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Gear Reviews

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

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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.

For more information, visit online at www.maloneystringedinstruments.com

 

 

 

 

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.

For more information, visit online at www.joebarden.com

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.

For more information, visit online at www.drstrings.com

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.

For more information, visit online at www.accugroove.com

 

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.

For more information, visit online at www.fodera.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

For more information, visit www.ashdownmusic.com

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.

For more information, visit online at www.fodera.com


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


Gear Reviews

Review: Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp

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Review: Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp

Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp: A Tribute to 90’s Iconic Sounds

Disclaimer: This pedal was kindly provided by Joyo for the purpose of this review. However, this does not influence our opinion or the content of our review. We strive to provide honest, unbiased, and accurate assessments to ensure that our readers receive truthful and helpful information.

In the realm of bass preamp/DI pedals, capturing the essence of iconic tones from the 90s can often feel like an elusive pursuit. However, the Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp emerges as a great option for bass players seeking to replicate the signature sounds of that era, particularly the revered tech21 SansAmp. With its robust feature set and compact design, the Tidal Wave offers a faithful homage to classic rock tones and low-gain distortions, all while providing modern conveniences for today’s bassist. Let’s delve into why the Joyo Tidal Wave stands out as a versatile and budget-friendly tool for both stage and studio.

Specs:

Measuring at 130 * 110 * 50 mm and weighing 442g, the Joyo Tidal Wave strikes a balance between portability and durability, making it ideal for gigging musicians and studio enthusiasts alike. With a power consumption of just 100 mA and a working voltage of DC 9V, the Tidal Wave ensures reliable performance in a variety of settings.

Controls:

At the heart of the Tidal Wave’s versatility lies its comprehensive control set, allowing bass players to sculpt their tone with precision. Key features include:

– Level: Sets the overall output volume of the pedal.

– Blend: Blends the dry signal with the cab-emulated signal, offering seamless integration of the pedal into any setup.

– Presence: Controls the dynamics of the high upper-mids, crucial for shaping drive tones.

– Drive: Introduces low-gain distortions and classic rock sounds into the clean tone.

– Treble, Middle, and Bass: Provides a 3-band EQ with frequency selectors for bass (40Hz – 80Hz) and mids (500Hz – 1KHz), offering ample control over tonal shaping.

– Middle Shift and Bass Shift: Allows for further fine-tuning of midrange and bass frequencies.

– Ground Lift: Helps eliminate ground loop noise in certain setups.

– DI Attenuation Switch: Adjusts the level of the DI output signal.

– LED Light Switch Control: Allows users to customize the ambient lighting of the pedal.

Performance:

True to its inspiration, the Joyo Tidal Wave excels in delivering classic rock tones and low-gain distortions reminiscent of the tech21 SansAmp. Whether you’re seeking gritty overdriven sounds or pristine clean tones, the Tidal Wave offers unparalleled flexibility and sonic versatility. The inclusion of a headphone out, XLR DI out with cab simulation, and throughout for the original bass sound make the Tidal Wave a versatile tool for both stage and studio applications. From practicing silently with headphones to crafting quality recordings in an ampless setup, the Tidal Wave delivers on all fronts with clarity, definition, and unmistakable character.

Pros:

The Tidal Wave boasts an array of advantages that set it apart from its direct competitors:

– Headphone Out: Transforms the pedal into a convenient practice tool.

– Size and Weight: Compact and lightweight design for easy transportation and setup.

– Rugged Construction: Durable build quality ensures longevity and reliability.

– DI and CabSim: Offers professional-grade direct recording capabilities with authentic cab simulation.

– Familiar Tones: Faithfully replicates the classic rock sounds of the tech21 SansAmp.

Cons:

While the Tidal Wave excels in many aspects, it does have a few drawbacks:

– Plastic Knobs: Knobs may feel less premium compared to pedals with metal controls.

– Cab Simulation Only on XLR Output: Limited cab simulation functionality may require additional routing for certain setups.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of classic rock tones from the 90s. With its faithful homage to the tech21 SansAmp, comprehensive control set, and modern conveniences like headphone out and XLR DI with cab simulation, the Tidal Wave offers bassists a versatile  tool for sculpting their sound with precision and finesse. Whether you’re seeking to replicate iconic tones from the past or forge new sonic territories, the Joyo Tidal Wave Preamp is sure to inspire creativity and elevate your playing to new heights.

Available online at Amazon.com

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Gear Reviews

Review: Joyo Scylla Compressor

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Review: Joyo Scylla Compressor

Joyo Scylla Compressor: When Quality meets Budget-Friendly

Disclaimer: This pedal was kindly provided by Joyo for the purpose of this review. However, this does not influence our opinion or the content of our review. We strive to provide honest, unbiased, and accurate assessments to ensure that our readers receive truthful and helpful information.

In the diverse landscape of effects pedals for bass guitar, finding a compressor that strikes the balance between performance, versatility, and affordability can often feel like a daunting task. 

However, amidst the sea of options, one pedal stood out as a true diamond in the rough – the Joyo Scylla compressor. Despite its wallet-friendly price tag, the Scylla boasts a great array of features and controls typically reserved for pedals with much higher costs. Let’s take a closer look at why the Joyo Scylla is turning heads and earning praise among bassists on a budget.

Specs: The Joyo Scylla compressor measures in at 109 * 72 * 48 mm and weighs a mere 234g, making it both compact and lightweight – perfect for gigs or studio sessions where space is at a premium. With a power consumption of just 100 mA and a working voltage of DC 9V, the Scylla is efficient and versatile, compatible with a wide range of pedalboard setups.

