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In This Issue | MSI, Joe Barden, DR, AccuGroove, Fodera, Ashdown : Product Impressions

This month…

Exciting basses from Dan Maloney at MSI, brand-new strings from DR, and the long-awaited Jazz Bass pickups from Joe Barden.  Also reviewed are the Mark King Signature Bass Head from Ashdown, the Tri 15-L Cabinet from AccuGroove, and the Fodera NYC 5.

Maloney Stringed Instruments (MSI) Tribal Bass 

It’s no surprise that Dan Maloney makes a fine bass: he was head luthier/designer at Zeta for sixteen years. Over the years, some of his more noteworthy instruments/clients included an electric upright and banjo bass for Les Claypool; a violin for Jean Luc Ponty; and guitars for Kirk Hammett. Now, he has returned to his roots as a builder of custom guitars and basses. The Top Shelf got to try out Maloney Stringed Instrument’s Tribal Bass. The bass has a characteristic look and feel, and the quality of craftsmanship is readily evident in the details.

The long upper horn makes for great balance on a strap, and its more-massive-than-usual size contributes to a strong bottom end. Coupled with a stock 35-inch-scale, the bass produces a commanding voice. Dan has also devised a highly helpful, “guitarchitecturally” satisfying solution to jack placement. Instead of a front- or edge-mounted jack—which often puts the cable in an awkward position and strains the output jack and cable end—MSI basses have a back-mounted output jack inside a graceful scoop.

The cable stays out of the way when players are sitting and reduces the tension on the jack and cable end. The Tribal series has an East Coast-meets-West Coast vibe, combining a striking modern shape with distinctive woody warmth. The bass we reviewed, which had an EMG load and maple-over-alder construction, got more than one player thinking, Victor Wooten. MSI is a flexible custom shop. Wood and finish options abound; frets can number twenty-four (stock) or thirty-six; and pickup/preamp combinations are available from EMG and Bartolini (stock) or from any company the customer chooses. The fit and finish of the MSI Tribal Bass are world-class and the design details are very well executed and harmonious.

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Joe Barden’s New J-Style Bass Pickup

One of the best things about owning a bass with a truly archetypal design like a Fender Jazz-style instrument is the wide range of available pickup options that allow you to dial in your personal tone. The recently released J-Style pickups from Joe Barden offer wonderfully distinctive new voice. Like their famous Barden guitar pickup cousins, the bass pickups are humcancelling and feature twin blades rather than polepieces. I installed the Bardens in the house J bass (maple/alder with an ebony board) for testing, playing them first passively and then through a variety of onboard preamps. These pickups are very even and natural-sounding throughout their entire range, and they transition well from string to string. They manage to be tight and focused at the bottom without sounding lean. The mid-range is clear and punchy, and the top end is less jagged than a standard single coil. The overall impression is one of quickness and solidity. Their output is not significantly hotter than a stock or vintage load, so players who are used to a passive circuit should feel comfortable with these quiet, precise pickups. They are also a great platform for preamping, because they are very quiet and can be sculpted heavily while retaining their core tone. The J-Style set sits very well in a mix, without being harsh or hyped. Players who have been yearning for Joe Barden bass pickup for a long time will not be disappointed with this great addition to the Barden line.

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DR’s Two New Strings for Bass: Hi-Beam Flats; and Jonas Helborg Signature Series

Jonas Hellborg and DR wanted to create a string with a very strong fundamental while retaining a pure top end. They developed a new construction method using a single pure nickel outer wrap over a round core. The result is so on target that the strings are likely to become their own series, instead of remaining a “signature” model. The larger outer wrap looks stranger than it feels, and most players appreciated the additional grip. The notes seem to leap off the fingerboard, and the bottom end is so extraordinarily tight and solid that chords can be played in a much lower range than normal. The slap tone also benefits from the additional fundamental, adding more low-end support in a mix. We have a new king of the “piano-bass” string. Also new from DR are the Hi-Beam Flat Wounds. Flat-wound strings are coming back into favor, attracting two distinct groups of players. One camp comes with an upright bass background and likes very high-tension strings, such as the La Bella Jamerson set. The second group, players who started on or who play primarily electric bass, like a flexible string like the Thomastik-Infeld Jazz Flats, which offer the traditional tone but are low-enough tension to be played with existing techniques. The new DR Hi-Beam Flats split the difference very well. They are stiffer than the TI but nowhere near as demanding as the La Bellas. They are made with a flat stainless wire wound on a round core with hand-applied gold silk ends. These strings combine old-school tone with a feel that srikes a good balance between the old favorites. Their physicality and clarity make them a flat for all seasons.

