AF’s Weblog

February 7, 2012

Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass & Telecaster Bass Review

When I went to pick up these beauties at AudioFanzine’s editorial office, I asked myself how many Jazz and Precision basses I had already reviewed in my life as an editor. From Standard to Deluxe, Vintage, Special and Classic versions, from US to Mexican and Japanese, not to mention the Korean Series and Squier — Fender’s offer is very wide and almost confusing.

I actually decided to count them for you (and a little bit for me too) and here is the result: Fender’s catalog includes not less than 50 JB and PB versions (without taking the different finishes available for each model into account), but only two Jaguar and one single Mustang basses. Imagine going to a car dealer to buy a new car and having to choose from four dozen variations of the same car, a tricycle and a golf cart! Fender’s fidelity to its bass guitar classics is obvious. However, this review does reveal something new: first of all, although both basses feature the Fender label, their country of origin is China. Moreover, they don’t use their standard pickup combinations, which certainly is a very important point considering that both instruments got their name from their respective pickup sets. So let’s put our hands on this new Chinese girls!

A Bit of History…

In former reviews dedicated to Fender (60th Anniversary and American Specials series), I told you about Leo Fender’s story.

Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass

Let’s pick up from where we left off: we were in 1951, a very important year for us since it saw the consolidation of the Precision Bass as a successful instrument in the bass guitar market. Leo Fender had already understood that the success of an electric instrument relied on amplification, so he launched a bass combo in 1952 that was able to withstand the signal of the Precision Bass. This 35-watt amp was called Bassman. The success was almost immediate, especially among jazz musicians (Lionel Hampton’s orchestra was the first to include this instrument). In the meantime, pop and rock musicians would still prefer rockabilly-style double bass for several years. It’s interesting to mention that guitar players also loved the Bassman, mainly for its high output power.

And when it came to six-string guitar, Leo would listen to the needs of musicians for more sound versatility (the bright Telecaster sound isn’t for everyone) and improved ergonomics (the angular Telecaster body is not the most comfortable), and was about to present a new legend in 1954: theStratocaster. For this project, he worked with Freddy Tavares and Bill Carson starting in 1953. The shape of the Stratocaster was based on the ’53 Precision Bass whose roundness was in turn inspired by the design concept used by theautomobile industry in the 1950’s. The top of the body included a new bevel edge for the right arm, three pickups and a tremolo bar to compete with the Bigsby system introduced in 1952.

Fender Modern Player Precision Bass

Right away, the Stratocaster became a standard and still remains the most copied electric guitar to date. In 1957 came the turn for the Precision Bass to take the Stratocaster as a model: its shape was improved and the single coil replaced by the famous split-coil pickup still used today. In 1960, that is to say nine years after the launch of its first bass guitar, the manufacturer presented its last legendary instrument, the Deluxe Model which would be quickly renamed Jazz Bass. The neck is thinner at the nut than the Precision Bass, the shape of its body is inspired by the Jaguar and Jazzmaster developed a bit earlier. But it was mainly the pickup combination that made the personality of the Jazz Bass stand out: a pair of parallel single-coils using two coils for each string. The sound was tighter than that of the Precision, because the main asset in those days was to avoid damaging the low-quality speakers of bass amps. This particular sound would become later a real signature thanks to great musicians like Jaco Pastorius and, of course, Larry Graham. By the way, while doing my research for this review, I found a classified ad that could be of interest for rich fans of Jaco. After all, even bass players can win the lottery!

China is The Place To Be

Until now, Chinese manufacturing was limited to Fender’s main sub-brand Squier. With the Modern Player series, and following the success of the recent Squier Vintage Modified series, the “Made in China” label enters Fender’s catalog. A new production line is born — a new challenge for the brand, because Chinese manufacturing of musical instruments isn’t well received by demanding musicians. And to fight this prejudice, Fender will have to be convincing…

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Personally, I find these new Fender bass guitars under $600 really appealing, especially the blonde one. If I had the money, I would buy and upgrade it with a pair of Darkstar pickups and a Badass bridge, just for fun. That’s the reason why I assert that Chinese people are beautiful (easy for me to say since part of my family comes from Guandong) and that they always make everything better! And this is proven by the intrinsic value of the two bass guitars we reviewed today! The value for money is amazing and you get more than only standard features. In short, a fresh concept showing respect for tradition.

