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Gear Reviews

Gear Impressions and Luthier Spotlight With Jake Wolf : Pat Wilkins Classic P Bass

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Review by Jake Wolf – 

Chances are, even if you haven’t played one of Pat Wilkins’ basses, you’re probably familiar with his work.  Pat is the guy who puts those luscious and perfect finishes on US offerings by Lakland, Sadowsky, Tom Anderson, and a whole lot others.  Pat has been busy doing exquisite finish work for the last 20 years, and in the meantime has somehow found the time to be building his own brand of killer axes.  Go to Pats website, and you’ll see a group of fine looking J and PJ style basses, most sporting his trademark gorgeous colors over beautiful quilted and flamed maple.  What you won’t see on the website is the Classic P, an under-the-radar gem that Pat recently sent to me to check out.  According to Pat, this beauty was built with the intention that it be as true to an actual vintage (early 60’s) P bass as possible.

Part of what makes this bass so special is the caliber of woods used in its construction.  Between the 80 year old European alder body, the 150 year old maple neck, and the 60 year old brazillian rosewood fingerboard, one could truly call this a “vintage bass” that just happens to have been recently built.  Pat had the single P pickup custom wound to his specifications; he explains that it was scatter wound: a process that simulates the hand winding of a pickup, by adding some “human” variations to the wire wrap, rather than a perfect machine wind.  The magnet and wire materials used were carefully selected for their approximation to true vintage materials.  The tone controls’ paper and oil capacitor offers an old school tonal spectrum and taper.  Pat used a real celluloid tortoise shell pickguard for the P, as opposed to the colored plastic ones found on almost all tort-guard equipped basses offered today (even most of the highest end ones).  And of course, it has that Pat Wilkins Olympic white finish, which let me tell ya, is just sumptuous.  When I asked Pat about the finish, he excitedly told me about this finishing method he discovered that is only being used on this series of instruments.  He shared that the finish is obtained through several very thin coats of a proprietary polyurethane formula that looks and feels more like classic nitrocellulose lacquer, but offers the durability and protection of a modern poly finish.  The overall result is a very thin but durable lustrous finish, which feels great under my fingers, and doesn’t have the thick plasticky vibe I’ve encountered with some gloss poly finishes.

I was lucky enough to use this bass on several different gigs and every time, it delivered the classic P bass goods superbly.  For many, the formula already exists for ideal P: an early 60’s, pre-CBS precision in excellent shape.  With a set of D’addario Chrome flatwounds, it nailed the classic P bass tone, with maybe a touch more low end depth than I was expecting, a pleasant surprise for my tastes.  The mids and highs were present and sweet but by no means obtrusive or honky. As with most P basses, it was characteristically easy to find a comfortable seat in the mix among dueling guitars and a busy drummer.   With a set of Sadowsky roundwound strings, the bass came to life. It was very responsive and bright acoustically; the whole bass seemed to vibrate much like an old vintage axe.  Plugged in it sounded authoritative and throaty with some serious grind, but dial that tone knob back and there’s that warmth and buttery low end, while still (and here’s the kicker for me) retaining enough definition to not get lost or muddy.   It does all this mind you, while feeling fan-freakin-tastic.  It truly feels like a handmade boutique bass to the touch.  I’ll give full disclosure here, I’m not much of a P bass guy; my traditional flavor is more toward J basses.  Many P basses I’ve tried to love either have an inherent brash midrange honk, or the necks feel like battleships, but the Classic P seems to find the happy medium in both regards; the neck is a little slimmer than other P’s I’ve played, but it still feels solid and full.  The tone is pronounced and assertive, with great definition and grunt, but not at all honky or unbalanced. I invited a local player over who owns 2 early 60’s P basses, and he was mesmerized equally by the Wilkins’ beauty, and its striking resemblance to the real McCoy, in terms of both tone and feel.

