase both acoustic volume and comfort, and from what I can tell, it seems to be working. The sound hole is positioned in the upper shoulder on the bass side of the body, which presumably allows for a larger continuous resonating surface for the top, and also places the sound hole closer to your ears. Whatever it’s doing, this diminutive acoustic bass is far louder than it has any right to be, and whereas some acoustic bass guitars sound like muffled versions of an acoustic guitar, without much true depth of tone or clarity, the OB660 is both deep and clear, acoustically. Despite the short scale (27”) and reduced number of frets (17), the Overhead Bass is surprisingly easy to play. I say this coming from the perspective of playing a full-size acoustic bass guitar, more so than from the perspective of playing a traditional electric bass. It definitely feels like playing an ABG, but the small size doesn’t seem weird, somehow.

Heading for a Breakdown The big “gimmick,” of course, for the Journey Instruments Overhead bass (and their Overhead guitar) is the ability to “collapse” the neck – basically take it off, while leaving the strings attached – and to do so very quickly. This is accomplished by loosening a large “wing nut” at the back of the neck, and then pressing down on a button located immediately behind the neck and very close to the neck-side strap button. Once you loosen the nut and press the button, the neck pivots up and away from the neck pocket.

You can then place the bass into its nicely-padded “travel backpack,” which lets you tuck the neck into the “lid,” while the body of the bass sits in the larger portion of the case. A soft padded flap makes sure that the strings don’t scratch the body of the bass. As previously mentioned, the case is designed to fit into the overhead bin compartment, and it has a side-mounted carry handle. If you prefer, there are also backpack straps (which can be nicely hidden away, if you choose not to use them). The case also has some extra pockets that are pretty useful. One is even big enough for a small-to-medium-sized laptop.

Straight From the Source Not being familiar with Journey Instruments as a company, I asked company founder, Rob Bailey, to tell me a bit about how things got started. “Convergent Sourcing is the supply chain management company I own that funded Journey Instruments. The whole project started back around 2009 when I was consulting corporate clients with Convergent and was getting back into fingerstyle guitar. I was outsourcing services from our team of mechanical and carbon fiber engineers at that time. While I was looking for a good travel guitar for business trips, I really wasn’t happy with anything on the market – so I put our team to work and leveraged our in-house R&D abilities with our supply chain management expertise. When we went to design the Overhead, I spent 300 hours surveying the acoustic guitar gear forums to put together the feature set – which is how we ended up with features like the Manzer Wedge design (which maximizes the volume with a wedge design), the removable neck, passive pickups, and premium tuners. Basically, the goal of Journey instruments is to provide premium-quality instruments for musicians who are on

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FULL REVIEW the go. When we design a product series, we’re thinking through the entire user experience. When artists play our instruments, they’re usually blown away by the ergonomics of the instrument and how easy they are to play. At NAMM, we always get guitarists (and especially bass players) that look really skeptical at our design – until they pick one up and play it. The cases are designed not merely to protect a great instrument, but as part of the core feature set – so the cases enable quick assembly, great protection, but also conveniently organized storage for the accessories and gear artists need to bring along. So it’s usually after someone travels with our instrument that they fully appreciate our instruments.” I was intrigued by the use of carbon fiber, and asked Rob if the decision was made early on to build using carbon fiber, of if certain experiments/discoveries pushed them in this direction. “The idea for carbon fiber came from the market data we received when doing a survey of the gear pages. It seemed carbon was the best choice in terms of durability and artists who traveled in extreme weather variances. However, we heard equal response for wood from traveling musicians who were more traditional, or just stayed in nicer climate-controlled environments. So when we designed the neck latching mechanism, we designed something that could be efficiently produced in both carbon and wood. In the guitar design process, we actually started designing the carbon model first, then we went to work on the wood one. But the carbon took a year longer to implement production – so we came to market with the wood Overhead OF410 and OF420 first.” So, Journey had its guitars nailed down first. I wondered when they first came up with the concept of adding a travel bass to the lineup… “From the first launch at NAMM in 2012, we had numerous bass players say, ‘Man that would be awesome if you had a bass that could do that!’ We kept hearing more and more requests from bassists – both online and at trade

shows, so we just put this in the product launch schedule and here we are.” Lots of great ideas for guitar don’t translate well to bass. I feel like the Overhead design most definitely does work great as a bass, but I asked Rob if the collapsible-neck bass instrument presented any special challenges, unique from the collapsible guitars. “The main challenge for bass was when we did the fretless model. It takes more work to plane a radiused carbon fretless fretboard than it does for a wood one, that’s for sure. A surprising benefit from our bass design was that because it is a 27” scale, the bass string tension is actually lower than the string tension of our guitars, so we can go thinner on the top and it’s super resonant.” Very interesting! Something else that interested me when reading about the Overhead design were the specific benefits of the Manzer Wedge design in this smaller instrument. “We’ve actually taken the Manzer Wedge to a new level. When the wedged design began, it was actually made as a retrofit on a guitar, and was mainly designed to alleviate shoulder strain and make playing more comfortable. So


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

you actually got less volume, but more comfort, from the original implementation. Also, it makes barre chords much easier, because the weight of your fretting hand arm is pulling naturally against the fretboard. What we did differently is we boosted the thickness of the bottom of the bout by like 20%. So at the bottom of our guitars, they look super thick. But at the top, we kept the thickness of a normal parlor guitar. The result was that it still had the comfort and playability benefits of the original wedged design, but the increased thickness really served to boost the volume. And on the carbon, when you add the rib and arm bevels, this instrument is just super comfortable.” Considering that we are not working with wood, you would presume that there is less hand crafting involved, right? Well, perhaps not; Rob explains: “It’s a common misconception that carbon instruments don’t have the same degree of craftsmanship as do wood guitars. In actuality, in comparison to factory made wood guitars, there is just as much – if not more – hand craftsmanship in carbon fiber instruments as there is in wood. While we use tooling for each component, each instrument has multiple layers of carbon that are laid up by hand; while most wood instruments are made from

pre-fabricated CNC bodies and necks. Fretting and fingerboard work on carbon is more intensive than any wood instrument, and both require neck and setup adjustments. Finally, the finishing, paint, and buffing process is equally as demanding as any wood instrument.”

How Does It Sound? As I mentioned before, this smaller acoustic bass is surprisingly loud. In fact, it is just as loud as my full-sized Epiphone El Capitan ABG – which, itself, is one of the louder acoustic bass guitars I have found. At some of the recent NAMM Shows, I have had the opportunity to play some very large acoustic bass guitars made from carbon fiber, but for whatever reason, they were not as loud as this little guy. There may be some magic in its size, weight and proportions. The Manzer Wedge might be a major reason; I don’t know. I do know that whether played with fingers or a pick, the acoustic volume and tone of the Overhead bass are very impressive. The input jack for the piezo transducer is built into the bridge-side strap button. There are no controls (and no preamp). The amplified nature of the OB660 is a little different than its acoustic properties. The tone gets much “bigger,” with deep, somewhat “pillowy” lows and decent clarity, though not a lot of middle to upper midrange content. It does have that (desirable) “amplified acoustic” tone and qualities – but without the harshness associated with some piezo pickups. By comparison, the El Capitan is a bit more clear, crisp and defined, though admittedly slightly harsh. The Overhead bass sounds somewhat like a mix between an acoustic guitar and an electric upright bass (EUB), whereas the El Capitan sounds like a deeper, more throaty acoustic guitar. Considering my anticipated personal use of the Overhead bass (solo practice around the house or campfire jams) the overall playability and acoustic tone/volume are of paramount importance. However, if I were doing a lot of amplified gigs, then it might be nice to have an on-board preamp/EQ. In fact, I asked Rob about the possibility of different pickups or an onboard preamp, and received a very tantalizing response: “Actually this is something we plan to launch in the near future … both upgraded pickups and potentially an all-solid traditional electric collapsible bass. Stay tuned!” The removable neck feature is truly an impressive achievement, both in terms of design and execution. But I have to say, when I am playing this bass, I totally forget about that particular feature. It’s just very easy and fun to play, and the acoustic tone and volume never cease to amaze me.

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FULL REVIEW

The Bottom Line While this little bass certainly may look cute, it is no toy. The Overhead bass plays great, has impressive acoustic volume and tone, and easily folds up into a ridiculously small package. Throw an external preamp into the included backpack, and you are ready to travel! Admittedly, the targeted demographic of jet-setting, acoustic bass guitar-playing musicians might be extremely limited, but if you have any desire/need for a smallish, loud, nice-playing acoustic bass, you definitely need to consider looking Overhead.

To advertise in our pages, email: joshua@bassgearmag.com


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

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TECHNICAL REVIEW

Journey Instruments OB660 Overhead Bass

BASS GEAR

42

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

GENERAL 4 Single-cut (“single-scoop,” actually) 36.5” 18” long x 12 ½” wide at lower bout Minimal 4.1 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:

27” 1.783” 2.295” 2.295” .964” .800” 1.061” 1.061” .406” .712” 16” wide C 12 degrees 35 degrees 1.589” – 3.149” .386” Unique bolt-on N/A Dual-action / peghead side 17 100x29

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

Proprietary piezo transducer Underneath bridge N/A None N/A N/A

Carbon fiber Carbon fiber Carbon fiber High gloss polyurethane and paint High gloss polyurethane

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

Journey Instruments Austin, Texas www.journeyinstruments.com County of origin: China Lifetime for body, neck & neck attachment; Warranty: 1-year on pickup and bag; lifetime warranty on tuners through Grover $1,219.99 (high gloss or matte black, fretted), Price: $1,249.99 (high gloss black, fretless), $1,249.99 (electric purple) Available colors: High gloss black, matte black, electric purple Fretless Options: Travel Backpack Accessories: Journey Instruments Acquired from: Spring 2017 to Spring 2018 Dates: Ohio Locales: Epiphone El Capitan, Bergantino B|Amp, Test gear: Bergantino CN212, Ampeg Micro-VR, Ampeg SVT-210AV

TEST RESULT 1-5 (unacceptable to impeccable)

In-hand

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

4 3 5 4 4 4 3

In-hand SCORE

3.86 average On-bench

CONSTRUCTION Body Material: Neck Material: Fingerboard: Body Finish: Neck Finish:

Company:

D’Addario Phosphor Bronze Roundwound .045, .065, .080, .100 At bridge Proprietary / bone Bone Grover / chrome N/A N/A N/A

3.75 average

On-bench

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:

4 5 4 5 4 4 4 3 3 4 4 2 4 3 4 N/A 3

Low: Deep and clear acoustically; bigger and more round amplified Mids: Open and balanced acoustically; somewhat subdued amplified Highs: Amplified tone does not have harshness common to many piezo pickups

TONE-O-METER: This little bass definitely delivers the “acoustic bass guitar” tone when played acoustically, and sounds more like a cross between an ABG and an EUB when plugged in. It has impressive acoustic volume, and no piezo harshness when plugged in.


Phil Maneri’s

BASS LAB

Journey Instruments OB660 Overhead Bass An acoustic electric bass that comes apart and fits in an airline carryon bag? Okay, that’s worth looking at. Upon further inspection, we find a carryon bag with an acoustic bass guitar body in one side and a neck in the other, with strings and such all still hooked up. With a simple bolt-on neck screw, the whole thing tightens up, and to my surprise, it was in-tune without touching a tuning key. Okay, that’s cool. There isn’t really any wood to talk about here; it’s all carbon fiber. That makes the instrument pretty bulletproof and very hard to break. The back and sides and neck all show the carbon fiber material and the top is painted a nice shade of purple. The body is ergonomically intentioned with thinner depth on the bass side than the treble (the Manzer Wedge©™ design). There is a big cutaway on the treble side and a forearm bevel over the bass side forward body edge. All this adds up to comfort, as it plays well seated or standing – even considering it’s not a slab instrument and has a depth much past what you’d expect on most acoustic guitars. The short scale (27”) is a full 7” shy of the usual Fender scale (34”). Obviously, this shorter scale is part of what allows it to fit into an overhead bag. Interesting, though, it sounds quite balanced up and down the neck, for as short as it is. The passive pickups appear to be similar to K & K body transducers run directly to the output jack. This is an efficient concept, although perhaps not my ideal choice for electronics in an acoustic bass guitar.

The Grover tuning keys and the neck attachment system are the only hardware to speak of. The keys are simple and lightweight, and open-frame. The attachment system is proprietary and very well made. In fact, the whole instrument is pretty well constructed. The acoustic sound is pretty good and louder than you’d guess, given its size. However, when amplified, it is somewhat prone to feedback – at least when played at “concert volume levels” – and seems bigger than expected in the bass, and a little scooped in the mids. I suspect the pickup might be the culprit, here. With a different under-saddle transducer, combined with a buffer or onboard EQ, this instrument might really kill it at higher amplified volumes. Compared to my vintage Fenders, it plays a little stiff, but its saddle has plenty of room to adjust to taste, and the dual-action truss rod is a welcome addition. It’s a little weird to get used to, initially, but not insurmountable. One unique advantage of the detachable neck is that it makes it a simple affair to swap bridge saddles, and also makes it very easy to shim the neck. This is an interesting design aimed at people who play bass and travel. It’s solidly built and ingenious in its carry on implementation, though I suspect it has a very small market niche. The price point initially seems a little high, but considering the carbon fiber construction, it’s probably right about where it should be.


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FULL REVIEW

“Doubling Down on a New Desig

By Tom Bowlus

Smith Creek Mandolin Christopher Bass DBG The Company Line

A

round February of 2017, this guy who goes by the handle “smithcreek” started a thread on TalkBass.com about a “Double Bass Guitar” archtop acoustic/electric hybrid build. The name of the thread was intriguing enough, and the initial pictures definitely pulled you in. You can check out the original thread here: https://www.talkbass.com/threads/ double-bass-guitar-archtop-acoustic-electric-hybridbuild-thread.1266795/. I was immediately hooked, and couldn’t wait to see how this ambitious project turned out. I was even more excited when luthier David Smith contacted me and asked about the possibility of a review in Bass Gear Magazine. Before the calendar year was out, David had a bass in my hands, and trust me, this was even more exciting!

Up the Creek So who is this David Smith guy, and what’s he all about? I will let him introduce himself in his own words: “I’ve been a bass player since my second year of high

school in 1982. In the early ‘90s, I started playing banjo, also. I learned that banjos are very expensive, so I decided to build my own. With no woodworking tools or training past eighth grade wood shop class, I started my luthier career. I built banjos at a few buck more than cost for friends – and friends of friends – to get experience and moved on to do the same with mandolins. Over the course of about six years, I worked my way from part-time to full-time builder and eventually had several top-notch bluegrass musicians playing my mandolins. I started logging Adirondack red spruce and curly maple trees to use on my own instruments, but after a couple years, I had more than enough for several lifetimes, so I started selling tonewood to other builders. Around the same time, I bought a CNC machine, taught myself CAD and learned how to use the machine. I had a lot of wood and a CNC machine, so it only made sense to sell CNCcarved archtop top and back plates for various instruments to other luthiers. Eventually, the parts side of my business grew to occupy most of my time, and for the most part, I stopped building instruments. At that point, I had built about 150 mandolins, so I took a break from building for several years and just sold parts to other luthiers.


gn”

August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

Being an electric bass player and an archtop instrument builder, the idea for an arcthop acoustic bass guitar that would amplify well had been brewing for a number of years. When I finally started to actually design the instrument, the goal became to capture as much of the tone and feel of a double bass as possible in an instrument that would feel familiar to an electric bass player. I also wanted it to ‘feel’ like a double bass – meaning, a very physical and dynamic instrument. Play it HARD, and it should respond to that with volume and tone. Play it soft, and it should respond to that, also. There’s something about the sound of a double bass; I don’t know how to describe it, but you can almost hear the air moving, and none of the answers to the age-old question, ‘How do make my electric bass sound more like a stand-up’ – like putting foam under the bridge – came close to capturing that sound. That’s what I wanted this bass to do.”

Double Vision It is not very common that I unbox a product for review and discover something that totally defies all conventional categories, but at the same time, immediately makes sense as a musical instrument. In fact, I don’t think it’s happened before… But before I expound on that initial playing experience, it is worth taking the time to discuss David Smith’s vision for a “double bass guitar.” Yes, the hollow-body bass is nothing new, but one unique aspect of the Christopher Bass is that the body is fully acoustic, meaning that the arched top bears all of the downward pressure of the strings, alone. There is no block under the bridge. Yes, other bass guitars have been made to sound somewhat like a double bass – the Rob Allen Mouse comes to mind – and even some bass ukuleles cop a bit of that vibe. But, can you think of other “bass guitar” builds which use double bass strings? True, David’s original plan was to build an instrument that could use standard extralong-scale electric bass strings, but as it turns out, he was able to tweak his design to accommodate actual double bass strings. More on this, below. Another unique “double bass” design feature is the tailpiece, which effectively anchors the strings to the “tail” of the instrument. These are typically made of ebony, which is the material used on the custom-made tailpiece for the Christopher DBG (the fingerboard is also ebony). On a double bass, the tailpiece connects to the “tailgut” or “tailpiece wire,” which wraps around the endpin. Not having a need for an endpin, David needed to fabricate an anchor to hold the wire that the tailpiece is attached to. This tailgut anchor is one of the “secret weapons”

employed by the Christopher Bass to give it such an authentic upright bass vibe and feel. Of course, this is a “bass guitar,” and so it does employ the typical 34” scale length, has a comfy, familiar neck, and is built to balance well while sitting or standing – for your hands to fall right about where they would with a conventional electric bass guitar. Any electric bass player would feel right at home playing this instrument. Collectively, these are some fairly unique design goals, but if you think about it, they really do make sense. Of course, many plans that look great on paper fall on their face when put to the task in the real world. So, how does Christopher fare?

