Connect with us

Gear Reviews

Xotic Guitars and Effects: One Craftsman’s Pursuit of Perfection

Published

on

Xotic Guitars and Effects:  One Craftsman’s Pursuit of Perfection…

What distinguishes a mass-produced instrument from a boutique bass?

The builder.

And what’s the difference between a builder who assembles parts and one who is an artisan on a never-ending quest to master his craft?

Shokunin.

A simplistic translation of shokunin is, “artisan or craftsman.” The spirit of the word lies deeper. Shokunin is the marriage of art and craftsmanship where form and function are in perfect harmony. The shokunin seeks to continually improve and only competes with himself. His craft defines who he is.

Over the past five decades, a small group of Japanese luthiers have brought this tradition to America and blended it with California’s spirit of innovation. Hiro Miura, founder and builder of Xotic Guitars, is one such shokunin. His work has captured the attention of top bassists like Chuck Rainey, John Pena, Travis Carlton, Carmine Rojas, and Steve Millhouse.

Humble beginnings
Hiro Miura started in the music business in Japan when he was 19 when he dropped out of college to work for a custom guitar company. Jumping on the Japanese craze for vintage American guitars, Miura started traveling to the U.S. to buy classic guitars to sell in Japan. After a few years of hopping back and forth across the Pacific, he decided to make Los Angeles his home in 1986.

While buying, selling, and studying vintage guitars, he befriended custom guitar builder Taku Sakashita. The friendship and experience of watching a master luthier at work inspired Miura to build and later launch his own brand, Xotic Guitars, in 1996.

Miura focused his talents on designing and building bass guitars at first because he felt bassists were more open to new designs and technologies than guitarists. In the spirit of shokunin, Miura’s seeks to create an instrument that allows the musician to play without concentrating on the physical act of playing.

His passion lies in perfecting the smallest details of each instrument. Specifically, making a durable neck that could withstand the tremendous pressure exerted by the strings. While most 5- and 6-string bass builders used two parallel graphite truss rods to reinforce the neck, Miura felt graphite was too light and flexible. The material had a detrimental affect on the instrument’s sound quality. He used heavier iron reinforcements angled toward each other to eliminate the sonic dead point in the neck.

Continuing to find ways to improve bass tone, he went with a slightly larger body and higher quality woods. In fact, each piece of wood must be below a specific moisture content before it can be used to build a bass.

One of the signature features of Xotic basses is the 3-band preamp, branded as Trilogic, which allows bassists to control lows, mids, and highs. Miura added a trimmer pot in the back which controlled output gain and a switch that allowed more mid-frequency options between the four frequency ranges.

“What I often hear from musicians is that they are attracted to our basses for their build consistency, feel, and tone,” says Ben Leck, Xotic’s artist relations representative. “We strive to be in the 9.6-9.7-lb. range for our basses so our weights and set-ups are consistent across the board. We also take that over to the feel of our necks. We treat them with a special oil that is not used by anyone else in the music industry. We use the best wood for our bodies and necks and we outfit them with world-class pickups and preamp system.”

Xotic Guitars and Effects - 5

The Xotic XB-2

XB-2

The flagship bass for Xotic is the XB-2. Handcrafted by Miura in his Los Angeles workshop, the XB-2 features a 34-inch neck, Kent Armstrong pick-ups and is available in 5-, 6-, and 7-string models.

Perhaps the most visible bassist relying on the XB-2 is Carmine Rojas who puts his Xotic basses through a grueling touring schedule with Joe Bonamassa. Rojas has relied on his musicianship, and his bass guitars, to carve out a position as one of the world’s most in-demand bassists. He previously recorded and toured with David Bowie and Julian Lennon in the 80s, and later spent 15 years with Rod Stewart as his bassist and music director.

“I grew up playing Fenders and they were reliable and had a great sound,” says Rojas. “I still love the vintage Fenders, but I needed something different. Something wider. A bit more in-depth with a bass that gave me more control over the power and sound.”

“For me, music today requires a different sound from the bass. With many songs being mixed with a focus on the top end, the bass can easily lose its pitch and become a percussive instrument. I needed something bigger that could cut through the mix.”

Carmine Rojas and his Xotic XB-2 with Joe Bonamassa during the band’s European tour.

Carmine Rojas and his Xotic XB-2 with Joe Bonamassa during the band’s European tour.

“The Xotic XB-2 is like that old Fender, but reborn with new muscle,” notes Rojas. “There are other basses with similar features, and I’ve played almost every one. But somehow, Xotic just got it right. They achieved a very organic sound. It’s as if they’ve married analog to digital.”

Rojas explains he is not a fan of too many controls on basses. He prefers to have good tone without an over-reliance on electronic coloring. To that end, he sets the EQ flat on his amps and alternates between XB-2’s active and passive switch throughout a show to achieve the tone he wants for each song.

“The first time I picked up the XB-2 in 2009, it felt right. It just played like me and had my name written all over it. I first used the red XB-2 during the Live at the Royal Albert Hall show and later at the Beacon Theater Live concert. That bass just did everything right and I’ve been using Xotic ever since.”

