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.

 

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Warwick Streamer LX Jazzman

Warwick Streamer LX Jazzman

Year: 2009/2004

Made In: Germany

Specs: Ash body with maple top, three-piece ovangkol neck, wenge fingerboard

Electronics: MEC MM & J pickups, MEC 3-band preamp

Controls: Volume with push/pull for active and passive circuit, Pickup blend, Bass cut and boost,  Mid cut and boost, Treble cut and boost, three-way switch for MM parallel/single coil/series

The other half of a tale of two Warwicks. This started life as an fretless Jazzman with an ebony fingerboard but I swapped necks with a fretted LX, which is covered in greater detail elsewhere. The regular P & J setup of the LX sounds great fretless and the Jazzman is a hugely powerful and versatile system fretted. Everyone’s a winner, baby, that’s the truth.

While it covers a lot of the same ground as the Stingray and Godlyke, it sounds very different from both. The MEC MM pickup is brash and aggressive in ways the EBMM or Bartolini in those basses just aren’t. Coupled with the three way switch, the MM pickup alone is more than enough for any task. Factor in the meaty sound of the J pickup and then the three-band EQ and you’ve got a really dynamic bass which still has that Warwick growl underpinning every tweak of the controls. There are so many usable and distinctive tones, it can almost be too much. It doesn’t have a signature sound, it has loads it does really well instead.

As ever, with Warwick, it’s a very comfortable bass to play. The 2004 neck is from their era of huge D shapes and it certainly does feel quite huge the first time you play it. I find it to be a very comfortable neck, however. The narrow Jazz sized nut combined with the sheer bulk of the depth of the neck is actually very easy on the hands. The fretboard is almost flat. Again, this is a big departure from old Fenders but the kind of thing you adjust to quickly and instinctively. The Streamer body shape sits well on a six pack or the beeriest of bellies, again featuring an arched back back common to the model.

If you were to have just one bass for every occasion, this one would have to be close to the top of the list.

Warwick Streamer LX

Warwick Streamer LX

Year: 2004/2009

Made In: Germany

Specs: Maple body, three-piece ovangkol neck, ebony fingerboard

Electronics: MEC P & J pickups, MEC 2-band preamp

Controls: Volume with push/pull for active and passive circuit, Pickup blend, Bass cut and boost, Treble cut and boost

A tale of two Warwicks. The Streamer is, in my mind, one of the great basses. It’s a wonderfully balanced and comfortable design with a lovely, aggressive tone which cuts through the thickest mix. I’m very much a fan.

This fretless is a mix of two basses. Originally, the body was a black and with a fretted neck, made in 2004. It was my first Warwick. It had seen a fair bit of action and needed a bit of TLC but it converted me to its wondrous German ways.

A few years later, I picked up the Streamer Stage 1 covered elsewhere and the two were tonally different, but close enough still to cover a lot of the same ground. A few years later again, I was fortunate enough to pick up a fretless Streamer Jazzman LX made in 2009.

There were some problems with the finish on the black body, so I decided to have it refinished in white and, when it returned, struck upon the idea of swapping the necks. It worked well, I preferred the sound of the P&J with the fretless neck and the Jazzman offered a range of new fretted Warwick tones I hadn’t had before. I think I’ll leave them like this for the foreseeable future.

The neck was originally unlined, but had been lined by the time I got it. This sometimes comes in handy when the standard of my fretless chops have slipped, even if it does feel a little like cheating. I think the classic Warwick growl works really well in the fretless context, even moreso than the classic Jazz tone we all know and love.

Hotwire Custom 5

Hotwire Custom 5

Year: 2006

Made In: Germany

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

My first and, thus far, only custom build has had a few changes made since it initally arrived at my door. I like the Jazz design a lot and wanted a five string with a setup which just wasn’t available anywhere else at the time. It still isn’t, come to think of it. I bought a pair of Q-Tuner pickups and a Noll TCM3 preamp, so electronically, it was a fairly advanced setup within the traditional J shell. To be honest, it was a bit of a disappointment when it arrived.

There were a few build and finish problems and the Q-Tuners weren’t really working with the Noll either. Doing some fret work helped, as did installing a string tree on the headstock. The low B was still a bit weak and replacing the Badass bridge with a heavy ABM unit improved that somewhat. I decided to replace the Noll and installed an ACG/John East filter system which really opened up the tone nicely. I was still having intonation and tuning problems and eventually figured out the nut was a couple of mm closer to the first fret than it should have been. It was a very disappointing discovery, given the money it cost.

Fundamentally, I believed there was a really good bass in there, so eventually I had the ebony fretboard replaced with a maple board with a smaller radius and fretted with small, vintage sized frets. It made a huge difference, both in terms of intonation and the fundamental tone of the bass. The Q-Tuners are really powerful pickups, combining balls and clarity and the filters offer almost limitless tonal shaping. Despit the traditional appearance, it’s a long way away from V-V-T.

I think there’s still some room for improvement, but it’s a lot closer now to the bass I hoped it would be ten years ago when I placed the order.

Warwick Streamer Stage 1

Warwick Streamer Stage 1

Year: 1991

Made In: Germany

Specs: Maple body wings, five-piece maple and wenge through-neck, wenge fretboard

Electronics: MEC P & J pickups, MEC 2-band preamp

Controls: Volume with push/pull for active and passive circuit, Pickup blend, Bass cut and boost, Treble cut and boost

I first played a Streamer in around 1992 or 93, back when the price was so out of reach for me that it may as well have been for a trip to the moon. Based on a Ned Steinberger design, an early 90’s model had long been high on my wanted list but they’re not easy to come by. When one became available in Limerick I was in a position to move in. This one had seen a lot of action, but the price was right so the deal was done.

While it was clear it was extensively used, I wasn’t quite prepared for quite how much work would be involved in returning this one to its former glory. An extensive cleaning was required to remove over twenty years worth of crud and, after waxing, it looked stunning.

Structurally, however, a lot more work was required. The frets had been filed in a way I’ve never seen anywhere else, almost like a Ken Smith nut, where what wasn’t directly under a string had been filed almost level with the fretboard. A full refret was done as a result. The aluminium truss rod had stripped too, seemingly a common problem with early 90’s Warwicks. Luckily, it’s easy to remove the truss rod from instruments from this era, and I replaced it with a sturdy iron rod Warwick now offer. The output jack needed to be swapped out too, which was a simple job, and the rest of the electronics were in good shape.

Once all the work was done, the quality of this bass was immediately clear. Warwicks have a tone seemingly unavailable in anything else, a fantastic growl which really cuts through. The arched body makes for a very comfortable instrument to play. There’s a lot to like in a Streamer and I get the same satisfaction playing this one now as I did that one in the shop over twenty years ago.