And Now For Something Completely Different When the Christopher Bass first arrived for review, the sheer size of the box which arrived told me that this wasn’t my Father’s Fender. In truth, the first prototype hard shell case which Smith Creek sent us was pretty darned huge (though certainly protective and sturdy). The second hard case David sent was somewhat smaller, but still on the large size. It is very attractive, with the words “Christopher double bass guitar” embroidered on the top. These cases need to be on the big side, because the body on this bass is somewhat larger than your

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FULL REVIEW average bass guitar. However, David now offers an even smaller hard shell case made by G&G which is only slightly larger than your standard “Fender-sized” case. A Studio Slips padded gig bag is standard. Even when you kind of know what to expect before you pick up a Christopher Bass DBG for the first time, it’s still an amazing moment. Although the body of the bass is larger than a conventional electric bass, but it seems very natural. When you pick it up, it feels immediately comfortable, and the (maple) neck is soooooo comfortable. This bass just begs to be played. It calls to you, demanding attention. In fact, my photo shoot for the Christopher DBG was seriously delayed because I couldn’t stop playing it (when I should have been shooting photos). The unamplified tone is more than sufficient for private practice, and even at this lower volume level, the upright flavor is clearly present. When you plug it in, though, things get really interesting. At first glance, you may think that the two knobs are volume and tone, but they are actually two volume knobs for two separate K&K pickup/ preamp systems. One set of pickups is mounted under the saddle, and one set is mounted to the soundboard. Each of them is mated to its own preamp, with controls for gain, bass, mid and treble. Looking at that unassuming face, with its two knobs, you would never suspect that there are two gain controls, two volume controls, and a total of six bands of EQ at your

disposal. David’s choice was to keep the majority of these controls hidden from view inside the control cavity. Having played plenty of electric bass guitars with six or more knobs on the top of the instrument, it did seem odd to me – at first – to have the tone controls “locked away” inside the control cavity (which is held in place by six screws). But after playing with this bass for a while, and spending time with the control plate off (and screwdriver in hand), I came to a couple of conclusions. The first is that David is a genius, and the second is that those two knobs offer an amazing level of flexibility. Even if there were no tone controls on board, the separate volume controls for the undersaddle and soundboard pickups offer a good bit of tonal control. The undersaddle pickup offers a “bigger” tone, in terms of the lows to low-mids. The soundboard pickup has more of a “singing voice,” with a sense of “acoustic clarity.” Blending these two together in varying degrees offers a lot of tonal variation, and the range of control you get with those two volume knobs is impressive. While it can be nice to have a number of different tone controls at your immediate disposal, too much EQ can present a rabbit hole that is difficult to escape. I have long believed that it is easier to screw things up with EQ than it is to really make things better. The approach, here, is that you can use the two preamps to dial in the tone of the output from each set of pickups, and then when you get it where you like it, put the control cavity cover back on and forget about those little white wheels. If you need to adjust for a room, your


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

first option is to vary the mix of the two pickup systems. If this does not get you where you need to go, well, that’s why amps have tone controls, right? When exploring the ranges of adjustments available via the K&K preamps, I reached the conclusion that David had set things up just about perfect right out of the gate. Interestingly, each channel had the bass turned all the way up (or close to it), the mids turned all the way down, and the treble set fairly close to halfway (those slightly different on each channel). Neither of the gain controls were set to maximum – which is a wise choice, as I did encounter some feedback issues as I turned them up. As previously mentioned, once you dial things in (or make the wise decision to leave David’s settings alone) on the internal preamp controls, you can dial in your tone (and volume, of course) with the two volume knobs. However, I can’t help but think that it would nice to have easier access to these controls when/if you needed to make an adjustment. A magnetic control cavity cover would be really useful, here, especially as the 9v battery is also located inside the control cavity. And while we’re at it, maybe hide away a tiny little screwdriver inside there…

String Theory As previously mentioned, the Christopher bass was originally envisioned as utilizing electric bass strings, but is currently strung with double bass strings that have been trimmed down to size. David explains the process that led to this conclusion:

“The number one biggest issue of building this bass was, ‘How do I get strings I think will give it the sound I want, that will fit?’ I originally designed that bass around the idea of using extra-long-scale electric bass strings, made for 35”-36” basses. I wanted customers to be able to buy strings fairly easily, and thought electric bass strings would be the best way to go and there would be some choices available. The extra-long scale would give me enough length at the tail end to go over the bridge and to the tailpiece. I also wanted to use extra-heavy gauge strings to get the string mass/weight and tension as high as possible. That is why I originally had LaBella 1954s on the bass. I thought those strings sounded okay, but when I started searching for other strings to try, I realized that there was absolutely no other electric bass string that that was going to work. First, getting strings long enough was very difficult. I would have to commit to buying ten sets just to try out a new string, but more importantly anything lighter than the 1954s did not sound good. I kept thinking ‘I need to get double bass strings,’ but they were too long, and any string manufacturer I contacted just said, ‘No, we can’t do a shorter length.’ I finally decided I had to devise a way to put any string I want on the bass, so I came up with a new tailpiece that solved the problem by locking onto the string with a set screw – like I has seen on some headless basses at the headstock end. Now the bass can use any string that is long enough, which includes pretty much any double bass string. The only step I don’t do anymore is solder the string before

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FULL REVIEW cutting. I made the string holes in the tailpiece so the string will slide through. Then just tighten the set screw and cut off the extra.” Our review bass shipped with D’Addario Helicore Pizzicato strings (heavy gauge). When I asked David about this particular string choice, he responded, “I tried Thomastik-Infeld Spirocore Weich (heavy) and they sound great, too. The Thomastiks sound great almost immediately, where the D’Addarios seem to take a little while to lose the metallic ‘boingy’ sound. Unfortunately, the Thomastiks cost almost five times as much, so D’Addarios are standard equipment!”

An Upright Comparison Enough preamble. Let’s dig into the heart of the matter. “How does it sound?” And, “does it really sound like an upright?” Well, the respective answers are: “awesome,” and “pretty much, yes!” Much as I fell in love with the acoustic feel and tone when I first picked up the Christopher Bass, I also immediately fell in love with its amplified sound. The tone is big, without being too big, and round, without being too round. It has the note attack that is distinctive of an upright bass with flatwound strings, and the “air” and “body” of a large acoustic instrument. Yes, I knew I needed to compare it to my Kay upright, but I was also really interested to hear how it would stack up against one of my go-to “reduced-size upright substitutes,” the aforementioned Rob Allen Mouse. Trust me, this was a fun comparison! All three can generate tones in the same general wheelhouse, but there are plenty of differences to discuss. The Kay is a C-1 model from the ‘50s, and it was recently fitted with a new bridge (and a Fishman Big Circle pickup) and a fresh set of D’Addario Heliocore Hybrids. Ironically, the Mouse has the “biggest” tone/feel of the three, and sounds a bit more loose and warm than the other two. If you had never heard the Christopher, you would probably be amazed by how much the Mouse captures the basic tonal profile of an upright bass (especially when you dial back the high end about halfway). The Kay, on the other hand, has a certain “depth of note” that the other two couldn’t quite match. I’m talking about more of a “feel thing” than a “tone thing” when I say that. The Christopher DBG certainly gets closer than the Mouse to the Kay in this regard, but does not quite match it. However, the Kay also has a “non-brittle clarity” to the attack, and the Christopher Bass can very much match this. There is “snap” and “air” to the attack, but even the high end attack has a fullness to it. By blending the two volume knobs on the Christopher Bass, it could be made to sound fairly close to the either the Mouse or the Kay; not exactly matching either, but doing a better job of mimicking them than they could do


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

in return. All-in-all, the Smith Creek DBG can sound an awful lot like an upright, even when slapping. Color me impressed!

On the Job Training My first gig with this bass ended up being in one of the larger venues I regularly play, which generally means higher stage volume and potential feedback issues. Fortunately, David had just sent me some nifty f hole “plugs” to help ward off the feedback demons. With them in place, I was able to get as much volume out of the archtop Christopher as I was out of my solid-body basses. That being said, when I tried removing the plugs, the DBG was definitely more prone to feedback. Walking over towards our guitar player during the first song I played on the Christopher Bass, he immediately pointed to the bass and shouted, “That thing sounds great!” Why yes … it did! And this is basically an out-ofthe-box, out-to-the-gig experience, with no learning curve necessary! The Christopher Bass felt as comfortable out on the gig as it did when I first picked it up. Subsequent performance have confirmed its gig-worthiness. I’ve been using it on songs that I typically play on my Kay, as well as songs where I might otherwise play a (fretted) hollow-body electric bass. Again, with the plugs in place, feedback has not been an issue over the course of numerous gigs.

Fit and Finish After getting so caught up in the unique design and imminent playability, I forgot to tell you about the lovely fit and finish on our review bass. The arched top is made from carved red spruce, and the back is flamed maple. The top and back are fitted to a core, made of two pieces of poplar. David has also made some instruments out of mahogany. There are integrated braces running lengthwise on the underside of the top that are carved as part of the top (not glued-in later). The body and neck are finished in a thin nitrocellulose lacquer, with a beautiful satin sheen and a tremendous feel under the hand. The Mother of Pearl “Christopher” inlay on the ebony headstock is a nice touch. All of the woodwork and joinery is executed at a very high level. This bass feels like a “classical” instrument, but also feels sturdy enough to stand up to regular gigging. David includes a handy jig for locating the bridge if it happens to move on you (like when you change strings).

The Bottom Line By its very nature, this bass is not for every player. But for those who are intrigued by its virtues, it will not disappoint. Far from it. The Christopher Bass DBG is wonderfully innovative, but also makes so much sense. It absolutely delivers on its design goals – to offer the tone and feel of an upright in an “electric bass-sized” package – and it is flat-out enthralling to play. The tone, both amplified and acoustic, is as impressive as its looks. The quality of construction is at a very high level, and considering the amount of effort and hours that go into building an instrument like this, the price is extremely reasonable. This is an amazing instrument, from any angle.

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TECHNICAL REVIEW

Smith Creek Mandolin “Christopher” Double Bass Guitar

BASS GEAR

50

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

GENERAL 4 Single-cut 47” 22 ½” long x 16” wide at lower bout Minimal 7.8 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:

34” 1.554” 2.228” 2.450” .925” .900” .995” 1.03” .403” .734” 12” to 20” compound (nut to saddle) D 5 degrees 13 degrees 2.4” to 5.37” 2.103” to 2.491” Set neck None compression rod / peghead end N/A N/A

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

K&K piezo transducers Underneath bridge and attached to soundboard K&K 2-channel preamp Volume, Volume Gain, Bass, Mid, Treble (for each channel) N/A 9V

CONSTRUCTION Body Material: Neck Material: Fingerboard: Body Finish: Neck Finish:

Poplar body core, with carved red spruce top and flamed maple back Maple Ebony Nitrocellulose lacquer Nitrocellulose lacquer

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

D’Addario Heliocore Pizzicato (double bass strings) Proprietary tailpiece and tailgut anchor Proprietary / Graphtech TUSQ Graphtech TUSQ Schaller / nickel Metal / nickel N/A plastic

Company:

Smith Creek Mandolin 46 Summer St. Westerly, RI 02891 (401) 787-6302 www.smithcreekmandolin.com dave@smithcreekmandolin.com County of origin: USA Limited lifetime Warranty: $2,750 Price: Available colors: Brown Mahogany Sunburst, Reddish Mahogany Sunburst AA top and back ($300), AAA top and back ($500), Master Options: Grade top and back ($800), Ruthenium-plated hardware ($100), G&G hard shell case, instead of Studio Slips gig bag ($75) Studio Slips padded gig bag, bridge-setting jig, truss rod Accessories: adjustment wrench Acquired from: Smith Creek Mandolin Winter 2017 to Summer 2018 Dates: Ohio Locales: Rob Allen Mouse, Kay C-1, Bergantino Forte, Bergantino HT112ER, Test gear: Reference 210 and CN212 cabs, Fender Rumble Stage 800

TEST RESULT 1-5 (unacceptable to impeccable)

In-hand

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

4 4 5 5 4 5 4

In-hand SCORE

4.43 average On-bench

4.13 average

On-bench

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: Open, yet controlled; warm and woody, but articulate Mids: Warm yet clear; reminiscent of upright bass in attack Highs: Clear without being harsh

TONE-O-METER: The Christopher Bass can definitely do a great job of copping the tone of a plucked or slapped upright bass, but it actually has a wider tonal palette available than you’d get from an upright.

4 5 5 5 N/A 4 5 3 3 4 4 4 5 4 4 N/A 3


Phil Maneri’s

BASS LAB

Smith Creek Mandolin “Christopher” Double Bass Guitar So few builders take chances these days. More often than not, we see rehashes of decades-old designs. So when we find something that does take a chance, we perk up. This instrument is one of those. It’s odd and interesting laying in the case. Everyone who saw it wanted to pick it up and play it. The builder fancies it as somewhere between a hollow-body electric bass guitar and a double bass, boasting tones similar to a double bass, without the huge footprint. Digging into details, this instrument sports a solid slab of ebony fingerboard topping a maple neck, set into a box constructed of a carved spruce top with maple back and sides. It has unique internal bracing and solid maple boxes to contain the electronics. It’s a frame that has enough acoustic qualities to hear it unamplified. There are two transducers here to do just that, though: one body mounted and another piezo pickup under the string element. Both are fed to separate preamps housed in the cavity underneath, where there is access to separate tone-shaping presets for each transducer. This system is very interesting and potentially very powerful. It’s fairly complicated and limited, at the same time. The face gives two volume knobs (one for each transducer, wired in parallel) so that each output – although mixed into a mono cable – work independent of each other, like two mixer channels into a single output buss. Tone shaping is equally powerful, with a three-band EQ for each transducer that is accessed from the rear of the

instrument with small preset tone wheel pots. No way to adjust this on the fly, so the player needs to decide how they want each transducer to sound, then set it and forget it. Practical on one hand, as it makes live work simpler without so many options; impractical in that it is not really intended to manipulate in real time. Metal hardware include Schaller keys, a proprietary bridge and saddle that are well fabricated. The tailpiece assembly pays homage to a double bass with its ebony TP and TP wire wrapped over an ebony tailblock – tied to where an endpin would be, if there was one. The build is very good. Joinery is well done, and the carve looks great on the top and back plates. String nut and TP saddle are nice, as is the TP itself. The bridge saddle is notched, unlike most acoustic guitars, but very much like bridge saddles in a double bass. The distance between strings at the TP are much wider than where they come off the tailpiece. This creates a severe bend in the outer strings, such that one could expect premature string failures from core separation. The great-looking two-tone sunburst is well applied to the body. This bass is an unusual shape and quite interesting to view. I like its larger-size body and the peghead, which is fairly standard in shape, gets a size and curve that compliments the unique body. This bass is quite lively. It’s not really lively enough to use as an acoustic instrument, except for quiet practice, but lively enough that when plugged in, the transducers and


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TECHNICAL REVIEW

construction limit the amount of gain before feedback available without external signal processing. The included f hole “plugs” definitely help in this regard, though.

the peghead, with very little clearance for tools (though the included hex key for adjusting the bridge height will also work on the truss rod).

It sounds great in many ways and has lots of potential. It’s quite string sensitive. The D’Addario Helicores brought this bass to life in a really good way. I suspect fresh Spirocores would spice it up even further.

This ambitious project gets kudos for original design and out-of-the-box thinking concept. The construction and materials are quite nice, befitting its price tag. The electronics are unusual and brave in their choices. This bass has a cool vibe and interesting design. Very forward-thinking and takes chances, which frankly, I like. It’s not for everyone, but then, nothing really is.

The instrument plays a bit stiffly, though the truss rod and adjustable bridge would allow the player to dial things in to meet their preferences. The peghead-end compression rod has a bullet nut, like a ‘70s Fender, which is inset into


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FULL REVIEW

By Sean Fairchild

Yamaha BB735A Bass Guitar

Y

amaha’s much-loved BB (Broadbass) line is back, with some great new tweaks and touches! There are a number of models in the series, made both in Japan and abroad and aimed at a wide swath of target demographics. The BB735A is their upper-entry level/mid-market, Indonesian-made, active/passive 5-string offering, retailing for $799.99 (MAP). And to cut right to the chase, it is a seriously impressive instrument at that price or significantly more. It’s been said so many times in industry product reviews it hardly bears repeating, except for that when you experience this again firsthand it seems to beg mention: the quality of southeast Asian-made instruments – musical products in general – has risen dramatically in the last 10 or 15 years. While I love getting into the vibe and feel of a new bass, no matter the origin or price point, I’m also a stickler for attention to detail. Although I expected to find some rough fret edges or less-than-perfect finishing on the body or neck, I couldn’t find any construction-related or playability-hindering flaw that bears mentioning. In my experience, that’s a rare thing for a bass in this price range, no matter where it’s made. Kudos are due to Yamaha for excellent production and QC practices.

BB Anatomy The BB735A is composed of a 5-ply maple and mahogany neck (though the thickly black stained finish on our tester all but obscured the laminations) and interesting sandwich-style body that sees a thick section of alder on the front and back of the bass, with a very narrow core of maple – bucking the trend of thicker core construction with thinner laminates on the outsides or just on the top. The neck sits on the stiff maple mid-section in its pocket, and the line from Yamaha is that it helps to provide additional rigidity and string-to-body vibration transmission. The neck pocket itself is fairly unique, employing a 6-bolt design with the aft-most two bolts countersunk into the body and attaching into the end of the neck at roughly a 45 degree angle in a miter joint. This is said to not only help the neck couple to the body by means of mating it from front to back, but also to pull it strongly into the neck pocket – an unusual tactic that my non-luthier mind can imagine making a difference in neck/body coupling. The truss rod adjusts at the heel end, accessible through a


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

well-appointed cutout in the pickguard. I found the unique control knobs to be really fun and aesthetically pleasing; the volume and blend are roughly as wide as Gibson LP speed knobs, with the EQ controls each being maybe 5/8 the size, and all feature a thicker band towards the top of the knob, rather than towards the bottom, making for a nice tactile experience. Yamaha uses their YGD Custom V7 pickups in this model; a pair of humbucking P-style pickups paired with a non-hum-canceling J-style single coil pickup, all using AlNiCo magnets. A bit to my surprise, there actually wasn’t a preponderance of 60-cycle hum with the blend control centered and the single coil fully in the mix, but of course that hum becomes more noticeable as the bridge pickup is favored. An effective 3-band EQ circuit is included, along with an active/passive bypass switch – especially useful as the tone circuit is at unity gain for smooth transitioning back and forth from passive to active with the controls at their center detents. The controls are mounted a little counter-intuitively, or at least in a way less common, with the bass control nearest the neck and treble control nearest the jack, the mid laying appropriately between them. You get the option of stringing through the bridge’s tailpiece as usual, or going the through-body route, but that too has an interesting twist. Rather than making for a hard, 90-degree angle in pulling the strings up through the bridge from the back of the bass, the string-through ferrules and channels are placed at a 45-degree angle and accessed at the butt end of the instrument. Bonus points for the coolness factor here, too. The B string’s saddle is beveled backwards to allow that string to be intonated properly, even if the saddle should be unable to retract far enough to do the job with a standard saddle. One feature I’d like to hone in on is the dual-function active treble/passive tone control – I’ve enjoyed having one of these as part of a Noll preamp in another bass, and I love them! They just make so much sense. Actually, with the specialty dual-ganged pot, you can add this functionality to any bass that has or can be made to have a passive tone control along with an active treble pot (see photo). The active treble wires are connected to the appropriate value pot, which is specially made to offer no change in resistance for half the rotation until the center detent, then to vary resistance from that center point until the end of the pot’s rotation. The other pot gang uses an appropriate resistance for a passive tone control, and varies its resistance in the same way, but opposite from the active control’s pot, making for one single knob you turn that functions as a whole rotation of a passive tone control from 0 to 5, and active treble boost from 5 to 10. Very cool feature! The control cavity was well-shielded, using both conductive shielding paint and aluminum foil. This seemed to be effective in this bass, although my personal preference is to use copper foil tape. I have measured hundreds of

Ohms difference or more across two random points on paint-shielded cavities in the past, but never more than a couple Ohms with copper. Copper is also a superior conductor to aluminum. One of the only and admittedly very minor flaws I could find with the makeup of the BB735A was with the screws that hold on the electronics cavity cover; a couple were seated at an angle, rather than perpendicular to the body, and at least one spun in its hole. However, the necessity to ever open that cavity is pretty well mitigated by the very convenient low-battery LED indicator that peaks through the cavity cover, allowing for quick visual confirmation of a battery reaching the end of its useful life – which can, itself, be changed easily and quickly via the separate pop-out battery compartment.

On The Job I took the BB out for a date with one of the show bands I play in, whose repertoire consists of a large portion of the modern American pop/rock song book, trading off with an MTD throughout the show for comparison. I was not disappointed! There’s something special about the P/J combination of pickups that makes for a very useful, multi-dimension tone; one that for me far outshines the typical P-bass configuration’s thing. I tend to far prefer two-pickup basses in general for the tonal complexity that pickup scenario provides, but that seems somehow to be even more evident with a thick and chunky P pair at the neck and a slim and surgical single J at the bridge.

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FULL REVIEW The BB735A sounded full and authoritative, without the typical P-bass tubbiness and with more body and smoothness than the typical wiry J-bass snarl. While it didn’t balance quite as well on a strap as I might have hoped, it certainly didn’t have bad balance, and is a relatively lightweight bass guitar in the first place. I found I played it on more songs that night than I’d planned – perhaps the best form of flattery. I tended to prefer the bass in active mode, with the treble control boosted slightly to produce a little more attack and the bass boosted just a bit to provide a little more oomph. The composition, type, and placement of the pickups made for plenty of that all-important midrange; a region that this bass really speaks in. Playing this kind of music, I really didn’t miss the extra three frets my MTD offered, and I wasn’t slapping up a storm with this bass, either. And that felt just right for this one – it seemed to ask to pound out solid, clearly audible, but never outspoken, bass lines that lent themselves to the content and context. While I’ve seen and heard some great slapping and more advanced technique happening on BB model basses (see early No Doubt with Tony Kanal), I didn’t get that vibe from the 735A. While expertly made, it didn’t scream “performance machine” to me, excelling instead at the rich and powerful presence it felt made for.

