Jaydee Supernatural GA Bass
The Jaydee 'Mark King' isn't the only bass made by Birmingham's John Diggins - there's the 24 fret 'GA' model too. Gary Cooper tries it on for size
It was lust at first sight I don't know what it is that makes some guitars just bits of wood with strings on, and others living breathing animals - maybe it's a player's fevered imagination, possibly an awareness of the human input in them; yet again, it could be 'feel', that commodity which every musician strives for and which no-one can define. Either way, my reaction to the looks of the black finished Jaydee 'GA' Bass was anything but calm, clear and rational. Could it live up to those first sensations, though? I knew it'd take a lengthy test to find out, so I've lived with this bass for a while now - and spent a lot of time probing that initial burst of desire to see how it stood up to the realities of hard use.
First just a little about John Diggins, the quiet, shy, genius who hides behind the Jaydee name. John's no newcomer to guitar and bass making; in fact it was more years ago than either he or I would probably like to admit to that we first met back in the mid-Seventies, when he was already regarded as the Midlands guitar maker - the man who crafted instruments for anyone who was anyone from the area, and whom Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler (two much underrated Rock players if ever I've heard such creatures) who propelled me in his direction. Throughout their incarnations they've stuck loyally to John, and they're not alone by any means. In fact once they've fallen for a Jaydee instrument people seem to stick with them - witness Mark King who, for all the other beautiful instruments he owns, seems to cling (and from choice) to his Jaydee.
Speaking of Mark, the special 'Mark King' model which he uses is very close in many respects to the 'GA'. In fact the major difference between the two is that the model which Mark uses bears only 21 frets, whereas the 'GA' has 24.
Getting down to details; the instant attraction to this bass can be clearly understood by looking again at this month's front cover to see for yourselves why this is such a visually impressive instrument. With its dulled black lacquer, the Jaydee looks mean and moody, and is finished to an impeccable standard.
Take it from the hard case and the 'GA' looks even better. It's a heavy bass, the body being made from Brazilian mahogany, fitted with a straight-through neck of laminated sections of American black walnut and Canadian rock maple. It's a combination of prime quality woods assuring remarkable strength, and the care and attention to detail which has gone into the assembly and finishing of these woods is obvious from any examination, however detailed.
The fingerboard is fashioned from the finest ebony, fretted with a medium gauge wire which is perfectly rounded-off at the fingerboard edges, where the aged ivoroid binding takes over to add comfort to the feel and distinction of this bass.
On the reverse side, the 'GA' is contoured on the top to nestle comfortably against the body, and bears two large (perfectly countersunk) brass cover plates, one of which provides access to the internal - active - electronic circuitry, the other which is removed by undoing two screws to reveal the PP3 battery buried within. The Jaydee's hardware is as uncompromising as it's possible to get. Where John and his team can possibly make something themselves; they do. In fact, only the machine heads are bought-in, and they're those small enclosed, Schaller types which work so well. Everything else is unique, including the wood-covered pickups.
Before getting down to the electrics, however, the rest of the hardware also deserves some careful consideration as it's remarkable in its sturdy purposefulness.
The strings fasten (two each) into a pair of the heftiest imaginable round brass retainers. These are screwed tightly down onto the neck woods which, of course, run right through the body. As a device to capture and guarantee the maximum possible sustain and frequency transmission, it's hard to imagine what could work better.
The bridge itself is also unusual both in its design and its inherent strength. A massive brass unit the whole assembly can be adjusted for height by two alien screws, and is countersunk, again, into the body to ensure the lengthiest possible sustain and the most faithful transmission of vibrations from the strings. Each saddle is a rounded brass bar which rests on top of solid brass pieces; these latter screwed down against the bridge's baseplate. The saddles can be individually raised or lowered (via twin alien screws) and the string length can also be adjusted, but only with the aid of a proper allen screw, which means that they're locked solid and cannot slip around, however hard you play. Overall the standards of construction are guaranteed to extract the maximum effect from the strings and wood, and look like the sort of engineering standard which (albeit in the 19th century!) once made our engineers the envy of the world. John works to that sort of traditional standard.
The pickups are, again, made by John and his team and are quite exceptionally beautiful to look at, let alone listen to. They're twin coil units covered in handmade wooden casings each one a miniature object lesson in craftsmanship, comprising strips of alternating maple and ebony.
The wiring beneath these pickups connects them to an active circuit which must be one of the easiest to operate and handle in 'on-stage-panic' situations. John was telling me recently that he's been looking at parametric systems for a possible change from the current approach, which is a system so simple that you can learn how to use it and have it entirely under your control in a few minutes. What put John off the idea of going parametric was that he couldn't improve on the existing frequency scope offered by the present system. As I commented to him at the time, another benefit of staying with the current system is that you can handle it quickly and easily, without pausing to think first - a problem with parametrics in many cases.
