Manson Kestrel Bass
Dave Burrluck back again with Manson's other new baby, the KahlerTrem-equipped Kestrel.
In the Jan '85 IM I took a look at the cheaper fretless Kestrel with a satin natural finish. The model reviewed here, while being similar in construction features a more expensive high gloss finish, is fretted, and features a Kahler bass tremolo system. Consequently it's retail price is nearer the elite £800 mark. However the Kestrel model is a good example of an originally shaped and designed bass without frills and concentrating on quality both in materials and playability.
The straight-through neck is made from a three piece laminate of Brazilian mahogany/maple/mahogany all quarter sawn to prove maximum resistance to warping. The 'wings' are again mahogany and form the distinctive sharp hornet body of the Kestrel design. Instead of an overall front facing only the wings are faced with a timber called Cocobolo, which sounds more like a cocktail than; tree. (I'm sure Hugh Manson is having me on, he believes it to be of S American origin. I'm not sure what I believe!) The two Cocobolo facings are book matched to mirror the medium and dark brown curvy grain. Either side of the base of the neck the facing totally changes colour to a pale yellow, possibly the sapwood, which certainly gives an unusual appearance. Like it or not it's individual.
Contouring is kept to a minimum on the bass with just a shallow back contour, the edges have a small curve and of course there is the usual Manson feature — the bottom cutaway.
The neck features a 24" fret fingerboard and, as with the guitar, is angled back to accommodate the height of the Kahler assembly. It has a round oval contour with a hint of a 'V' giving a pleasantly solid feel, quite different from the neck on the fretless Kestrel I tried last year. The nut width is slim, giving the neck quite a taper but nothing out of normal bass neck boundaries. Ebony is employed for the fingerboard and each fret is nicely finished and polished. Regular features include the small dot markers and rather dumpy headstock designed with a facing that looked like a curvy zebra striped rosewood that is probably from the Indonesian Peanut Tree. (Well that's as plausible as Cocobolo isn't it?).
As with the six-string, the bass employs a volute feature behind the truss-rod access hole on the face of the headstock.
All this glorious woodwork is finished in a sharp clear lacquer which brings out the colour and grain of the timber very well. Personally I'd have liked the cocobolo facing to cover the entire front, as the mahogany/maple/mahogany strip looks a bit out-dated in 1986.
Kahler amongst others have answered the plea from bassists for a waggle facility and on first impressions you'd be right in thinking it could be a bit OTT. However there ain't nothing wrong with the trem fitted on this bass. The saddles have a brass roller as usual and are held at the front of the base and angle back from the pickup, the reverse of the six-string version. We don't have a locking nut here (thank yer lucky Cocobolo tree) so tuning is left in the adequate hands of four Schaller M4s. All the hardware fitted including standard strap buttons, is black except the nut which remains conspicuous in brass. Still despite the material it's well cut and polished, there's plenty of room for the pencil lead in these grooves.
When is a Manson not a Manson? When it hasn't got a Kent Armstrong pickup? Well this one has and the association between the two goes back a long way. Basically you can't go wrong with an Armstrong pickup but that's not to say others don't do the job. Manson are now offering the bigger name makes as well. However this is a typical Kent unit, totally enclosed in black plastic epoxy with a wood grain finish and eight Allen keyed poles protruding. Height and tilt adjustment are via three cross head screws, two on the bass side and one on the treble which locate directly into the body.
Controls are kept simple — passive volume and tone — with black plastic speed knobs; not as nice as those aluminium ones chaps! The output jack is mounted on the face below the controls which really means you need a right-angle jack plug to stop the lead getting caught up with the trem arm.
The bass has a single strong and full tone, surprisingly deep bearing in mind the proximity of the pickup to the bridge. The sound is rich and powerful although it did for my money lack a bit of top, especially when I remember what I said of the fretless Kestrel bass. It could be that the Rotosound strings fitted were a bit old and dull. Consequently I felt the tone control not to be as useful as before, as without that characteristic brilliance to the tone, the actual tone control just makes things worse. However the overall sound is ideal for most Rock needs, though I think a much lighter set of strings would be needed to evaluate it for thinner, Funkier bass tones.
On the positive side however the bass plays extremely well and it has a very business-like feel. The pitch of the neck allows plenty of room for the slapper as does the placing of the pickup.
Now the Kahler is an interesting addition here — interesting because I'd never sat down with one for any length of time. Initially of course the trem is a bit of a gimmick with only useless 'pings' and 'dooings' being produced. After a while and some concentrated thought it's very possible to see some potential. Moving four note chords around for example sounds very 'fretlessy' but have you ever tried accurately fretting four notes on an actual fretless? Mind you, as anyone who has tried a trem for the first time knows, there's more to it than hitting a chord and waggling the arm. This bass is no exception. In the limited time I had the bass I was only just beginning to explore the uses of movement on a fretted bass — certainly bass trem could be stunning. However, until someone gives bassists a bit of direction to follow we could be in for some rather tasteless bass effects.
A very well made bass in all respects and while the tone is perfectly adequate I was left thinking that a bit of variation wouldn't be a bad thing, especially for all round players who just don't want one sound however good it may be. The retail price on this one is pushed up by the Kahler, which weighs in around £240 alone! The standard Kestrel bass without trem and with a satin finish is £565 which includes a flightcase, so it's not so much that the model reviewed here is over priced it's just that the Kahler adds such a lot in the final price. There isn't much wrong with the bass (that a new set of strings wouldn't cure) and one must remember that the trem is fitted for a customer who's waiting delivery on this bass (I'd better hurry up!) and just illustrates even more potential for the bass player. Nice one lads! Mines a Cocobolo, heavy on the ice!
|Width of Neck at nut||42||39|
|Width of Neck at 12th||52||55|
|Depth of neck at 1st||23||21|
|Depth of neck at 12th||24||24|
|String spacing at nut||36||32|
|String spacing at bridge||51||55|
|String action as supplied at 12th Treble||0.8||2.0|
|String action as supplied at 12th Bass||1.8||3.0|
Review by Dave Burrluck
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