SAS (Short Attention Span) Summary This bass is a bargain for the price. It’s well made in Yamaha’s Indonesian facility, features 5 strings spanning 21 frets on a rosewood fretboard, topping a 5-piece mahogany and maple neck mated to a 3-piece (front to back) alder/maple/alder body, employs a great 3-band EQ circuit (switchable to passive) fed by passive Yamaha AlNiCo P/J pickups, and offers some interesting new takes on triedand-true bass guitar design. The styling is killer, the matte black finish that’s somewhere between a stain and paint is somehow simultaneously classic and modern, and oh yeah … it happens to sound great, too. The BB735A may lean a little more towards the classic side of the spectrum tonally and in feel, but it definitely has some real brawn and bite. If that sounds like what you go for, I’d recommend it as a competitor with a few basses twice its price.


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

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TECHNICAL REVIEW

Yamaha BB735A Bass Guitar

BASS GEAR

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

GENERAL 5 Double cutaway 46” 19 ½” long x 13 ¼” wide at lower bout Standard 9.2 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:

34” 1.705” 2.516” 2.659” .850” .840” .917” 1.057” .350” .700” 20” wide D 10 degrees 50 degrees 2 ¼” to 7 ¼” 2 ¼” (through body) bolt-on None dual-action / bridge end 21 90 x 45

ELECTRONICS Pickups: Pickup location(s) from 12th fret: Electronics: Controls: Shielding: Preamp circuit voltage:

YGD Custom V7, AlNiCo magnets 11 ½”, 14 5/8” Yamaha 3-band EQ, active/passive switch Volume, Blend, Treble (w/passive tone cut), Mid, Bass Conductive pain and aluminum foil 9V

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

Alder/Maple/Alder Maple/Mahogany 5-piece Rosewood Matte Translucent Black Polyurethane Matte Translucent Black Polyurethane

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

D’Addario EXL-170-5SL 0.045-0.130 At bridge (through-body or top-load) Yamaha / Black Chrome Graphtech Yamaha / Black Chrome Flat-top knurled / Black Chrome 3-ply, black/white/black top black plastic

Company:

Yamaha Guitars Yamaha Corporation of America 6600 Orangethorpe Ave Buena Park, CA 90620 https://usa.yamaha.com/products/ County of origin: Indonesia 1 year parts and labor, limited lifetime top/ Warranty: neck/back/sides $1,275.00 (list) $799.99 (street) Price: Available colors: Matte Translucent Black, Black Coffee Sunburst with a Satin Polyurethane or Gloss finish None Options: Gig bag Accessories: Acquired from: Yamaha Guitars USA Spring-Full 2018 Dates: Seattle, Washington Locales: Genzler MG-800 and two BA12-3s, TC Electronic BG250Test gear: 112, MTD 635-24, Tsunami Cables, Shure wireless system

TEST RESULT 1-5 (unacceptable to impeccable)

In-hand

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

4 4 3.8 4.5 3.5 4 4

In-hand SCORE

3.97 average On-bench

4.06 average

On-bench

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:

4 4 4 5 5 5 5 5 5 2 2 3 3 4 4 5 4

Low: Full and present Mids: Dominant, centered right in middle of midrange Highs: A little shy but not lacking, capable of being aggressive with onboard EQ

TONE-O-METER: Better than a P-bass in that it’s capable of nailing that tone while adding versatility; fuller and thicker than a J-bass, while not quite as lively. Organic-sounding, meaty and mid-forward, not overly Hi-Fi. Very good dynamic range; would suspect that newer steel strings modernize the tone quite a bit. In a word, “solid!” A good Swiss-army knife of a bass to cover many sounds and styles.


Phil Maneri’s

BASS LAB

Yamaha BB735A Bass Guitar Black basses are always cool. Completely blacked-out basses are the coolest of the cool. This one is an active 5-string for $1,275 list, $800 street. That’s some wellpriced cool and a great starter choice under $1,000. Yamaha starts with an alder and maple sandwich body, bolted up to a mahogany and maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard. The 6-bolt connection is a bit of overkill, and that neck isn’t going anywhere. P and J pickups in typical positions feed a 3-band active preamp. Overall, the noise floor is low. The EQ is not overly powerful and there is not a significant sonic effect in any of the knobs. This does keep the player from overEQing, but it can never really move very far from passive. The sound is clean, though, if not just a little on the bright side. There is some single-coil hum in the soloed bridge position, but this is typical of single-coil Jazz Bass pickups. The pots and components are mounted directly to the PC board, which does make things a little more difficult (and expensive) to repair, should the need arise. The tuning keys, bridge and other hardware are as good as you could expect at this price range, and it definitely looks cool all blacked-out. Yamaha knows how to build things. Everything looks like it belongs where it is. It’s a clean

build and better than most under $1,000 basses. The finish is thinner than Yamaha usually does, and that’s a nice improvement. The matte look on the neck and peghead is definitely cool. It’s well-applied, as is always the case with these factory instruments. The Yamaha bass shape is pretty standard and goes back a long time. This one has a little less mass than other Yamaha instruments, which on the whole tend to be big and heavy. This bass is not a super heavy bass – at just over 9 lbs – but it does have some neck dive. Out of the box, the bass is set up obscenely low, and the double-action truss rod allows for a variety of setups. Overall, this is a good higher-priced entry level bass and it occupies an interesting spot in the market. A little nicer and more useful than a Mexican Precision, not quite up to the level of a USA-made Stingray or Fender American Professional, and appropriately priced in between them.


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FULL REVIEW

By Vic Serbe

The Guild Jumbo Junior Bass Where’s The Bass Player?” The Company Line

G

uild didn’t start out as Guild. It started out as Alfred Dronge Music in New York, 1945. Guild became Guild in 1952, and built their first guitars in 1953. They built bass guitars in the 1960’s, but it wasn’t until the mid 1970’s before they came out with an acoustic bass, the B-50. One of very few acoustic bass guitars at the time, it had a jumbo body, and arched back. The B-50 was very popular with acoustic players wanting to add bass to their toolkit, and is the design the Jumbo Junior is based on. Guild Guitars has been through a lot of change over the years, purchased by Avnet Corp in 1966, Fender in 1995, and its current owner, Cordoba Music Group, in 2014. Manufacturing has literally been moved from coast to coast here in the USA, but they also have manufacturing abroad. For example, the Jumbo Junior Bass is made in China.

They’ve also worked with a number of truly great artists over the years from the New York jazz scene in the 50’s, to people many of us are very familiar with, such as Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, Hank Williams Jr., David Byrne (Talking Heads), Stevie Ray Vaughan, Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Brian May, Kim Thayil (Sound Garden), Johnny Rzeznik (Goo Goo Dolls), Tom Petty, Sheryl Crowe, and more. While they may be best known for their guitars, their basses are really quite good. I remember playing one of the B-50 basses a while back and was surprised at how well it played and sounded for such a relatively small body (prior to that, the only acoustic bass I’d ever played was an upright). I’d also later played one of the Ernie Ball “Earthwood” basses, but the body was so big, it was really uncomfortable to play – and to my ears, did not outperform the B-50. With the Jumbo Junior being based on the B-50 design, but small enough to add great portability – and at a very affordable price – I was excited to check it out.


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Details The body is made of flamed maple, with white binding on the front, back, the side by the end pin, and the bottom of the neck heel. The back is also arched, which I’m sure improves its sound. The top is solid spruce, with a nice compliment of inlay around the sound hole, including some mother of pearl. A one-ply tortoise shell guard lies below the sound hole, and is thin enough to allow the top to work properly, while protecting it from damage. The bridge is beefy, made of ebony, with a bone saddle and plastic pins. The neck is maple, with a bone nut, 19 banjo style frets, with an ebony fingerboard, mother of pearl dot inlays, and even an adjustable truss rod! The machines are Guild, and the design reminds me of Schallers. The 18:1 ratio makes it really easy to tune with precision. The mother of pearl Guild inlay on the face of the headstock is also a nice touch. The strap buttons are the usual coneshaped buttons, but it’s nice that they added a second pin down on the heel of the neck, so you don’t have to use a traditional acoustic strap with leather ties at the nut if you don’t want to. The electronics are pretty basic. It has a sound hole mounted piezo system based on the Fishman Bass Sonitone, but with some Guild customizations, renamed the AP-1. It has discrete volume and tone controls in the sound hole (just as all Guild acoustics do), which are easy to get to. There’s a combination output jack and battery box on the side of the bass below the end pin, but there is no built-in tuner.

Fit and finish As mentioned before, the bass is made in China, where quality control can vary a lot, depending completely on

how involved the OEM is, and their selection of resources over there. I’m looking at this bass with a pretty fine-toothed comb, and despite its extremely affordable price, it’s really hard to find something to complain about. All the joints are tight and smooth, the finish is excellent, and the wood choices are spot-on. In particular, not only am I surprised they’re able to use ebony on an instrument at this price, but the ebony wood selected for the bridge and fingerboard are really beautiful pieces. The frets are seated well and the level is good. I never had to adjust the truss rod (a good indication they’re using highly stable woods). The tuners work great and the nut allows smooth string movement for reliable and easy tuning. If I had to pick at one thing, the fret ends on the review piece are sticking out just a tad, so it feels a little “sharp” sliding your fingers up and down the neck, though it does not affect playability. In fact, this is something that happens pretty commonly when the fingerboard wood dries, and it is easy to address by dressing the fret ends.

On the gig It took a little getting used to on the shoulders. This bass is extremely different from anything else I typically play, including my other acoustic basses. The super-small size made it almost feel like a toy, honestly. I was a bit concerned that the slinky feel of the strings might make it difficult to play with authority – noting I play electric the vast majority of the time – but it was surprisingly easy to play. Playing along with tracks at home, the acoustic sound of this bass is really great, and even from high to low. The E string really sounds great. I didn’t get a chance to jam with others acoustically, but I imagine it’d do just fine, depending on any percussion instruments present.

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FULL REVIEW I also gigged this bass out in my cover band (the usual compliment of classic to modern rock, country, funk, pop, etc.), intending to only play a few tunes to see what it did in a loud-ish electric setting. It was so much fun to play, and sounded so good, I ended up playing it for the entire first two sets! Imagine a guy playing this bass getting down and rocking hard playing Night Ranger’s “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me.” Other band members refused to look at me because they couldn’t keep a straight face, but the audience loved it. In fact, the title of this review comes from one of the audience members, because the size of this bass made it look like a third guitar! The sound of this bass is classic piezo: huge and round on the low end and crispy up top, but with pretty subdued mids. Of the piezo systems I’ve played, this is among the best for mids I’ve ever heard, but I still needed to adjust my amp to drop bass and add mids for the band to even things out a bit more. Also, much to my surprise, I didn’t have any feedback issues whatsoever, despite lack of an EQ on the bass or sound hole cover.

The Bottom Line

This bass is legit. I’m surprised the authority and consistency especially its price. And while compared to other preamp-out feedback-buster), it really does er typically included features, mini-acoustic bass on the mark for one, you really need to chec


d at the playability, as well as of the sound, despite its size, and the electronics are a bit limited tfitted acoustics (no tuner or EQ/ s work well. I didn’t miss the othat all. This isn’t the only quality ket, but if you’re in the market ck one out!

August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

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TECHNICAL REVIEW

Guild Jumbo Junior Bass

BASS GEAR

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

GENERAL 4 Mini acoustic 37” 17 ¼” long x 14 ½” wide at lower bout Minimal 4.0 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:

23.75” 1.638” (1 5/8”) 2.026” 2.088” .979” .863” 1.183” 1.183” .411” .658” 12” C shape 17 degrees 32 degrees 2.283” – 4.594” .403” to pin (or 1.119” through body) Set neck N/A Dual-action / body end 19 77x44

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

Piezo transducer Underneath bridge Guild AP-1 piezo system, sound hole mounted Volume/Tone N/A 9V

CONSTRUCTION Body Material: Neck Material: Fingerboard: Body Finish: Neck Finish:

Flamed maple plywood back/sides; solid Sitka spruce top Maple Ebony (mother of pearl dots) Satin clear polyurethane Satin clear polyurethane

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

D’Addario nylon-core coated phosphor bronze strings .037, .050, .062, .090 (inches) At bridge Proprietary / ebony (bone saddles, plastic pins) Bone Guild closed-gear, 18:1 ratio / chrome Black plastic 1-Ply Tortoise shell Plastic

Company:

Guild Guitars 1455 19th St. Santa Monica, CA 90404 Phone: (310) 857-1710 Fax: (310) 857-1690 http://www.guildguitars.com/ County of origin: China Limited non-transferrable lifetime Warranty: $695.00 MSRP, $499.00 Street Price: Available colors: None Options: Gig bag Accessories: Acquired from: Guild Guitars Spring, Summer 2018 Dates: Illinois, Ohio Locales: Gallien-Krueger MB 800, Neo 112-II Test gear:

TEST RESULT 1-5 (unacceptable to impeccable)

In-hand

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

4 3 4 4 4 4 5

In-hand SCORE

4.00 average On-bench

3.63 average

On-bench

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: Huge and round Mids: Mild and mellow Highs: Crisp and bright

TONE-O-METER: This bass is fairly unique. It has the classic acoustic tone and tonal applicability, but is surprisingly portable, tuneful, and especially affordable, despite great materials and construction.

3 5 3 4 2 3 4 4 3 3 3 4 4 4 5 N/A 4


Phil Maneri’s

BASS LAB

Guild Jumbo Junior Bass Guild has made some excellent acoustic guitars in its long and storied history. Today’s Guild isn’t like Westerly Guild of old, but they still occupy a recognizable niche in the market. This entry is an odd bird: a 23.75” scale mini acoustic electric bass. For comparison, a Fender Strat employs a 25” scale and a Gibson Les Paul is a 24.75” scale. Fender Basses are 34”. Even the shortest short-scale bass typically has a 30” scale. This is shorter than all that. It really should sound terrible, but it doesn’t. In fact, it sounds better than you’d think.

proprietary Fishman pickup system that at first glance has the sound hole volume and tone knobs of a Fishman Matrix, but the transducer is of a less expensive variety. Sounds great plugged in, like a low-tuned acoustic guitar.

It’s weird to play, being so short. Jury is out weather I could get used to it or not, personally. Nevertheless, if you can get used to playing it, there are lots of good things, here. It’s easy to cart around, being smaller. It sounds great acoustically – way better than most acoustic electric basses. It sounds good plugged in, as well.

Tuning keys are what you would expect for a $500 instrument: serviceable, but not all that. The output jack and battery compartment area are sawed out of the skinny side wood and installed there, rather than using the end block in support of the output jack. I am concerned that this may break badly some day and not be worth fixing. Granted, it’s a $500 guitar, so I should have lower expectations, but this one seems easy to avoid. Finish is a decently applied satin poly, thin enough and reasonably durable. The nut shows evidence of a superglue fill on the A string, and the fret ends need filed back better – the latter most likely from fingerboard shrinkage after construction.

This China-made instrument has a solid spruce top sitting on plywood flamed maple back and sides. The back is pressed into a curve – and sans braces, like the old ‘70s Guild guitars. Cool nod to their history. Decent lumber for its price range. The top is braced moderately in a typical X-braced Martin style with a standard bridge plate. The neck-end long brace is huge in comparison to the rest of the field. Work is clean on the inside.

This bass has very low string tension from the scale length and super light .37 to .90 gage strings. For those used to 34” scale instruments with .45-105 strings, it can feel rubbery and it’s easy to overfire with a standard technique. You will definitely need to adjust your technique a bit to become comfortable with this instrument. The playing positions (both standing and sitting) take a little getting used to, as well.

The neck angle is underset for an acoustic flattop guitar. That’s not a good way to start an instrument’s life span. They tend to move in that direction on their own over time, making them progressively harder to play. No need to help it along right out of the gate. It’s packed with a

If it wasn’t so inexpensive, I wouldn’t like it so much. But at $500, it’s a good price for what it is. It sounds great and looks interesting. Sure, it could be built better, but probably not for the selling price. If you can accommodate its odd size, it has potential.


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FULL REVIEW

Genzler BA410-3 & BA210-3 SLT Bass Cabs By Tom Bowlus We have had the pleasure of reviewing a number of excellent products from Genzler Amplification; most recently, the BA12-3 SLT – which is the slanted version of Genzler’s BA12-3 enclosure. This time around, Jeff takes his slant design to the (2x10) BA210-3. One of the aspects we noted with the BA12-3 SLT was that using a mixture of slanted and non-slanted cabs provides additional options for how to configure your rig. To demonstrate these additional options – and to make for a killer 2.67-ohm rig – Jeff Genzler sent us a BA410-3, as well.

A Familiar Angle

A

s with the 12” cabs, the BA210-3 SLT shares many components – and specs – with the BA210-3. The pair of 10” neodymium-based woofers (Faital Pro 10PR300) utilize a similar motor to the 12PR300 drivers used in the BA12-3 cabs, and the 2x10 variants also employ four 3” neodymium drivers ( the Faital Pro 3FE22) configured in a line array. The BA410-3 obviously doubles the number of 10” drivers, but ups the number of 3FE22’s in the mid array to six, instead of four. Both cabs offer a pair of Speakon® inputs and a pair of ¼” inputs. The 8-ohm BA210-3 SLT is rated to handle 500 watts, and the 4-ohm BA410-3 is rated for 1,000 watts. Both cabs have two sturdy, recessed metal handles mounted in the sides of the enclosures and four rubber feet. The slanted design to the BA210-3 SLT allows for several different options for configuring your rig. Paired with the BA410-3, you can place the 210 SLT on top of the 410, with the bottom cab projecting out into the room, and the top cab angled back more towards your ears. Alternately, you can place the 210 SLT on the bottom, and then all of the woofers/mids are in the same plane and both cabs are angled up towards your head (this was my preferred setup). Of course, either of these cabs make for a compelling one-cab solution, and where I might have concerns utilizing a single 2x10 that is firing away at my ankles, the SLT certainly helps to get those sound waves up where I can hear them.

