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Willcox Saber VL Fretless Review

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At first glance, you’d think that the Saber VL from Willcox Guitars is missing something; pickups.

Willcox Saber VL FretlessAnd while you’d be correct (it does not have traditional magnetic pickups), the Lightwave system that is the heart of the bass opens it up to a lot more ways of playing and approaching the bass. And, in the case of yours truly, translates into what I would call the most responsive fretless bass I’ve ever played.

The Saber VL (the deluxe model from Willcox Guitars) features a chambered swamp ash body with an AAA flame maple top, a three-piece rock maple neck with a custom composite fingerboard. The neck profile is a comfy low-profile C shape with a very sleek feel. While both the fretted and fretless VL models have chambered bodies, only the fretless has the top cutout.

Now, onto the Lightwave System.

Unlike traditional magnetic pickups (that create a magnetic field for the string to interact with), the optical sensors in the Lightwave capture the vibration of the string, and translate that into the sound you hear. Because there is absolutely no magnetic pull the string can vibrate freely, which translates into a truer sound. One bonus of this is that you are not limited to typical strings; if you wanted to use a set of phosphor bronze strings on the bass, you could and would have no ill effects. The other is that the bass is dead quiet; there’s no ground hum or anything to interfere with the signal. This is particularly useful in the studio or when you’re running effects, as the full signal is going through your signal chain.

Courtesy of Spotts Light Photography

One of the highlights of the Lightwave System is how you can dial it in. Adjustments for traditional bridge design are there to dial in your preferred action, and the optical sensors can be raised or lowered for the optimum sound (something that is recommended whenever you change string types). On the underside however, are individual trimpots to allow you to adjust the volume of each string so that the bass sounds perfectly even across the entire fretboard.

The EQ is simple but intuitive. Controls for bass and mid (with a frequency sweep) are very easy to use. Personally, I don’t mind the omission of the treble control, as I’ve rarely if ever used it on an active bass. There is also a “warm/cool” toggle switch to get some major tonal sculpting. For a simple reference, the shift between the two is kind of like going from just the neck to the bridge pickup on a jazz bass.

The IceTone is a unique feature, as it blends a piezo element into the optical signal. Please note that you cannot use the IceTone by itself, although when the knob is rolled all the way counter-clockwise, the piezo is out of the signal. I found that this gave the bass tone a little crisper attack and definition in the notes, while also giving you a bit of a percussive feel to the sound. For me, I found this was the perfect control to use if you needed to cut through the mix just a little bit more, but didn’t want to boost the signal per se.

So, how does this tech translate into the most responsive fretless I’ve ever played?

The combination of the chambered swamp ash body, the neck profile and the tech work in a beautiful synergy. Allowing the string to fully vibrate capitalizes on the chambered body, giving the fretless a deeper resonance than standard solid bodied basses. The optical sensors are very quick to capture the nuances of your playing style, especially when you’re using dynamics.

Suddenly, the quieter playing is VERY quiet, and the more you dig in really opens up the sound. For myself, I found that really playing into this capability yielded a lot more musical phrases and passages when playing in a band setting.


The above tracks were recorded running the bass completely flat, with exception of using the IceTone control and the warm/cool toggle switch. In each of the demos, the IceTone is completely off (counter-clockwise), at the center detent, and then completely open (clockwise).

I took the fretless with me to a couple of studio dates that I had in town, and the sound engineer was amazed with the quality of the signal that he was getting into the board (we went direct). In fact, he was such a fan of the sound, that I got a couple of extra studio dates BECAUSE of that bass.

The Saber VL series from Willcox Guitars is not your typical bass. The Lightwave System adds a subtle complexity to the tone of the instrument, and the simple onboard controls allow a wide range of tonal motion to cover a lot of ground. Add in a chambered body and a very comfortable neck profile, and you have a bass that once you play, everyone will be “hearing the light.”