Advantages: 
  • Finish
  • Original and powerful pickup sets
  • Neck playability
  • We like new things
Drawbacks:
  • Gig bag = Cardboard box. Every time a bass guitar is sold in a cardboard box, a fairy disappears…
  • Slight level difference between both Telecaster pickups

To read the full detailed article see:  Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass & Telecaster Bass Review

August 16, 2011

Fender 60th Anniversary Precision Bass Limited Edition Review

Filed under: Bass — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 4:23 pm

We don’t turn 60 everyday, and we don’t always have the opportunity to celebrate the advent of our species to this planet: the “Homo Sapiens Bassistus-Electricus.” Although Leo Fender was not the inventor of the electric bass, he found out how to make a great success out of the forgotten concept developed by Audiovox 14 years earlier. And this allowed our favorite instrument to conquer the international music scene to end up in your hands — you lucky, spoiled kids who have been pampered for 60 years.

Forgotten Fatherhood

 

bass fiddle model 736

Yes, the bass guitar was born in 1937 — not 1951 — from the hands of the man who had already conceived the fist electromagnetic pickup for a musical instrument (launched in 1932 and originally used to amplify zithers, pianos and Spanish guitars). A forgotten genius, a good Samaritan took pity on double-bass players who always had to travel alone because of their bulky instrument: in those days, once the double-bass was in the car there was no space left except for the driver. The poor bass player had to drive by himself and “enjoy the road” alone, unlike the other members of the band who generally traveled together in the same vehicle. The name of the great inventor was Paul Tutmarc and even though he was more than one decade ahead of his competitors in the electric-music market, his business was a failure. He could never apply for a patent for his electromagnetic pickup at the end of the 30’s because Bell had been controlling the exploitation of induction since 1875, when Alexander Graham Bell applied for his telephone patent. And the instruments Paul Tutmarc developed were only locally successful (his company was based in Seattle) and quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, he developed the first electric double-bass: the 1933 Bass Fiddle in cello format; and its little sister, the Bass Fiddle “Model 736″ (1936), which had a more compact size (about 1 meter long) and was the first bass to be held horizontally.

As a consequence, Leo Fender was the inventor neither of the electric bass nor the electric guitar. The first amplified guitar is officially attributed to Georges Beauchamp in 1931, just before he founded the Ro-Pat-In Corporation with Adolph Rickenbacker. Called “Electro Spanish Guitar,” the instrument had a hollow body and featured a piezoelectric system.

 

Les Paul The Log

The first solid body guitar was “The Log,” a prototype designed in 1940 by Les Paul that was never marketed.  So, give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s!

However, this doesn’t reduce the genius of the man from Fullerton who understood better than no one how to convert technological innovations developed by others into successful businesses — thus paving the way for electric music genres.

 

Leo Fender literally created the electric guitar market and was the first entrepreneur to venture a mass production strategy in a very small industry. His success is well deserved considering that he succeeded where most of his predecessors failed. Without the success of the 1950 Broadcaster guitar (quickly renamed “Nocaster” and later “Telecaster”), Gibson’s bigwigs would have never recalled Les Paul who gave his name to the first solid-body guitar of the manufacturer (1952). The same thing applies to bass guitar: without the success of the Precision Bass, launched in 1951, Gibson would not have developed the EB-1 (1952) and Rickenbacker its Model 4000 (their first bass guitar) whose design was motivated by the success of the ’57 Precision Bass.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

As a summary, my personal opinion about the timbre of this lady is that it sounds like an excellent Precision Bass. I hope the simplicity of my judgment will be understood among fans of this classic: you can run to your dealer and try it out. Players who don’t especially like Leo Fender’s standard or who prefer a Jazz Bass, won’t be converted to a new religion. But give it a try anyway, trying it out is free! Personally, I had a lot of fun playing this bass, which will nevertheless make you a bit nostalgic: how many technological improvements in 60 years! Intelligently upgraded old recipes will always succeed. With the same philosophy in mind, Fender also offers a 50th Anniversary Jazz Bass that makes me curious. The price of this lovely Precision Bass is somewhere between 1,350 and 1,500 euros with the case, a strap and all accessories you need to adjust the instrument. I wish a beautiful summer to all readers!