But hey, let’s hear it straight from the horse’s mouth! Here is what Jeff has to say about the design choices behind the new BA210-3 SLT:

“ The new BA210-3 SLT expands and enhances the benefits of the Bass Array design. The 6 degree slant of the baffle, along with the reduction of perpendicular internal panels, work together to emphasize the dispersion and projection of the BA design. With the slanted baffle, the plane of the baffle points away from the floor and helps to push the cabinet response up into the playing venue and more towards the performer. As well, this helps to enhance the upper-mid and top-end response, so the SLT cabinets tend to sound a little brighter, with even more clarity than a standard BA cabinet. Also increasing the clarity is the reduction of standing waves inside the cabinet, as the number of perpendicular internal panels is reduced. Just like in a trapezoid PA cabinet compared to a square cab, the SLT versions of the BA cabinets have more articulation and clarity due to the geometry inside the cab. Also, when adding the new BA210-3 SLT as a base or platform for a square cabinet (like the BA410-3), both cabinets present the 6 degree angle, which again magnifies the output of both cabs as they deliver their force more upward and broadly across the stage and venue. ”


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Play Time! As Jeff explains, the differences in the internal geometry of the SLT versus “regular” Bass Array cabs do have audible differences, above and beyond the angle of the front baffle. To my ears, the SLT cabs are a bit more tight and articulate, and the non-slanted cabs are a bit more warm and slightly more thick. One thing I learned from my experiences with the BA12-3 SLT is how well the SLT version paired up with the original BA12-3. Credit Jeff and crew with producing multiple different bass enclosures which all play nicely together. The mix and match options allow you enhanced flexibility when putting together a Genzler stack that produces the specific tone you are after. One case in point is the combination we have here, with the BA210-3 SLT and the BA410-3. I have had great success in the past with other 4x10/2x10 rigs. For a lot of my gigs, this is a near-perfect “Goldilocks” rig – where a single 4x10 isn’t ideal, but two 4x10’s is overkill – so I was very excited when Jeff offered to send me these two cabs for review. I was also pretty impressed during the unboxing process, as these cabs are surprisingly light and easy to manage. At 55 lbs., the BA410-3 is less than half the weight of my old Mesa/Boogie Diesel 410 which I lugged around for years. The 36 lb. BA210-3 SLT feels like a beach ball. It is definitely a wonderful time to be a bass player… Once I fired them up, I was even more thrilled. This Genzler “6x10 rig” is big, deep and powerful, but with the balance and clarity I have come to expect from Jeff’s enclosures. Paired with my Genzler MG-800 head, this stack has a “do it all” kind of personality. It is very responsive to tonal variations from different basses, different techniques and different EQ settings. Another aspect of the BA-series cabs which I really like is that the 3” mid drivers never get harsh, even when I get “creative” with my pedalboard. Heavy overdrives, trippy synths and funky filters all sound fantastic through these midrange line arrays. They may not have all of the high-end sheen and sparkle of some tweeter-equipped cabs, but if you crave that tone, then a little treble boost will get you most of the way there. I had a couple of high quality 4x10’s on hand to compare to the BA410-3: the (ceramic-based) Darkglass DG410C and the Fender Bassman® 410 Neo. Compared to the BA410-3, the tweeter-equipped DG410C is definitely brighter and more forward on top, with the Genzler exhibiting more upper mids. The Darkglass is a bit tighter in the lows, whereas the Genzler is overall bigger sounding down low. When reviewing my playtesting notes, I notice that I keep using the phrase “bigger in the lows” when talking about the BA410-3. This remains true when comparing the BA410-3 to the Bassman 410, which is no slouch in the low-end. But to be clear (pun intended), even though the BA410-3 has “big lows,” they are not

sloppy, or boomy. The low end is still very articulate and very controllable via EQ. In fact, it is very easy to dial back the lows with the BA410-3 (if you feel so inclined), and I find this to be a more effective use of EQ than trying to boost the low end on a cab that is not naturally as “big” as you’d like in the low end. The (tweeter-equipped) Fender is once again brighter in the highs than the Genzler, though on the whole, the Bassman has a more vintage vibe. For the BA210-3 SLT comparison, I broke out my Trickfish SM210, which I find to be a very balanced, clear, yet full-sounding 2x10. Somewhat as expected, these two cabs have a lot in common, with a similar mix of warmth and articulation. The BA210-3 SLT is slightly bigger sounding in the lows (I sense a theme!), and the Trickfish cab is a little tighter and a little brighter. Both cabs are highly capable performers, with the Genzler being a bit more smooth, and the Trickfish having a bit more “bounce.” Comparing the BA210-3 SLT and the BA410-3 to each other (roughly gain-matched), the 410 is notably bigger and a little darker, and the 210 is a bit more articulate and balanced. This roughly correlates to what I found when comparing the SLT version of the BA12-3 to its non-slanted brother.

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FULL REVIEW

Choices, Choices… As I have expressed in prior reviews, I am a huge fan of the triple BA12-3 stack – particularly with one of the cabs being of the SLT variety. So it is only natural that I would have to compare the BA210-3 SLT/BA410-3 stack to the BA12-3/BA12-3 SLT/BA12-3 rig. Both stacks offer a 2.67-ohm load – which the MG-800 can safely handle (more on this in a second) – with the “610 stack” being rated to handle 1,500 watts, and the “3x12” stack rated for just over 1,000 watts. The overall volume from each stack seemed relatively similar, though I was not pushing either rig to anywhere near its limits. The high end response from both stacks was remarkably similar, with both setups utilizing roughly similar numbers (10 and 12, respectively) of the same PFR22 mid drivers. To my ears, the “610 stack” was slightly bigger down low, and the

“3x12” stack had more detail/articulation/complexity to the middle to upper midrange. All in all, the two stacks were far more similar than different, and I could happily utilize either rig for the remainder of my gigging days. As hinted, above, I need to give another shout-out to the wonderful Magellan MG-800 head. I love the power, tonal flexibility and overall design elements of this head, but I want to pay special attention, here, to the 2.67-ohm capability of the MG-800. Without the ability to safely operate under such loads, we wouldn’t have as much flexibility when putting together multi-cab rigs, and we would not be able to drive either of the stacks I mentioned above. But the ability to switch back to 4/8-ohm mode means that you aren’t sacrificing any headroom when you only bring one or two cabs to a gig. Brilliant!

The Bottom Line Whether you are a “10’s guy” or a “12’s guy,” Genzler Amplification has several options for you. I love the mix and match with the slanted and non-slanted cabs, and the combination of the BA210-3 SLT with a BA410-3 is certainly an amazing rig. Throw an MG-800 on top, and the world is your oyster!


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

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

GENERAL

Genzler Amplification Winter 2018 Ohio Genzler MG-800, Genzler BA12-3 & BA12-3 SLT, Darkglass DG410C, Fender Bassman 410 Neo, Trickfish SM210, Pedulla Nuance 4, Fender American Professional Precision 5, Alpher Cobia 4, Skjold JP Zia 5, Clement Fretless 4

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

SONIC PROFILE:

The BA210-3 SLT is a very versatile cab, and able to handle any kind of signal you throw at it. The SLT cabs are a bit tighter than their non-SLT counterparts.

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 2018 3 years $1,139.99 $1,139.99 None Heavy duty padded cover (optional, $79.00) Black None

Enclosure In-hand SCORE

4.17 average

Low: Relatively big, but tight and clear Mids: Nicely balanced and clear; handles effects very well Highs: Very present and clear; smooth

Tone o Meter:

Company:

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

2x10, 4x3 line array 8 Ohms 500 watts Two Neutrik® Speakon® jacks; two ¼” jacks 23” W x 16” H x 19.385” D 36 lbs Front-ported (two; triangular) Tolex 15mm 11-ply Lite Ply® 12mm 11-ply Lite Ply Metal (18 gauge steel, powder-coated.) Two (side-mounted recessed handles) Four, rubber (on bottom) N/A Metal, non-stacking Four bolts into threaded inserts

DRIVERS/CROSSOVER Woofers: Cone Material: Voice Coil:

Faital Pro 10PR300 (cast-frame) Lightweight paper 2.56” diameter (aluminum), dual winding/fiberglass former Magnets: Neodymium slug Mid/High Driver: Faital Pro 3FE22 (neodymium) x4 Mid/High Driver Adjustment: N/A Protection: N/A Speaker Connections: Compression posts (woofer); Faston (mid/high) Crossover: 1st-order, 6 dB/octave, centered at 800Hz

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“A Professional Courtesy” By Vic Serbe

The Fender American Professional Precision Bass V ® and Jazz Bass Fretless® The Company Line

I

’ve written about several Fenders over the years in Bass Gear Magazine, and this history is very well known. In particular, the Fender Precision Bass® is arguably the electric bass standard that all others may be judged by at the most fundamental level. Remaining relatively unchanged for over 60 years in its current form, while still being a popular industry standard, its reputation will probably never meet its match. Then you have the Jazz Bass®, whose reputation, longevity, and success are not far behind. So how do you improve upon practical perfection? You don’t go vertical in terms of basic design innovation, so you might as well go horizontal and vary against the theme with new models to more directly serve specific markets. That brings us to the Fender American Professional® bass line, faithfully represented here by the Precision Bass V® and Fretless Jazz Bass®. The American Professional series was available in December of 2016, but officially launched at the 2017 NAMM show. It’s essentially the successor to the American Standard® series, and builds upon the features of that line. The line consists of 92 guitars and basses and differs from the American Standard

series in a number of ways. The most notable of these are shown below in the table. Justin Norvell, Executive Vice President, Fender Products, wants preserve the “sacred” core of their instruments in an “authentic” way, while modernizing at the same time. It’s a balancing act. Fender has done this by focusing their changes to be based on the most typical kinds of modifications professionals in the industry would do to their own instruments post-purchase … kinda’ like taking a vintage car and souping up the drivetrain and maybe few other things. It’s still based on an authentic feel and character, just done better. Fender released early American Professional models to artists as a litmus test, and the feedback was so positive they knew the line was going to be a winner.


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

American Standard

American Professional

Bridge

American Standard 2 Point

Am. Std. 2 pt. with Pop-In Arm

Case

Molded Case

Elite Molded Case

Frets

Medium Jumbo

Narrow-Tall

Nut

Synthetic Bone

Genuine Bone

Pickups

Custom Shop

New V-Mod/New Tim Shaw

Tuners

American Standard

New Fluted-Shaft

The features they have in common are the small classic headstock, the staggered modern tuners, a 9.5” fingerboard radius, a Bi-Flex Dual Adjust truss rod, a 4-bolt Micro-Tilt neck joint, and 2-4 piece body construction. They both also come with the new Elite ATA grade molded case with a TSA-accepted locking center latch.

Details Precision V The “Antique Olive” painted body is made of alder, with a maple neck and fingerboard. While the neck profile is based on the 1963 P Bass, the neck is different from a maple/maple neck in those days in that it’s not a one-piece neck (no separate fingerboard) with the walnut “skunk” stripe (a result of truss rod installation). Instead, the neck is built as if it had a rosewood fingerboard, having a “slab” type maple fingerboard glued onto the maple neck after routing for, and installing, the truss rod. This also eliminates that walnut “dot” on the headstock past the nut. It sports 20 nicely dressed “narrow-tall” frets, Posiflex™ graphite rods for neck reinforcement, black plastic dots, a genuine bone nut, and is held on by the usual four bolts and Fender Corona badged neck plate. The back of the neck is satin, but the headstock and fingerboard are gloss. While the satin also differs from a 1963 neck, I definitely prefer the satin to a gloss finish. The bridge is their HiMass™ Vintage bridge “for increased sustain,” offering topside or thru-body stringing options. The pickup is their Michael Bump-designed “V-Mod split-coil Precision Bass pickup.” Here’s what Fender has to say about this pickup:

“ V-Mod Precision Bass pickups are modified versions of our classic vintage pickup designs. Packed with the fundamental Fender bass sound you know and love, these split-coil pickups use alnico 5 magnets on the treble side and alnico 2 on the bass side to deliver classic tone with all the vintage warmth and crisp, clear sound that made Fender a legend. ” It has a three-ply mint green pickguard, with the usual volume and tone controls for a passive P-bass. Standard cone-shaped strap buttons, chrome barrel knobs, and their new “fluted shaft” tuners close out the hardware on this bass. It came standard with the Fender NPS roundwound set, gauges .045 to .125. I do wish they had just a few more appearance options for each model. For example, the Sunburst and Olympic White models both come only with rosewood fingerboards, while the Antique Olive and Black models come only with

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FULL REVIEW Maple. Personally, I’m a fan of Sunburst and Maple, but that’s not an option. The four-string model, however, has many more options. Fender has been steadily introducing new finish options, though, so stay tuned.

smooth board that can take a nice low setup. The controls were smooth and predictable, I could find no flaws at all in the finish on either bass, including all the chrome and machining, and the tuners were precise and easy to use.

Fretless Jazz

On the gig

This bass has alder body with the popular and classic Sunburst finish. For the neck, unlike the American Professional Precision – which is modeled after a vintage profile – this neck is the “Slim modern “C”-shaped” profile. It’s a maple neck with a rosewood fretless fingerboard, having 20 lighter-colored inlaid lines where the frets would normally go. The face of the fingerboard has no other inlays, but the side dot markers are still there. It also has the Posiflex graphite rods, and is held on by four bolts and the Fender Corona chrome plate. The headstock is gloss finish, but the neck is satin, and the fingerboard is oiled rosewood. The nut is genuine bone, and the headstock features the new fluted shaft tuners.

Precision V

This bass also has the new “V-Mod” pickups, except these are single-coil J-bass pickups, though still using Alnico 2 for the bass side and Alnico 5 magnets for the treble side, just like the P-bass’ version. It also has the HiMass™ Vintage bridge, a three-ply mint green pickguard, standard cone strap buttons, and vintage-style black plastic knobs. Two volume controls, and one tone control with the usual smaller knob. This bass came with Fender flatwound nickel strings, gauges .045” to .105”.

Fit and finish Both of these basses are very well constructed. The fret level and dress are great on the P, and the J has a nice flat

This bass sounds just like Fender intended. It’s an incremental improvement over what was already a great P-bass. The narrow-tall frets feel great, should slightly improve intonation, but also seemed to make tremolo/ vibrato easier for me. The new pickup sounds more even from low to high, which on a P-bass, is a nice improvement. I’ve always wondered why the “Z” of the pickup wasn’t the other way around, so you’d get more roundness to the thinner strings, and more edge/definition to the lower strings. The problem with changing that is that it also changes the P-bass tone we’ve all grown to love as it is. So instead, the mix of magnets evens the tone out nicely. It controls the low end while adding clarity to the low strings, and keeps the high strings full and bright. The satin neck is great, feels fast, and the vintage profile is a joy to play on. I tend to run these basses wide open. Sometimes I back the tone off, but mostly I run them wide open and just let the earthy girth of the P-bass do its magic. It sits perfectly between the snare and bass drums, filling out the low end in the honest way only a P-bass can do it. It balances just fine on the strap, and at 8.6 pounds, doesn’t hurt to hold for a full gig.


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

Fretless Jazz Yep, feels and sounds like a passive fretless J-bass with flats should sound. It’s got all the growl and grease on the bridge pickup, and all the nice round tonal landscape a Jazz Bass’ neck pickup should have. The improvements on the new pickups are not earth-shattering compared to other premium pickups Fender has made, but they do sound different, and in a good way. To my ears – much like the P-bass above – they sound more balanced and clear. I tend to run these more or less like Jaco did for the most part. I roll the tone back, and roll the neck pickup back, so I have that nice round foundation of the neck

pickup to complete the sound, but the burp and growl of the bridge pickup comes through on top, giving me clarity, definition, and a bit more edge to that famous fretless “mwah” sound. The neck profile feels great, too. It’s very easy to move around on and very comfortable. The satin finish also makes movement nice and smooth. The strings are a little bit too stiff for my personal tastes, but they sounded find, and were nice and smooth on those fretless slides we all love to do. Other players may prefer the feel of these strings, I’m sure. The bass balances on the shoulder like any J-bass should, and also at 8.6 pounds (I weighed it twice to make sure), it’s easy to play all night.

The Bottom Line I’m a fan of both these basses. Instead of making them both march to the same tune, style-wise – such as both vintage-ish, or both modern-ish – they chose to model each one after the most popular flavor of each instrument based on player feedback. They focused on the most practical and functional foundation. No active electronics, no figured woods – and in some cases, even limited options for color/wood combos. However, each one does a fantastic job of representing what made each bass famous over the years. You could say these are the finest no-frills basses Fender has ever made, and as such, a particularly great value.

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test

TECHNICAL REVIEW

Fender American Professional Precision Bass V®

BASS GEAR

74

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

GENERAL 5 Double cutaway 46 ¼” 19 ¾” long x 13 1/8” 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: Pocket gap: Truss rod type/access: Fret count: Fretwire:

34” 1.883” 2.574” 2.847” .905” .835” .917” 1.048” .375” .718” 9.5” Wide flat C (“1963 C”) 7-11 deg 23-60 deg 2” to 7 3/8” 1 ½” to 2” .023” Compression rod / body end 20 96x45

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

V-Mod Split Single-Coil Precision Bass 11 5/8” from 12th fret N/A Volume/Tone None N/A

CONSTRUCTION Body Material: Neck Material: Fingerboard: Body Finish: Neck Finish:

Alder Maple (with Posiflex™ bars) Maple Gloss polyurethane (Antique Olive) Satin urethane

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

Fender USA Bass 7260M, NPS (nickel-plated steel) roundwounds .045, .065, .085, .105, .125 At bridge, or through-body HiMass Vintage, chrome Bone Fender Light-Weight Vintage-Paddle w/ Tapered Shafts / chrome Knurled Metal / chrome 3-ply (mint green) N/A

Company:

Fender Musical Instrument 17600 N. Perimeter Drive, Suite 100 Scottsdale, AZ 85255 Phone: 480.596.9690 Fax: 480.596.1384 Email: consumerrelations@fender.com http://www.fender.com/ Limited lifetime, non-transferrable Warranty: $1,599.99 Price: Available colors: 3-Color Sunburst/Rosewood, Olympic White/ Rosewood, Black/Maple, Antique Olive/Maple None Options: Elite Molded Case (included) Accessories: Acquired from: Fender USA Winter 2019 Dates: Illinois, Ohio Locales: Gallien-Krueger MB 800, Aviom/in-ears Test gear:

TEST RESULT 1-5 (unacceptable to impeccable)

In-hand

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

3 3 4 4 4 4 5

In-hand SCORE

3.86 average

On-bench

4.63 average

On-bench

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: Woody, earthy, controlled Mids: Fat, meaty, smooth Highs: Clear, but not overly crisp or brittle

TONE-O-METER: This bass nails the earthy P tone all the way, with all the chest-punching authority of any of its ancestors. The playability is excellent, and fires on all cylinders. I definitely recommend it.

3 4 4 3 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 N/A 5


Phil Maneri’s

BASS LAB

Fender American Professional Precision Bass V® Fender updates their Precision 5-string for this decade. We last looked at the Fender American Standard Precision 5® back in 2008. This bass is very similar to that one in construction details. A few measurements here and there are different, but overall this is a 5-string version of the second Fender Precision® design from 1957. The pickup is set ¼” closer to the bridge on center, and the fingerboard radius is flatter, from 7 ¼” down to 9 ½”. It feels quite comfortable for a habitual Fender player, and it pretty much sounds like it’s supposed to: a classic Fender P-bass with an extra string. It sports a maple neck with a maple fingerboard, mated to an alder body. It’s loaded with a traditional passive Precision-style circuit, the only difference is in the pickups where the B/E/A string side of the pair is slightly bigger than the D/G side (due to the increased number of poles). This layout could create the potential of some noise, as it falls away from being a humbucker (given the inequity in the two sides). But no significant noise was apparent in my tests. The cavity doesn’t seem to be shielded, which in this passive circuit would most likely not make any difference in noise (and again, this bass did not exhibit any significant noise).

Fender has made some minor, but thoughtful, tweaks to the hardware, and I have no complaints about their choices. The tuning keys now have fluted shafts, and the bridge is the newer Fender HiMass™ design. The Antique Olive color is perhaps of the “love it or hate it” variety, but Fender has several colors to choose from if you don’t love it. The paint is thick polyurethane, even on the neck and fingerboard. That is typical these days, though I do wish they would thin it out a bit. The design is classic “Precision Bass,” with no surprises. It feels very much like an older 4-string, even more so than the one from a decade ago. I did notice a measurable neck pocket gap. That’s pretty odd for a CNC-cut instrument from Fender. Their Elite series didn’t have that, nor did the American Original ‘60s Jazz Bass I recently looked over. It’s not a significant tonal issue or stability issue, per se, though it is worth noting. At $1,500 street, this is a perfectly positioned 5-string for Fender. It is an American-made passive 5-string work horse that makes a very strong case for itself in its price range. This American Professional Precision 5 should be on anyone’s $1,500 bass short list.


test

TECHNICAL REVIEW

Fender American Professional Jazz Bass Fretless®

BASS GEAR

76

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

GENERAL 4 Double cutaway 46” 20” long x 13 ½” 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:

34” 1.519” 2.220” 2.4” .965” .800” .917” 1.031” .342” .756” 9.5” Slim C 6-9 deg 16-36 deg 1 5/8” to 7 1/16” 1 ¾ to 2” (strings through-body) Bolt-on .017” Compression rod / body end Fretless, room for 22 N/A

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

V-Mod Single-Coil Jazz Bass 10 7/8” and 14 ½” from 12th fret N/A Volume, volume, tone None N/A

CONSTRUCTION Body Material: Neck Material: Fingerboard: Body Finish: Neck Finish:

Alder Maple (with Posiflex™ bars) Rosewood (lined) Gloss polyurethane (3-Color Sunburst) Satin urethane

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

Fender USA Bass 9050L stainless steel flatwound .045, .065, .085, .105 At bridge, or through-body HiMass Vintage, chrome Bone Fender Light-Weight Vintage-Paddle w/ Tapered Shafts / chrome Vintage Style Plastic / black 3-ply (mint green) N/A

Company:

Fender Musical Instrument 17600 N. Perimeter Drive, Suite 100 Scottsdale, AZ 85255 Phone: 480.596.9690 Fax: 480.596.1384 Email: consumerrelations@fender.com http://www.fender.com/ Limited lifetime, non-transferrable Warranty: $1,549.99 Price: Available colors: 3-Color Sunburst/Rosewood, Black/Rosewood, and Sonic Gray/Rosewood None Options: Elite Molded Case (included) Accessories: Acquired from: Fender USA Winter 2019 Dates: Illinois, Ohio Locales: Gallien-Krueger MB 800, Aviom/in-ears Test gear:

TEST RESULT 1-5 (unacceptable to impeccable)

In-hand

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

3 3 4 4 4 4 5

In-hand SCORE

3.86 average On-bench

4.75 average

On-bench

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:

4 5 5 3 5 5 4 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 N/A 5

Low: Round and clear Mids: Forward, but easily controlled with blending Highs: Somewhat subdued from the flatwounds, but otherwise clear and precise

TONE-O-METER: This bass faithfully represents the classic J-bass fretless sound all the way. It’s got all the popular tones and sounds that made the fretless J-bass a classic. A fat neck pickup, and a growly bridge pickup, with an easy to play neck make this bass a winner.


