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Review – John East J-Tone Preamp for J Style Basses

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A Review of the John East J-Tone Preamp  for J Style Basses

This John East J-Tone Preamp for J Style Basses was originally published in November 2018.

UPDATE BELOW: November 18, 2019 – Vintage Style Knobs now available for East J-Tone preamp

In our little universe, it doesn’t get much more iconic than the Fender Jazz Bass.  Since Leo Fender invented the dual-pickup Fender Jazz bass in 1960, a relatively small amount of improvements or modifications have been made to the archetypal design.  It still has the 34” scale, it still has the pair of single-coil pickups in the “standard locations”, the same pickguard shape and metal control plate and the passive volume/volume/tone control layout.  Although construction methods and manufacturing techniques have changed, along with things like neck profiles and body contouring, the basic design has stood the test of time. 

One of a few things that have changed greatly over the years is the technology around electronics, which has had a huge impact on what can be considered the “Fender Jazz Bass tone family tree”. 

The diaspora of Fender Jazz Bass tone has exploded with the advent of new technologies and ideas around pickups and electronics.  In recent years, there have emerged a number of active electronics designed specifically for Jazz Basses, and one of the more popular companies offering such products is UK based maker/designer of onboard bass preamps John East, of East UK.

Many may already be familiar with the popular East preamps, including his incredibly powerful and feature-packed J-Retro bass preamps, which is designed to fit inside the existing cavity of a Fender Jazz Bass, including 9v battery, requiring no routing or modifications to the body. The J-Retro was probably the first complete drop-in EQ on a J plate, first released in 1998.

With all of the bells and whistles of the J-Retro’s feature set,  John has recently launched a new preamp offering for Jazz Bass players seeking to retain the original sound and feel of their passive instrument, but with the addition of transparent but powerful active EQ:  the J-Tone preamp. 

Like the J-Retro, it is mounted to a Jazz Bass control plate and requires no modification or routing to an existing bass.   It also doesn’t require soldering skills (thank God, I shouldn’t be legally allowed to own a soldering iron), as all the connections are made via solderless screw terminals.

The John East J-Tone Preamp is geared for players who like simple, usable EQ, and want to keep the simple passive vibe and sound of their instrument.

It can be ordered with dual volume controls, like a passive Jazz Bass, or a stacked volume/blend knob for those who prefer that layout.  Despite its relative simplicity, it has a whole lot going on under the hood. 

The passive tone control works in both active and passive modes, and most notably, the bass and treble EQ controls offer what I consider to be the most unique, coolest and valuable aspect of the J-Tone preamp:  mounted to the electronics under the control plate, there are small thumbwheels which let you dial in the exact frequencies you desire for the bass and treble EQ knobs. This feature allows you to tailor your bass and treble EQ to either your preferred sound, the exact sort of EQ your bass requires, or EQ points optimized for your rigs frequency response. The bass control offers +/- 18db of boost and cut at anywhere between 40-200 Hz, while the treble EQ offers the same boost and cut in the 1kHz-7.5kHz range.   

I absolutely love this feature and am quite familiar with it, having owned John’s flagship UNI-PRE, which also contains this feature.   In my opinion, it is such a smart and valuable function and sets this preamp apart from its competitors in a substantial way.  As someone who tends to prefer a slightly deeper bass boost and a slightly higher/airier treble response, I have had great luck configuring the J-tone’s EQ to my obnoxiously picky liking.

While we’re on the subject of tweakability, The J-tone comes standard with a selection of “Plug In Tone Caps” which let you change the tonal response and taper of the unit’s passive tone control.

Not all passive tone controls are created equal, and the value of the capacitor determines how the high end is rolled off, and in some cases the overall tonal presentation of the preamp.   I asked John to shed some light on the plugin tone cap options and boy did he deliver: “Several Tone Caps have been included to allow players to set the Passive Tone roll-off frequency according to what works best for them. The higher the cap value, the lower the roll-off frequency, i.e. the more mellow or deeper the sound, when the tone control is fully backed off. The default cap fitted to a J-Tone is a 0.1uF (= 100nF) which is the deepest in terms of sound. It was used in the early P basses and is the stock value for East products. The 0.047uF (= 47nF) is less deep, often the stock value for Jazz basses, which used to be 0.05uF in the vintage instruments. The 0.033uF (= 33nF) is lighter still, very close to the value of 0.03uF, used for the bridge pickup in 62 Jazz basses, which had a tone control for each pickup. The 0.022uF (= 22nF) gives the least mellow tone, close to the vintage value of 0.02uF. This value does not seem to have been used in Fender basses, but a number of bass players like to use this cap for their passive tones.” In case you have glazed over, or your head is spinning, feel free to just do what I did:  try them all out and see which you prefer.   It wasn’t hard to hear the differences and my preference was pretty clear after just a little testing.

