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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Hamer Centaura

Hamer Centaura

Year: 1990

Made In: USA

Specs: Alder body, one-piece maple neck, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: Seymour Duncan SH4 Humbucker & SSL1 single coil, DiMarzio Fast Track humbucking pickup

Controls: Volume, Tone, 5-way pickup selctor switch, “thick” switch

I definitely have a thing for superstrats. Presented with the opportunity of picking up this Centaura from the golden age of superstrats, I sacrificed a nice USA Fender Strat without blinking an eye. A reversed headstock, Floyd bridge and stock JB humbucker tick all the right boxes for me.

Hamer are somewhat of an overlooked brand both now and when the company actually existed. My first experience of one was when the guitarist in my band in the early 90’s had a really nice Chaparral he picked up second hand. They weren’t the kind of guitar you’d see in the shops over here. I have always kept an eye out since for a good deal on one.

This guitar needed a bit of work, for sure. The guy selling it was a little liberal with the details but there was nothing I couldn’t sort out quickly.  I levelled and dressed the frets and replaced the two bridge posts, bringing this guitar back to the standard it should be at. What a standard it is, too. It’s a large radius fretboard mated to a slim but rounded neck which is very, very comfortable. It feels quite traditional but is deceptively thin. It’s only when you play a more standard neck that you realise how thin it actually is. Initially, the return to pitch wasn’t good but, after replacing the two worn bridge posts, the German Schaller made Floyd Rose bridge is solid as a rock.

You can’t go wrong with a JB, so there are no worries on the tone front. The guitar would have had a pair of SSL1 single coils as stock but the neck pickup was replaced with a DiMarzio Fast Track at some point. This is a fine pickup in its own right, so no concerns there either. There are no clever wiring tricks with the pickup switch, both humbuckers remain in serial mode when individually selected and when combined with the middle single coil. Each position has a unique sound to it and all a very usable.

This guitar also features a “thick” switch, a little mini-toggle which engages a treble bleed circuit which is a nice feature, meaning you can get a fatter tone without changing pickup.

The slightly smaller body is light and comfortable with the output jack on the rear end and strap button moved slightly up from centre to accommodate. The blue colour of paint changes depending on the amount of natural light. It brightens up, much like in the pictures, in daylight and turns almost navy blue under artificial light. There’s a metallic gold layer of paint under the top blue coat and, somehow, they both interact in this unusual way.

All in all this is a very nicely put together guitar, compact in size but rich in quality and versatility. It is a great neck shape, rivalling the feel and comfort of Charvel but with a much more accessible truss rod. I think we’ll be spending a lot of time together in the future.

Peavey Rudy Sarzo Bass

Peavey Rudy Sarzo Bass

Year: 1989

Made In: USA

Specs: Ash body, maple & purpleheart neck-through, ebony fretboard

Electronics: Peavey Wide-Aperture humbucking pickup, passive electronics

Controls: Volume, blend, bass, mid & treble cut & boost, active/passive selection switch

As someone who started on an Aria Pro II and forged an eternal affinity with the brand as a result, I remember having a sense of outrage when the Peavey Sarzo first showed up in ads in guitar magazines at the tale end of the 80’s. Sarzo had been a long time SB player and it’s quite obvious where a lot of the inspiration for this model came from. Indeed, the neck-through design, ash body wings and cat’s eye inlays are drawn straight from the SB template. Thankfully, Peavey did a good job with the electronics too and this is a high quality bass with an identity of its own, albeit slightly hidden underneath the Aria skin.

These have to be filed under “Criminally Underrated“, based on the current market price for what is now an over 25 year old model. Top of the Peavey line at the time, the Sarzo is a very well built instrument with no shortcuts taken. The hardware is made by Schaller, the tuners, in particular, are superb. Upper fret access is as good as I’ve ever played on any bass and the neck has a very comfortable D shape which is somewhat flatter at the back than usual. The sculpted headstock is a nice touch and an indication of the level of attention which went into this bass. It’s not light, but it’s not the heaviest out there either. In terms of playability, the only gripe I’d have is the lack of a forearm contour, but that’s just me.

