Bass Review, the NS Radius Bass – A New Approach to Bass Ergonomics by Todd Urban
Discomfort and injuries that stem from electric bass are issues that musicians have dealt with since the creation of the instrument. Some musicians abandon their craft, while others turn to surgery and expensive treatments. Many manufacturers have explored different designs in order to address these problems, usually at the expense of tone, playability, or instrument aesthetics. However, the NS CR5 Radius bass stands out among others as an instrument that not only offers innovation in terms of ergonomics, but actually provides sonic advancements that offer the player the ability to perform with traditional sounds or take tone to a new level.
Instrument designer Ned Steinberger, who is mostly recognized for his headless instruments, is the creator of the Radius bass. During an interview about the Radius bass, Ned stated that the headless design is what gives this bass an advantage over a traditional design.
“The benefit of headless is real. in the long run there will be more acceptance of [headless design] because great balance is so basic to making the instrument fun to play.”
The removal of the head centers the instrument’s weight over the player’s body when a strap is used, or balances the instrument perfectly on the right thigh when a player performs in a sitting position. This balance frees up a player’s left hand from needing to hold the neck and relaxes the right arm from needing to apply downward pressure on the body to offset a heavy headstock. (Ned stated that he actually added the smallest bit of extra weight to the headstock end so that players will still have the feel of a familiar downward pull from headstock, without the neck falling.)
The headless design provides an additional benefit that was not an ergonomic consideration prior to the writing of this article, total instrument weight. Neck and mid back problems are frequent symptoms seen in bassists. Even when a high end strap is used and placed on the shoulder (instead of compressing trapezius and scalene muscles), the weight of an average bass can be detrimental to the body. In the case of the Radius bass, not only is excess wood removed from the headstock, but the tuners are integrated into the bridge, ultimately removing 3/5ths the weight that traditional tuners would add to the instrument.
Additionally, while the body of the instrument appears solid, Ned’s design bores holes through the body of the instrument to create a honeycomb design. The removal of excess wood reduces the weight of the bass and allows for the instrument to be constructed with the tone benefits of maple.
“I like the way maple rings, it is very energetic. People use swamp ash and other light weight woods because maple is too heavy for a solid body.”
Ergonomics usually focuses on instrument shape. The Radius bass features a curved back, which is thinner on the low string side than it is on the high G-string side. This unique shape provides a slight upward tilt of the bass for better visual contact with the fingerboard, while creating a natural slope for the right forearm to rest. The curved back is comfortable to the body of a thin player, while having a shape that fits the curves of a player who may be larger in size. This curved shape carries onto the top of the instrument providing comfort to players who anchor their right thumb on one of the rounded custom pickups while also working well for players who float their thumb over the top of the strings or body of the instrument.
Due to the deep cutaway of the bass, the left hand access involves a natural hand position all the way up to the 20th fret, with full 24 fret access through a slight turn of the hand. On the opposite end, the neck ends with a slightly thicker carving under the fingerboard in order to create the feel of a headstock at the nut.
These two ends are tied together with an ebony fingerboard that has a strong feel through the graphite reinforced maple neck. Ned described the neck of the instrument as the most important acoustic element in the solid body instrument since it is relatively flexible and interactive with the string. When played acoustically, the bass provided a very strong punch and loud resonance that most basses cannot rival. The B-string provided a tight feel due to the 35″ scale. However the integration of the bridge into the bass body sets the bass back far enough so that the longer scale does not present left hand problems when reaching the lower frets.
Going beyond ergonomics, the smaller size of the bass, makes the instrument lighter and smaller to carry around town or fit in an overhead on a plane. The unique construction of the bridge tuners keeps the bass in tune, even when placed in a case. Easy battery access, a long horn for grip, rapid string changing, and unobstructed access to truss rod adjustments show attention to every detail of the bass. While this review intended to focus ergonomics instead of sound, it would be difficult to avoid mentioning the expansive palate of sounds that the bass offers. Two custom EMG pickups provide a punchy modern sound, while the piezo designed bridge allows everything from a deep bass fattening of the sound, to an acoustic tone.
The Radius bass address many concerns that doctors and therapists have dealt with for years when working with musicians. The light weight, curved back, bridge placement, and perfect balance may be the solution for musicians who need a change in instrument design in order to accommodate physical limitations. While the price of $2695 runs higher than most store stocked basses, the benefit of comfort and savings on medical and therapeutic costs could rescue a player’s career!