So what is the control arrangement? It's delightfully simple, and yet tremendously effective. It works with two large (knurled) brass pots having overall control over master volume and tone, the vol pot being click stopped for accuracy. The three small plastic capped pots (each one topped with a gleaming piece of abalone) stretch back towards the jack and cannon sockets, either of which can be used, depending on the sort of connections you favour and your amp system demands. In order, they handle bass; mid and treble boost. Once you've remembered which does which (they have centre detents too, by the way) on-stage adjustments to your sound are sublimely easy.
In addition to the rotary controls, a small metal micro-switch governs active on and off and there's a super heavy-duty click-stopped pot which switches the bass from 'off', through neck, both and bridge pickup settings. Some people object to having basses which you can turn 'off', but I rather like them. With a 'full off' setting it enables roadies to pre-set your bass but keep it silent before you get on stage, and it means that you can have utter silence if you want it during acoustic instrument solos, drum sections etc. Helpfully, the Jaydee has a red neon which shines only when the bass is on.
Looked at in any light this is one heck of a bass guitar. Every detail has been worked out by a master craftsman, a man who has benefited from the ideas input of countless top professional players - small wonder that the result is so practical and usable.
Take the Jaydee in your hands, fasten a strap, plug it into a decent bass amp and you know that you've a craftsman's instrument in your hands. The body is heavy, yes, and it's large and maybe wouldn't suit a player of small stature - but if you're average to large sized, then it fits your body like it was made for you by a Savile Row tailor, and you're ready and raring to go.
The full scale length (34"), the large and dense mahogany body and the 24 frets certainly makes this model feel big - in fact it was a bit of a handful for the first twenty minutes or so that I was playing it. Once I'd adjusted to finding my way around the super-shallow neck though, with its unbelievably low action, I soon found myself settling down to playing it with ease. In fact the Jaydee 'GA' bass is an easy instrument to play. The neck width is wonderfully right in your hands and the shallow depth of it leads to your being able to manage all those flashy licks which lesser basses leave you fumbling over. The neck widens-out gradually as you approach the 12th fret, and that facilitates getting your fingers round high pitch runs quite easily. If you can relate numbers to feel then the neck measures about 1 11/16" at the (bone) nut to around 2 3/16" at the 12th fret - so it doesn't spread out like a duckbilled platypus's bill at the top end, but leave an ideal amount of room to accommodate your fingers without becoming so wide that it's unmanageable.
If you imagine that the sustain due from all that brass hardware, the straight-through neck and scale length is impressive then I'll bet you a penny to a pound that you've no conception of just how impressive it is, unless you've one of these basses to hand! Notes ring on and on, clear, pure and harmonically rich - equalled only by those from the finest craftsman-made instruments and even then, only by a mere handful.
Aiding that sustain and tonal quality is what must be one of the most effective active circuits around. The basic tone master control swings the overall tone (both when the instrument is set active and passive) from a deep rounded bass to a fairly high treble; but flick over the active 'on' switch and the play afforded by the three extra tones gives you every imaginable sound from a treble which rasps out of anything less than the highest quality amp and speaker like a bee sting to a bass which is so deep that it takes, again, a fine amp and speaker to handle it.
In fact, it took the Yamaha bass combo (also on test in this issue) to take what the Jaydee could give - and, even then, I would have preferred a full bi- or tri-amped system to faithfully reproduce the sounds that spring from that combination of design and manufacturing ability which, surely, characterises John Diggins as one of the world's finest craftsmen. Sorry, I simply cannot find fault with this remarkable bass. It may not be every player's ideal - some might find it a bit of a handful others might prefer other makers' neck dimensions or body shapes - but these are personal considerations which no review can hope to take account of. Judged in absolute terms as an instrument my sample was flawless.
For players who want or feel they need, a long scale bass with 24 frets and active power of the finest quality, and who appreciate ultimate workmanship when they hear and see it then this Jaydee must figure among your reckoning if you're about to buy a bass in this class. Yes, this bass does cost a lot of money, but it's for a professional player - an instrument for a perfectionist who wants the best that money can buy. It equals anything I've ever played, and only personal tastes could fail to make it the perfect bass for you. Try it if you're in the market for such a bass - or may the curse of the broken string follow you down your days for such woeful negligence!
£796 Inc. VAT
More details of Jaydee Guitars & Basses from Jaydee Guitars Unit 2, (Contact Details).
Review by Gary Cooper
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