This bass as tested, prices out at about $5000.  Without the super tricked out old woods, the price comes down to $3500.  Some may ask (and rightfully so) “is it worth 5 grand?  I mean it’s a P bass?”  This is a tricky question to answer, and I am not about to make an empirical statement about value. No question it is extremely well built using some super rare and fancy woods.  No doubt it feels as nice as any bass I’ve ever put my hands on: modern, vintage, P, J, exotic, or otherwise.  You could look at the classic P as though its competition would be a Lakland USA Bob Glaub, a Sadowsky NYC P, or an Alleva Coppolo KBP4. Or you could look at it as if its only real competition is a true early 60’s P.  In that case, the Wilkins’ P is a steal, considering the going rate of a pre-CBS precision (that eBay search is not for the faint of heart!).   My personal opinion is that regardless of value judgments and price points,  Pat Wilkins is making a killer precision bass, and you would be hard pressed to find a P bass that felt as good, played as easily, sounded as dead on, and looked as smooth.

Stay tuned for a review of a Wilkins VRB-5, coming soon!

For more info go to www.wilkinsguitars.com

Jake Wolf welcomes your comments and questions… drop him a line

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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Gear Reviews

The Frank Brocklehurst 6-String Fretless Bass Build

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The Frank Brocklehurst 6 String Fretless Bass Build

A few months ago, my Ken Bebensee 6-string fretted bass needed some TLC. You know, the one rocking those Pink Neon strings! I scoured my Connecticut neighborhood for a top-notch luthier and got pointed to Frank Brocklehurst, F Brock Music. He swung by my place, scooped up the bass, and boom, returned it the next day, good as new. Not only that, he showed up with a custom 5-string fretted bass that blew me away. I couldn’t resist asking if he could whip up a 6-string fretless for me. 

Alright, let’s break down the process here. We’ve got our raw materials: Mahogany, Maple, and Holly. Fun fact – the Mahogany and Maple have been chilling in the wood vault for a solid 13 years. Frank is serious about his wood; they buy it, stash it away, and keep an eye on it to make sure it’s stable.  

First up, they’re tackling the Mahogany. Frank glues it together, then lets it sit for a few days to let everything settle and the glue to fully dry. After that, it’s onto the thickness planer and sander to get it nice and flat for the CNC machine. The CNC machine’s the real star here – it’s gonna carve out the body chambers and volume control cavity like a pro.

While the Mahogany’s doing its thing, Frank goes onto the neck core. Three pieces of quartersawn maple are coming together for this bad boy. Quartersawn means the grain’s going vertical. He is also sneaking in some graphite rods under the fingerboard for stability and to avoid any dead spots. The truss rod is going to be two-way adjustable, and the CNC machine’s doing its magic to make sure everything’s just right.

Screenshot

Now, onto the design phase. Frank uses CAD software to plan out the body shape, neck pocket, chambering, and those cool f-holes. I had this idea for trapezoid F-holes, just to do something different. The CAD software also helps us map out the neck shape, graphite channels, and truss-rod channel with pinpoint accuracy.

Once everything’s planned out, it’s CNC time again. Frank cuts out the body outline, neck pocket, and the trapezoid F-holes. Then it’s a mix of hand sanding and power tools to get that neck just how we like it. Oh, and those f holes? We’re going for trapezoids of different sizes – gotta keep things interesting.

Next step: gluing that neck into the pocket with some old-school hide glue. It’s got great tonal transfer and can be taken apart later if needed. Then it’s onto hand-carving that neck-body transition.

For the custom-made bridge, Frank uses brass for definition and Ebony for tonal transfer and that warm, woody sound.

BTW, for tunes, Frank went with Hipshot Ultralights with a D Tuner on the low B. This way I can drop to a low A which is a wonderful tone particularly if you are doing any demolition around your house! 

Now it’s time for the side dots. Typically, on most basses, these dots sit right in the middle of the frets. But with this bass, they’re placed around the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 12th frets.

Frank’s got his pickup hookup. Since the pickup he was building wasn’t ready, he popped in a Nordstrand blade to give it a whirl.