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AccuGroove Tri 15-L Bass Cabinet

It is a great time to be a bass player! The Tri 15-L is a wonder. This cabinet is a three-way enclosure capable of stand-alone function—plus it weighs less than fifty pounds. The speaker complement is a fifteen inch low-frequency driver, a six-inch mid driver, and a pair of high frequency drivers. Each is in its own optimized box within the cabinet structure. This allows each to function at its best, and allows for natural tones throughout a very wide frequency range. The Tri 15-L is an 8 Ohm cabinet, which would function quite well by itself in many situations. Or, it could be combined with a second Tri 15-L or Tri 12-L to create a 4 Ohm stack capable of almost anything. This recent offering from AccuGroove is a top-quality all-around box. Hi-fi enough to please modern ears, the Tri 15-L’s fifteen-inch low driver and six inch speaker, not horn, handling the mids can happily go more old school than many boutique cabs.

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Fodera NYC 5 Bass

We all lust after a bass made by hand from the finest woods, electronics, and custom options. Most of us can’t afford the $4,000+ price tag or the typical one-to two-year wait for such an instrument. Fodera has a solution to this problem: the NYC line. Unlike a number of other makers of high-end basses who have off-shore versions of their popular models or who license their designs to be built under other brand names, Fodera builds the NYC series in the same New York shop as the rest of their line. These basses are made with the same grade of wood and hardware, and a Mike Pope preamp. By reducing the design complexity (currently, only 5-strings are available) and making the NYC basses in batches, Fodera has been able to reduce both cost and wait time. The main changes from the higher end Foderas are a bolt-on neck; and a simpler body construction with a single-figured wood top over a non-laminated back. The bass we tested at the Top Shelf had a lovely maple top with a clear pickguard and J-style pickups. The fit, finish, and playability were top-notch. This is a classic, well-rounded bass. It sounds warm and traditional in the passive mode and has modern zing and extra-deep lows with the preamp engaged. This could easily be a first-call bass for a pro player and represents an amazing value for a US-made bass from such a prestigious shop.

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Ashdown Mark King Signature Bass Amplifier

Given Mark King’s trademark rapid-fire slapping and extremely articulate finger-style lines, it comes as no surprise that this amp excels at quickness, cut, and clarity. This great-looking amp is very simple to work with; it occupies two rack spaces and doesn’t add much weight to your rig. Its tight, uncolored power section makes it easy to get the sound of your bass to come through. The amp is equipped with a graphic equalizer optimized for bass and a harmonic emphasis feature that, when engaged, increases presence and impact. The Mark King Signature Bass Amp is a top choice for extreme slappers and tappers, or rock players doing battle with distorted guitars. Because of its simplicity and sturdy construction, it is also a strong candidate for anyone needing a powerful bass head for club gigs.

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Fodera Victor Wooten Monarch Classic Bass

As a bonus, I thought it would be fun, given the Victor Wooten lead story, to give readers a snapshot of this famous bass. The Wooten recipe is actually quite simple: a 4-string Monarch bass with a set neck, rather than neck-through or bolt-on; a mahogany back with a maple top; EMG P/J pickup load; and the Mike Pope preamp. The set neck combines the stability and sleek heel of a neck-through with the explosive punch of a bolt-on. Over the years, I have sold and worked on many of these consistently excellent basses. They tend to be midweight, balanced instruments with very pleasing acoustic properties. The combination of the woody yet hi-fi EMG pickups with the lush and versatile Mike Pope preamp makes these basses suitable for almost any application. Sorry, everyone; the magic is not hidden in the bass (as nice as they are) but in Wooten’s hands and commitment to his music.

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Coming next issue: Glockenklang on-board preamps, basses by Alleva-Coppola and more great gear.

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