Phil Maneri’s

BASS LAB

Fender American Professional Jazz Bass Fretless® Jaco ripped the frets from his ‘62 Jazz Bass® in the ‘70s and freaked out every bass player that heard him play. He was a game-changer player and everyone who has more than a passing interest in the instrument knows him and his sound. Fender didn’t make a fretless Jazz at the time, but has made plenty of fretless Jazz Basses since. This latest version sounds fantastic, plays perfectly, and can be had for under $1,600. Did I mention it’s American Made? Yeah, this is good stuff. In classic ‘60s fashion, it features an alder body and maple neck with rosewood fingerboard. It features a classic three-tone sunburst paint, and every dimension is within a fraction of how they made them in the ‘60s. The pickups are a newer design (blending alnico 5 and alnico 2 magnets), but they have the vintage look. The pickup cavities and control cavity are not shielded – just like the originals. However, there was no noise detected by the absence of shielding. The new fluted keys and HiMass™ bridge are updated to more precise modern standards, without deviating much from the standards Leo set, originally.

Much like the American Professional Precision 5-string, this bass does feature a measurable neck pocket gap. This does seem unusual in the era of CNC fabrication. Most of the Fenders I have seen from the Mexican factory have little to no neck pocket gap. Having said that, the original ‘60s necks often had much larger gaps, so in the end, it has little sonic effect on the tone and playability. The finish is thick polyurethane; I do wish they’d paint their stuff thinner. Regardless, it looks great everywhere you look at it. The design is classic J-bass all around, save for a slightly flatter fingerboard radius. It plays great and can adjust any way you might want it to be. This is a ‘60s style Jazz Bass that looks like a vintage Fender, sounds similar to a vintage Fender and costs under $1,600. Like its brother, this bass should be at the top of most peoples’ under $2,000 shopping list.


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FULL REVIEW

“Real World Science Fiction”

AudioKinesis Changeling C112T Bass Cab Truth or Fiction? “Changeling.” For me, this is a word that immediately invokes Sci-Fi images of small creatures with large furry feet who like second breakfast and elevensies. Duke LeJeune doesn’t deal is small furry unrealities though; in real life, he creates impossibly good bass speakers.

Thunderchild: A Futuristic Bass Cab Sci-Fi magic brought to life is more or less exactly we’ve come to expect from AudioKinesis’ previous bass cabs. When BGM reviewed the Thunderchild TC112AF, we found it impossibly good – light, loud, and low, all in one package – and were impressed by the tunable rear ports and innovative rear-firing horn which gave it a rich “3D” feel other cabs just didn’t have. The Thunderchild line of cabs include the TC112, 115, 212, and 118. The Acoustic Friendly (AF) variations of those models add rear-firing horns to help deliver more of the feel and resonance of an acoustic instrument. You can read the full review of the TC112AF in BGM issue #7 (from the January 2012). Personally, I felt that the TC112AF had two shortcomings. One was that it was just a little too pure for me. I like the feel of paper cone woofers that add a little bit of grit and harmonics of their own when pushed; and the TC didn’t do that for me. The Thunderchild stayed pure, even when pushed; so much so that some people even use these for PA cabs! The second was that while the horn waveguides dispersed well into a room for the audience,

By Alan Loshbaugh

they didn’t necessarily radiate up to the bass players ears very well – especially if you are standing close to the cab(s). Duke took these criticisms directly to the drawing board and worked out his Hathor line of cabs (and also made some updates to the horns used on the Thunderchild cabs in order to facilitate better vertical dispersion).

A New World Order The current generation Hathor line of cabs consists of the 1203, 1505, 1533, 212, and these cabs use 3” or 5” paper-cone midrange drivers in place of horns. Hathor midrange drivers are built into open chambers with ports both on the top and sides. This allows their output to radiate both up and out the sides to where both the bass player and his bandmates can hear the cab and all its detail much better. In my experience, this adds more of the harmonic content and grind that the Thunderchild horn system didn’t deliver. All AudioKinesis speakers have Duke’s innovative tunable porting systems. This allows the user to choose from all ports closed (to sound and feel like a sealed cab), or, by opening the tunable ports, the feel of ported cabs tuned to the user’s preference. Even more remarkably, in the Hathor series, Duke has made the response of the paper cone mids tunable as well, via the “Intelligent Tuning System.” The Intelligent Tuning System is composed of two toggle switches on the rear of the cab. The first of these allows the user to select either a more clean, pure tone from the mids, or a slightly more aggressive tone infused with more harmonic overtones. The second toggle lets the user select a brighter, more modern tone, or, a slightly darker, more vintage tone by padding back the response from the paper cone mids. All this adjustability makes the Hathor cabs quite the chameleons, capable of a much wider range of performance than nearly anything else out there. In his the most recent line of speakers – the Changelings – Duke has combined his repertoire of tricksy innovative designs


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

and technology from the Thunderchild AF and Hathor designs into a wide new line of cabs, with impressive results.

What makes a Changeling: the C112T The C112T starts with the same fine components that make the Hathor 1203: an 8-ohm Eminence 3012LF woofer, and a Faital 3FE22 mid driver. The 3012LF is a neodymium-based (“neo”) driver rated at 450 watts (thermal), which can take 900 watts of program from 46 Hz to 2 kHz. It has an Xmax of 9.1mm, which is nearly twice as much as Eminence’s 2512 neo bass woofer. The Faital 3FE22, which uses also a neo magnet, is a full-range, high-sensitivity, flat response driver used in many applications, from full-on PA line arrays to home audio. While the Faital specs rate it from 100 Hz to 20 kHz, Duke says it really only extends to about 14 kHz, and that its decent sensitivity and fairly wide dispersion make it a good pairing with the 3012LF. The big difference between the Hathor 1203 and the Changeling C112T is an additional rear-firing Faital Pro 3FE22, which essentially makes it an Acoustic Friendly version of the Hathor; but Duke put a lot of thoughtful detail into the execution, here.

Out of the Box The boxed shipping weight of the C112T is 36 lbs, so it was really no surprise when it came in at just 29.5 lbs on my scale. Dimensionally, its specs are 22” tall by 14” wide by 14” deep. This “tall version” of the Changeling (hence the “T” in the model name) is a bit bigger than the standard version, which is 18” tall x 14” wide x 14” deep, and weighs in at 28 lbs. Duke says the extra size in the tall version means it also has a bit deeper bass response. The Changeling has an inset leather carry handle that doesn’t interfere with putting your amp on top, stack lock corners, and a Duratex finish. Not only is it a breeze to move around, you can easily carry one in each hand with no problem. The view from the front may be a little different than a standard bass cab; the woofer and mid each have their own small grill, rather than one large one for the whole cab. Looking down on the cab from up top, you can see that each of the Faital Pro tweets has two 4” x 1 1/4” ports, and an additional 2” x 1 ¼” port on each side, for a total of four ports per mid driver. On the back of the cab, you’ll find the four ports for tuning

bass response, and three switches to control midrange response. “Up” is louder for each of the switches. Flipping the top switch down gently rolls off the top end north of about 3.5 kHz, and flipping the bottom switch down smooths the otherwise somewhat growly upper mids. The middle switch is labeled “0/-7,” and in the down position, it shelves down the output of the rear-firing mid by about 7 dB. This switch is in the middle of the dish, because that’s the only location with enough space for the label. Regarding the ports, the more ports open, the bigger the low end. To tighten things up, plug a port or two, or more. When plugging two, Duke suggests plugging them on a diagonal, to keep the back-pressure on the 3012LF even; this keeps the driver traveling smoothly under high loads. The crossover point between the 3012LF and the Faital is more or less 1.7 kHz, but it’s really more complicated than that. Duke says they really overlap from about 1.4 kHz to 2.1 kHz, and that range is where “grind” is in that combination of drivers that can be switched off and on via the third toggle on the rear of the cab. The rear-firing 3FE22 is crossed over a little lower than the front firing one, and it’s also padded differently to make its output appropriate to the rear-firing application goal. It’s normally padded back about -3 dB relative to the front one; the middle toggle can also select padding it back about -10 dB.

The Changeling at home With the Changeling out of the box and a GK MBF500 neatly on top, it was time to see what all this evolution added up to. I started with a vintage Fender Precision bass strung with flats, all the ports closed and all the Intelligent Tuning switches down, for the most vintage sound. It does this quite well, delivering a very creditable Motown tone. Next, I unplugged two of the rear ports and switched to a Sadowsky MV5 strung with fresh rounds. Opening the ports makes the cab feel substantially deeper, but with all the switches down, the treble response wasn’t quite presenting the “Sadowsky feel” the way I like it. That was quickly addressed by throwing the top mid pad switch up. This makes treble response much snappier. Next, I switched the bottom toggle up, to add more growly midrange to the Changeling, and now it was cranking out the Sadowsky tone just the way I like it. Normally, I prefer horn-loaded cabs for this type of tone, but the Changeling mids deliver plenty of top-end clarity and presence.

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FULL REVIEW Flipping up the middle switch (which pads back the rear mid driver) added more presence yet, and made the cab feel more three-dimensional. Lastly, unplugging the remaining rear ports added more heft to the low end. I switched to a Valenti bass loaded with Nordstrand Fat Stacks, and their extended treble response was also very well-delivered by the Changeling’s two Faital paper cone mid drivers. This setup has all the snap of a good horn, but delivers it in a superbly pleasant and sweet way. Low frequencies are pretty omni-dimensional in nature, but higher frequencies, not so much so. As an experiment, I took masking tape and covered the Faital tweeters ports to see what difference they make in higher frequency dispersion; and they in fact really do make a very perceptible difference in perceived dispersion and clarity standing at different points around the room! At home, my personal favorite use of all the C112T’s various tunings was two ports closed, all switches up. This provided solid bass response, and, the grind and presence I like. As a final at-home test, I got out my double bass and plugged that in to the GK MBF500/Changeling 112T rig. Amplifying double bass is a tricky thing, and I’m hardly ever satisfied with it. Almost all double bass pickups are a piezo element. Almost all of them have some variant of spikey, ganky treble response, and mine is no different. Whatever magic Duke has worked with his crossover and the Faitals, the result is that my double bass sounds as good as it ever has when amplified.

On the Job The first place I took the C112T was rehearsal with my main band, a 6-piece group consisting of piano, two guitars, sax, drums and bass. We rehearse at a very nice studio (where I’ve recorded a lot), and everyone in the

band is a seasoned veteran, both in terms of performance and session work. I set the cab up slightly ahead of the drummer’s kick drum. Usually, I set the cab a little behind him – so he can hear it better – so this position was a bit of an experiment. The studio space is large, but we rehearse at very low volume. With a GK MBF500 on top of the cab, my standard settings sounded just fine, and the single cab was more than enough, even with the GK not pushing hard. My bandmates all liked the way it sounded, and after rehearsal, I asked the drummer if he noticed anything different about the cab. He said, “It sounded great, and I sure could hear it surprisingly well, given that you placed it more or less in front of me.” Plus one for the improved omni-directional response of the Changeling. Next stop was a small café, where my trio gig regularly plays. Again, the GK MBF500 and the Changeling were more than plenty for the situation. The Changeling was a big improvement over other small cabs I’d used here before. The band gets placed in a corner of the venue; in the corner, one wall is glass and the other is corrugated tin. Normally, I hate how my rig sounds here, and some cabinets really leave me faced with a wrestling match to get a sound that’s good both for me and the room. None of the other cabs I’ve worked that room with are rear-ported, nor do any of them have rear-firing tweeters – so I’ll have to presume those are contributing reasons as to why the Changeling worked so much better than other cabs in that room. Plus two for the Changeling. I took two Changelings with me (set in a vertical stack) for my first venture into Clubland with my 6-piece band. Again, I used the GK MBF500, still at my standard settings. In this room, that felt just a little thin. While I could have chosen to bump the active bass control on my Valenti, or boosted bass or engaged the deep switch on the GK, it took just a second to walk behind the stack and remove the other two port plugs from each of the two cabs and run the ports all open. This got me just what I wanted; it’s pretty cool to be able to tune your cabs to a venue like that. There was plenty of beef out of these pretty small cabs to drive the whole band. The paper cone mids deliver more than enough snap and clarity for any kind of music, including funky slap lines – all without having to boost treble at the amp or the bass. This band uses two Bose Stick/Sub speakers for PA, and only voice, sax, and piano are in there, so the bass rig has to carry the room. The Changeling stack powered by 500 watts did this with plenty to spare. Load-in and load-out was one trip each way; a cab in each hand, amp bag over one shoulder; bass bag over the other. In this room, I had the cabs more or less in line with the drummer’s snare; with a wall about four feet behind us. He commented that he could definitely hear me better via the Changeling’s rear ports and rear tweeter. Plus three for the Changeling.


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Conclusions The rest of my time with the AudioKinesis Changelings mirrored the three previous scenarios. I went through a string of other rehearsals, smaller and larger jobs, and practice time at home. I did a second large job with this band using the Mesa D-800+. I even hooked up GK’s hard-hitting 1001RB-II and MBF800 to the pair of cabs, both of which worked out just fine; their power ratings seem spot-on. When I sat down to write this up, I had to really dig deep to come up with any negatives at all, here are the only two I have: 1.) if you want mega-dub-deep bass, there are probably better options – the diminutive size of these cabs prevents them from being that; 2) the AudioKinesis aesthetic is just a little different from mainstream. This is really neither a plus nor a minus. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and as far as I’m concerned, any tool that works this well can look however it looks. The pluses of the Changeling C112T are many: high performance, 3D soundscape via the rear ports and rear-firing tweeter, Intelligent Tuning that lets you literally have at least three different cabs in one. The two that really stand out for me are just how easy the C112T is to move – even two at a time – and, the super-sweet midrange and treble response. Ah, there may be two more downsides. First, AudioKinesis is literally a one-man shop: Duke. And he also builds some fabulous (award-winning!) home stereo speakers. (Check out his website!) So, there’s a 3-month wait, or so, to get your hands on one or two of these. Second, these cabs are so good that this review is gonna end with me trying to figure a way to get enough additional gigs to get a pair of these for myself. I do not want to send them back!


test

TECHNICAL REVIEW

AudioKinesis Changeling C112T Bass Cabinet

BASS GEAR

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ENCLOSURE

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

GENERAL 1x12 8 Ohms 500 watts Two Neutrik™ NLJ2MD-V dual Speakon & ¼” jacks 14”w x 22”h x 14”d 31.0 lbs Four “pluggable” ports (rear) Spray-on ½” Italian poplar plywood (two layers) ½” Italian poplar plywood Round metal “waffle” grill One (top-mounted) Four, rubber No Yes: plastic, stacking 8 bolts (threaded inserts)

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

Eminence Kappalite™ 3012LF, cast frame Paper 3” copper Neodymium (11 oz.) 3” Faital Pro 3FE22 (8 ohm) Switches Inductors Binding posts Custom (see below) Tall (as reviewed) or “regular”

MEASUREMENTS Average Sensitivity (200 Hz – 900 Hz):

100.37 dBSPL (1 watt @ 1 meter)

Company:

Country of Origin: Year of Origin: Warranty: List Price: Street Price: Test Unit Options: Accessories: Price as Tested: Available colors: Available Options: Acquired from: Dates: Locales: Test gear:

AudioKinesis 10540 County Rd 905 Princeton, TX, 75407 www.AudioKinesis.com USA 2018 2 years $750 “regular,” $790 “Tall” $750 “regular,” $790 “Tall” “Tall” option None $790 Black “Tall” or “regular” AudioKinesis January-February, 2018 Missouri Gallien Kruger MBF500, Gallien Kruger 1001RBII, Mesa Boogie D-800+, Nordy, Sadowsky, and Valenti basses

TEST RESULT 1-5 (unacceptable to impeccable)

In-hand

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

5 5 5 4 4.5 4.5

On-bench

Portability: Road Worthiness: Components: Hardware: Cabinet Construction: Wiring: Cover/Finish:

In-hand SCORE

4.66 average

On-bench

4.64 average

TONE-O-METER: The C112T is a big performing cab, in a small package. Actually, due to a high degree of user tunability, it’s actually several great cabs in a small package. Extremely portable and super sweet highs.

5 4.5 5 4.5 5 4.5 4


Tom Bowlus’

CAB LAB

AudioKinesis Changeling C112T Bass Cabinet Duke LeJeune has made “ugly duckling” into an art form. His cabs have a certain “home-brewed” look to them, which at first glance may cause you to under-appreciate their technical prowess, but which really do grow on you. In fact, one of his most identifiable features – the round metal “waffle” grill (which is held in place by four plastic “clamps” secured with long bolts) – has technical justifications in addition to (and possibly more so) than its aesthetic merit. Sure, it’s lightweight and less expensive, but Duke explains some of the additional benefits of this design, “I’m not a fan of having a big lip around the perimeter of the front baffle. I built a couple of test boxes like that once, and to my ears they had an audible ‘cupped hands’ coloration in the midrange. I don’t want my ugly little boxes to sound like boxes! Notice that many, if not most, good PA tops avoid the lip-around-the-baffle format that nearly all bass cabs have. The midrange clarity bar is set higher for PA cabs than for bass cabs, and IMO, avoiding that lippage is one of the reasons PA cabs achieve better midrange clarity than most bass cabs of comparable parts quality.” The enclosure is amazingly light (at 31.0 lbs) – despite the robust driver and over-the-top crossover – due in large part to the lightweight ½” Italian poplar plywood and Duke’s efficient bracing designs. The wide, rubber feet are optimally sized such that the plastic corners will still “lock” when stacking one C112T on top of the other, but yet the feet will keep the corners off the ground. The

single, high-quality leather handle is located on the top of the enclosure and is recessed, so as to not interfere with a head placed on top of the cab. The model being tested is the “Tall” version of the Changeling, which goes a bit deeper and is slightly stronger on the low B. Duke rates the “regular” Changeling 112 as -3 dB at 62 Hz (the first overtone of the low B), and the “Tall” version as -1 dB at 62 Hz. Moving on to the interior components, the cast-frame 12” Eminence Kappalite 3012LF driver is very beefy and heavy for a neodymium-based driver. It features thumb screw binding posts, and is held in place by eight stainless steel bolts seated into threaded inserts – my preferred method of driver mounting. The driver, itself, sits in a recessed cutout in the front baffle, which is made from two layers of the ½” Italian poplar plywood. Two 3” Faital Pro 3FE22 midrange drivers (one front-facing, and one rear-facing) sit in their own “open air” enclosures, which have openings on the top and both sides, but which are not connected to the woofer’s internal air space. Each mid driver is secured by four bolts. The C112T features one of the most complex and impressive crossovers I have seen, but you may not realize its intricacy without a peek inside. Internal wiring is very heavy duty, and pretty much only labelled where it counts (red tape indicates which lead is “positive”). I asked Duke about the crossover design, frequency points, roll-off characteristics, etc., and as usual, there was no simple answer. Accordingly, I will let Duke describe the crossover in his own words:


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TECHNICAL REVIEW “ The crossover is a bit unorthodox. The woofer’s top end starts rolling off at about 2 kHz, approximately second order (12 dB per octave). Both midrange drivers start to very gently roll off around 3 kHz, but both still effectively overlap the top end of the woofer. The front-firing mid is about 3 dB louder than the rear-firing mid, and the front-firing mid’s roll-off accelerates to about 3rd order (18 dB per octave) around 1.5 kHz. The rear-firing mid’s roll-off doesn’t accelerate to 3rd order until about 1.2 kHz; it goes a bit lower to better blend with the front-firing woofer (whose top end doesn’t really wrap around the cab, but some of the woofer’s upper-mids escape through the rear-firing ports). So the front-firing mid is generally louder, but the rear-firing mid goes lower. We might say the ‘middle’ of the region where woofers and mids effectively overlap is about 1.8 kHz, and we might call the woofer’s roll-off a ‘2nd order lowpass’ at about 2 kHz, and we might say the mids have a ‘highly damped 3rd order high-pass filter’ at about 1.4 kHz, which just means that the parts and values are chosen so that the mids’ roll-off starts out gradual, and then gets steeper south of the overlap region. The actual curves are more complicated than this explanation indicates, but you gotta draw the line somewhere.