Advantages: 

  • Original finish
  • Simple and effective
  • Overall weight and ergonomics
  • Good value for money
  • Sold with case
  • Isolation of the electronics and dual pickup
Drawbacks:
  • Lack of some accessories I really like
  • Lefties are punished…
To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender 60th Anniversary Precision Bass

March 7, 2011

Schecter Diamond P Custom IV Review

Filed under: Bass — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 12:21 pm

Following the Schecter Ultra Bass review published last summer, here we have a brand new product from the Asian manufacturer.

Coming directly from South Korea (read the history of the brand in the previous review), the Diamond P custom IV is a variation of the Precision Bass concept based on two dual-coil pickups. After some bizarre experiments, the manufacturer adds a standard bass guitar to its product catalog.

Classic Piece

Schecter Diamond P Custom IV

Many manufacturers add products inspired by Leo Fender to their product portfolio. You can find lots of Jazz Bass and Precision Bass copies on the market right now. I won’t discuss that, because every market segment has its own classic pieces. For example, nobody would blame violin manufacturers for flagrantly counterfeiting Giovan Giacobo della Corna’s or Zanetto Micheli’s work. The same applies to the bass guitar market. Geniuses are as influent in art as they are in the industry. The thing that interests people like me — musicians who love their creative tool — is the reinterpretation of classic instruments, considering that all manufacturers try to give a personal touch to the “standard” bass guitars, either in the body shape or the pickups, thus trying to differentiate it from the original masterpiece. Why? Because genius can be reinterpreted. More or less successfully.

Schecter Diamond P Custom IV

So, what about this Diamond P, which is, as its name suggests, a variation of the Precision Bass? Our first impression is that the manufacturer doesn’t really invent anything but rather mixes everything. And we don’t mean that in a negative way — a good synthesis is better than a bad invention! But it’s important to say things as they are: the Diamond P takes the neck and the body of a standard Precision Bass. The pickups combination is the same as on the former Precision Deluxe US (equipped with a dual JazzBass pickup originally conceived for Roscoe Beck’s Signature bass). It is precisely the presence of this kind of humbucker that made me want to review this four-string bass guitar. That’s because the Precision Bass I’ve been playing for 11 years has the same humbucker. I like this pickup for its consistency and its powerful sound when I play finger picking style. So I’m curious to see how another manufacturer makes use of this pickup configuration (dual Precision plus dual Jazz Bass), especially on a low priced instrument.

Fender went half way with the Mexican Big Block which had a Precision humbucker in the middle position. But it lacked its counterpart on the bridge. Enter Diamond P with humbuckers in center and bridge positions.

Schecter Diamond P Custom IV

The bolt-on neck (four screws) has almost the same dimensions as the original: 42 mm @ nut, 57 mm @ 12th fret and 34″ scale. The fingerboard has the same length and width as the original, a modern C-profile and one more fret (21 frets) than the American Standard Precision Bass. Featuring an Indian rosewood fingerboard, the neck is easy to play but not quite that comfortable for small hands. The white nut is made out of plastic… nothing to brag about. Quite the contrary.

 

Although the instrument is new, I noticed some white marks around the G string, which goes to show that the nut material is too soft. A first drawback indeed. The solid Grover Vintage tuners are reassuring — they are the standard machine heads for this kind of instrument.

The alder body has a black glossy finish. It is also available in white (Vintage White) and blue metallic (Dark Metalic Blue). It’s true that black is beautiful, but watch out for finger marks, especially if you’ve had a greasy meal! A black pickguard is screwed onto the body. The bridge allows the user to choose two different stringings: either the traditional “top load” or the more modern thru-body. This way, you can emphasize either attack or sustain depending on your taste and needs. The massive bridge has an irreproachable manufacturing quality and seems to be better than the bridge on the original American Fender bass guitars. The strings on the instrument are medium D’Addario, probably a 45-105 set.

The passive electronics for the two pickups offer two volume controls and one tone control. The latter is a push-pull pot that allows you to split the bridge pickup. The instrument uses Schecter pickups: one dual Precision and one dual JazzBass with ceramic magnets. The overall finish of the instrument is good.

