Fernandes 'Revolver' FRB 70 Bass
Japanese guitar makers Fernandes have been the subject of more distribution ups and downs and in and outs than a US Marine gets from a week's shore leave in Naples. This chaos has been desperately unfortunate, because, while the rest of the world has long since learned to appreciate Fernandes products as fully the equal of the best of their countryman's makers, British players haven't seen as much of them as perhaps they should have. But — happy days! — Fernandes has at last settled down with a UK distributor: PBT Distribution, run by Pete Tulett. And Pete has brought their prices down by some 25% on their previous figures. A good start!
Pluck a new Fernandes from a dealer's wall, and you'll see from the guarantee card that it has been personally set up by Nick Odell, PBT's guitar specialist, who will, we understand, be giving every Fernandes which passes through this outfit a close 'once over' to ensure that no duff samples reach the shops. It's sad to relate that not all imported guitars receive this sort of attention even today, and particularly reassuring to see Nick's signature on a Fernandes guarantee card.
Apart from the fact that the current Fernandes catalogue is ultimately droolworthy, it's the non-replica models shown in it that look particularly interesting, not least of which is their graphite necked Revolver FRB 120 bass. This high-tech beastie, however, retails at a recommended £725, so perhaps it was just as well that we were faced with sampling its less costly sibling, the all-wood FRB 70. Straight out of its Fernandes 'tweed' case, the FRB looked like a winner — but was its as good to play, was the sound worthy of the (albeit recently reduced) £423 price-tag? We let the IT team loose on it to see.
Finished in a dense, glossy jet black, our sample Revolver bass was every bit as well turned-out as we'd hoped. In fact, so well played in did the instrument feel that we'd have been more than happy to have whipped it off to a gig there and then — and there aren't too many 'out of the distributor's box' instruments that you can say that about, are there?
In a lot of respects this lower priced of the two Revolver basses is really quite a conventional instrument, although it's hard to describe the enthusiasm with which our reviewers greeted it without running the risk of sounding insincere. It feels like a prime cut, several other similarly priced challengers we can think of being reduced to scrag end status by comparison. The Fernandes really is so well finished that it provokes this sort of response.
In essence the Revolver is a variation of the time-honoured Fender Jazz theme. It features a comfortably contoured Alder body, mated with four tough bolts to a Maple neck which, on our sample at any rate, bore one of the finest quality Rosewood fingerboards we've seen on a Japanese bass in a long while. In fact the Rosewood was so well figured that we wondered whether it could have been that exotic Thai type, so beautiful were its markings. Maybe, maybe not; but this wood was good enough to eat. Proportionally, the Revolver is quite a deceptive instrument. From a distance it looks like a typical Fender clone, but its body feels quite a bit smaller than either a Precision's or a Jazz's, a feature which will no doubt endear it to those who like to wear their basses high as well as those who appreciate a smaller bodied, more manoeuvrable instrument. Comfortable to handle the Fernandes's body may be, but we suspect that its neck dimensions are destined to cause raging controversy among bass players. We measured our sample as having a remarkably slim 1 1/2 at the nut, widening to only 1 13/16" at the 5th fret and only 2 1/16" at the 12th. Dimensions like these are bound to cause arguments among players with different tastes, and all we can say is that this astonishingly slim neck is complemented by a sensible depth so that somehow it doesn't feel at all cramped. Lovers of narrow necked basses will probably need their feet nailing to the shop floor to prevent them walking out of the door with this model, while others will need bribing before they'll even consider trying it. It's the sort of neck profile that wars could be fought over and (as our reviewers were more or less split into two camps in their opinions of it) let's just call it an ideal neck for those who like 'slimmies' and leave it at that, shall we?
Before we get down to the sounds this bass offers and our playing impressions of it, a word about the hardware. Black chromed, the machines were about as good as you'll get at any price, while the ridge was, to be honest, just a bit of a disappointment (albeit offering heavy duty metalworking) being just a very basic Precision type, with heavy saddles and full action/intonation setting. For the price we might have expected something more sophisticated than this (the saddle screws weren't even tracked into stabilising grooves), but, if nothing else, the metalwork looked tough as hell and likely to stand the test of time. Any chance of more of a BadAss type for the money though, Fernandes?
The Fernandes features an active, battery powered system (you insert a PP3 via a back mounted plate), but it's one of those very best active basses where you are only given a clue to its powered circuitry by the excellent tones it produces, not by the funny sounds it makes if you get the control positions wrong in the middle of a live set! No, this isn't one of those over the top actives which calls for a degree in astrophysics to understand. In fact, if you treat it just like a good passive bass and accept the sounds it produces at face value, you're likely to gain the measure of it very quickly. The two pickups are Fernandes's own design, low impedance types and part of their 'FGI Technology' range. Whatever they choose to call them, they're really fabulous, with a sound range from a hammering 'twang' (absolutely perfect for slap sounds) to a rich bass warmth, but never delivering a tone which you can't use, unlike quite a few active basses we can think of. In that sense, the Revolver is an ideal stage instrument. You're unlikely to make mistakes with its easy to follow three-way rotary controls (pan between the twin transducers and two tones) but you certainly can get a wide range of sounds out of it, the sort which'll enable a Revolver 70 owner to move from band to band, gig to gig or session to session, confident that his or her instrument will deliver what is needed. Versatile — that's the word we were looking for! Equally, the bass is satisfyingly electronically quiet. There are still quite a number of actives around which hiss and splutter, and this can cause major problems in the studio. This is one instrument where you certainly won't experience such difficulties!
There's no doubting how well this bass is made, how much care has gone into setting it up and how good it sounds. Our only worry is that players who favour wider necks might find its neck rather too narrow for them to handle with ease. On the other hand, those who hate the wide necks of some other basses are likely to love this model to distraction. Which category you happen to fit into will, of course, be a highly personal business. Regardless of all this, the Fernandes Revolver FRB 70 looks and sounds, plays and feels like a winner to us. A retailer friend recently predicted that Fernandes was destined to become the hot guitar and bass line of 1987, and if this sample model was anything to go by, we reckon he could well be right. After all, if the FRB 70 doesn't appeal to you on account of its ultra-slim neck dimensions then this maker has a huge number of alternatives on offer. If they're as well made, as well set up and as fine sounding as this model, we're certain you're going to find one to suit you somewhere in the range. Unfortunately, the £423 RRP does seem quite high compared with some of the obvious competition, even given the recent price reductions. Against that, you're getting an instrument of real class here and you may well feel that the extra few quid is worth paying for an instrument that seems good enough to satisfy even the most demanding professional. It's up to you to decide whether you feel that the extra quality is worth paying for.
If the other Fernandes introductions are as good as this model, then they could well live up to that prediction of becoming one of the not names for '87. Watch out for them!
RRP £423 inc. VAT
More on Fernandes from P.B.T. Distribution Co., (Contact Details).
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