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Brubaker Musical Instruments has a reputation for exotic woods, innovative designs, and high-quality builds. Kevin Brubaker has been making handmade, custom basses and guitars since 1997, and his custom basses are endorsed by a number of heavy-hitting players. Three years ago, Brubaker began working on the import Brute series, which aimed to offer many of the features of his handcrafted KXB and NBS series basses at a price that’s more accessible to the greater bassist community. These instruments are available as both 4- and 5-string models, with MJX or JJX pickup configurations, and here we take a look at the Brute JJX-4.
A Lasting First impression
The Brute JJX-4 arrived in a sturdy hardshell case with a nicely padded handle that makes transporting the instrument surprisingly pleasant. Opening the case, I found a svelte instrument with a gloss finish over a basswood body, a satin-finished neck, and a unique and quite attractive flamed-maple pickguard.
The 22-fret, 3-piece maple neck attaches to the body with the same Bolt-Thru design that’s on Brubaker’s well-known KXB basses—and the neck’s truss rod is adjustable at the body. The body and neck join where the neck broadens into a heel, which then extends into a paddle-shaped spar that matches a corresponding route in the body. Two bolts are located in roughly the same position you’d normally find a traditional neck plate, and the other two bolts are located in the middle of the back, just slightly closer to the butt of the bass than where the neck pickup sits on top. Mimicking a set neck, the neck joint is effectively over six inches long—impressive!
The JJX-4 features a dual, J-bass-style pickup configuration with proprietary Brubaker-designed pickups that use ceramic 8 magnets. Electronics include a 2-band active preamp with knobs for Volume, Blend, Treble (centered at 15 kHz), and Bass (centered at 40 Hz). The preamp is accessible by removing the pickguard, so the only route on the back of the instrument is for the 9V battery compartment. Finishing off the list of appointments, the JJX-4 has Gotoh-style tuners, a solid-feeling die-cast bridge, and a graphite nut.
When I picked up the Brute and threw it across my knee, my first two impressions were 1) that the bass balanced in a very gratifying way—and this proved true while standing, too—and 2) that the neck played impressively well directly out of the case, with low action and wellexecuted fretwork. The string height was at the point that if you were really pulling (think right-hand attack on an upright bass), you’d get some slight buzzing, but probably not enough to come through the amp. In my book, this meant it was set up excellently for slap bass and very good for rock or fingerstyle funk. For more aggressive playing, the action can be brought up with a few quick and simple adjustments of the saddles. And while some players might not think the JJX-4’s medium neck profile isn’t the fastest or the slickest available, I found a lot to like about its playability.
At Home with the Tone
Plugging the JJX-4 into an Ampeg B5R head and Schroeder 1212L cab, I was impressed by the flexibility of the electronics. They’re simple to use, and it was easy to get a wide variety of nice sounds with precise adjustments of the EQ and various blending ratios between the pickups. The soloed neck pickup produced a big, open, bell-like tone, and when I dialed in lots of bass frequencies I was able to crank out fat, rumbling tones like you’d expect from a Hammond organ player’s left hand.
Just like you expect from a dual-J-pickup setup, the JJX-4’s bridge pickup is the sonic counter to the neck pickup—bright and crisp, with excellent snap for cutting through a dense mix. And when combined with the neck pickup’s fat bottom end, the bridge unit’s razor-like qualities produced a versatile, well-rounded tone that would work for everything from blues to rock and jazz-tinged fare. Although the preamp got a little noisy onstage at a local blues jam when I ran the bass through a Peavey Basic 112 combo, this only happened when I favored one pickup or the other. Of course, that’s perfectly normal for a soloed single-coil—it’s quite difficult to find a set of single-coils that doesn’t pick up a bit of hum when panned too far to one side.
The Brubaker Brute JJX-4 is a well-executed bass with a versatile palette of modern-to-vintage tones, nice build-quality, a good preamp, and a neck that is satisfying to play. The instrument has great balance and won’t wear one’s shoulder out with excessive weight. The JJX-4 commands a musical voice, and the pitches it produces are clear and sustained. Overall, the JJX-4 is a solid, cost-effective bass at a very good price.
you are looking for a reasonably priced bass with a versatile, modern vibe that plays and balances well.
you are looking for $500 worth of preamp and pickups in a bass that costs under $1000.