Kramer Stagemaster 2 Bass
Aluminium neck for heavy metal
Despite the popularity of active basses, there remains a considerable number of players to whom the vast number of knobs, switches, buttons and general gadgetry on an active presents nothing less than a nightmare of possibilities on stage. They feel that it's far too easy for a player to hit the wrong setting on a darkened stage or in the heat of the moment. Others don't like relying on battery power or just feel that active basses, however wide a tonal range they may have, always manage to sound 'false' compared with a good pro-quality passive.
Still, even amongst passive instrument players there is a need these days for basses which have a wider tonal range than traditional types. The bass now frequently plays a lead role in a band's sound and this calls for more harmonic accuracy and purity, better tone than many old style instruments can offer. One maker who looked very much as if they were taking things in the right direction a few years back was American-based Kramer, distributed in those days by Brodr-Jorgensen, the company which metamorphosed into Roland U.K. as we know them today. Even a few years ago Kramer basses were getting very exciting indeed — providing, of course, that you could handle their aluminium necks and synthetic fretboards.
Well, for reasons which I don't know, Roland never took Kramer on from the old B.J. and so the line languished in the U.K. until picked-up a short while ago by a particularly enterprising distributor in the Midlands, Fordingley Marketing, a small relative newcomer who also handles fellow Americans Dean guitars.
During their absence from the U.K. market a few changes have taken place with Kramers. They now offer all wood guitars as well as their ally necked models and have obviously put a lot of work into their pickup designs. To assess the changes I borrowed a Stagemaster 2 bass from the distributors to give it a trial.
First off the Kramer is beautifully made for what must be regarded as a 'production' guitar. The mahogany body was made of really first quality wood with an excellent grain pattern, inset with two maple stripes. The forged ally screw-on neck now has the back lacquered for extra comfort, to an almost complete extent removing that metallic cold feel which some players used to object to on the original models, despite the use of wood inlays.
"DURING THEIR ABSENCE FROM THE U.K. MARKET A FEW CHANGES HAVE TAKEN PLACE WITH KRAMERS. THEY NOW OFFER ALL WOOD GUITARS AS WELL AS THEIR ALLY NECKED MODELS AND HAVE OBVIOUSLY PUT A LOT OF WORK INTO THEIR PICKUP DESIGNS."
Unchanged is the strangely dense looking black fingerboard made of a secret formula fibre composite called Ebonol. The idea may sound pretty unpleasant but it's superbly good to play on, the fretting on my sample being of an excellent quality, complementing the nice hardness and smoothness of this man-made material.
Machines on this bass are chromed Schallers, the nut (which makes use of a zero fret for accurate intonation) also chromed and the bridge is one of that excellent new generation types which offers individual string height, tracking (for stability) and side to side string adjustment via the saddle running horizontally on a threaded roller - first class! Pickups comprise a split design in the neck position and a bar type up near the bridge — similar in style to the arrangement found on a Fender Jazz, in fact. These each have volume and tone pots plus switchgear in the form of three metal flick switches, one for either or both on/off, and one each for coil tap.
"...BLACK FINGERBOARD MADE OF EBONOL... IT'S SUPERBLY GOOD TO PLAY ON, THE FRETTING ON MY SAMPLE BEING OF AN EXCELLENT QUALITY, COMPLEMENTING THE NICE HARDNESS AND SMOOTHNESS OF THIS MAN-MADE MATERIAL."
The Stagemaster is a superbly comfortable bass to play. The use of aluminium in the neck has allowed the makers to provide the skilled player with a really fast, slim shape, ideal for any style you care to think of but especially good for fast, funky attacking approaches. If you have a liking for Ricky 4001 necks but don't actually like the basses themselves then try one of these, it has all that speed but without the feeling of fragility some Rickys seem to have.
Sound from the pickups is really fantastic, — a guttural purity (no, those two concepts aren't incompatible) with the best, most tonally clean open 'E' that I can remember having used. Overall the sound would be superb for an attacking player who can make use of the instrument's tonal and harmonic purity — very much a professional instrument for a professional player, in fact.
If you haven't tried a Kramer bass yet, you really should. Don't be put off by the use of Ebonol fingerboards and aluminium necks — you'll get used to the former and find the latter very unobtrusive since the neck has been lacquered over the alloy and the wooden inlays which run right up the back of it. The recommended price of £470 probably puts this instrument out of reach of all but the wealthy amateurs and professional bassists but, for them, this should be right at the top of their shopping lists. It's certainly one of the finest production basses I've ever played. Tested with Custom Sound 726 300 watt Bass head and 4 x 12" Celestion cab.
Not yet widely available in the U.K., more details of the present outlets could be obtained from the distributors — Fordingly Marketing, (Contact Details).
Review by Gary Cooper
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