Fig. 1 – 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 ports plugged (all 3 switches up)

Fig. 2 – on and off axis (0, 15, 30, 45) all 3 switches up, no ports plugged

The lower switch, the ‘midrange smoother switch’ engages or bypasses two notch filters, which are tuned to the region where the woofer and mids are overlapping, somewhat. The notch filters affect the woofer and the mids.”

Fig. 3 – all 3 up vs all 3 down


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

Interestingly, the internal bracing (made from solid pine) along the back/walls of the enclosure does not extend all the way to the adjoining perpendicular wall (except at the top of the enclosure). Whatever mojo Duke has designed into the construction and bracing of the cab, I can tell you that this enclosure is rock solid – no easy feat, considering all the holes of various types in this cab. The acoustic batting installed inside the cab appears to be “strategically placed,” as opposed to “liberally and indiscriminately applied.”

Fig. 4 – all 3 up vs bottom one down

Fig. 5 – all 3 up vs bottom two down

Internally, the four ports look like mini nuclear reactor cooling towers – the “regular” version of the C112 has three pluggable ports, versus four on the “Tall.” These ports can be sealed (“plugged”) using simple “plumber’s plugs.” This simple, yet very effective, design allows the user to fine-tune the tuning of the cab. Fig. 1 shows the various frequency response curves for 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4 ports plugged. In general, the trend goes from stronger response in the 50 Hz to 100 Hz region with all ports open, to more output below 40 Hz as you open up more ports. In fact, the frequency response measurements tell several tales. First off, as indicated by Fig. 2, the off-axis response of the C112T is very impressive and definitely more similar to on-axis response than what we see with most cabs. The three switches on the rear of the enclosure offer some interesting controls, as illustrated by Figs. 3-5.

I have been impressed by Duke’s cabs for a long time, and the Hathor 1203 – which shares a lot of DNA with the Changeling 112 – was my favorite smaller cab for quite some time. I only say “was” because the C112T has slightly edged it out. Alan has already extolled the virtues of this cab from a gigging perspective, and I can verify that it is equally impressive in terms of its design, construction, components and overall technical performance. I will say that I would appreciate some labeling on the both the input jack panel (indicating model name/number, overall impedance and perhaps power handling) and for the function of all three switches (the only marking is for the middle switch, labeled “0/-7”). While we are at it, some badge or logo indicating that this is an AudioKinesis cab would be nice, too. Sure, I imagine that most folks who are interested in Duke’s cabs will recognize them by sight, but I would love to see these cabs get into as many hands as possible – including the uninitiated – and a little branding might not hurt. For now, though, it’ll be our little secret…

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FULL REVIEW

I

often feel like a broken record these days when reviewing lower-level, import-line basses from established manufacturers... “You sure get a lot more value for your money and much higher quality than you used to…” Nevertheless, that trend marches on – and does so in a time when not much else seems to work that way! Ibanez has added two very different basses to its reliable and consistently high build-quality stable: the SRMD200 Mezzo from the Soundgear line ($299.99 street) and AFR4FMP Affirma from the AFR series ($1,499.99 street). These basses couldn’t really be more different, and they’ll likely satisfy wholly separate swaths of the bass community. However, they both strike me as instruments that could potentially compete with other basses two to three times their cost. Let’s take a closer look at each.

SR Mezzo Sporting the familiar Soundgear line of basses’ stylings and contouring – a line that has successfully been in production for more than 30 years, continuously – the Mezzo was immediately familiar and endearing to me. To be fully transparent, my first high-quality bass was an Ibanez Soundgear SR885, purchased new around 1995 from a local music store, which has long since succumbed to the increasingly nationalized and shrinking M.I. industry. I spent pivotal years becoming proficient on that bass (or at least attained a good amount of the limited proficiency I currently enjoy), so although that SR885 was long ago replaced in my personal lineup, the Mezzo’s vibe was appealing from the get go. The SRMD200 is an Indonesian-made, medium-scale (32”, 813mm) 4-string bass that doesn’t possess any of the string floppiness or tubby tone that I often associate with the presently en vogue, shorter-than-standard-scale bass flock. In fact, to be honest, as I hastily unpackaged the bass and started playing, unaware of the specifics of what I had been sent for review just yet, I didn’t realize it was a medium-scale bass right away. To me, that’s high praise! After I realized what I had in my hands, I was all the more impressed how “normal” it felt and sounded, while benefiting from the easier playability and almost childlike enjoyment that medium and short-scale instruments are known for. It arrived at my door packaged (more than a little precariously) in a triangular cardboard box, within another shipping box, without an included gig bag or other protection. But I was pleased to see that while that packing scenario may not inspire the most confidence, its reinforcement foam and the bass’ position within the framework did their duty and the bass arrived unscathed. The Mezzo is comprised of a poplar body sporting a very attractive teal sparkle-metallic finish and white pickguard, maple neck and fretboard, 22 frets that are exceptionally well-seated and dressed for this price point, and a P/J pickup configuration that utilizes Ibanez’s DXP and DXJ


Ibanez SRMD200 Mezzo & By Sean Fairchild

AFR4FMP Affirma Bass Guitars

passive pickups. Although the pickups are passive, the bass employs an active preamp and does not feature a passive bypass, opting instead for full-time active output that provides global bass and treble controls and a separate volume pot for each pickup. Taking a deeper look, I found the pickups to be mounted with both a spongy foam and sturdy springs to provide more than adequate suspension. Taking a look around back in the control cavity, I discovered that one of the preamp’s boards is intentionally left loose within the cavity, though its foam covering ensures that no errant connections are accidentally made and no shunting to ground is likely to occur against the black shielding paint used within. I always applaud a tilted-back headstock that puts centuries of pre-Fender luthiery savoir-faire to good use in avoiding the need for a string tree to provide the needed break angle of the strings over the nut. The Mezzo achieved this with a very nice scarf joint that extended from the 1st to the 2nd fret positions, rather than right under the volute, ostensibly for greater strength. Smart. Up at the headstock, you’ll find another cool Ibanezism: their pivoting, no-tools-necessary truss rod cover. Of course, you’ll still need an Allen wrench to turn the rod, but I dug the quick and easy access this simple, but elegant, little touch allows for. The bridge appears reasonably massive (in a good way) and was easily adjustable, but I always prefer a design that allows quick string release, where possible. A separate battery compartment sits alongside the main electronics compartment at the back, but I find this of limited use if it’s not a design that allows for tool-less battery changes. Why not just open the main cavity? That said, I did very much appreciate the threaded machine screw inserts that are used on the battery compartment, to avoid stripped screw holes from the (potentially) more heavily accessed power provider.

The Mezzo sounds fantastic! It’s got a biting, somewhat aggressive and lively quality with the EQ set flat and both pickups up full, and certainly has that delicious P/J growl and “upfrontness” typical of that string-sensing scenario. The treble and bass boost/cut controls were useful and voiced well, and the two volume controls work surprisingly well with each other – really minimizing insertion loss and crosstalk between the two very different pickup types. Even their soloed volumes were similar. This made me wonder if there might be a buffered, active blend being put to good use somewhere in that proprietary preamp circuit. This is a great bass for just about any style of playing, but really shined for slapping and fingerstyle work. Several of my students commented positively on the bass’ feel and tone during weekly lessons, as well. I detected a hint of a dead spot at the D/7th fret of the G string, but truthfully, it was almost negligible. I would expect that many players would likely not notice it on this specific bass, and another example of this model may not exhibit it at all (or may relocate it).

Affirma In contrast to the Mezzo’s more mass appeal, with its traditional-leaning pickguard, relatively familiar shape, and popular pickup placement, the Affirma sits solidly in more contemporary territory. I was surprised to see more interest and curiosity surrounding the Affirma after posting photos of the two basses on my social accounts; much of it on the part of fans of the now defunct Ibanez Ergodyne models, which I’m now aware have an almost cult-level following I hadn’t previously been hip to. Ibanez’s AFR4MP is also made in Indonesia, and exhibits the same attention to detail and built quality as its less expensive cousin for the most part, which it certainly


should do for its higher, $1,499.99 street price – still a steal for a bass guitar with these specifications. The Affirma uses a majority maple construction, with a lightly flamed maple top and walnut inset in the body. The neck, which features what appears to be a very deep set-neck design and is dubbed “half neck through” construction by Ibanez, is made of three maple laminates with inlaid graphite bars for stability. It is capped with an ebony fretboard that sports 24 well-attended frets under the G string, tapering off to 22 by the time you reach the E string. This type of neck-to-body joint is slightly reminiscent of designs that some Ken Smith and Fodera basses use, lending a boutique quality to the instrument. The neck-to-body seams at the joint with the body wings were just slightly harshly finished, though there were no functional or playability concerns, there. As with the Mezzo, I was pleased to see a nicely angled back headstock – but in a bit of a one-up on that model, the headstock appears to be carved from the neck laminates, rather than a separate piece or pieces of wood that attach to the neck via a glue joint. Nice! While we’re on the subject, this headstock is unique in a number of ways. A first glance will show you it’s very pointy, narrow, and short, which helps to balance the bass so well. It also allows for a nice, straight string pull over the nut to each tuner. But in order to accommodate this with such limited space, the tuning machines are actually installed upside down on each side – unusual at first, but definitely not an insurmountable issue by any means. Let’s talk about looks. If you’re looking for something non-traditional and markedly un-FSO (“Fender Shaped Object”) like, the Affirma is right up your alley. Fans of vintage and reissue P-basses with period-correct finishes and components might have more mixed feelings about its aesthetics. The upper horn extends to the 12th fret and features some less rounded, carved edges as part of its contouring. The lower horn’s unique shape helps the bass to sit and balance very nicely on the left thigh (for right handers) when playing while seated – presuming that you’re the type to prefer a bass’ body to rest between your legs, rather than on top of your plucking hand side’s leg. One unique aesthetic choice was to place the model/

designer inlay on the body (in the space between the magnetic pickup and bridge), instead of the more traditional location on the headstock. I can see that doing this allows for more ornate and noticeable brand marking, but this stylistic choice does take a little getting used to. There’s a single split-coil, humbucking magnetic pickup – made by venerable California-based Bartolini – placed such that Ibanez figured the fingerstyle player might want some additional anchor points for their thumb (there are also piezo pickups in the bridge, which I’ll cover in the next paragraph). So, as a novel solution that I hadn’t before seen, they carved a rounded channel into the body that extends from just after the neck to the magnetic pickup; the idea being that you’d rest your thumb anywhere in this channel that feels comfortable to you or allows your hand to be placed to cop the tone and feel you’d like to call up. A very interesting choice, functionally and aesthetically. My personal preference is to anchor my plucking hand’s thumb somewhere just on top of or above the bass’ body, such as the case when anchoring on a pickup’s shoulder, rather than down past the body’s surface. The inset channel threw off the mechanics of my right hand and I didn’t ever gel with having my hand about ½” closer to the strings than I typically would like. That said, players with other preferences – or players who are really dialed in on this particular instrument – may not mind this setup. Ibanez also includes their own Aerosilk piezo elements incorporated into their quick-release Aerosilk MR5 individual bridge saddle/tailpieces, which definitely offer a ton of non-magnetic sounding possibilities to your overall tone. You can fine-tune the piezo output volume for each sensing element via an adjustment control around back, but I found the response of the Affirma’s piezoelectric system to be evenly balanced out of the box. The electronics comprise separate volume controls for both magnetic and piezo pickups, active tone for the piezo signal, and stacked treble/bass boost and cut for the Bartolini. While some of the brand’s marketing mentions upright-like qualities with the piezo tone dialed up, I found it to actually be much closer sounding to an acoustic bass guitar. In fact, this bass can really nail Mike Inez’s acoustic/electric bass


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

tone on Alice in Chain’s Jar of Flies EP from the mid ‘90s – especially when using a pick! I found the pick to be the way I communed best with this model and the style of play that really made it shine through with a unique and powerful voice. I did experience a “dead-ish” zone, rather than a more commonly found “dead spot,” that ran from about C# to E on the G string. Notes in this region just seemed to lack the clarity, tone, and resonance that the rest of the fretboard’s range displayed. If this was indeed the case and not some strange perception found only on my part, it could well be an attribute of this one specific bass, as opposed to a model-wide occurrence. Finding the neck to be adjusted as I like, I also did not try adjusting the truss rod, which may have been able to factor in, here. A convenient pop-up (black plastic) battery compartment is included on this model, which makes a lot of sense to a working musician who may need to make a quick change. The Affirma’s control cavity, like the Mezzo’s, was also lined with black conductive shielding paint and presented foil-lined cavity covers. The same free-floating but foam-encompassed preamp module that was found in the Mezzo’s main electronics compartment was also found here, but again seemed not to jeopardize operation or durability. The output jack is thoughtfully angled slightly upwards within a small cut out, seemingly to make it more difficult to inadvertently step on your cable, which can cause an accidental but very literal “bass drop” in the middle of a performance.

Worthy of note are the fine quality, hybrid hard shell/ foam case that the Affirma ships in, and the very handy multi-tool that Ibanez includes with the purchase. It would obviously be difficult to find a bag or case design that’s a good match for a bass with these unique dimensions, so Ibanez gets a tip of the cap for not only including one, but a very nice one at that. The case is extraordinarily sturdy, while also being very light, and it gave me greater confidence in shipping and transport to know the bass was nestled snugly within that custom-fit case, inside its well-padded shipping box. The Mezzo and the Affirma, for $299 and $1,499 respectively, are unquestionably killer values, and exhibit an overall quality and attention to detail that I don’t believe I’ve seen before in an Indonesian-made import model. Ibanez has clearly extended its high standards for production instruments to these less expensive lines as well, which is admirable and impressive. Whether you dig a more traditional vibe and the “fun factor” of a shorter-scale bass, or are looking for a platform or vehicle that will allow your next-level technique and creative direction to blossom, the Japanese-based company has you covered here. In a marketplace filled with countless variations on just a couple of themes, I’m happy to see a major manufacturer writing some new lines of their own.

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FULL REVIEW


test

TECHNICAL REVIEW

Ibanez SR Mezzo SRMD200 Bass Guitar

BASS GEAR

92

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

GENERAL 4 Double cutaway 42 ¾” 19 ½” long x 13” wide at lower bout Minimal 7.5 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:

32” 1.496” 2.139” 2.277” .845” .792” 865” 1.006” .336” .735” 12” Flat D 11 deg 11 deg 5 ¼” to 2 7/16” 1” to 1 3/8” N/A .010” on both sides Dual-action / peghead end 22 103 x 43

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

Ibanez DXP & DXJ 10 ½” and 13 5/16” from 12th fret Ibanez 2-band EQ Volume, Volume, Treble, Bass Paint 9v

CONSTRUCTION Body Material: Neck Material: Fingerboard: Body Finish: Neck Finish:

Poplar Maple Maple Gloss polyurethane Satin polyester

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

D’Addario XL .045, .065, .085, .105 At bridge proprietary / chrome Plastic Gotoh-type / chrome Dome-top knurled metal / chrome 3-ply (tortoise) Plastic (separate battery cover)

Company:

Ibanez/Hoshino USA 1726 Winchester Rd, Bensalem, Pa. 19020 Phone: 215-638-8670 Fax: 215-245-8583 Email: ibanez@hoshinousa.com https://www.ibanez.com/usa/ Country of origin: Indonesia One year Warranty: $299.99 Price: Available colors: Seafoam Pearl Green, Candy Apple Matte, Roadster Orange Metallic, Sapphire Blue Metallic Options: None Accessories: None Acquired from: Hoshino USA Dates: Spring 2019 Locales: Washington, Ohio Test gear: Genzler MG-800, BA210-3 & BA12-3, Line 6 Helix Floor, Tsunami Cables

TEST RESULT 1-5 (unacceptable to impeccable)

In-hand

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

3.5 4.5 5 5 4.5 4.5 5

In-hand SCORE

4.57 average On-bench

4.32 average

On-bench

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:

4.5 4 5 4 4 4 5 5 5 4 4 4 3 4 4 5 5

Low: Very present, not lacking Mids: Gnarly and aggressive from P/J combo Highs: Not shimmering, but also not lacking. Plenty on tap for slapping and modern tones

TONE-O-METER:

Fun for cheap! Well made, well executed P/J medium scale bass with comfortable contouring, familiar looks and great sound. Not much to nitpick about the Mezzo for fans of smaller basses.