Visit the Willcox Guitars website

Gear Reviews

Gear Review: Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass

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Gear Review: Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass

Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass Review…

Throughout the evolution of music, bass players have sought tools to sculpt and enhance their sonic landscapes, and one indispensable ally in this pursuit has been compression. Origin Effects, a name synonymous with premium audio craftsmanship, introduces the Cali76 Compact Bass Compressor, a pedal that pays homage to the legacy of compression and brings forth a new chapter in bass sonic mastery.

As we delve into the world of the Cali76 Compact Bass Compressor, we’ll explore how Origin Effects seamlessly weaves together the heritage of compression and contemporary bass demands, promising a pedal that not only honors the past but propels your bass playing into the future. Join us on this sonic expedition as we dissect the nuances of the Cali76 Compact and uncover the secrets it holds for bass players seeking the perfect blend of vintage warmth and modern versatility.

For Starters, the Cali76 is a studio-grade FET compressor pedal, based on the classic Urei 1176, but with some features optimized for bass guitar. For those of you who are not familiar with it, a FET (Field Effect Transistor) compressor is essentially a solid-state tube compressor emulation that allows for fast and precise control over the attack and the release parameters; allows for extreme compression ratios; and finally adds the typical 1176 color and character to the sound.

Together with the common controls we see in most compressor pedals – Ratio, Attack/Release, input (just like the original 1176, the threshold in this pedal is fixed), and output (makeup gain). The Cali76 offers two more controls dedicated to us bass players.

A Dry control – This allows us to mix in our dry, uncompressed signal to the pedal output. This is great for when we want to add back some of our playing dynamics to the compressed sound or for when you want some volume back in situations where the compression starts taking away the volume.

A High Pass Filter control – Low frequencies on a bass guitar signal normally overwhelm compressors. This high pass filter allows the compressor to only react to higher frequencies, which helps preserve the natural dynamics of our playing while keeping the low end intact.

Metering on this pedal can be a bit hard to get used to at first. There’s a single LED light on the pedal, that not only serves as an On/Off light, but it’s also our meter. It glows red when no compression is applied and orange for active compression. The brighter the light, the greater the amount of gain reduction. Yellow signifies that the gain reduction reached 27dB and maximum reduction occurs around 38 dB.

In practical terms, it’s all about working with the input and the LED to find the sweet spot (turn the input to zero, start playing and slowly increase the input level until you start seeing the LED glowing orange, which means there’s reduction going on).

With 6 highly interactive knob controls, this pedal implies some degree of compressor knowledge and also some amount of tweaking and experimentation to find the perfect settings. The good news is that it is very hard to make this pedal sound bad…

It can go from very subtle compression settings to very extreme, and it can do everything in between. Also, the team at Origin has been kind enough to add a couple of sample settings in the manual to get players started and to help us understand better how the pedal works.

Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass

Dynamic Control is a setting that provides natural compression, balancing dynamics between various playing techniques. It is a subtle compression that will work almost out of the box almost all the time. Having a medium setting for the High Pass Filter ensures an honest translation of the lower string dynamics.

Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass

Parallel compression is a popular studio technique, where both compressed and natural signals are blended. We get the sound and feel of hard compression while retaining the natural playing dynamics.

Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Bass

Percussive, lively & Fat is a setting that uses a slower attack time to accentuate the start of any note. Then using a fast release allows the compressor to recover between notes so that the phrases sound more percussive. Ideal for slapping and other percussive techniques.

Finally, I would like to mention the classic 1176 tonal coloration. It’s not a secret that engineers all around would sometimes use the 1176 compressor, without applying any compression, just to get the tonal coloration into the instrument sound.

And the Cali76 compressor is no different, it has such a rich, warm, and full coloration that’s super pleasing to the ear and makes you want to have it ON all the time. So be aware, that if you want a transparent compressor, this pedal is not for you!

All in all, it is easy to understand why this pedal became a favorite of so many bass players around the world. The Cali76 Compact stands as a testament to the meticulous craftsmanship and thoughtful engineering that Origin Effects is renowned for. It seamlessly navigates through the rich history of compression, offering bass players a gateway to the soulful resonance of the past while empowering them to sculpt a contemporary sonic future.