For the review I connected the bass guitar directly into my Novation audio interface. I apologize for my rather poor playing: I twisted my wrist during Christmas holidays. (I might have had too much booze…)

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Talking money, you can get this Schecter for $499 in stores. The price is adequate for a passive bass guitar with bolt-on neck and two dual-coil pickups made in Korea (products coming from Incheon offer a good manufacturing quality) and sold in a cardboard box. This Schecter can be very interesting for a wide range of bass players.

Advantages:

  • Well-balanced instrument either in standing or sitting position
  • JazzBass humbucker
  • Good manufacturing quality
  • String-thru massive bridge
  • Five-string version available
  • Available for lefties
  • Push-pull pot for pickup splitting
  • Versatile and effective sound range
  • Output power

Drawbacks:

  • Pickups set too high
  • Nut too soft
  • Lacks some personality
  • Sold in a cardboard box

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Schecter Diamond P Custom 4 Review

February 7, 2011

SWR HeadLite Amplifier Head & Amplite Amplifier Review

On today’s menu, to get rid of the cold and warm up, we have a light but nourishing pair of SWR class-D heads (an amp/preamp combo and a power amplifier).

This would be a dream come true on any restaurant’s menu. And since French gastronomy (Yes, I is Vrench!) is now part of the UNESCO world cultural heritage, I would like to talk about food. But what do 7 lbs of potatoes and a 800-watt amplifier system have in common? First of all, the weight! And also the fact that both fit inside the vegetable compartment of a small fridge. Class-D amplifiers are more common nowadays. Most manufacturers have developed their own models, and now SWR serves us a new interpretation.

Small is Sweet…

SWR HeadLite and AmpLite

And it even fits in my gig bag’s pocket. The main advantages of a switching amplifier are its extremely compact size and very light weight, despite a high output power. Just imagine riding to the recording studio with 400 watts on your bike. And if that’s not enough, imagine the same with 800 watts! Plus a tube preamp, semi-parametric EQ, compressor and enhancer. The whole universe of SWR has been miniaturized an fitted into a very convenient and compact housing.

Headlite: 1.8″ x 8.5″ x 9.8″ for 3.7 lb. / Amplite: 1.8″ x 8.5″ x 9.8″ for 3 lb. Incredible! But before testing these products, let me make a brief summary of the brand as well as of class-D technology.

Garage Brand

In the beginning of the 80’s, clean sound was trendy. It had to be less raw and more sophisticated than the past decade. All radio stations played New Wave synth music, Michael Jackson was the King of pop and soul music changed disco for funk. An engineer at Accoustic Control Corporation, the brand of choice of Larry Graham, Jaco Pastorius and John Paul Jones (to name just a few!), decided to radically change the bass amplification market based on the fact that many famous studio musicians wanted more sound clarity and neutrality.

SWR HeadLite and AmpLite

Steeve W. Rabe started his small revolution in a garage where he, together with some associates, tried out many preamp/EQ/amp combinations until he satisfied the pro bass players in Los Angeles. A handful of them tested the prototypes during different recording sessions.

This long and arduous work would lead to the brand’s first amplifier head in 1984. Called PB-200 (which became later the famous SM-400), this amp head already offered all the features that made the young company a success: a tube preamp, a stereo amp, a semi-parametric EQ, a DI out (a groundbreaking feature for a bass amplifier), an aural exciter, and a compressor.

Following the success of their amp heads in recording studios, SWR started to manufacture speaker cabinets to set a foot in the live amplification market. The first Golliath speaker cabinet was introduced in 1986 and combined four 10″ speakers (a new concept introduced by Trace Elliot) with a tweeter. The success was immediate in the professional amplification market.

In 1997, Steeve W Rabe sold his company to form Raven Labs. The new owners would sell the brand again to FMIC (Fender Musical Instrument Corporation) in 2003. Today, the products of the brand are manufactured mainly in Corona and Ensenada, California, together with other Fender products.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Marcus’ Favorite Tool

I had to return the products just before the trade show in Paris (France) so that Marcus Miller could use them for demos. I’m moved by the fact that I could use the same gear as Michel and Marcus (yes, since we all use the same amp, we call ourselves by our first names): it is almost as if I had intruded into the privacy of these two bass guitar gods…

It’s true, I’m boasting a bit but this conclusion is mine and I want it to be brilliant and positive. SWR offers an affordable class-D system considering its quality. It requires a bit of adaptation to manage all possibilities and to get on with the lack of visual scales around the controls, but I’ll bet you anything that they will add them to future versions. To be seriously considered — for fun or business.

