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Low frequencies really are the most fun frequencies of all.

 

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Hotwire/Warmoth Custom 5

Hotwire/Warmoth Custom 5

Year: 2006/2017

Made In: Germany/USA

Specs: Ash body, maple neck, maple fretboard

Electronics: 2 x Q-Tuner BL-5 pickups, ACG/East EQ-02 preamp

Controls: Volume and blend stack, bass filter stack, treble filter stack

The long and troubled history of this bass is best left elsewhere. However, having gone the custom route and been unhappy with the execution while still believing in the concept, I’m happy to say this bass is a triumph of persistence.

An ash-bodied 5-string Jazz bass with a maple neck is nothing new, but it is a known quantity and I wanted a secure vehicle for a pair of Q-Tuner pickups paired with a sophisticated electronics circuit. After much work and multiple times where cutting my losses seemed the easiest path, there’s a feeling of vindication now that the instrument itself is worthy of the electronics.

The Q-Tuners are an articulate and extremely powerful pickup with very detailed high-end. That’s not to say they’re short of low end, there is plenty in there too, just that there is more upper-frequency information in there than I’ve heard in any pickup. The closest pickup I can think of, in terms of sound, is the G&L MFD, but the MFD doesn’t have anything like the high-end of the Q-Tuner.  It requires serious reining in to approach anything like a vintage tone, but that’s not what I wanted from this bass.

Replacing the neck has been an eye-opening experience. I’m not one who subscribes to the concept of particular woods meaning particular tonal characteristics, certainly not in electric instruments where the pickup plays such a substantial role in the voice of an instrument. The impact of replacing a maple/maple neck with a different maple/maple neck has been enlightening, however. Where one neck was muted and stifling, the other sings and I must praise the quality of Warmoth for their quality, while acknowledging that it is possible for a piece of similar wood to simply not work.

This bass is a traditional looking but elegantly voiced 5-string with extensive tonal capabilities. It took a lot of work to reach this point, but I feel it was worth the journey, both in terms of lessons learned and the supremely playable end result. It’s a unique sounding instrument in a traditional shell, the one I set out to achieve all those years ago.

 

Jackson Kip Winger Professional

Jackson Kip Winger Professional

Year: 1991

Made In: Japan

Specs: Lacewood neck-though with lacewood wings, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: Reflex P & J active pickups

Controls: Volume, blend, tone

This is an interesting one, a Kip Winger signature model. Made in Japan, it’s rare even within the scope of the volume of Kip Winger basses made by Jackson during the short production run.

Based on the neck-through Futura XL model made by Jackson at that time, it has a lacewood neck and body wings where the XL had a maple neck and maple or lacewood body wings. The XL also featured an ebony fretboard whereas here I’m looking at a nice slab of rosewood. It’s a comfortable and compact shape which sits nicely on the body and the neck is tastefully slim front to back with a Precision width nut. It’s similar to my Charvel JP from the same year and sets up just as nicely. The knobs are tastefully recessed into the body and build quality is high throughout.

Information on these basses has proven hard to come by. There were a few different versions during the production run featuring a mix of Jackson and EMG pickups, others came with a Jackson bridge like this one while others had a large Kahler unit. This one deviates even more, however.

I’m speculating and open to correction – actually, if anyone does know, please get in touch – but I think this must be one of a small number of basses intended for the UK market. Why? Well, this one features Reflex pickups, active pickups made in the UK which featured on quite a few Jacksons and Charvels sold at this time. More significantly though, is that it features just three control knobs, where every other Kip Winger model I’ve been able to find has four, apart from a handful like this which all reside in the UK. Again, if anyone has any more information on this, I’d love to hear from you.

As with the Charvel JP, I’m not really sold on the Reflex pickups, though I am quite enamoured by the bass itself. They are very heavy on mids and, while I’m trying to give them some time, I can’t promise I won’t swap them out at some point in the future. The bass is a really nice player, very resonant unplugged, and I’m just not getting that coming out of the amp. I think it deserves pickups which will let the real character of this bass come through.

This bass, as with so many others, languished for sale at a very reasonable price for quite some time before I intervened. It’s clearly a fine looking instrument but it has genuine quality too. Maybe the pointed headstock puts people off these days but I’m of an age where I can recall when such features were desirable. Perhaps the association with Kip put people off but do the young people even know of his bare chested ways? Whatever the cause was, a fine, fine bass was left overlooked. This is a rare gem for sure and, with better pickups, could be a most worthy addition.

Yamaha BB1100S

Yamaha BB1100S

Year: 1985

Made In: Japan

Specs: Ash body, Maple neck, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: Yamaha alnico P+J pickups, Yamaha preamp

Controls: Volume, passive tone, active bass, mid & treble cut & boost, two way switch for active/passive circuit, three-way pickup selection switch

Yamaha BBs are basses I’ve been meaning to get into for a long, long time but the right opportunity at the right time had never really presented itself. I’ve admired the recent BB2024X model from afar but, aside from a few quick tryouts in the early 90’s, had never really gotten my hands on a good BB in any meaningful way. Fast forward to 2015 and a slightly battered BB1100S appeared on a local sale site which piqued my interest, but the unexplained mix of tuners meant I was never serious about making a bid and the ad disappeared after an extended period of little interest.

After a while, the same bass appeared from the same seller but with a new Schaller bridge and tuners but missing knobs and at a lower price. It sat there for around a year before curiosity got the better of me and I decided to pick it up.

