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Pat Wilkins VRB5 : Gear Impressions and Luthier Spotlight With Jake Wolf

Review by Jake Wolf –

A while back I reviewed Wilkins Guitars Classic P bass, and I was so impressed that I was able to get Pat to send another of his basses for review. The VRB5 is Pat’s answer the explosion of active 5 string jazz basses. In my life as a freelance bassist I can surely attest to the functional necessity of a good sounding, easy playing active 5 string jazz style bass. The question is: Out of the myriad of choices that exist, which one best suits your needs? Well, I took the VRB5 for a spin to see, and it showed me the money.

Wilkins chose a chambered alder body for the VRB5, a unique platform for a jazz style instrument. Its one piece 1 piece maple neck was superbly shaped into a shallow C profile and given a beautifully smooth satin finish. The bass sports a 35″ scale and a rosewood fingerboard and the entire bass weighs in at around 8.5lbs. Its low profile frets and fast neck shape make the VRB5 easily playable and very comfy on those long gigs. Wilkin’s use of high end Suhr electronics give the VRB5 even more of a unique edge, the preamps control pots and miniature knobs feel sturdy and turn with svelte resistance, ensuring that the controls stay where you leave them. The test bass arrived sporting a classy and eye popping tigers eye burst finish, which was top notch in every way. This bass looks hot under stage lights and elicited many an ooh and ahh from audience members and bandmates.

Plugged in and set flat, the VRB5 sounded different than I expected. Sporting a set of DR Low Rider Nickel strings, it has a refined weightiness to its sound; a thick, deep voice with a present and snappy top end, especially around the upper mids. The lows are fat and pillowy sounding, no doubt partially due to the chambered alder body. With the EQ set flat, and the bridge pickup soloed, it has the characteristic jazz bass burp, but again, with a nicely refined and smooth sheen to it. Likewise, the neck pickup yields a round and thumpy girth, it sounded killer on its own. In fiddling with the EQ, I noticed that boosting the bass knob increases heft across the entire fret board, even adding weight and depth to notes above the 12th fret on the G string. Scooping the mids while boosting the bass and treble gave the VRB5 a wicked and authoritative slap sound, although the treble knob did add some hiss to the bass’s overall output. My favorite tone was achieved through favoring the neck pickup 75/25 and with about a 20% boost on the bass knob. It was modern R&B city; fat, round, and meaty as all get out, but still retaining the presence and clarity needed to cut through, and deliver the occasional slap riff. One thing I can say about the VRB is that is not lacking in the low frequency dept at all. With the bass knob dimed, it shook the rafters with major conviction. Not always necessary, but its good to know that it has that range if needed.

The VRB5 has a lot to offer to the 5 string jazz market, although to my ears it more resembles a modern hi-fi type bass than a 60’s or 70’s style jazz copy. I really dug how it just owned the low end, and still had a nice clear presence on top. I could easily see this bass in the hands of a modern R&B or gospel player, even though it also does do the jazz thing quite well. There are not a lot of 5 string jazz basses that I would take to jazz combo gig AND a neo soul session, but the VRB5 rides that line nicely and offers some killer features you’re not likely to find on some of its competition. All in all the VRB5 is another winner from the expert hands of Pat Wilkins.

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