Advantages:

  • Size
  • Weight
  • Sound shaping possibilities
  • Connections
  • Output power
  • Sold with bag (not included with the products reviewed)

Drawbacks:

  • No scale around the controls
  • Only one speaker out on the HeadLite

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  SWR Headlite Amp

September 7, 2010

Ibanez BTB 700DX Review

Filed under: Bass — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:56 am

The BTB (Boutique Bass acronym) represents one of the nine IBANEZ bass families. It was conceived to provide features of a boutique instrument at an affordable price for the masses. Now, if I can only decide on the red or black finish..

Ibanez BTB 700DX

Need I present Ibanez?

That was a rhetorical question. I have never talked about Ibanez on this site, hence, I will briefly summarize the brand’s history for the curious ones amongst you.

The HOSHINO SHOTEN company was founded six years after the first World War, in the land of samurai soldiers. In those days, the company sold scores and music paper (“Shoten” means bookstore in Japanese). During the following years, the founder and his successor (Matsujiro and Yoshitaro HOSHINO, respectively) gradually changed the activity of the company to importing musical instruments. In 1929, the company HOSHINO GAKKI (which means musical instrument) was created for this purpose. They imported Spanish guitars by SALVADOR IBAÑEZ (which is the name of the craftman who created the workshop, as well as the first double-neck guitar). Some time later, a civil war devastated the land of castanets. The workshop of Salvador’s two sons was destroyed and some members of the staff were killed during violent clashes in the streets of Valencia. Due to this tragedy, the Japanese importer lost its main supplier so they bought the brand to manufacture the products in Japan (in the city of Nagoya). In 1962, Junpei (Yoshitaro’s son) took over the family business and inaugurated a new production facility called Tama Seisakusho Factory. The company manufactured guitars and drums until 1966. From this year on, the company subcontracted most guitar manufacturing and concentrated on drums (under the brand STAR, which later became TAMA).

At the beginning, IBANEZ was exclusively influenced by European instruments, from traditional Spanish guitars to EKO and HAGSTRÖM replicas. Later, the brand followed the trend of American instruments and started manufacturing GIBSON and FENDER replicas. The business flourished until the end of the 70’s when the manufacturer had to face a trial initiated by a parent company of GIBSON. But this setback was positive because it forced the manufacturer to produce its first own instruments (called “modern”): thus the Iceman and Roadstar electric guitars and basses were born. Encouraged by this success, IBANEZ started developing original designs and new concepts (slim neck-through body, two-octave fingerboards, active electronics) to become the reference brand we know today.

Slapper’s Small Shop

The new BTB (Boutique Bass acronym) looks like its grandparent while offering different electronics. Neither Japanese nor Korean, the bass is made in Indonesia, the land of Orangutans and Java.

I have always liked Ibanez necks. In my humble opinion, they are the main reason for the success of the Japanese company. So I’ll start with this component, which I’ll compare with the neck of an SR model (one of the manufacturer’s classic products).

Ibanez BTB 700DX

The first thing worth mentioning is that all necks of the BTB series are neck-through. You’ll either love it or hate it, it’s all a matter of taste! The basis of the concept is sustain, so the neck is made out of five (three maple and two bubinga) plies. The BTB neck has slightly increased dimensions, compared to the SR:

* The scale is 35″ long (instead of 34″)

* The fingerboard is wider at the nut (41 mm instead of 38 mm)

* The neck is wider at the last fret (64 mm instead of 60 mm)

On the contrary, the thickness of the neck has been slightly reduced; the back of the neck is a bit less round than that on a Soundgear (a half millimeter at the first and the 12th frets) — it’s not much but you can feel it. The instrument has 24 frets, which makes two octaves. The neck/body junction is somewhat original: the last fret is cut so that only the G and D strings are over the fingerboard. It looks nice but, honestly, I don’t understand the usefulness of it! A lot of effort has been invested in suppressing two notes (A and E) out of four, that could actually be useful.

