Imagine your typical electric bass. A familiar body shape quickly comes to mind, one probably dating back to the dawn of bassdom. Your mental image of the pickups is predictable, too – coils of wire with plastic covers and round magnets mounted just below the strings. You even know what the knobs should look like.
In other words, you know the bass paradigm, and you know it well.
But here comes Lace Music and their new 5-stringer that breaks the bass paradigm in two big ways: style and function. Style is the easy thing to notice about the Helix 5-string. Sculpted mahogany wings adorn a multi-laminated maple and mahogany neck-thru design – imagine a Guild Pilot reinterpreted for a futuristic sci-fi flick. The neck came well set up, needing just a slight tweak of the truss rod, with fast, low action and a neck profile that fit nicely in my hand.
The headstock echoes the bold curves of a upper horn and lower waist, showcasing the 4-plus-1 array of lightweight tuners. Speaking of lightweight, because of the slim body design and the Alumitone pickups, the Helix checked in at under seven pounds – a drastic drop from the typical nine or ten pound of modern basses. Your shoulder will thank you.
After spending enough time admiring the Helix’s looks, I strapped the bass on and went to plug in. But where did the plug go? There’s no jack on the face of the Helix, and none on the side, either. Flipping the bass over revealed a teardrop-shaped cover over the control cavity and a Strat-style jack at the bottom. It’s a nice feature that keeps the front of bass looking slick and refined.
The Helix’s pickups will likely cause another double take. At first glance, it looks like they have just two polepieces set between the middle pairs of strings, but those are actually the height adjustment screws. The Alumitone pickups use bar magnets embedded in the pickup’s top, not underneath like conventional designs. As Lace Music explains, these pickups are a “current driven method of sonic translation of the notes with zero noise and light weight.”
That’s a heavy dose of science, but what do the Alumitones sound like? Very natural, with a good range of basic sounds – nothing too extreme, due to the instrument’s passive electronics. There are just two Volume controls and a Tone control, consisting of large rubber knobs that resemble the jog wheel on my digital recorder. Because the pickups have low resistance – less than 3 ohms – they interact a bit differently with each other and respond more to small turns of the knob. A friend played the Helix and we compared notes; he thought the bass sounded like a cross between a Precision and a Rick.
The Final Mojo
If you’re looking for a comfy bass that is certain to turn heads, the Helix 5-string is quite the contender. It comes with a fits-like-a-glove gigbag, that – you guessed it – looks like no other (the term “Euro-style” comes to mind). But I’m no clairvoyant; only time will tell if a new bass paradigm has arrived.
Our expert has stated their case, now we want to hear yours. Share your comments and ratings below.
you’ve had enough of the status quo, you need a light axe and you’re adventurous
you like basses with a traditional shape, feel and sound – and a bolt-on neck