What the seller had left out of the description and, disguised by the poor pictures, was that there had been a significant impact to the body, resulting in a not-inconsiderable crack around the controls and he then told me that the passive circuit no longer worked – also excluded from the ad text. Given the crack seemed to spring from the active/passive switch, I guessed that’s where the impact was and the switch was damaged as a result. If you’ve seen my Stingray, you’ll know I’m not overly precious about condition once the wood is in good shape and I had made too far a journey to go home empty handed without a really good reason. I spend a couple of minutes checking the integrity of the body and neck and, satisfied it was stable, completed the transaction. This is a picture taken post-repair which shows the crack.

The impact was enough to shear two of the switch lugs off at the root, which explains why the passive circuit didn’t work. Thankfully, the other switch and pots were ok after cleaning.

When buying any used instrument, I always factor in the prospect of having to undo however many years of neglect, stupidity or abuse into the price I’m prepared to pay. With this Yamaha, aside from replacing the damaged switch, a fret level and dress, a little work on the nut and a considerable clean were required to bring it up to scratch. I enjoy this work anyway (aside from the unpleasant chore of cleaning out some utterly disgusting bio-matter – how can people let their instruments get so filthy?) and I feel I get a better understanding of the instrument by stripping it down and rebuilding. It feels good to take an instrument in the condition this was in and restore it into something which sings and responds as a good bass should.

So, with all that in consideration, let’s move onto the bass itself. I can sum it up pretty quickly, actually. If you were to have just one bass for all occasions, a workhorse, then a BB1100S would be an ideal candidate. It set up really well with a low action. The neck offers no unpleasant surprises and it feels solid and reliable. If anything, it’s all unspectacular. It’s a bass which feels comfortable and familiar straight away. The active circuit is smooth and flexible, without being mind-blowing. The passive circuit offers a slightly rawer sound, a bit more grit from the polish of the active. The pickups sound as good as you’d hope for. Actually, I must single out the bridge pickup for praise, it’s one of the most usable bridge pickups I’ve encountered, it sounds great soloed and combines well with the P.

The Schaller bridge and tuners are as good as you’d expect. How much they differ from the stock bridge and tuners I’ll never know. In the end, what I’ve got here is a bass which I would have total and utter confidence in for any circumstance. It’s not the most glamorous or dynamic bass out there, but I don’t believe it was ever intended to be. For the price these generally sell for, they are a bargain. It does everything well in a an unspectacular way and I like that. I like that a lot. Now, to find a BB2024X.

Marceau Standard Basse

Marceau Standard Basse

Year: 2007

Made In: France

Specs: Ash body, maple neck, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: Marceau J single coils

Controls: Volume, volume, tone

Things have been quiet in these parts, so I’m quite pleased to add the first new addition of the year. I’ve just acquired this one having never heard of this brand previously. It’s a defretted Marceau Standard Basse, No. 2. First impressions are very good. It’s well built, sounds quite lovely, balances and plays very well. The hardware is by Hipshot, CTS and Switchcraft. A little bit of investigation into Marceau instruments and I had no worries about making the purchase.

I was attracted to it by the pickup positions, the neck pickup is 35mm closer to the bridge than a standard Jazz type, with the bridge pickup also 10mm closer to the bridge than standard, and the body is an elegant take on the J shape. It was originally fretted but no has maple inserts nicely in the fret slots, done by Tom Marcaeu himself last year. The nut with a zero fret meant the action was quite high at that end, so I’ve done a little work bringing that down more to my liking and the action is now low along the fretboard with tasteful levels of mwah. I will spend a little bit more time on the zero fret and get it just right, but that will be about as much work as it needs.

As I get to play it more I will update this entry.

Ibanez SR800LE

Ibanez SR800LE

Year: 1989

Made In: Japan

Specs: Basswood body, three-piece maple neck, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: Ibanez Lo-Z P+J pickups, YE262 EQBII preamp

Controls: Volume, blend, bass cut & boost, treble cut & boost,

The SR1300 didn’t really work out for me. I’ve long been a fan of the SR series but the one I always wanted was the SR800LE. This probably goes back to the late 80’s when they were wielded by the likes of Roger Patterson and Tony Choy on some of my all-time favourite albums. I do like the basic 2-band EQ too, though, and there’s just a purity to the design of the SR800 which appeals to me.

Having lusted after one for years, I finally encountered one in good enough condition and made the deal, this one coming from the Fujigen plant in 1989, the year I started playing bass. It’s a different beast to later SRs but, for me at least, it’s closer to what I want than what the SR range has developed into. I do like the new ones but this is the one I was always after.

The biggest difference is the neck. It’s a meatier neck than the too-skinny wenge neck on the mid-90’s SR1300 I had. It’s thin, for sure, but it’s much more rounded. There’s more wood under hand which works for me. I couldn’t really get on with the 1300 neck, proving just too thin for my hands. It’s the kind of neck which doesn’t cause fatigue in your hands. It’s quick and balances well.

I much prefer the red logo’d Lo-Z pickups to the AFRs which came afterwards. Again, it might be because of the sound of the Lo-Z pickups on some of my favourite albums, but this is the sound I like. In fact, it’s not too far away from a Warwick, tonally. There’s a lot of modern growl in there but it’s easily tamed by the simple onboard EQ.

While the outline of the body shape is the same, the contouring is vastly different to latter day models. There’s a pronounced forearm contour and the body is more of a slab than the refined and continually rounded bodies Ibanez make now. It’s very lightweight though, combined with Gotoh tuners and the robust Omni-Adjust bridge, is sturdy enough for any occasion.

It’s hard to believe this is a 26 year old bass. In some ways, the ideas employed on this bass are still far ahead of what other manufacturers are doing in 2015. Then again, this 26 year old design is the one which speaks to me moreso than their contemporary offerings. This is the SR I’ve been after all that time.