Ibanez BTB 700DX

If this feature is for aesthetical reasons, the choice might prove ungrateful. However, considering its place on the neck, it won’t disturb many musicians except for a few solo bass players. In summary, you get a slightly wider and slimmer neck. You have more space to move your fingers without hindering the movement of your left hand. The wide cutaways allow an easy access to the upper frets. The slightly longer scale poses no problems and my left hand feels very comfortable on this neck.

The headstock design matches the body and the fingerboard design at the last fret. The headstock hosts Gotoh-type tuners (I emphasizes the word “type”) which are quite basic sealed lubricated machine heads. To be honest, I personally find they don’t quite reach the level of a “boutique” bass guitar. On the contrary, the bridge provides four independent saddles to make you feel confident. The ash body feels very comfortable. Its shape supports the right arm really well and it gives the instrument a light weight considering it has a neck-through body design. The fret work is not exceptional but it’s alright. The bass is provided with an Elixir string set, like most Ibanez instruments.

Now let’s take a look at the electronics…

A Place to Call His Own…

Compared with its direct competitors, this bass guitar ranks in the higher end of the market. It features a neck-through body, a semi-parametric EQ and a good pair of pickups for about $1,000. The BTB is a nice-looking and affordable active bass. Now it’s your turn to test it!

Advantages:

  • Neck-through body
  • Original EMG pickups
  • Ergonomic body and pleasant neck
  • Integrated electronics
  • Available as five-string version

Drawbacks:

  • Tuners
  • Battery compartment and cover
  • Not available for lefties
  • No gig bag included

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Ibanez BTB 700DX Review

August 17, 2010

Schecter Ultra Bass Review

Filed under: Bass — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:59 pm

I was very curious when I started this review. In spite of all the years in the guitar world, I have to admit that I had never had the opportunity to test an instrument by this manufacturer. This company’s story reads like an American fairy tale…

In 1976, David Schecter gave his name to his newly founded company: Schecter Guitar Research. In those early days, the company was a workshop that provided everything to build a guitar (body, neck, pickups, bridges, etc.); it was dedicated exclusively to spare parts.

At the time, the manufacturer supplied two of the most important electric instrument manufacturers (can you guess who theses giants were?) and only ventured in the instrument manufacturing industry in 1979. The workshop became a “custom shop” that produced high-class instruments inspired mainly by Fender concepts. Within four years, the manufacturer became very successful and was bought by Texas investors. The custom shop then moved and started production in series of instruments still largely inspired by Leo (you could say they were Fender copies).

The company came back to its roots in 1987, when it was bought by Hisatake Shibuya, owner of ESP. He moved all manufacturing back to California and transformed it into a custom shop distributing prestigious guitars.

In 1996 and thanks to its new manager, Michael Ciravolo, who wanted to stress the corporate identity of the company, the brand finally drops its obsession with Fender designs.

He also expanded production to Asia (in Incheon, a province of South Korea) where he subcontracted the production of an instrument series conceived for the masses.

In Incheon is also the main factory of a well-known manufacturer called CORT, whose makings can be found in the catalogs of numerous brands out there…

Now, let me introduce the instrument we want to test today: the SCHECTER ULTRA is a bass guitar with a hybrid and original look. It is made in Korea and equipped with standard passive electronics.

Don’t Forget Your Roots

Schecter Ultra Bass

The design of this bass guitar is a mix of a Telecaster and a Gibson Thunderbird. The Thunderbird heritage is present in the headstock and the bottom part of the body, while the top of the body (the part close to the neck) reminds the famous Fender guitar.

The shape of the body lets you rest your right arm on it, which gives the instrument a very personal touch somewhere between rock, vintage and psychedelic.

The neck-through body includes three maple plies and two walnut plies. The neck is 34″ long (22 frets), 38 mm width at the nut and 62 mm width at the last fret. The fingerboard is made out of a dark purplish rosewood (probably Indian rosewood).

Handling and playing comfort remind a Jazz Bass, except for the back of the neck that has a glossy varnish.

Our test instrument has a two-color sunburst finish from headstock to body. The headstock is inspired by the Thunderbird with a center part raised 2 mm above the rest. It looks nice and well manufactured!

Schecter Ultra BassThe three parts of the body are made out of mahogany and the two-piece bridge includes a tune-o-matic and a tailpiece. The nut is made by Black Tusk (synthetic ivory) and the sealed, lubricated tuners are Grover (and look a bit too cheap).