VIDEO: Carmine Rojas covered the sonic spectrum with his Xotic XB-2 during the Joe Bonamassa Beacon Theater Live From New York concert.

Rojas owns seven Xotics, including four- and five-string models of the XB-2 and XJ-1T. He put the XJ series through its paces during Bonamassa’s 2013 Tour de Force which featured the band playing four venues in four cities over four different nights with each night featuring a different musical theme: blues, rock ‘n roll, power trio, and acoustic/electric. “The XJs held their own through that wide range of musical configurations.”

You can catch Rojas with his XB-2s on the current Joe Bonamassa tour.

Rojas suggests listening to the following three songs to best hear the XB-2:

The Xotic XJ-1T5

The Xotic XJ-1T5

XJ and XP Series

In 2010, Miura put his creativity to work to create a Fender Jazz-style bass that blended a vintage flavor with modern capabilities. The Jazz-inspired XJ-1 uses custom pickups to create a better defined, yet bottom-heavy sound and utilizes the cutting edge Tri-Logic preamp that helps shape Xotic’s signature sound.

Miura decided to alter the Badass back-string-through bridge by sanding the bottom down for a closer marriage between bridge and body which results in a tighter sound.

Miura opted for the Hipshot Ultra-Light tuners to address the common issue of head tilting on basses. An additional benefit of using the lightweight aluminum tuners is stronger sustain since the metal doesn’t absorb as much string vibration.

Steve-Millhouse

Steve Millhouse playing his XJ-1T 5 during the Broadway show “Pippin.

Broadway bassist Steve Millhouse, who currently doubles on electric and upright for “Pippin,” has been a fan of the XJ-1T since the basses were first introduced.

“The day I received the Xotic XJ-1T 5-string I used it subbing on a Broadway show,” Millhouse says. “Afterward, the conductor told me it was the best sounding bass he’d heard. Since then I’ve played my Xotics on my other Broadway shows, TV appearances, commercials, broadcasts, studio sessions, and major concert halls around the world. It consistently delivers what I need for every gig.”

In 2012, Miura unveiled the Precision-influenced XP-1T model which features the new Xotic PV-1 pick-up. The C-shape neck is hand carved with a 10-inch radius. The alder body allows for an enhanced low and low-mid range tone. The rounded heel of the neck joint and deep cutaway makes the bass easier to play in higher neck positions.

Millhouse, who now owns nine Xotics, added that the basses are also well-loved outside of the pit. “The sound designers on my current show ‘Pippin’ actually asked me what kind of bass I was using. They were curious because they didn’t have to do any kind of EQ on my signal, which they remarked is almost never the case. I was happy to hear that since they are very highly regarded and work on many Broadway productions, national Broadway tours, as well as Las Vegas shows. To me, that speaks volumes on Xotic’s tone.”

“Since I’ve been using the Xotics, how a bass feels or sounds never enters my mind. The only decision I have to make is ‘should I take an XJ or XP, 4- or 5-string, and what wood combination would sound best?’ All of that is really just a luxury. I could honestly do any gig on any Xotic and be totally covered.”

You can watch Millhouse on his XJ-1T 5-string fretless and fretted basses during a performance of Godspell.

Bass legend Chuck Rainey with his new Xotic signature model, the XPJ-1T

Bass legend Chuck Rainey with his new Xotic signature model, the XPJ-1T

You can also hear the XJ-1T 5 on the following recordings:

Chuck Rainey Signature Model XPJ-1T

The newest bass in the Xotic line-up is the result of a collaboration with bass icon Chuck Rainey. Available starting in 2014, the Chuck Rainey Signature Model (XPJ-1T) is a blend of Xotic’s XP and XJ models modified to Rainey’s specifications.

The XPJ-1T features a 21-fret bolt-on maple neck with a Hipshot X-Tender Key on the E-string. The ash body is home to stock Xotic pickups matched with a Trilogic Bass Preamp 2. Like its XJ and XP predecessors, the XPJ has a 3-band EQ with preamp controls that include an active/passive switch, a mid-boost switch, and a bright switch. Also standard is the Hipshot Ultralite tuners and a brass Hipshot A Style bridge.

“I’m an old-fashioned player because I like to have the same sound all of the time. If you have good hands, you can change the sound. The Xotic basses allow me to do that,” Rainey says. “I love the passive sound and Precision-style neck. The new bass has those features I want…but with more muscle.”

 

VIDEO: Chicago Music Exchange demos the Chuck Rainey Signature Model from Xotic.

You can hear Rainey play the XPJ-1T on his latest release, Interpretations of a Groove and follow him on Facebook for his latest news.

To learn more Xotic Guitars and Basses, you can visit their web site at www.xotic.us.

Bass Videos

String Instrument Humidifiers

Published

on

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

Continue Reading

Bass Videos

Review: CrystalBright Rombo Picks

Published

on

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

Continue Reading

Gear

New Joe Dart Bass From Sterling By Music Man

Published

on

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/.


Continue Reading

Gear Reviews

The Frank Brocklehurst 6-String Fretless Bass Build

Published

on

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. 

Continue Reading

Gear Reviews

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

Published

on

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

Continue Reading