Plugged in, the tone is meaty with a real “active” sound to it. I’ve read the ceramic wide-aperture pickups were modelled on Alembic but, to my ears, there’s a real taste of MM in there and it’s worth remembering Sarzo played a Sabre for a long time. The three-band EQ isn’t the most powerful I’ve encountered, but the fundamental sound of the bass is good enough to not warrant any drastic changes. It doesn’t want for low end, that’s for sure. When switched to the passive circuit, the active treble control becomes a passive tone, which is a nice touch. Personally, I would favour the active circuit but it’s nice to know passive is there if required.

In the grand scheme of things, the Sarzo is a well made and very usable bass which looks grand and graceful but can do work in the trenches. For the money, these are hard to beat.

G&L L1000

G&L L1000

Year: 1980

Made In: USA

Specs: Mahogany body, maple neck & fretboard

Electronics: G&L MFD humbucking pickup, passive electronics

Controls: Volume, bass cut, treble cut, three way coil selection switch

G&L seem to be a brand which have largely gone under the radar until recently. The Tribute series is finally making people aware of the great instruments this company makes. It’s interesting to compare their earliest offerings with what Fender were putting out at the same time. In my mind, at least, what G&L were doing puts the big F to shame and, given the ongoing popularity of instruments made in their weakest era, makes you wonder what’s in the mind of those who pick a CBS era mongrel over something like this thoroughbred. It’s from about mid-way through the first year of production but G&L hallmarks like the heavy saddle-lock bridge and MFD were in place from the start.

Clearly an evolution of the Precision, the L1000 is the passive single pickup brother of the mighty L2000. It’s a very different beast with an identity of its own. Powered by a fire-breathing MFD humbucker, the controls are cut only, such is the output. It’s a clever design, featuring volume, bass and treble controls in an entirely passive circuit.

The three way switch offers an impressive variety of tonal options, going from humbucker to single (bridge coil) to what’s known as OMG mode, which runs both coils but with the high-end removed from the neck coil, resulting in a huge low-end sound suitable for generating earthquakes. It’s really a clever bit of engineering. The humbucker sounds like a cross between a Stingray and a Rickenbacker neck pickup.

The neck is surprisingly thin, I haven’t played anything like it from that era. It’s not quite Ibanez SR thin, but it’s a long way from the chunk you expect in a Precision influenced design. It’s really comfortable though. The whole thing feels familiar while, at the same time, offering a huge amount more than you really think it could. It’s a Precision but just a great deal smarter.

These are criminally underrated basses. Given the choice between one of these and a Precision I would pick the L1000 every time. Really, this is probably the greatest passive bass I’ve ever played.

Rickenbacker 4003

Rickenbacker 4003

Year: 1992

Made In: USA

Specs: Maple body, maple neck-through, pau-ferro fretboard

Electronics: Rickenbacker single coil pickup x 2

Controls: Volume x2, Tone x 2, three-way switch

From the moment I started playing bass in the late 80’s, I always wanted to get a Rickenbacker. The iconic shape, the distinctive tone, they were really a bass to aspire to own. They were the kind of bass that you weren’t allowed touch in the few shops which stocked them, the price tag being not too dissimilar to that of a small car.

With the arrival of internet commerce in the 90’s, the prospect of owning one started to become a little more realistic and, after a lengthy period of saving, I took the plunge, buying a second-hand 4003 Fireglo model from a seller based in the USA.

It was everything I hoped it would be, devilishly nice to look at and with a ferocious, punchy tone. As time was to prove, the 4003 had a substantially more aggressive growl to it than any of the 4001 basses I’ve encountered over the years. It took some time before I arrived at a setup I was truly happy with, though. No matter how much I loosened the treble side truss rod, there was always a bit of back bow on that side of the neck, but I wasn’t a big problem.