The electronics includes a pair of passive EMG HZ humbuckers, two volume and one tone control. Nothing prestigious, the American brand’s HZ Pickup Series is made in Korea.

When it comes to finish, the instrument I hold in my hands is irreproachable.

The two-color paint and the varnish look very clean. There are no knots to be seen in the wood, the fret work is very clean and the body shape is perfect.

The overall weight is ok which is surprising considering the size of the body and that it is neck-through.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Price

Let’s end this review taking a look at the price tag: about $1,400. It’s a bit painful, for a bass guitar made in South Korea!

But there are also top Korean instruments by similar brands: Fender, Lakland, Tom Laulhardt, TUNE… The question is: is the Schecter Ultra worth its price?

Good finish, nice sound, neck-through body, original look (although inspired by two other brands), and a perfectly adjusted instrument. So far, so good! But for about $1,400, we expected more from a standard instrument made in a country where manpower is inexpensive: better pickups than these EMG licensed models, better machine heads or at least a flight case or a gig bag…

Instead of the wonderful cardboard box this not-so-cheap Schecter comes in! Yes, that’s not a joke and it makes the price seems even higher. This is my personal opinion and not a negative judgment. I am confident this bass will be of interest to lots of musicians all over the world, regardless of its price.

Advantages:

  • Neck
  • Finish
  • Look
  • Effective overall sound

Disadvantages:

  • Cheap pickups
  • Tuners
  • Sold in a cardboard box

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Schecter Ultra Bass Review

February 17, 2010

Spectrasonics Trilogy is Dead: Long Live Trilian!

Spectrasonics Trilian Software Review

Spectrasonics has been living a love story with bass guitars for sixteen years. A long time before Omnisphere, Stylus and the famous Distorted Reality, one of the first products developed by Eric Persing and his team was Bass Legends – a sample bank CD dedicated to three of the most renown bass players on earth: Marcus Miller, John Patitucci and Abraham Laboriel.

When it comes to virtual bass, the manufacturer struck a decisive blow in 2002 with Trilogy. Based on the UVI Engine from Ultimate Sound Bank (the same audio engine used on Plugsound and MOTU’s MachFive) and an enormous sample bank (for those days: 3 GB), Trilogy quickly became the market’s reference in its category. The reasons for its success were the careful and accurate sampling and the huge sound it provided – Spectrasonics’ hallmark – but, above all, a versatility competitors couldn’t keep up with. Modern, vintage, acoustic, electric, or synth bass sounds combined with finger, pick and slap playing techniques: it had just about everything, including a wonderful double bass. There were people who preferred the sound character of the Quantum Leap Hardcore Bass (vintage to distorted sharp sounds adequate for rock, industrial and big beat music) or Scarbee’s detailed and plastic bass sound, yet there was no choice but to accept that no competitor could offer such versatility/quality ratio as Trilogy did. However useful to program convincing bass parts (thanks to the True Staccato programs that provide hold notes for the four lowest octaves and staccato notes for the four higher octaves in the same patch), Trilogy wasn’t perfect: some criticized its lack of character while others didn’t like the “oversized” sound of the instruments, which was stunning for solo parts but too big for a full mix…

When compared to the latest Scarbee or Pettinhouse products, it’s obvious that Trilogy cannot conceal its age, from a technical point of view. That’s why we are very happy to welcome Trilian.

Big Mama

Spectrasonics Trilian

The good news is Trilian’s sound bank includes more than 21,000 samples, which is about ten times as much as its predecessor. Apart form all the samples included in Trilogy, which guarantee full compatibility with your previous projects, you also get a plethora of new instruments for a total of 1,290 patches! It has every possible electric bass, from Fender to Music Man, Yamaha, Epiphone, Lakland, and Fodera; the synth bass category increased to 333 sounds taken from the best synthesizers of the last 50 years: Novation Bass Station, Yamaha CS-80, Cwejman Modular, Moog Minimoog, Little Phatty, Voyager & Taurus, Korg MS-20, Oberheim, ARP 2600, Roland Juno 60/106, Waldorf Pulse, DSI Mopho & Tetra, Roland TB-303, SH-101, Metasonix KV-100 Assblaster, SE-1, Omega, ATC-1, etc. And that’s it? Not quite! Spectrasonics also added a Chapman stick plus all instruments included in its good old Bass Legends, as well as – we kept the best for last – two new double basses that got special attention from the manufacturer with up to twelve velocity layers, 6x round robin and an absolutely jaw-dropping sound.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Based on our previous experience with Omnisphere and Trilogy, Trilian is indeed the killer tool we were expecting. Besides the absolutely perfect sample material and its huge editing and processing possibilities, Trilian’s main assets are its amazing versatility and affordable price. True, Native instruments offers Scarbee basses for €89 each providing the same quality as Spectrasonics. But you only get one bass model recorded either via a DI box or an amp. With Trilian you get numerous bass models recorded via a DI box and an amp, a comprehensive bass synth library, a Chapman stick, a double bass, a fretless bass, etc. This software has no direct competitor on the market. Period.

