Westone Raider II Bass
Cover your eyes for a review of Westone's brightest bass to date.
"BLIMEY!" I said as I opened the case which revealed the all-new Westone Raider II bass. I think it was blimey, anyway. My memory (approx one-and-a-bit K RAM, I'm told), isn't all that it was, I seem to recall, but certainly there was an exclamation accompanying the opening ceremony.
For the Raider II departs from Westone's previous taste for sedate and really rather conservative guitar shapes and outlines. The shape of these Raiders is (flavour of the month that it is) Explorer-like, as you'll see from the accompanying snaps. Explorers, Raiders, they all do much the same thing, don't they?
The exclamation, though, was largely reserved as a reaction to the finish. The finish! Westone describe it as Yellow And Blue Sparkle, and sparkle it most certainly does.
I find it utterly tasteless — it reminds me of certain horrific sparkling cars whose owners' sole aim in life is to be first away from the traffic lights. I dare say there will be those whose pulse rate accelerates at the sight of the Westone Sparkle, and there is no doubt that the Raider II is made for performers, posing in the lights and dodging the dry ice. Course, my mind is on higher things.
Before we leave the visual department — blimey! — and get on to actually playing the thing, I'll just complete this brief tour around the facilities. Simplicity rules here, and the posing owner will have no trouble in coming to terms with what's on offer.
The bridge is a chunky brass-coloured object, somewhat bulkier than that on the Westone Concord bass, for example. Adjustments are standard — a cross-headed screw/bolt through each saddle adjusting intonation, and two tiny Allen screws either side of each saddle for action/height (an Allen key fitting these is supplied, as is another larger one for the truss rod adjuster).
The fingerboard looks like rosewood and features triangular inlays at the usual fret-marking positions among the 20 frets. Presumably these triangles are meant to harmonise with the angular body shape. Or perhaps their direction is intended to encourage the player to use more open strings.
Anyway, the markers point to the brass nut and beyond, where the head (looking even more like some deadly eastern weapon than previous Westone headstocks) has its normal array of machine heads and a D/G string guide. The head is faced with the sparkling finish, and the enclosed machines do their job efficiently.
And so to the sound, which is attended to by the minimum of impedimenta — single volume and single tone controls, the knobs themselves being unmarked brass-coloured metal "domed" types. Nearby there's an ever-faithful split P-Bass-like pickup. Strings aligned perfectly with the pickup's polepieces, and the pots performed with responsive precision.
The pots are accessible through a plastic plate on the back of the body which comes off after removing four tiny crosshead screws (and it's worth paying out for a harder-metal cross-head screwdriver rather than settling for a cheaper, softer type that'll burr after a few uses, by the way).
The volume pot is screened with a strip of silver foil coming up to meet the strip on the back of the compartment cover, but there is no screening elsewhere inside the cavity. Wiring and soldering seemed tidy and accurate.
Once you've plugged the Raider II in, the sound is good and solid. The tone control isn't spectacularly effective, but quite acceptable in a passive instrument, and the quality of sound from this bass seemed a lot warmer and wide-ranging than some Japanese efforts I've heard, particularly in the lower reaches.
The neck is comfortably slim in the palm, string spacing hardly tapers at all, and fretting was accurate and largely without any particularly problematic buzzing or ringing. The supplied roundwound strings were lively enough. Neck adjustment, if necessary, is accessible at a truss rod Allen screw at the body end of the neck.
UK distributors FCN Music make a point of saying how the "angular body has been designed particularly with good balance in mind, so often a problem with other similar guitars." Obviously a bass with looks like the Raider is not really intended to be played sitting down, resting demurely on the knee — balanced like this it certainly is head-heavy.
In its doubtless intended situation — dangling on a strap round our still-posing axeperson's neck — the Raider balances quite perfectly. One strap peg is at the usual body-end position, the other on the neck/body joining plate. I personally find this second position sometimes has the habit of pushing the guitar slightly down and away from you, but it's a minor point.
The Raider II bass will cost you just a few pence under 200 quid, putting it into the middle bracket as far as the Westone bass range is concerned. There is a cheaper Raider bass available, the Raider I at £20 less.
From pictures rather than tactile experience, I'd say that it seems to differ in its finish: it has dot position markers, comes in Fire Red/Onyx or Black And Silver Sparkle, and I suspect the hardware is chrome-finished too. FCN are importing left-handed versions as well, to cheer up the cack-handed amongst us.
I still can't find anything to praise about the looks of the Raider II, but will of course leave that to your own better judgement. As a bass, rather than as an aesthetic achievement, this Westone brings class to simplicity, with a warm, expressive sound.
But I get the feeling that bassists who buy this instrument will have priorities which overshadow considerations like sound and expressiveness. A shame really, because they'll be getting a good bass. RRP £195 inc VAT