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Kramer B350

Colin Hodgkinson reflects on the aluminium neck of the Kramer B350.

I was keen to see and play one of the Kramer basses because, like the Music Man Stingray bass I reviewed last month, they seem to incorporate quite a few innovations. There are three basses in the Kramer range; the Standard (350), the De-Luxe (450) and the Artist (650). There is also a range of cases and flight cases for each instrument.

The feature which I have heard most about is the Kramer neck. The whole Kramer design evolved from the Travis Bean, for which company Gary Kramer worked before leaving to set up his own company and to perfect the idea of the aluminium neck. The necks are forged in an aluminium T-shape and then inlaid with wood, after which the whole thing is turned on a lathe to produce a smooth neck with the strength of aluminium and the warm feel of wood.

Another innovation is the fingerboard. Made from a synthetic material called ebonol (used for, among other things, pipe stems and bowling balls!), it is apparently totally resistant to warping, cracks, drying out and shrinkage. Therefore, because of this and the neck construction, no truss rod is employed. The necks are also cut with a new process which achieves perfect fret positioning, the system of fretting known as the zero-fret design where the first fret is at the exact top of the scale next to the nut (also aluminium, as are the position dots). This serves to set the string height, and some of you have probably seen the same system of fretting on Gretsch guitars.

The 350 (Standard) bass has a very attractive body made from matched shedua and African hardwood and is finished with an epoxy compound called Diamond Coat which is good to look at and extremely hard-wearing. The bridge sections are made from stainless steel which eliminates corrosion and the strap buttons are nice and large to prevent slipping. Another good idea is the double-locking type jack socket which prevents accidental disconnection while playing.

The single pickup is positioned roughly in the centre of the bass and there are two control knobs; one for volume the other for tone. The pickup has, according to the manufacturers, 'an extremely strong magnetic field to achieve excellent response with low distortion, low noise and great sustain. Along with our tonal network it is possible to get the sound of any other guitar or Kramer's own great sound.'

I tried the 350 through a Fender Bassman 100 amp and the dominant sound to my ears was a lot like that of a Rickenbacker. It was a very twangy sound, although the instrument came fitted with light gauge roundwound strings which probably contributed a lot to this. Although I tried a variety of settings on the guitar and amp, for example from treble 10, middle 3, bass 5, to treble 6, middle 5 and bass 8, I couldn't get anything like the variety of sounds which the makers claim, or for that matter a really full bass sound without any trace of treble. The treble tone, though, is superb and to me the greatest thing about this bass is the sustain which really is remarkable. The fretwork and intonation are also very good. Perhaps the more expensive Kramer basses do have a much wider range of tone, because of the extra pick-up etc, but I didn't find this with the 350.

Having fully described the neck I have to say that personally I don't like it very much. I do appreciate the thought that has gone into its design and the concept is excellent, but to me the neck doesn't feel smooth (as it would had it been perfectly turned) and the aluminium feels cold.

The fingerboard is very nice though. If it's as durable as stated it will be a great breakthrough because wooden fingerboards do wear and get scratched and marked after a few years of use.

Another good point is the neck bolts, screwed as they are into the aluminium part of the neck. In this way they never wear the mounting holes any larger, as can happen with wood. Also Kramer's point about the resistance of the aluminium neck to humidity and temperature changes, thus reducing tuning problems, is perfectly sound.

I could see no real advantage in the head design (although very striking!). In fact I would have thought that to use a head design with the centre section 'cut out' would have made for a weaker rather than a stronger head.

There are a lot of good things about this bass as well as the things which I didn't like. It's purely a matter of personal taste as it is with any instrument — it depends entirely on what one is looking for. I do feel though that, for what it is, the 350 is over-priced. It falls roughly into the same price range as the Music Man Stingray which I thought perfect and much better value for money.

In one of the future issues of Sound International I'm going to have a look at copies. What I'd like to do is get together as many different copies of a particular bass, probably a Precision, as I can and then invite a few people of different ages and abilities along to try them all (with the name of the instruments covered up and a real Fender Precision somewhere in the pack), so we should get some interesting comments out of that one! Also I intend to cover the cheaper end of the bass market, some models in which have improved a lot over the last couple of years.

rrp £385.61/$499.00

Colin Hodgkinson was bassist with Back Door until their split in 1977, and is currently involved in session work and the MU rock workshops.

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Ovation Breadwinner & Preacher

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Tama Superstar 9040

Sound International - Copyright: Link House Publications


Sound International - Jun 1978

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

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