I used it quite extensively for a few years, the best comment about it coming from a chap at a gig who told me “I couldn’t see or hear your band, but I could feel your bass“. Depending on the band I would switch between using a plectrum and finger playing. With the plec, it was fine, but the lack of a forearm contour really caused me problems when I used my fingers. The wretched treble pickup surround also made life harder than it ought to have been. For how I play fingerstyle, the pickup cover was utterly useless, it being in exactly the place the best tone and tension is found along the string.

I did love the sound out of it dearly but, after one more gig where I came away with a painful forearm bruise for a few days due to the sharp binding, I did what I thought at one point would be absolutely unthinkable and eased it on out the door.

I still really miss that tone, though.

Gibson Flying V

Gibson Flying V

Year: 1990

Made In: USA

Specs: Mahogany body, mahogany neck, rosewood fretboard

Electronics: Seymour Duncan JB & 59 pickups

Controls: Volume x 2, tone & 3-way switch

Lured by the presence of the Kahler vibrato, I brought this one in from the US. This was actually my first V. It needed some work, it was in pretty poor shape when it arrived. I ended up replacing the stock pickups and mutilated wiring and, after a fret level and dress, this was a pretty good player and sounded rather nice indeed. It was a lot better guitar than the next Gibson V I would have years later. Despite this, the band I was in at the time I was tuning lower and lower and I needed something longer than the 24.75″ scale so I eased it on out the door to release some funds.

Ernie Ball Musicman Stingray

Ernie Ball Musicman Stingray

Year: 1996

Made In: USA

Specs: Ash body, maple neck & fretboard

Electronics: EBMM humbucking pickup, 2-band EQ

Controls: Volume, Bass boost, Treble cut & boost

If instruments could talk I would get a cup of tea, pull up a chair and listen intently to what this one had to say.

When I sold the black Stingray, I never thought I would own another. The 2-band EQ one intrigued me though, perhaps as a result of listening to too many Chic records, but it seemed like the more basic EQ had more about it than just one less knob. This one was for sale at a really great price for quite a while. The damage, it seemed, had made the tyre kickers come out in force to have a look, suck in some air and furrow their brows but none of them made an offer. I kept my eye on it and eventually swooped in for a look. What harm could it do?

I met the guy and he told me how he hadn’t played for a few years. I got the feeling he had gotten himself into a situation which perhaps forced this sale, but I didn’t wish to intrude. I did ask about the great big chunks of missing finish. Seemingly he had gotten into another situation he shouldn’t have with his ex and she took it out on the bass. Aside from a couple of great whacks, she had scratched “Thank You!” into the back of it. I suspect she may have been sarcastic about that one. I made extra sure the neck wasn’t screwed after hearing the story. I didn’t (and still don’t) like the body colour anyway and was thinking of stripping it and refinishing, so the paint damage didn’t bother me. Structurally, it all seemed ok and the damage to the body wasn’t too severe so a deal was done.

Not only was the neck ok, but it’s actually fantastic. It sets up really well and the action is very, very low without a hint of buzz. It’s still straight as an arrow and, given the bass has been used as a hammer, testament to the build quality of the good folks in San Luis Obispo.

The 2-band EQ is indeed a different beast to the 3-band. It’s definitely a lower output. The 2-band EQ is not just boost only, as many believe. The bass is boost, but the treble both boosts and cuts. To my ears is sounds smoother and warmer than the 3-band. They both sound like a Stingray but they’re definitely voiced differently. Unlike the 3-band, it gives me something the Godlyke can’t do and, as a result, has stayed a few years now. It’s a great bass to play, sounds lovely and the neck really is special.

I still don’t like the red but, every time I see the damage and think of the stories this bass could tell, it puts a smile on my face so I’ll hold off on any refinish for the time being.