Whether you’re a seasoned bass maestro or a budding virtuoso, the Cali76 Compact invites you to embark on a sonic journey where every note is held in a delicate balance between tradition and innovation. As we bid farewell to our exploration, we do so with the realization that the Cali76 Compact is more than just a pedal; it’s a sonic companion that elevates the artistry of bass playing

For more information, visit online at origineffects.com

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Gear Reviews

Spector NS Ethos HP 4 Bass Review

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Spector NS Ethos HP 4 Bass Review

Spector NS Ethos HP 4 Bass Review…

Not long ago, I did a review of the Spector NS Dimension HP 5 Bass and I have just been given the honor and privilege of reviewing the Spector NS Ethos HP 4 Bass. I have to say, another great bass from Spector that is hard to put down! While there are some similarities between both basses, there are also some noticeable differences which is why I believe having both is essential to any bass arsenal.

Spector, widely used by many rock and metal bassists like Ian Hill, Alex Webster, Colin Edwin, Doug Wimbish, and many more, just to name a few, has a long-standing in these genres. Well, that’s about to change! The bass I used for the review, didn’t see any of those genres, matter of fact, I used it on a few classic country gigs and at church too! However, when at home in the studio, I let the funk out. The NS Ethos HP 4 Bass is an all-around great bass for any genre and will not disappoint.

Let’s get into the specs about the bass, and here we will find the differences between the HP 5 Bass and the HP 4.

Forget that one is a 5 string, while the other is a 4, while that is a difference, that’s not one that I feel needs to be noted as both models are available as 4 and 5 strings. The Spector NS Ethos HP 4 Bass has a 34” scale, 24 fret, 3 piece maple neck through construction with solid alder wings, ebony fingerboard along with centered and side dots and the 12th fret Spector logo inlay with a brass nut.

While the pickups are different as the NS Dimension HP 5 Bass uses the EMG 45DC and the NS Ethos HP 4 Bass sports the EMG 35DC pickups, they are the same pickup configurations, the difference being, one for 4 string, the other for 5 string. The electronics are the same, consisting of a Darkglass Tone Capsule preamp which consists of +-12dB @70Hz for Bass, +-12dB @500Hz for Mids, and +-12dB @2.8kHz for Hi Mids. Controls for Spector NS Dimension HP 5 Bass consist of Master Volume, Blend, Bass, Mid, and Hi Mid controls. The electronics are powered by a 9-volt battery.

The bridge is a Hi-Mass locking bridge with intonation screws and the tuners are sealed die-cast. All hardware is black. Same as the Spector NS Dimension HP 5 Bass, the HP 4 Bass is available in 4 different finishes, White Sparkle Gloss, Gunmetal Gloss, Plum Crazy Gloss & Black Gloss. The bass also comes with a very nice and well-padded gig bag.

Check out the Spector NS Ethos HP 4 Bass at a Spector Music Retailer today near you or visit online at spectorbass.com/product/ns-ethos-hp-4/

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Gear Reviews

Review: Italia Leather Straps

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Review: Italia Leather Straps

Italia Leather Straps…

Whenever I get a new bass, I like to get a new strap to christen it and I also like to find one that is “color coordinated” to my new instrument. I recently had a 6-string fretless bass created by a local luthier named Frank Brocklehurst, which started my search for a new strap.

There are a few points that I always look for when searching for a new strap. 

1-Comfort 
2-Width
3-Great color
4-Price

My most recent quest put me in touch with “Italia Leather Straps.” Italia has been in business in California for about 20 years and has been selling factory direct for the past 18 years.

When you order your strap it begins its “made to order” build process and after shipping more than 50,000 straps they certainly have it well in hand!

To answer my 4 questions regarding comfort, Italia uses some of the most comfortable and luxurious leather in a wide variety of colors. I was able to match almost perfectly the color of my bass and the color of the leather.

