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