Phil Maneri’s

BASS LAB

Bass Lab – Ibanez SR Mezzo SRMD200 10 years ago, you couldn’t buy a new bass for $300 that was well built enough that it didn’t need some kind of technical intervention before the first lesson. Now it’s starting to become the expected norm. Even in this modern climate of competence, Ibanez has delivered a bass that eclipses an already higher bar. Here is a short-scale P/J bass with a great look and solid construction. The 32” scale is gaining some steam in a market that has generally gone longer than shorter. Beginners and smaller people appreciate the more compact nature of these instruments, and unlike the shorter-scale instruments from the late 20th Century, these don’t suffer from weak E strings or other points of compromise relative to their slightly longer 34” brethren. Ibanez starts with a poplar body. Not the highest grade of tonewood choice, but serviceable and decent enough for the price range. They bolt on a scarf joint, back-angled peghead maple neck with a separate maple fingerboard. Glancing at all the dimensions, the whole instrument is a just a touch smaller than standard. Thinner neck all around, closer string spacing, almost every dimension has a little shaved off of it. They choose to make this a P/J setup. That is quite common, but comes with its unique set of trade-offs. As I’ve

mentioned before, the split humbucker neck pickup mated with a single-coil bridge pickup always leads to the bridge pickup having some level of hum when on and the two pickups leading to some kind of phase cancellation on the side where the magnets match polarity and windings are in the same direction (rather than an equal and opposite mate). The volume, volume, active bass and treble with boost and cut are industry typical controls that work well and sound very good given the price range. The control cavity is a little sloppy, but it is well-shielded; a decent trade off. The build quality is pretty darn good for the price. So good, in fact, that it raises the bar seriously high for high-dollar instruments. If you can get this all right at this price point, then at $3000, there’s no excuse for error. With a quick tweak out of the box (from shipping settling), the bass sprung back to a great spot to play from. It’s a comfortable playing instrument, albeit miniature for some of us used to longer scales. The finish on the neck is satin and smooth, the body finish is tough and thick with no flaws in the metallic paint I could detect. The hardware is inexpensive and so is the plastic, but still better than one would guess for a $300 bass. I keep saying that over and over, but for this kind of money – or even a good bit more – the SR Mezzo is hard to beat.


test

TECHNICAL REVIEW

Ibanez Affirma AFR4FMP Bass Guitar

BASS GEAR

94

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

GENERAL 4 Double cutaway 44 3/8” 19 5/8” long x 11 3/4” wide at lower bout Moderate 7.5 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:

34” 1.569” 2.103” 2.282” 1.017” .815” .882” 1.407” .3787” .742” 12” Flat D 12 deg 15 deg 2 ¼” to 5 1/16” 1 ½” N/A None Dual-action / body end 22 full and 24 for G string 102 x 46

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

Bartolini split-coil J-type, Aerosilk piezo system 12 15/16” from 12th fret Ibanez 2-band EQ, Aerosilk piezo circuit Magnetic volume, Piezo volume, Magnetic Treble & Bass, Piezo active tone Paint 9v

CONSTRUCTION Body Material: Neck Material: Fingerboard: Body Finish: Neck Finish:

Maple/walnut Maple Ebony Satin polyester Satin polyester

Ibanez/Hoshino USA 1726 Winchester Rd, Bensalem, Pa. 19020 Phone: 215-638-8670 Fax: 215-245-8583 Email: ibanez@hoshinousa.com https://www.ibanez.com/usa/ Country of origin: Indonesia One year Warranty: $1,499.99 Price: Available colors: Natural satin finish - maple or walnut Options: 4 or 5 string, walnut or maple top Accessories: Hybrid hard case/bag, multitool Acquired from: Hoshino USA Dates: Spring 2019 Locales: Washington, Ohio Test gear: Genzler MG-800, BA210-3 & BA12-3, Line 6 Helix Floor, Tsunami Cables

TEST RESULT 1-5 (unacceptable to impeccable)

In-hand

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

4 3.8 4 3 4.5 4 4

In-hand SCORE

3.90 average On-bench

4.71 average SONIC PROFILE:

On-bench

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

5 5 3 5 5 4 5 5 5 5 5 4 4 5 5 5 5

Low: Pillowy, abundant, but not incredibly focused or tight Mids: Present, but slightly reserved due in part to lack of bridge pickup Highs: Piezo allows for plenty of air and shimmer, magnetic pickup works well with EQ to provide ample high frequencies.

TONE-O-METER:

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

Company:

D’Addario XL .045, .065, .085, .105 At bridge proprietary / black Plastic Gotoh-type / black Dome-top knurled metal / black N/A Plastic (separate battery cover and separate piezo access)

An innovative step in the evolution of the bass guitar, with some ultra-modern styling and sonic options to boot. Neither the aesthetics nor the tone won’t be for everyone, but that’s the beauty of a large brand like Ibanez taking the plunge into such adventurous design - they can afford to do it and will no doubt continue to tweak and improve over time! Definitely a strong consideration for someone looking outside the norm.


Phil Maneri’s

BASS LAB

Bass Lab – Ibanez Affirma AFR4FMP Ibanez brings forward-thinking design to the moderate-priced tier with a $1,500 active, set-neck bass equipped with piezo pickups and a diminutive headstock. It’s a bold design statement that takes its cues from a small contingent of seriously high-end basses that pushed the envelope of what’s acceptable on-stage for a bassist. Although not for the Fender purist, these instruments can assert another dimension of performer personality without sacrificing utility. Here we see both in a package at a very competitive price point, given what it’s got under the hood. The 3-piece maple neck wears a dark ebony board that hides graphite stringers inside the core to strengthen and assist sustain. It’s set deep into the body – a sandwich of maple and walnut, layered in interesting and uncommon way. The lumber adds up to quite a lightweight bass. The electronics in here are very interesting. On the magnetic side, there is a higher-end Bartolini “CandyBar” pickup that functions like a Precision Bass in that it has two coils side-by-side underneath the hood to cancel hum. It’s quite narrow though, almost like a Jazz Bass, so its point source is clear and uncluttered by the phase cancelations of a wider spread. It feeds an active bass/treble boost/cut preamp that sounds good (and looks rather unassuming in the cavity, which is fully shielded). In addition, there are a set of piezos in the bridge saddles they call “AeroSilk.” Those mix without tone adjustment, save a passive treble roll-off. What’s interesting here is the use of the single-source magnetic. A very good, but not common, choice, save for

the Precision Bass. The piezo is possibly unnecessary, although it does add some string noise texture that some people like. It might be a different beast if it was fretless with flatwounds. That could be very compelling… Outside the pickup, the remaining hardware and such are fairly typical for instruments coming out of Indonesia (hence the affordable price). It’s well-constructed, though, and the joinery is first rate. One interesting design cue is the tight peghead machine arrangement. Its looks crowded and in some ways odd, but the way the tuners are oriented and the way the strings lie across the neck through the nut and all the way to the edge of where it breaks off the tuner, it’s a completely straight line. That straight line, especially off the nut, decreases any weird string annoyances from kinking or bending a string, at install and over time. This prevents “falsing” and tuning issues and increases string life. Subtle, smart and completely intentional. The ergonomics are better than you’d guess for as weird as it looks. Great balance and weight, however you choose to play it. The very light weight adds to the concept of an instrument you could easily play all day without much effort holding it up. The bass looks cool and functions very well, giving the “under $2,000 set” some seriously high-end teases that could inspire a player in ways you can’t get to with a Precision. At this price point, it’s a bold and wise addition to the Ibanez lineup. It may not sell like crazy, but it will definitely sell, especially to those pining for high-end Euro design instruments on a more reasonable budget.


INDUSTRY NEWS

Bergantino – forté HP Bass Head

O J Guitars – Brummbass Acoustic Bass Guitar

2019 Winter NAMM

Awards

BASS GEAR

96

By Tom Bowlus

Two notes – Torpedo C.A.B. M Bass Pedal

The 2019 Winter NAMM Show featured the best weather we have seen in years, some improvements (and some frustrations) on the Show security front, and a plethora of high-talent events. But the real story is all the cool new gear, of course! We bring you the best of the best – the Bass Gear Magazine 2019 Winter NAMM Best of Show Award winners:


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

Bergantino – forté HP Bass Head Jim Bergantino blew us away with his first entry into the bass head market, the B|Amp, winning a Bass Gear Magazine Best of Show Award at the 2015 Winter NAMM Show. Following on the success of the B|Amp, Jim introduced the forté bass head – which offered the same output section as the B|Amp, but with a streamlined (and potentially less intimidating) front end. In truth, the B|Amp’s controls are fairly intuitive, but some folks prefer to just turn a few knobs, and not worry about navigating the LED screen/menus. The forte HP builds upon this approach but adds some of the features which have evolved through revisions to the B|Amp firmware: features such as parallel compression, variable high-pass filter, variable low-pass filter, and adjustable distortion/fuzz. The footswitch-controllable Bright switch now offers the choice of +6dB at 2kHz or +8dB at 7kHz. Speaking of the footswitch, Bergantino now offers a new, beefier Bluetooth footswitch, which can control the Drive, Effect, Bright and Mute functions. All of this is paired up with a new class-D output section capable of putting out 600w into 8 ohms, 1,200w into 4 ohms or two ohms. Wow! That is some serious power! At an introductory price of $1,399, the forté HP has a lot to offer! www.bergantino.com

O J Guitars – Brummbass Acoustic Bass Guitar Beyond a doubt, the most talked-about item at the 2019 NAMM Show was the amazing acoustic bass guitar from Oliver Jaggi and O J Guitars – the Brummbass. This amazing – and large! – instrument is quite impressive at first sight, but its true merit is revealed when you play the bass. Fortunately, there was an isolation booth in the Boutique Guitar Builders Showcase, and this allowed us to hear and feel the beautiful Brummbass. Playing this instrument is honestly one of the most enjoyable musical experiences I have ever had. The tone is piano-like (an over-used term, I know, but entirely appropriate), but also with an acoustic guitar character, and very much a bass instrument. The dual sound holes allow you to hear it quite well. The neck is detachable for travel, but also allows for adjusting the action. The bridge, thumb rest, and other custom-made hardware are primarily made of spruce (for light weight and to not restrict resonation) but laminated with accent woods for aesthetics. The bridge is very special (and decidedly piano-inspired), with no real “saddle,” and the Brummbass requires custom-made strings (which are actually relatively affordable, at about $40). The bass itself bears a significant price tag of $12,500, but when you consider the outrageous level of time and effort to create this instrument, this seems quite reasonable. Oliver is a third-generation Swiss craftsman with over thirty years’ experience as a luthier. The Brummbass is obviously a labor of love, and believe me, if you play it, you will love it! www.ojguitars.com

Two notes – Torpedo C.A.B. M Bass Pedal As many of you are aware, one of the most effective ways to change your tone/feel on stage is to bring a different bass cab to the gig. But this is also one of the more significant investments you can make as a bass player, and it’s not really practical to bring a large number of cabs to the gig and then swap them out until you find the best fit for the sound in your head. Once you do find the “perfect” cab for what you want the world to hear, we are sometimes frustrated to learn that our only option is to plug into a DI – and lose the particular “magic” that the cab is bringing to the signal chain. Alternately, we may be provided with the option of mic’ing our cab, but the mic selection may not be ideal, and the mic placement may be questionable. The unique characteristics of the room are incredibly important, as well. Our friends at Two notes Audio Engineering have thought about exactly these types of issues, and their product lineup is aimed at cabinet simulation, amplifier simulation, mic placement simulation, and much, much more. We have been very impressed by their cab simulation products in the past (notably the original Torpedo C.A.B. pedal), but the new Torpedo C.A.B. M pedal really got our juices flowing. It is notably smaller than the original C.A.B. pedal but retains essentially the same flexibility, while adding mobile app support. The pedal comes loaded with 32 Two notes virtual cabinets (5 of which are bass-specific), 8 microphones and 8 rooms to choose from, right out of the box. The C.A.B. M can be used as a stand-alone recording interface (with 24-bit/96kHz converters), or you can add it to your in-ear monitoring system so that you can hear your “rig.” It can be used in conjunction with your favorite preamp, or even with an amplified signal. That’s right! You can run from the speaker output of your bass head into the C.A.B. M! If your head does not require a load to operate, you can stop there. But if you need a load, then you connect the speaker/load to the C.A.B. M’s Speaker Output jack. There isn’t enough space to really tell you all about this cool little pedal (which retails at $299), but definitely check it out (and look for an in-depth review to come). www.two-notes.com

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INDUSTRY NEWS

2019 Winter NAMM Show


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

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INDUSTRY NEWS


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101


INDUSTRY NEWS

Ampeg – Heritage 50th Anniversary SVT Bass Head

Gillett Guitars – Slimline Contour Bass Guitars

2019 Summer NAMM

Awards

BASS GEAR

102

By Tom Bowlus

BackBeat – BackBeat Wearable Rumble Pack

The Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim in undeniably larger, but you just can’t go wrong when you are hanging out in the Music City. Summer NAMM has really come alive the last five or so years, and 2019 was no exception. Here are the Bass Gear Magazine 2019 Summer NAMM Best of Show Award winners:


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

Ampeg – Heritage 50th Anniversary SVT Bass Head You may ask yourself, what is groundbreaking or “best of show worthy” about yet another iteration of the most iconic bass amp in history. If you are asking such questions, either you already own a mint ’69 SVT and a mint ’75 SVT, or perhaps you just aren’t really into tube heads. For the rest of us, it is beyond cool that Ampeg is producing a made in the USA Heritage version of the SVT that has taken a new approach to Channel One and Channel Two – borrowing a page from the Heritage B-15N playbook and offering one channel modeled after a ’69 SVT and one after a ’75, with the ability to use both simultaneously using a jumper. The 50th Anniversary also offers “blue line” graphics, and matching Ampeg-branded 6550 power tubes. The original SVT was introduced at the 1969 Summer NAMM Show, so it’s pretty cool that Ampeg decided to stick to the “actual” 50th anniversary and debut this model at the 2019 Summer NAMM. For more information, head on over to https://ampeg.com/ products/heritage/svt-50thAnniversary/

Gillett Guitars – Slimline Contour Bass Guitars It is not uncommon to see something that looks absolutely amazing on the NAMM Show floor, but then to be underwhelmed when you actually hear it in action or put it to use. It is less common to be blown away by the looks of a product, and then even more impressed when you actually get to play it. The Contour bass guitars we played from Gillett Guitars most definitely fall into this latter category. They had both the Slimline Contour model (in fretted and fretless form) and the (less slim) Standard Contour on display. Any of their basses in the booth could have won this award, and we picked the Slimline Contour largely because we were able to play two iterations of this model. The scale length is only 31.75”, but with their unique string through body option (in a hollow body, nonetheless!), the tension feels like a longer scale. The contours (hence the name) on the back and for your forearm add real-world comfort, in addition to ramping up the aesthetics. Their proprietary on-board active tone circuit did wonderful things to the neck J-style pickup, and the optional bridge transducer added great air and clarity, without sounding brittle. These basses played and sounded amazing! Learn more at https://www. gillettguitars.co.uk/bass-guitars/c/3/

BackBeat – BackBeat Wearable Rumble Pack If you ever perform “rigless” or with in-ear monitors, you may find that you do not feel as connected with the notes you are playing. Even when you can hear everything, there is something missing when you don’t feel everything. The BackBeat solves this problem by mounting a battery powered transducer (“rumble pack”) to your strap. There are a variety of ways to route a signal to the BackBeat, but the general idea is that you can feel the vibrations from the notes you play (along with hearing them in your in-ears). This really does emulate the experience of playing in front of a big rig, and it communicates your playing/timing on another level. It sounds cool on paper, but you really need to try one out to fully understand what the BackBeat brings to the table. The latest iteration is slightly tweaked to allow a wider range of frequencies to trigger the transducer, and it definitely allows you to feel notes all the way up and down the neck. Check it out! https://www.getbackbeat.com/

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Philthy Thoughts GAS Blockage By Phil Maneri

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AS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) can prevent you from truly knowing your equipment. We all have the temptation: an interesting bass, a brand-new amp, a new pedal or some of the newest technology strings. I felt that way with strings on my double bass.

If you want an entertaining and crazy read, go to TalkBass.com and read the Gamut Guts thread from a decade ago, or the Spirocore thread. What I did was experiment with every single string under the sun and document my gig experience with them. I discovered many things, and learned a ton about string construction and how it relates to tone and durability. In the end, after thousands of dollars in strings and a gazillion gigs, I ended up playing Spirocore Mittels, the most popular jazz double bass string on the market. Nothing weird or esoteric. It was totally pedestrian, but great-sounding. There is a reason those strings are the most popular. They work. They sound great. They last a long time. So after darn near a decade with them, I’ve bought set after set and worn them out. I’ve learned how they sound as they age over time, from their bright, midrange-empty brand-new phase, to the worn-in, thumpy, midrange-heavy sound they get right before they are just too shitty to play on one more gig. I have practiced on them on the same bass with a similar setup that whole time. I know how they respond when I use the bow one way or another, or slap them, or play this place or that on the string on that particular bass. I really KNOW them and that bass. I can predict how they will respond to the point where I no longer think about it. I cease thinking about the equipment and loose myself completely in the music. Which is the point; I’m more “musician” than “equipment owner.” That’s why I have this stuff in the first place. I’ve had similar experiences with amplifiers and speakers and rosin and bows and effects pedals. When I find something that speaks to me, I try to live with it for a while and get its full understanding under my belt.

That doesn’t mean I don’t look for new stuff and ignore the latest greatest thing. Far from it. I work for Bass Gear Magazine after all, that’s kinda the point of it. The balance point is what I look for. Always searching for new sounds, new tech to either make what I do more precise or find an entirely new way to do something or even an entirely new sound. The distinction is, it’s always about the music and not just about the gear. What music can I make with this gear? What new sounds – or more precisely honed old sounds – are available here? Where can this get me that excites my muse in a new way? Will this inspire me to create something new? Conversely, the things I tend to dismiss are things that seem like rehashes of what’s already been done, without any creative advancement. I already have a couple great Precision basses, I sure don’t need another one, unless you’ve done something spectacular like make a 5-string version of my ‘62 that really lights up like it does. Or something like Marleaux’s Diva 5-string fretless that made me sit and get completely lost in it’s vibe creating new lines and fragments I never connected to before. The upshot for me here is that I have learned to fully embrace music tools for a long period of time to truly incorporate them into my voice. To not be swayed by the temptation of GAS and lose track of what brought me my musical voice in the first place. My foundations. In addition, though I’m ever-mindful of the relentless advance of technology and creative invention, trying to constantly seek out the next inspiration that feeds my muse and pushes my musical life into a new and interesting place. In those occasions, I’ll get that thing, then learn it inside out until it, too, becomes yet another extension of my voice.


Bartolini 2J Squared quad-coil pickups vs Bartolini MTD USA proprietary pickups Bartolini and Michael Tobias teamed up some time ago on the special, proprietary recipe of coils, winding, and pickup placement that’s unique to the MTD USA line of instruments – these pickups are not even available elsewhere or through either company, separately. They’re comprised of an offset split-coil arrangement, in a reverse-P configuration, and use a smaller number of windings than a typical passive pickup. This approach produces pickups that are more sensitive to a wider range of frequencies, and also results in a lower-level, low-impedance output that necessitates a buffer to raise the output and match the input stage on the equally unique Bartolini MTD preamp (a stereo buffer is used, one channel for each pickup). These pickups sound fantastic and somewhat defy obvious comparisons; they definitely don’t sound like P-bass or reverse-P pickups, but they don’t have quite a Jazz Bass sound, either; they’re certainly not in the realm of typical dual-coil (parallel or series-wired) sounds. That said, they pick up such a wide range of frequencies that their ultra-high end often strikes me as a little over-extended, offering a little too much of an almost piezo-like response to my ears – in a way that I don’t personally find easy to EQ out with the onboard preamp. The slope of the treble curve is, for me, too gradual to cut out enough of those very high highs, without also cutting lower treble and upper midrange that I’d prefer to keep. So, being the gear nerd and inexhaustible tweaker that I am, I got a hold of a brand new pair of Bartolini’s 2J squared model of quad-coil pickups, which are designed to offer two in-line split-coil pairs per pickup – like having two split-coil and noise-free Jazz Bass pickups right next to each other in the same housing. Either of these in-line pairs can be selected alone, or combined in either parallel or series with the pair next to it, allowing for tones that fall pretty well within the expected range for these coil and wiring configurations (i.e. the single in-line pairs sound very J-like, both pairs wired in parallel puts you within the StingRay arena, and all wired in series sounds like a beefy, powerful soapbar). I expected that the outer in-line coils of each pickup would get me closest to a Jazz Bass tone, or perhaps the neckmost pair of each. I was surprised to find that on this bass

By Sean Fairchild and to my ears, it was both the bridge-most in-line pairs that arrived the closest to that classic tone – with the two neck-most pairs getting close, but not quite hitting the special mix of cancelled and reinforced frequencies that we hear as the usual J-bass comb filtering. The neckwards coils sounded deeper and more subdued in comparison with the bridge ones. Interestingly, I liked the neck-most coil pair of the bridge pickup solo’d much more than the rear pair, but when combined with the neck pickup, that made for a strange, “playing inside a tin can,” kind of vibe. I also appreciated both the of 2Js in parallel mode, as well as the bridge pickup in parallel with the bridge-most coil pair of the neck pickup added in for that sort of Lakland, or MusicMan with an added J, sound. Following the normal pattern for this configuration, parallel wiring extended the high end from that of the single in-line pairs, but fills in a lot more mids and kind of compresses the lower treble/ upper midrange for the characteristic thick mids, sparkling highs parallel humbucker sound. This video was created a little hastily without a ton of care given towards reaching technical perfection or demoing every possible coil combination, but listen through your studio monitors or some nice headphones to hear the nuances of the original MTD pickups pitted against the Bartolini 2J Squared, in both “single-coil” (really a split-coil pair in each pickup housing) and parallel wirings. My main issue, is … I like every combination and permutation I tried, with both models! Ah, the troublings of a hopeless tone tweaker.