I was able to get the J-tone installed and up and running in about 10 minutes (loving those screw terminals for all connections, including the ground wires).

Before I screwed the plate down, I started playing through my rig and quickly honed in on my preferred bass and treble EQ settings with the small thumbwheels.   The preamp also has a trim pot for the overall output gain of the preamp, which I set to just slightly hotter than the passive volume level.   I installed the J-Tone in a couple of basses, including a 2012 MIA Fender Jazz and my personal 2016 Lakland Skyline DJ5 (“DJ-Tone” is the model name, due to the slightly different shape of the control plate that the preamp comes already installed on).  In both cases, it was very clear that the main goal of the design was achieved: retaining the sonic characteristics of a passive jazz bass with the addition of flexible and powerful EQ. With the output gain trim pot set at unity gain, toggling between passive and active yielded almost no change in tone or response.   It doesn’t sound like an “active bass”, it truly sounds like a passive bass with some added flexibility.  The circuit adds very little noise, and although almost any active treble knob introduces some hiss, it was relatively, and admirably minimal with the J-Tone.

All in all, the J-Tone is a home run. It does everything it is supposed to do, without any foreseeable drawbacks or compromises.

As with everything East makes, the electronics appear to be of top-shelf componentry, has a very high-quality appearance, and the knobs and pots have a nice sturdy feel to them.   While some may prefer the more “kitchen sink” approach of the J-Retro and its slightly souped-up tone, those looking to keep the inherent characteristics of their Jazz bass will likely be very pleased with the J-tone, as it seems to split the difference between “active” and “passive” beautifully.   As I really like the sound of my passive Lakland, I was very pleased that it still felt and sounded like a passive bass, but gave me more tonal flexibility for moments when I needed some more control than the passive layout provides.

UPDATE: Vintage Style Knobs now available for East J-Tone preamp.

A little while back we reviewed the East J-Tone Bass preamp, a “drop-in” preamp for Jazz Basses from John East, creator of the celebrated and feature-rich J-Retro onboard bass preamp.  The J-tone was designed for “Jazz Bass players seeking to retain the original sound and feel of their passive instrument, but with the addition of transparent but powerful active EQ”.  The J-Tone came with John’s standard high-quality knurled metal knobs that sat on concentric control pots.  While the metal knobs had a great, sturdy, no-slip feel, some players asked John about the possibility of vintage “Fender-style” control knobs to keep the passive and retro vibe of their jazz basses.

Well, folks, ask and ye shall receive.  I recently received an airmail envelope from across the pond with some lovely glossy black Fender-style concentric knobs for my J-Tone preamp!   I put them on my bass and immediately felt the vibe factor go up a few notches.  While the metal knobs are excellent, I really dig the chunky feel and aesthetic of the vintage-style knobs, and it definitely helps the bass retain its ‘passive feeling’. 

Customers can now order their J-Tone w/ vintage knobs or update their existing preamps.  Thanks, John, for keeping an ear on the ground and fulfilling your customer’s wishes!   

While there are other “Jazz Bass Plate” preamps on the market, few if any can beat the quality of the John East J-Tone Preamp.

And none of them offer the type of tweakability that rewards players who willing to spend a little time with it with EQ that is just right for their preferences.   The J-Tone retails for $194.00 and more info and specs can be found in the J-Tone’s manual or on the product page on John East UK’s website.

David C Gross has been the bassist for a lot of folks. He has written 14 bass books and 3 instructional videos, hosts “The Notes From An Artist Radio Show” on www.cygnusradio.com Monday nights 8 PM EDT, and the “Notes From An Artist” podcast available on iTunes, Spotify and all podcast platforms.

NFAA brings you behind the scenes with individuals who forged a timeless musical canon – spanning rock, jazz, funk, blues, folk, country, and permutations thereof. Listen to stories and anecdotes hitherto untold and relive more than a few chronicles that have become lore with a fresh vision. It’s the soundtrack of our lives. Celebrate the past, live in the present, and anticipate the future – take Notes From An Artist

You can contact David @ www.thebassguitarchannel.com/contact for more information regarding his online lessons and world-renown correspondence course.

Bass Videos

String Instrument Humidifiers

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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

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Bass Videos

Review: CrystalBright Rombo Picks

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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

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Gear

New Joe Dart Bass From Sterling By Music Man

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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/.


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Gear Reviews

The Frank Brocklehurst 6-String Fretless Bass Build

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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. 

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Gear Reviews

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

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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

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