You can order it in either a 2.5” or 4” width as well as a standard and long model for tall players. I prefer the 4” for all of my basses. 

I received my strap and I must tell you, the leather was soft, supple, and truly comfortable when I attached it to my bass.

I must commend Italia Leather Straps for their attention to detail and beautiful selection of leather. I would say that when you go looking for a new strap, these guys should be on your shortlist.

Call or visit Italia Leather Straps online:
831-324-4277
www.italiastraps.com

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Bass Videos

Review: The Fuchs FBT-700 Bass Amps

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Review: The Fuchs FBT-300 and FBT-700 Bass Amps

Fuchs FBT-700 Bass Amps…

Much like our original ODS amps were initially inspired by the legendary Dumble amps, the new Fuchs FBS-1 bass amps have found their inspiration from the iconic Walter Woods © bass amps, but with Andy’s own enhancements.

Andy tapped his years of experience as a working musician, as well as servicing and tweaking guitar and bass amps for many famous clients as diverse as Carlos Santana through jammers like Jimmy Herring, including jazz legends like Dave Stryker for over 40 years as inspiration for our new bass amps. Fuchs’ 20-year list of reviews and endorsers is truly impressive to say the least.

Not unlike the iconic Walter Woods © amps the FBS-300 and FBS-700 amps are designed for maximum power at minimal size and weight. For years, the rare and coveted Woods amps have built a following amongst industry professionals. They were literally the first switch mode class-D style lightweight bass amps ever. Due to Walter being reclusive and now retired, these amps found their way to Andy’s shop to be repaired. While servicing them Andy was able to reverse engineer the preamp and power supply. Mated to a modern lightweight ICE power digital power module we have produced an amp that Woods owners agree, is equal (if not better) than their predecessors.

The FBS-1 bass amps (and our FBT tube bass amps) share identical panels and chassis and are available in 300 and 700-watt models, they feature a solid-state preamp inspired by the infamous Walter Woods © amps, but with improvements like a steep-slope subsonic filter and a DI output using high-speed audiophile op amps and a regulated power supply. The DI output is electrically balanced pre/post switch, ground lift, DI Phase, and a global mute switch.

Small and light, (downright diminutive) at less than 5-lbs and 12 x 3 x 9, they are loud and clean. Want some dirt? Raise the input gain and lower the master volume. Want total clean, lower the input gain and raise the master. They are super easy to operate, and the FBS-1  amps will easily fit in a gig bag, run ice-cold, and feature a well-thought-out, simple configuration for the working musician. A Fuchs gig bag designed for all models is coming soon.

These amps feature an input gain control allowing both passive and active bass use, Baxandall (shelving eq) high and low controls, a parametric rotary midrange control with level and frequency control and an output master volume. With the midrange pot in the ‘0’ position the circuit is flat. In this mode the bass and treble pots emulate the classic Woods and B-15 style amps we know and love. Use the mid circuit for boost and cut of up to 20 db at a fully adjustable frequency.

All models use the industry-standard Ice power modules, which are known for their rock-solid reliability and excellent cool-running, audio performance. These amps feature a buffered patch loop between the preamp and power amp. All amps offer worldwide automatic line voltage selection. Wherever you are, they automatically set their own line voltage. All amps are CE and RoHs compliant.

FBT-300 6 lbs 12 x 3 x 9 chassis. FBT-700 6 lbs 12 x 3 x 9 chassis.

FBT-300: 300W at 1% THD+N, 4Ohm • 260W at 0.1% THD+N, 4Ohm • 380W at 10% THD+N, 4Ohm • 450W at 1% THD+N, 2.7Ohm (Approximately ½ half this value at 8-ohms).

For more information, visit online at fuchsaudiotechnology.com

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Bass Videos

Review: Ampeg V12 Bass Amp & VB 115 Cab

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Review: Ampeg V12 Bass Amp & VB 115 Cab

A video review of the Ampeg V12 Bass Amp & VB-115 Cab from the new Venture Series.

For more on the Venture series, visit online at ampeg.com

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