The fact that Trilian works perfectly with Stylus RMX and Omnisphere makes it a must-have for certain musicians. As a former Trilogy user – and lover – I can honestly say that the quality of both programs cannot be compared (Trilogy is eight years older…).

The only con Trilian has are its very high system requirements. You can always lower the quality of the patches or use the the freeze function of your host sequencer if your system is not powerful enough, but it’s still a bit perplexing to see a bass take up so much system resources…

Nonetheless, Mr Persing and his team stroke a decisive blow once again and it will be very difficult to try to compete with them considering the price of the product…

Advantages:

  • Very comprehensive bass library
  • DI box and amp sound
  • All articulations that were missing in Trilogy to create authentic bass parts (hammers, slides, etc.)
  • Round Robin function
  • Overall sound quality
  • Editing and processing possibilities
  • Integration in Omnisphere and Stylus
  • Wonderful double bass
  • Chapman stick – a rarity
  • Affordable price

Disadvantages:

  • Too complex for people looking for a simple bass sound
  • (Too) high system requirements
  • HTML user’s manual without any information on how to program the software

To read the full detailed article see: Trilian Review

January 19, 2010

[NAMM 2010] Fender 50th Anniversary Jazz Bass

Watch this and other videos/news from NAMM 2010 here.

January 18, 2010

[NAMM 2010] Vigier Excess 5 String Bass

Filed under: Bass, NAMM 2010 — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:17 am

Watch this and other videos/news from NAMM 2010 here.

October 23, 2009

Schecter Stiletto Extreme 4: More than bass

Filed under: Bass — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 5:07 pm

Schecter Stiletto Extreme 4 review

Schecter Stiletto Extreme 4

Before manufacturing its own electric and bass guitars, Schecter made spare parts for other renowned guitar manufacturers. Those times are long gone and now Schecter makes high-quality original models at affordable prices. Today, we will test a bass guitar called the Stiletto Extreme 4…Quickly looking at Schecter’s catalog, you’ll notice that the brand offers a pretty wide range of instruments including modern-looking models, as well as more classic lines that recall the shape of some Fenders and Rickenbackers. Nevertheless, the latter are no cheap copies: they have their own specifications and do distinguish themselves from the original models. There is certainly something for everyone and almost every model has a 4 or 5-string version.

Among all these models, there’s a bass guitar series called Stiletto which combines a light body and a comfortable neck. This series includes five different models: Studio, Elite, Extreme, Deluxe, and Custom. We received the Extreme 4 (4-string version) in Black Cherry finish.

We unwrapped it as soon as we got it…


Conclusion

This bass guitar made in China is a nice surprise when it comes to finish and manufacturing quality. The body with its Black Cherry translucent finish looks wonderful. The instrument is well balanced and the neck feels very comfortable. The Extreme 4 is impeccable until you plug it into an amp. Its sound is not amazing, it’s just the kind of sound you can expect for the price. Both pickups provide a high output level but they sound too similar and somewhat dull. The balance control doesn’t provide enough sound variations and you’ll have to resort to the more effective EQ to shape the sound.  In short: it’s a nice small bass guitar which deserves better pickups.

Advantages:

  • Manufacturing quality
  • Good finish
  • Beautiful translucent Black Cherry color
  • Effective EQ
  • Ergonomically shaped body
  • Comfortable neck

Drawbacks:

  • Both pickups sound too similar

To read the full detailed article see:  Schecter Stiletto Extreme 4 Review

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