Controls: What sets the Scylla apart from its direct competitors is its comprehensive control set, offering bassists a good amount of flexibility in shaping their sound. With six knobs, the Scylla allows for a very precise adjustment of key parameters:

  • Input Gain: Adjusts the amount of signal being fed into the compressor.
  • Output Volume: Controls the makeup gain after compression, ensuring consistent output levels.
  • Compression Ratio: Unlike traditional compressor pedals with preset ratio options, the Scylla features a continuous knob, allowing for seamless adjustment from subtle compression to limiter-like effects.
  • Attack and Release: Determine how quickly the compression engages and releases, offering a range of tonal possibilities from punchy and aggressive to smooth and subtle.
  • Output Tone Control: A unique feature not commonly found in compressor pedals, the tone knob adjusts the coloration of the compressed signal, adding warmth or brightness to your bass tone.
  • LED Light Switch Control: Allows users to customize the ambient lighting of the pedal, adding a touch of visual flair to their setup.
  • Performance: In practice, the Joyo Scylla delivers where it matters most – in sound quality and performance. Whether you’re aiming for a tight, punchy bass sound or smooth, sustained notes, the Scylla excels in providing transparent compression that enhances your playing without sacrificing dynamics. The granular control offered by its knobs allows for precise tailoring of compression settings to suit a wide range of playing styles and musical genres.
  • Pros: The Scylla’s strengths lie in its granular control, versatility, and compact design. Its sturdy build quality and diminutive size make it a welcome addition to any pedalboard, occupying minimal real estate without compromising on functionality. However, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Scylla is its price point. Despite offering professional-grade features, the Scylla remains accessible to bassists of all budgets.
  • Cons: While the Joyo Scylla excels in many areas, it’s not without its drawbacks. One notable omission is the lack of metering, which may pose a challenge for users seeking visual feedback on compression levels. Additionally, the plastic knobs, while functional, may feel somewhat less premium compared to other pedals. 
  • Conclusion: In conclusion, the Joyo Scylla compressor emerges as a great option in the world of budget-friendly effects pedals for bass guitar. Its comprehensive control set, transparent compression, and compact design make it a compelling choice for bassists seeking professional-grade performance without breaking the bank. From its intuitive interface to its thoughtful touches like the tone knob and customizable LED lighting, the Scylla delivers a level of versatility and functionality that belies its modest price tag. For bassists looking to elevate their tone without compromising on quality or affordability, the Joyo Scylla compressor is a clear standout.

For more information, visit online at joyoaudio.com/product/265.html

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Bass Videos

String Instrument Humidifiers

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String Instrument Humidifiers

String Instrument Humidifiers

After living in some very humid parts of the country for decades, we moved to a dryer, much sunnier location. As a result, I started noticing some fret sprout on my string instruments and recently did a video on fret sprout correction.

It occurred to me that I should take a more preventative approach to string instrument humidification. Of course, I turned to my instrument maintenance experts, Music Nomad Equipment Care, for a solution and they suggested their Humitar series. (Note: They sent two press samples and I purchased the remainder online.)

Join me as I look at these useful tools for keeping my string instruments in tip-top condition.

The Humitar series is available online at Music Nomad Equipment Care, as well as Amazon.com

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Bass Videos

Review: CrystalBright Rombo Picks

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Review: CrystalBright Rombo Picks

CrystalBright Rombo Picks

PR Sample

Playing bass with a pick is still a touchy subject in our community. I believe you should be able to use whatever you need to get your sound. Even though I mostly play with my fingers, I like to check out innovative new picks that might have something new to offer, sonically speaking.

Judith and Carlos from Rombo recently contacted me about a new material called CrystalBright that they have been researching for the last 12 months and offered to send some prototype picks. After trying them out, I put together this video with my findings.

For more info check out @rombopicks

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Gear

New Joe Dart Bass From Sterling By Music Man

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Sterling by Music Man introduces the Joe Dart Artist Series Bass (“Joe Dart”), named after and designed in collaboration with the celebrated Vulfpeck bassist.

Above photo credit: JORDAN THIBEAUX

This highly-anticipated model marks the debut of the Dart bass in the Sterling by Music Man lineup, paying homage to the Ernie Ball Music Man original that all funk players know and love. The bass embodies many of the original model’s distinctive features, from its iconic minimalist design to the passive electronics.

Joe Dart Artist Series Bass

The design process prioritized reliability, playability, and accessibility at the forefront. Constructed from the timeless Sterling body, the Dart features a slightly smaller neck profile, offering a clean tone within a comfortable package. The body is crafted from soft maple wood for clarity and warmth while the natural finish emphasizes the simple yet unique look.

Engineered for straightforward performance, this passive bass features a ceramic humbucking bridge pickup and a single ‘toaster’ knob for volume control. Reliable with a classic tone, it’s perfect for playing in the pocket. The Dart is strung with the all-new Ernie Ball Stainless Steel Flatwound Electric Bass Strings for the smoothest feel and a mellow sound.

Joe Dart Artist Series Bass

The Sterling by Music Man Joe Dart Bass is a special “Timed Edition” release, exclusively available for order on the Sterling by Music Man website for just one month. Each bass is made to order, with the window closing on May 31st and shipping starting in November. A dedicated countdown timer will indicate the remaining time for purchase on the product page. Additionally, the back of the headstock will be marked with a “2024 Crop” stamp to commemorate the harvest year for this special, one-of-a-kind release. 

The Joe Dart Bass is priced at $399.99 (MAP) and can be ordered globally at https://sterlingbymusicman.com/products/joe-dart. 

To learn more about Joe Dart, visit the official Vulfpeck artist site here https://www.vulfpeck.com/.


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