four strings from the north
By way of a preface to the review, I must firstly speak. If you happen to be in the market for a high quality instrument, don't expect too much right now. You are forking out a small fortune for something that is almost art, and this is the music business, man... Sometimes it's a bit uncool to bring up the subject of money, especially when so much is involved. To begin with, the Overwater didn't work at all, and even after Chris May (the designer) repaired what was evidently wrong, I was still left with a costly bass which then revealed a malfunctioning pickup. I could have been a customer. Sometimes I am.
Picture yourself having just bought a top-of-the-range video machine (a far more complicated product). You get home and open the box only to find that all the essential accessories are not included. You switch on and the motor immediately seizes up. It is duly repaired and returned to you, but now there is no sound and the picture is obscured by snowstorms. Would you not be rather cheesed off? It's unlikely to happen though, isn't it? But from both personal and reviewing experience, this kind of situation is becoming depressingly common where musical instruments are concerned, and these more elite, often highly esteemed items are no exception. They ought to be.
I strongly urge the purveyors of expensive guitars to start including all the necessary hardware, proper instructional literature/guarantees, and make certain that every last screw and bolt is in complete working order, and likely to remain so, before despatching to the public. Everything, in fact, that one would normally and rightly take for granted when purchasing any merchandise of an equivalent value.
After the Overwater was persuaded to make sounds at last, and Chris May departed, I soon discovered that the treble pickup was hardly giving any output, and it crackled if the cover was tapped. Bear this in mind, as it not only limited potentially superb sounds, but might have been responsible for degrading the electrical noise - performance, too.
The picture best illustrates the body/headstock design, but it's basically an elongated P-bass shape, which is meant to effectively counterbalance the neck and the rest as, indeed, it does. The whole playing area, and four controls, all fall right into the ideal position quite naturally, and when playing it while standing, I found the use of the strap is made easier by the inclusion of strap-locks, fitted as standard. The extra "offset" of the body provides a convenient resting point for the right forearm, which is perfect if, like me, you tend to play in this position. Otherwise, it may only be a problem if you prefer to wear your guitars high on the chest – as some people do.
Top quality timbers are selected for the construction of these guitars. The example to hand was of highly-polished Brazilian mahogany, with a ⅜in thick bookmatched body-top (orange-brown in colour) and a fretted "Thai rosewood" fingerboard, which appears to pay dividends in the form of colour – an edible-looking, rich, bright ginger – and grain, which is very close and dead straight from one end t'other. The edge of the fingerboard is bound in white (OK but not stunning) and the frets themselves are graduated beyond the octave, from 3mm to 2.5mm and to 2mm from the 16th fret on. I found this to be a good idea, and high notes are very well sustained and defined as a result. They are easy to reach as well, because the through-neck has no heel where it joins the body. Machines are by Schaller (as is the bridge and the strap-locks) and these do a smooth and efficient job in giving accurate, stable tuning with no fuss. They are arranged, incidentally, on the angled-back headstock so as to keep the strings as in-line as possible, along the fingerboard and over the nut.
The emphasis of design in the Overwater is undoubtedly placed on the all-importance of wood, it's character and effect. It is highly evident in the slightly disarming way in which the guitar responds to the player. All the notes are so firm and sure, and harmonically everything is very tightly in place no waffly prominence being given to overtones unrelated to the note being struck. What results is a wonderful solidity and life both in the sound of the bass and, just as much, in its feel.
Having raised the optimistic preset action a little bit, I found that lines played on this bass generated a mellow-sounding vitality, blissfully free of background rubbish. Its extraordinarily taut, woody response, coupled with the outstanding ability to handle a firm right-hand in a way that no other bass I've tried, or possess, can remotely approach, places the Overwater in a class of its own where playability is concerned.
The Schaller bridge assembly is a textbook design, four-way, with individually adjustable saddles. There are no sharp corners nor protrusions, and it has a compact and low profile. There ought to be more like it. General standard of finish on the bass is almost excellent, but not exceptional, and it's available in a choice of colour-tints and woods.
The active circuitry involves using a pre-amp and tone filter system for each pickup, output levels being controlled by a master volume pot, blended or separated by a balance/pan pot. Each of the two tone pots sweep between 300Hz and 8kHz, and "boost the selected frequency between 7-10dBs". The master volume pot incorporates a pull-switch which further boosts the treble region of the tone settled upon. There was no visible screening of the circuit cavity. The guitar was played through several known, reliable amps, and also in a recording studio, but on each occasion the sound was marred by directional buzz and rather excessive hiss (which, I'm disappointed to say precluded its use on the recording). Output level as such was unaccountably low for an active system (the battery was checked) and this probably didn't improve the signal-to-noise ratio, either.
It sounded as if a few circuits or components need tweaking so as to improve the hiss level, something which I'm sure could be done fairly easily without disrupting the tonal character at all. As to the directionality of the buzzing, I suppose it could have been due to inadequate screening, or perhaps the faulty pickup was somehow helping to induce it. Whatever the case, these maddening blunders spoiled an otherwise splendid bass-guitar. If Overwater were to clean up the hiss and buzz and organise a thorough quality control, then Chris May would have a good excuse to be very proud.
Review by Andrew Bodnar
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