Tune Bass Guitars
Actually these Bass Maniacs aren't that new. Instrument biz types will have spotted them at the last two Frankfurt music fairs at least. It's just that, until now, none of these visitors has seen fit to inflict the Maniacs' lurid colours and generally sleek shapes on British bassists.
Yup, first we'll have a butchers. We borrowed two models, the TB02PJ-A and the TB04. The PJ bit refers to its Precision-and-Jazz bass pickup set-up, while the lack of letters on the 04 means that... well, it hasn't got any pickups. Not conventional ones, anyway. So there's a big gap where the pickups usually are. Nothing, blank, clear, plain, geddit?
On the 04, y'see, the pickups are in the bridge, tiny ceramic types built into the bridge saddles themselves. The fact that our 04 was fretless too made the bass look wonderfully clean and uncluttered. One might almost say elegant.
The 02PJ, however, caused something of a stir when we had a quick look at it in the office before rushing it away to the proper review. "Blimey, what a colour!" was among the more polite outbursts which greeted its "pearl orchid pink."
Anyway, we've had our look - let's get down to the more serious matter of noises. The 04 pickupless fretless first.
And there's instant hiss on the 04. Maybe it was something to do with the ceramic pickups, but even with the tone controls down, the hiss was permanently there on the 04 when we had it plugged in.
You regulate the hiss on the 04 with four rotary controls. The first control your hand slips to is, sensibly, the overall volume. Below that is a centre-detented active bass control; behind that a detented active mid control; and behind the volume is the detented active treble control.
The controls gave a wide range of noises, lending the fretless instrument a good upright bass simulation at one extreme, and a twangy, hollow 'thrack' at the other. The woodiness of the tones available was extremely good, while electronic attack was there too. Full marks - apart, of course, from the hiss. But you know that.
It's very good to play, too. It has a plastic fingerboard. Tune call the stuff 'phenolic', which as far as I can work out means 'black shiny plastic', and that's a fine description. It's a very, very flat fingerboard, too. If you have a quick polish before you play, you can see your face in it.
It's wide enough to fool around on comfortably, the markers consist of single dots in the standard 3rd-fret-to-octave positions, between the G and D strings and on the top edge of the fingerboard, and fun is generally to be had.
The fretted pink 02 was altogether different. Very good, but different. Plugging it in and winding it up, the 04's hiss is blissfully absent (except on extreme treble whackings, as you'd expect), and the first impression is of a very bright, attacking sound.
But let's turn the knobs a bit and experiment: the four controls are laid out in the same places as the 04, except that the bass control now becomes a detented control to mix the two pickups, and the tone controls are restricted to active bass (plus or minus 15dB) and active treble (plus or minus 18dB). (Though with that range, 'restricted' is obviously the wrong word.)
The brightness is undoubtedly there, contributed to by the combination of medium-wide, rounded fret wire, another plastic board, a brass nut and a simple but effective stainless steel bridge, the supplied roundwound strings, and the pickup team.
There's a straight Jazz-type pickup at the back for treble, and Precision-like split pickups at the front: on our sample the back pickup was slightly the louder, so the mix control was helpful here (with a selector switch your pickups are on or off - here you can actually balance the sound between the two).
My favourite setting (a hard choice) on this pink plonker was to mix the pickups equal (meaning the control set slightly forward from centre because of the marginal pickup imbalance), full-up on the bass boost, and a touch on the treble. This gave me a thwacking great racket for thumb style (though there was more volume from the cracking E-string than the A in this mode), and a clean, punching, energetic stab for normal fingerstyle. Jolly good, in fact.
So we return to the original question: are they each worth 700-odd quid (or more like 600-ish in the shops, we'd guess)? The hissing fretless, pickupless 04, in the state we saw it, certainly not. There could be something wrong with it, and if so we hope it'll be put right before it goes on sale.
The fretted pink 'un is much more tempting. Personally, I wouldn't be seen dead with one in this colour. But as they also offer pearl white, pearl snow white, black, pearl baby pink, natural, transparent red, and transparent red sunburst, then colour prejudice shouldn't pose a problem. The actual bass I liked very much: bright sounds and friendly playfulness. It is three times the price of anything in the Bible, though.
Review by Tony Bacon
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