The term "doctor/lawyer instrument" is often used to describe a bass or guitar sporting a price tag that only a doctor or
lawyer could afford without prompting
massive overdraft fees, calls from debtors,
and possibly threats of bodily harm (or
worse) from significant others. In other
words, they’re effectively out of reach for
the average working musician. It might
follow logically that a doctor who designs
and produces instruments himself would
put out similarly impractical instruments,
but in the case of Nashville’s Waterstone
Guitars and Dr. Robert J. Singer, M.D., the
results are quality instruments at a relatively
Waterstone was born out of passion and
a simple idea. Armed with a pencil and
butcher paper at his kitchen table, Singer (an avid guitar collector with roughly 85
in his personal collection) began sketching
what would become the first designs
for Waterstone—the culmination of his
lifelong interest in music, art, design, and,
of course, guitars. The young company’s
instruments have already found their way
into the hands of artists such as Cheap
Trick’s Tom Petersson, Vince Gill, and Alan
Jackson. One of their most recent offerings,
the Meaden bass (named after ’60s British
mod icon Peter Meaden), is a fine example
of familiar, new, and vintage—all rolled into one. Here we take a look at the fretless Meaden FL.
Mod and Proud
Despite what I said above, the Meaden
is, dare I say, an elegant bass. When first
inspecting it after opening the huge case
(storing it in an overhead compartment is
not going to happen), I was struck by its
classic look. The teardrop soundhole opposite
the eye-catching gold pickguard gives
it a sleek, Euro feel. I would have preferred chicken-head or more vintage-styled knobs,
given the Meaden’s old-school vibe, but
that’s an easy aftermarket fix for purists.
The off-white body, neck, and headstock
binding has a checkerboard pattern similar
to the trim on a London policeman’s
hat and, while the look of the bridge and
tailpiece takes you back 50 years, the setup
felt solid and reliable—unlike back in the
day when similar-style bridges felt like they
were going to fling off the instrument with
any degree of aggressive play.
The body and neck of the Meaden are
both constructed from maple, and the size
of the instrument echoes the dimensions
of other hollowbody basses of the past.
So if you’re a fan of that, it’ll fall right in
your wheelhouse. Our review model was finished in stunning high-gloss black, but I
should add that I noticed a small splattering
of paint when I gazed in the soundhole.
Though disappointing, it had no effect on
playability or tone.
If you’re an experienced fretless player and aren’t
intimidated by the idea of taking only a fretless
bass to your next cover gig, the tones from the
Meaden FL could probably carry the whole load.
Gliss and That
For a larger-bodied bass, the Meaden FL
felt very comfortable in sitting position.
But, like many hollowbody basses of this style, there was some neck diving once I
stood and wore the bass on a strap.
The set neck is finished to match the
body, so fretless players looking for a natural-wood,
pseudo-upright feel are going to miss
that. It shouldn’t be a deal breaker, however,
and as I got to know the instrument a bit
more while playing unplugged, the neck actually began to feel more “mature.” The unplugged tones sang with the swell and
resonance of a classic fretless, although the
growl sounded slightly midrange-y.
Budget-friendly entrance to the fretless world. Nice
playability. Classy tones. Great looks.
Factory setup was a bit sloppy.
Playability/Ease of Use:
To test the plugged-in tones, I ran the
Meaden through an Eden WT550 Traveler
head and 610XLT cabinet. Right out of the
gate, I was impressed with the deep, lush
tones of the passive humbuckers. I love
that Waterstone stayed away from getting cute with a piezo or active pickups. As I
dug in, the 32"-scale rosewood fingerboard
felt even and smooth up until the 12th
fret, but from there on up the neck humbucker
interfered with the 4th string, thus
stifling efforts to unleash my inner Michael
Manring. At that point, I lowered the
pickup with a couple of turns of a Phillips
screwdriver and was soon back in business.
With the 3-way pickup selector in the
middle position, the Meaden FL’s tone was
slightly throaty—true to its hollow nature—but it was also rich and smooth, without
being bite-y in the upper registers. I got a
more traditional fretless sound by switching
to the bridge pickup, which had more presence
without being overbearing. For soloing,
this is your setting. And by switching to the
neck pickup only, I got a deeper, slightly
more aggressive kick that would be apt for a
variety of rock settings. If you’re an experienced
fretless player and aren’t intimidated by
the idea of taking only a fretless bass to your
next cover gig, the tones from the Meaden
FL could probably carry the whole load.
By introducing a fretless version of the
Meaden, Dr. Singer and his team have
made a budget-friendly bass with a ’60s
vibe even cooler. Waterstone Guitars may
be a small company, but it has some big
ideas. The Meaden FL exemplifies how
Waterstone gives stylistic nods to the past
while keeping a keen eye to the future.
To that end, the FL is a classy, nicely
toned, functional tool that constitutes an
affordable entry into the world of fretless.
Whether or not you were around in the
’60s, this bass will afford you the opportunity
to pull on your winklepickers and
slide around on a bass that, playability-wise,
competes with other fretless basses in this
price range, but could probably win out just
by sitting there and looking so hip. Then
again, wasn’t that what the mod movement
was all about?