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By Phil Maneri

Philthy Thoughts – How Oliver Jaggi Freaked Me Out at NAMM

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ll too often, musical instrument makers are forced to pander only to commerce and modify their vision based on market forces or bean counter sensibilities. This has the effect of watering-down the original concept to the point where they often blend into the background noise of everything else available. I’m used to this. It’s the status quo for the musical instrument business. You can imagine how shocked I was while wandering around the 2019 NAMM Show floor when I encountered the Brummbass by Oliver Jaggi. This bass was such an original piece of work that it stopped me cold in my tracks. First of all, it’s huge. It’s not “double bass huge,” but way bigger than “guittarron huge.” It’s a fully acoustic instrument with respectable acoustic volume. Not acoustic volume like the acoustic bass guitars that can’t keep up with anything else, and not like a double bass that can fill up an auditorium, but somewhere in the middle. It can hold its own without an amp.

Its design is gorgeous and organic and well-considered from every single angle. The lutherie is impeccable and completely original from the ground up. The fanned-fret neck elegantly flows into an open-frame peghead with a lovely deco-esque circle at its apex. The bridge is spruce with laminated rosewood cap all around, using an unusual piano-like saddle and takeoff point structure. The neck comes off for more compact travel (and also allows for adjusting the action). The body is huge, but it’s angled and curved to hug the body of the player, defying its size. Its venting near the ear is a great modern move to bring the sound to the player more elegantly. Every surface and joint and construction point has been crafted with attention to detail. Those things aren’t unusual in high-end lutherie. What’s unusual here is such attention and singular-minded focus to one instrument that has no clear practical purpose. People aren’t clamoring for this instrument. It’s not something someone buys and goes out to gig with later on in


August 2019 | www.bassgearmag.com

the day. It’s a singular artistic statement that requires a musician to consider how it fits into their musical voice, then practice with it, then find a way to incorporate it into some musical niche, or create an entirely new one with it. This is an instrument born out of a single luthier’s vision without regard to market forces, construction or manufacturing concerns, or any kind of marketing vision; truly a work of art in and of itself, simply because he could. Nobody does that these days. I stood there looking at it and admired it all the more. It’s brilliant and irrelevant and singularly unique in design vision and application. Art for art’s sake. What made it even better is that’s the only thing he was selling at the NAMM Show. He rented booth space, spent the time and money and effort to get to the sales floor, and endured four days of sometimes unpalatable din – often so loud it drowned out any ability for someone to play this instrument and hear it. This was his entire focus. Build this one thing. Come to NAMM. See if anyone wants this, or custom build yet another for them. That’s insane, and seriously gets my respect. Complete dedication to a singular vision. It’s foolish and brilliant. It’s a lovely instrument. Everyone who locked themselves in an iso-booth with it emerged smiling and shaking their head in disbelief at how good it was. It was a unanimous choice for a best of show award for the magazine, with no dissention or discussion. That’s unheard of; and it totally deserves it. I hope he sells them. Lots of them. They are brilliant. I wouldn’t bet that he will, though. It requires the buyer to take a similar leap of faith to bring it home as it did for him to build it in the first place. At $12,500, it’s worth every penny, but it’s not a leisure purchase for someone

to take home and maybe see how it works. It’s a commitment to discovery and future possibilities that are yet unclear. I hope I’m wrong. I hope he gets swamped with orders. He is doing something nobody does: conceive of a completely original vision, execute it at a very high level, without regard to anything but its own existence. It restores my faith in creative pursuits as art for art’s sake in a business and cultural environment that does everything it can to punish people who do so. Bravo, Oliver Jaggi! This is a beautiful thing you’ve created.

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Philthy Thoughts – Bucket-o-Chicken, Bucket-o-Chicken … or How Bickity Bickity is Killing NAMM By Phil Maneri


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alking the halls of the Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim has become an exercise in futility. It’s so loud that it’s difficult to truly evaluate anything with discernment during product demos. One of the worst offenders in the relentless noisescape is the bass player habit of flexing “NAMM chops” all over the sales floor. You’ve all heard those funk-driven, complex loud slapping 16th note triplet patterns fired off relentlessly like an assault rifle. These highly practiced irrelevant ostinatos are punched out really loud in the same way Maynard Ferguson screeches, or the singers from Whoever’s Got Talent launch into grotesque soaring glissandi near the end of their performance to get the crowd on their feet. Larry Graham couldn’t possibly foresee how his ‘70s slap technique would revolutionize NAMM 30 years in the future. What we affectionately refer to as “Bucket-o-Chicken” or “Bickity Bickity” is about all you hear from bass vendor booths, regardless of weather they are selling amps, or basses, or pedals, or even gig bags. It’s the ubiquitous calling card of NAMM chops YouTube sensations. It’s a useful technique and does have its place in the bass player arsenal; a small place. However, as it’s displayed in NAMM, from booth to booth to booth, it demonstrates very little musical use. At its core, it’s percussive; one needn’t even be in key or chord. It’s the bass equivalent of a Cajon. It burns up massive sonic space, steals any possibility of a drummer or guitarist or keyboard player to have an opinion about where “it” is. They are all forced to capitulate to that Bucket-o-Chicken until the bassist moves onto something else. Moreover, it’s useless in choosing gear. Punch and percussiveness is only one small aspect of an amp or bass’s usefulness, and honestly the easiest one to achieve. Note envelope, and character of tone across that envelope, the steadiness of pitch and the subtle aspects of tone across longer notes are far more difficult to achieve and way harder to evaluate amidst the relentless din of Bickity Bickity. As we navigated the gauntlet of Bucket-o-Chicken, we tried to evaluate products and bring you our well-curated discoveries. I’d like to say we found a bunch of amazing things to hip you to, but honestly, I have no idea how things sound – even now, after examining a bunch of different gear and chatting with their originators. The booth owners hover over volume knobs with eyes searching for the appearance of volume police like we were smoking weed in the alley in 1985. Meanwhile, all across the vast expanse of the convention center, groups are having mini concerts and “special guest performances” which I thought were forbidden by the NAMM rules. Meanwhile, NAMM sent this out in emails to us all while the Show was going on: “Sound Level Reminder In order to keep The NAMM Show a business-friendly environment, please make sure you adhere to our sound policies. • Product testing is meant to be in short duration and not at maximum sound level (85 dB max) • If testing products, please keep sound to a conversational level

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• Please remember that booth demos are intended to be very short • When sound level is in question, please refer to the exhibitor as booths in violation of the sound policy can be shut down • Attendee badges can be removed if exceeding the maximum sound level • Performances are not allowed in booths By adhering to these policies, we can all enjoy the show. Thank you!” Seriously. If those are the rules, then what are the sound police doing? They never shut down concerts or performances that gather large crowds. They shut down people examining products; doing business. If they really want a business-friendly environment, they might want to consider enforcing their rules better. Our business is helping you the reader sort through the huge onslaught of gear possibilities and separate the truly innovative from the copycat, the poser, and the fraud. As such, I was shopping speaker cabs for myself – in addition to looking at stuff for you readers. It occurred to me close to Show’s end that I knew about as much about my choices as I did before the Show started and was as undecided as I ever was. If I’m feeling like that – having way more access and experience than most of our readers – your task is damn-near impossible, without spending a fortune and burning cash left and right on mistaken choices. Note to me: Get better at giving readers more discerning information about what’s available and how things compare to each other on as detailed a level as possible. Maybe NAMM can consider ways to both reduce racket and yet give evaluators opportunities to really take a proper swing at products, in hopes to garner the best information for retailers and consumers. And they might want to shut down the relentless din of Bucket-o-Chicken. It’s just a flashy light, an attractive woman in very little clothing, an old rock band of has-beens signing autographs for people not actually doing any kind of business at all. Speaking of that, as I was whizzing down the main drag in Hall D – off to some appointment I was late for, because LA traffic is perennial inside the convention center, just like it is downtown – I noticed a table with four perfectly groomed, well-tattooed, aging rock-star-looking dudes with sharpies poised and ready to sign anything presented to them ... but there was no line, anywhere. Nobody gave a single shit. I simultaneously felt bad for those fellows and slightly smug, too. Nobody knows me, and I couldn’t care less – even though like most of us, in my youth, I wanted to be a rock star, too. But not everyone can be rock stars, and even those that are rocks stars eventually are left with nothing to sign, sitting silently in the relentless din of Bucket-o-Chicken.


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In The Doghouse The Four Seasons: Aging Gracefully as a Bassist Part II – Spring

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By Chris Fitzgerld

he original “Four Seasons” article focused on bass setup during different stages of a bassist’s life and career, and how the setup might be adjusted to be optimal for the stages of life all bassists inevitably go through. In this installment of the series, entitled “Spring,” I’d like to focus on issues that affect young bassists, or bassists just starting out on their journey with the double bass. When a young musician is first introduced to the double bass (hereafter referred to simply as a “bass”), it can be a very intimidating experience in many ways. The most obvious of these are how to manage the sheer size of the instrument and the amount of force that is required to play it, but there are many other variables in play. as well. Ultimately, the differences of the unique people and instruments involved make the number of variables almost effectively infinite, but for the sake of simplicity we’ll divide them into four basic categories: Physicality (including the size of the bass in relation to the player), Experience (including technique or lack of same, which makes all other variables all the more important to address), Strings, and Setup.

Physicality A standard ¾ bass with the endpin retracted measures about 76” from floor to scroll tip, with a string length of about 41.5”. While these measurements are general guidelines, they interact with the body of the player in somewhat predictable ways. The player will need to find a way to center their strength and leverage around the body of the bass while being able to reach both extremes of the string length. They will also need to decide whether to play standing or seated, how to balance the bass, and how high to raise the endpin in order to find the optimal position for the bass in relation to the body. The basic decisions regarding where the bass sits in relation to the body vary from player to player and teacher to teacher, but one common pedagogical landmark I have encountered frequently is to make sure that the nut not be too far above forehead level; when the nut is much above this level, it becomes difficult to reach up with the left hand to stop the strings in the lower positions. This is

balanced by the need for the right hand to be able to reach the other end of the string length, especially for players who use the bow and need to be able to play near the bridge. For this reason, it is important to consider the wingspan of the beginning player, both when choosing a suitable bass and in choosing a posture with the bass. Lately, I have begun measuring the wingspan of my students who are smaller in stature to help me get a feel for how much or little leeway that student may have when deciding on their posture with a standard sized instrument. My own wingspan is 74”, which means that I am fortunate that a lot of posture options are available to me. A recent student of smaller stature has a wingspan of only 60”, which means that she must be very careful not to waste any of that reach, or risk injury if she does. People of small stature and children would do well to take these issues under consideration when choosing an instrument. If a standard ¾ bass feels too big to handle, there are excellent smaller basses with shorter scale lengths available. While these smaller basses of quality are not as readily available as the standard sizes, I would advise any student not to try to play a bass that is too big for them, as the likelihood of eventual injury is not worth the risk.

Experience/Technique While it may seem strange to bring up experience in an article about beginning players, it is a variable that can’t be ignored. Experience includes the notion of acquired technique, and a player with a decent amount of technique can overcome a lot of other obstacles that might obstruct an absolute beginner, especially in terms of physical relation to the bass, strings, and setup. One of the most important aspects of bass technique is learning how to apply pressure to the strings in a relaxed way that uses the larger muscle groups rather than the smaller ones, as the smaller ones are more easily overtaxed and prone to injury. When we are in the first stages of our journey, we are often so anxious to pick up the bass and play that it is easy to overlook the physics of what we are doing as we stop, pluck, and bow the strings. I have played a number of instruments in my life (including


piano, guitar, French horn, clarinet, and electric bass guitar), and while each of these instruments has its own set of technical challenges, none requires the sheer amount of physical force as the bass requires simply to produce a workable sound. Players who are approaching the bass for the first time are well advised to find a teacher to help guide them along the first steps of their journey, especially one who can help them navigate the physical challenges of exerting force to the strings in a relaxed way that doesn’t overburden the bones, joints, tendons, and muscles along the way. Often, people who decide to begin playing the bass may not have access to a dedicated teacher in their area. In these cases, they may resort to online resources on bass technique, picking up tips here and there from players traveling through their area to perform, or in some cases they may simply decide to teach themselves by trial and error. In all of these latter cases, I would urge people in this situation to tread lightly and pay close attention to their bodies and not to ignore pain! Pain is a danger signal that something is wrong. If you should experience it, especially sharp pain, stop and examine what you are doing that caused it and try to find another way around whatever it was that caused the problem. If you can’t find the technical source of the problem, I would advise consulting an experienced teacher in any way you can. Hopefully, this person – whomever you are able to find – will be able to help you find a technical solution that will enable to you move forward safely. In general, my experience has been that pain comes from inefficient use of the mechanism, and from putting too much strain on a small and fragile link in the chain, and a good teacher should be able to help you identify the weak point.

Strings There are a lot of ways to approach this subject, but in general when in the early stages of learning the bass, when technique is only beginning to be developed, a “friendly” set of strings would be an extremely wise thing to consider. While it is an investment, finding a set of strings that has the basic sound the player is after, but that isn’t too high-tension and hard on the hands can make all the difference in the world in these early stages. Things to consider when choosing a string for the player’s intended use are dampened vs. undampened strings, and the tension rating of the strings. I’m a long-time user of Thomastik-Infeld strings, so I’ll make recommendations from their line, but most string manufacturers make strings designed for the same specific uses. Dampened strings: strings that are intended to be played with a bow are often made with dampening material around the core to reduce scratchiness and limit the amount of high frequency information the string produces. While a seasoned player may be able to sound good on just about any string, a beginner who is intending to do most of their playing with the bow would be wise to consider an orchestral string like the Thomastik

Bel Canto line. Strings of this kind are designed to start quickly under the bow and produce a dark, warm tone. Undampened Strings: Many jazz players and players who play primarily pizzicato tend to gravitate toward strings that are brighter and cut through a dense mix without the use of a bow. Fingerstyle players using this type of string will hear more upper harmonic information with each note and also get more sustain, which helps make it easier to intonate quickly. Strings designed for this kind of use, like Thomastik Spirocores, often come in “light” and “regular” gauges, with the former having less tension and thickness than the latter. Many beginners prefer to start on the lighter versions of these strings as they build their technique to the point where they can handle any string.

Setup The final piece of the puzzle is the setup of the bass. A properly set up bass that makes it easy to play is essential for all players, but especially important for beginners who have not yet developed a lot of technique. The two most important setup considerations I’ll mention here are string height and fingerboard dressing. String height: the height of the strings above the board is a large part of what makes a bass feel comfortable to play. If the strings are too high, it becomes difficult to press them down, which inhibits all aspects of left hand technique. If they are too low, it can cause buzzing against the fingerboard. The best way for the young player to find the sweet spot is to make sure their bass is well set up, including a bridge that has adjuster wheels built in. Teachers would also be well advised to take a few moments to show their students to use the adjusters to find the correct height for their playing style. Fingerboard Dressing: a well-dressed board makes a bass much easier to play, while a poorly dressed board can make playing a nightmare. The main variable in how a board is dressed relates to how much camber (scoop) is built into the board. A board that is too flat is prone to buzzing when the strings are played forcefully, and a board that has too much camber can caused the strings to be difficult to press down in the middle and upper registers. Every young student would do well to start early developing a relationship with a qualified luthier, and every teacher should foster and encourage this relationship. All of these basic variables interact with each other every time any bassist picks up a bass, but they have been addressed individually here in the hope of fleshing out some of the particular details of each. Hopefully, both teachers and beginning students alike will be able to find some areas of thought to explore in this way. Coming to terms with these issues can go a long way toward making the beginning of the bass journey a pleasant and comfortable one. Good luck, and enjoy the scenery!


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Philthy Thoughts

Modern vs Vintage. Old vs New I love how they feel, how they sound, how they sit in a mix. Some of that is habit; what I’m used to, and what my ear is used to. Those instruments were used in the vast majority of music on Ever wanted the brand-new shiny thing, only to buy it and lose a the radio from 1960 through the ‘80s, when I developed what I bunch of value walking out the door with it? Sure, you have the like in bass sound. They are comfortable and intimately familiar. bragging rights of the new thing, at least while it’s still the new I was born in the ‘60s, so that makes perfect sense. If you were thing. Then it becomes the old thing soon enough. New basses born in 1990, you may feel quite differently. are no exception. Very few new instruments maintain their value after first owner purchase; most decline. None of that makes them worth it.

By Phil Maneri

One other consideration with new instruments is that most factory made – and even some smaller hand-built instruments – are made from kiln-dried lumber that isn’t too far from being a tree before it becomes a working bass. As such, it’s prone to move around quite a bit in the first five years as it travels the long, slow road to a petrified rock. Sometimes its movements are benign, other times they are crippling, and on occasion require early serious intervention, like premature refrets, to straighten warps and twists.

New builders are making things now that are of higher quality and more precise construction than ever possible in the heyday of the Fender bass. Vintage considerations aside, one could argue that the old wood is the main thing that sets them apart from each other. No doubt, a 50-year old Fender is a lot further from a tree and closer to a petrified rock than just about anything made today. If that’s the case, then when these new instruments get several decades under their belt, I’d guess they will far out-perform those from the early Fender era.

As such, I rarely recommend people buy newer factory instruments, but rather let them age a bit and see how they move around. After 5-10 years, if the instrument is still straight and solid, it will most likely stay that way. If it’s not, you don’t have to suffer the extra loss of value of a compromised instrument.

As audio reproduction moved away from the Fender heyday forward in the current century, the lowest notes of a B string became easier and cheaper to accurately reproduce. Concurrently, synthesis became commonplace, and lower and lower notes were not only typical, they were expected. As such, the sound of the 5-string became more and more in demand. Newer instruments are constructed with this in mind and have way more strength and clarity in those lower registers than you can usually find in a vintage instrument (without modifications that seriously devalue them).

Instruments in the “small-batch handmade category selling over $5,000 range” rarely have wood settlement issues. Unless they are priced inappropriately, those instruments use selected small-batch lumber with controlled natural drying over time, and are constructed in a fashion mindful of potential future expansion and contraction that dissipate those issues that can affect lower-budget, mass-production instruments – where price point and manufacturing volume priorities makes being particular about wood a much greater challenge. Seriously old things are an entirely different conversation. PreCBS Fender basses (made before 1965) are coveted by a huge swath of players, even if they don’t have them. Their prices can be $10,000 or more, and are as high or higher than the top-tier of brand new, bespoke single-luthier made instruments. The irony is they were factory made instruments that were bolted together with way less regard than anything made in small shop builders, or most factory builders today. From a construction and materials standpoint, the idea that they are somehow “worth” the same is preposterous. It points out how the “value” of vintage instruments is not tied to function or quality of build, but rather the value ascribed to antiques, especially those prized by baby boomers. That’s not to say vintage instruments aren’t good; they are. I play mostly vintage instruments, myself – pre-CBS Precisions, specifically.

Last NAMM Show, I played a 6-string electric bass made by Gerald Marleaux that was one of the highest-caliber instruments I’ve ever played. Wood choices, fit, finish, and all the little details of construction are impossibly high. The electronics were designed and constructed specifically for this wood and the bass after the lion’s share of it was completed. This allowed for a perfect marriage of electronics and lumber. Everything flowed together, creating an instrument that played well everywhere on its huge range. No vintage Fender bass could ever reach that level of sophistication or utility. Now, I didn’t pay $12,000 for my Pre-CBS Precisions; nor would I. In today’s market, if I had to choose between my one-trick pony Pre-CBS Fender and that Marleaux six for similar prices, I’d get that Marleaux in a second. Would I trade my stock 1963 for that? Probably not. But that decision is more about resale value and future appreciation than utility. Interesting choices for an old guy. What would you choose?

Profile for Bass Gear Magazine

Bass Gear Magazine Issue #22  

Bass Gear Magazine highlights the Best of Show at Summer NAMM 2019 along with great gear reviews.

Bass Gear Magazine Issue #22  

Bass Gear Magazine highlights the Best of Show at Summer NAMM 2019 along with great gear reviews.