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First things first: Grab your bass, strap it on, stand up, play a few of your favorite licks, and observe the angle it’s positioned at. Next, sit down and play those same licks, again noting the playing angle. You’ll most likely notice a difference. If this difference bothers your fretting-hand technique or causes you discomfort, there may be an answer—or Ansir—to your problems.
Ansir basses are named after the acronym “ANSIR”—which stands for “angled neck string instrument resource”—and they’re built by Jody Michael and a team whose design philosophy concentrates on ergonomics. Because electric basses have traditionally been designed around a linear playing dynamic, Ansir believes players must manipulate their bodies to accommodate them, thus increasing the potential for repetitive stress injuries. To avoid this, Ansir’s basses are designed to maintain a consistent playing angle whether you’re seated or standing.
Building custom basses according to an individual’s playing angle and providing them with a truly customized instrument has brought some success to Ansir. From this success, they have very recently diversified with a new production model known as the Imperial Series Stream Line (or SL). It provides some of the benefits of a custom angled-neck design, as well as unique looks and straightforward tone.
If Salvador Dali created a bass, it may have looked like the unique-looking Imperial SL. Shaped from multiple tonewoods, it features ingrown-bark-maple wings that conceal a basswood core adorned with walnut appointments. The wings connect to a wenge tone block with the assistance of a pair of zebrawood splines. The company says these splines improve stability and help transfer vibrations through the body. Finally, the bolt-on, twopiece neck is constructed of wenge and is topped with a pau ferro fretboard.
Opening the back plate (which is carved from an attractive piece of zebrawood) reveals a clean and well-shielded interior. The people at Ansir say they spent a significant amount of time experimenting with different capacitors and potentiometers, all with the intention of creating a passive-toned system that would bring out bassists’ playing nuances. Other quality features of the Imperial SL include a solid KSM Foundation bridge, Gotoh tuners, an aluminum nut, and a heavy duty input jack. Overall, the instrument is aesthetically striking and solidly built.
The Imperial SL is also offered in fretless versions, or with 21-, 22-, or 24-fret necks. Other neck angles are available, as are 34"- or 35"-scale 4- or 5-string versions. Other pickup options include P-bass style, P/J style, and J style.
Our test bass had an excellent setup, accurate intonation, and little to no fret buzz. One of the interesting things we noticed when we unpacked the Imperial SL was that, while it definitely doesn’t look “normal” when you first lay eyes on it, the extent of its ergonomic angles have a bit of a deceptive, Escher-like visual quality when you look at it on a stand. But when you turn it to horizontal playing position, the curvaceous body and unique tilt of the angled neck become much more evident.
Because this is a production model, the 40-degree neck angle is based on the most popular measurements of Ansir’s previous customers. While the bass felt a bit heavy when I first picked it up, the shape evenly distributes the weight when you’re wearing it on a strap. Overall, it felt quite balanced—regardless of its position when standing up—and I did not experience any shoulder or back discomfort when playing for long periods of time.
The benefits of the angled neck were equally apparent whether you’re standing or sitting. While I would have preferred a more pronounced playing angle for my playing style, the stock Imperial SL angle still required fewer adjustments to my fretting- hand technique than the linear dynamic on most electric basses. This resulted in effortless movement around the substantialbut- smooth-playing neck. Nearly every note was accessible on the fretboard, though some hand extension was required to reach notes on the upper four frets.
Although everyone has a different level of tolerance for imperfections in a handmade instrument, it should be noted that the SL had a few. Running my hand along the instrument, I felt minor inconsistencies in the finish, with a few rough spots along the bottom curve of the body and where the wenge tone-block transitioned to the walnut stringers. All said, one may argue that these finish issues are inconsequential.
The Imperial SL employs a pau ferro-covered Seymour Duncan SMB-4D humbucker (a pickup that was originally designed for the Music Man StingRay). On our test bass, the control knobs extend far enough from the body to expose external parts of the pots, so care should certainly be taken to avoid any damaging them. Ansir explains that the knobs are intentionally high both so one can easily reach them when playing and for ease of tightening after repetitive use.
I tested the SL through a Phil Jones D-600 head driving a Glockenklang Quattro 410 cabinet, as well as an Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 head powering two Glockenklang 112 cabinets. Plugged in, the Imperial SL could be described as the tonal offspring of a StingRay and a Warwick Streamer. It serves up highend crunch, combined with a tight low end and a modern, articulate growl. When I wanted more punch, the SL took to EQ adjustments quite well: A boost in the amps’ low mids yielded notes that were like a punch to the gut. Slap tones shared the StingRay vibe, but with a woodier snap. Additionally, the bass was very impressive when playing harmonics. They came out with clarity and authority, even on the second fret.
While Ansir says the Imperial SL affords many tones by simply adjusting the tone knob, this single-pickup configuration has one inherent tone. The knob performed like a treble roll-off, and as it neared the end of its rotation it infused the sound with some midrange honk. I found this midrange emphasis worked best with a pick and a little amp overdrive, which created a grinding, Chris Squire-like tone like in “Roundabout.” Live, the Imperial sat well in the mix, with the fundamental of each note being quite present and the dual-coil pickup conveying string bends and slides with ease.
The Ansir Music Imperial SL combines significant ergonomic considerations with boutique looks and an articulate, aggressive sound. It’s great to find a US-made instrument at a price that rivals some factorymade imports. The Imperial SL would be an excellent choice for bassists with back and shoulder issues, or for those trying to prevent future injuries. It would also be ideal for those who often play while sitting. It isn’t the most versatile bass, and it does have some minor cosmetic imperfections, but the Imperial SL is a bass of great value and might just be the answer for you.