It sounded good, but I was itching for that single-coil vibe! And speaking of pickups, Frank showed me the Holly cover he was cutting to match, along with all the pink wire – talk about attention to detail!

A couple of things, while it is important for me to go passive, it is equally important for me to just go with a volume knob. Tone knobs are really just low-pass filters and the less in the way of a pure sound for me, the better. 

Finally, it’s string time! As usual, I went for the DR Pink Neon strings. Hey, I even have matching pink Cons…Both low tops and high!

Screenshot

Once we’ve got everything tuned up and settled, we’ll give it a day or two and then tweak that truss rod as needed. And voila, we’ve got ourselves a custom-made bass ready to rock and roll.

I want to thank Frank Brocklehurst for creating this 6 string beast for me. 

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Gear Reviews

Review Transcript: BITE Custom Bass – The Black Knight PP Bass

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Review - BITE Custom Bass - The Black Knight PP Bass

This is a written transcript of our video review of the BITE Custom Bass Black Knight PP Bass originally published on March 4, 2024

BITE Custom Bass – The Black Knight PP Bass Review…

Bass Musician Magazine did a review on a Steampunk bass from BITE Guitars about three years ago, it was an amazing instrument, and we were very impressed. Now we’re happy to bring you another BITE bass, the Black Knight PP.

Everybody needs a P-type bass, it’s the standard of bass. If you’re recording, they want you to have a P bass. So why not have something that gives you a little more by having two instead of one P pickup. That’s the idea of this bass, it’s the first thing that leaps out: the double P pickup configuration.

Installing two of their 1000 millivolt split-coil pickups, BITE then went one step further and wired them up in a 4-way parallel/series circuit, a look at the controls reveal a 4-way rotary selector:

The first position, marked “B”, gives you the bridge pickup by itself.

The second position, marked “P”, gives you the bridge and neck pickups in parallel mode, that’s the traditional J-type circuit, it reduces output due to the physical law of parallel circuits.

Position number 3 is marked “N”, it gives you the neck pickup by itself.

And finally, number 4, marked “S”, gives your bridge and neck in a series (humbucking) mode which adds up resistances and thus boosts output. The other two controls are master volume and master tone.

What’s more, like every BITE bass, this one also has a reinforced headstock heel designed to give it extra output and sustain. The BITE website features a graph and explanation of what they have done to the heel, as compared to traditional headstocks.

A look at the body reveals a beautiful Black Blast body finish and underneath that we have alder wood. The bass has a matching headstock with a 4-in-line tuner setup and the traditional bite out of it, so everybody will know what kind of bass you’re playing. The pickguard is 3-ply black, the neck is vintage tinted hard maple and it has a satin speed finish at the back which keeps your thumb from sticking.

On top of that, there’s a clear-coated roasted black locust fretboard with black blocks marking the frets. The nut is a black Graph Tec nut, we’ve got diamond dome control knobs, and the tuners are lightweight compacts with cloverleaf buttons and a 1:17 ratio precision gear. The bridge is a Gotoh brass bridge with 19-millimeter string spacing.

Overall measurements: we’ve got a standard 34″ scale, a 1.65″ width nut and a C neck profile. This bass weighs 8.2 pounds, or 3,7 kilograms for our metric friends, and it uses standard 18% nickel silver frets.

Taking a closer look at the sound, this bass is a joy to play. The BITE proprietary 1000 millivolt pickups deliver an extraordinary amount of output which is surprising considering this is a passive instrument. You may even want to set your amp to active mode because of all of the juice you’re getting out of this guy.

The tonal possibilities are very versatile, it’s a straight P if you want but also much more with those different arrangements of the circuitry. So why have multiple basses when you’ve got one that can give you your basic P plus a lot more?

To sum it up, the Black Knight PP is an amazing instrument. The attention to detail that BITE puts into their basses is second to none. This bass is also amazingly balanced and gorgeous to hold and feel with the satin neck finish.

For more information, visit online at bite.guitars/product/black-knight-pp

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