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The Zenith’s on-board active electronics include cut/boost bass and treble controls for each pickup, plus a master volume and blend control. The side-mounted jack plate allows either summed-mono output or running in stereo with two cables and two amps.
Right at the end of the neck is a slim Shadow Nano-Mag pickup, exotic with its tiny air-coil, samarium-cobalt magnets and silver-platinum shielding. The second pickup is like an under-saddle piezo, called a Nano-Flex. This isn’t actually a piezo pickup, but a 7-layer, low impedance element that senses the vibrations of the strings and the body.
The battery box is integrated into the rear cover plate over the electronics. With a snap-off hinged cover, battery changing should be potentially easy, with no screws to lose. However, the cover wasn’t intuitive to open, requiring a small screwdriver inserted into a slot to pop the cover up. The plastic was thin in the latching area and I was afraid it would break if I wasn’t careful. In fact, I actually removed the cover plate’s four screws to check it out. Once done, I was the able to open the battery box safely. With the cover off, I found a Shadow preamp, which used tidy, plug-in wiring. Many active basses have a spaghetti of wiring in their cavity, so this was a pleasant surprise.
I tried the Zenith first using the Nano-Flex bridge pickup. It sounded like a typical piezo element, and did indeed reproduce both body and string vibrations. I found that with the bass and treble controls set flat, tapping the body produced a low thump. Likewise, there was a noticeable clack of string-on-fret when releasing a note. I thought that the note-defining midrange was a bit murky. To work around these sounds, I rolled off the treble and bass slightly and boosted the midrange a little on a SWR Headlite amp I used for testing. That tweak added definition to the notes while keeping things round sounding.
In all, the Zenith had excellent sustain, a well-defined attack, and some acoustic bloom to its notes—this is a bass that should blend well with acoustic guitar. Boosting the bass control slightly while rolling off some of the treble produced more of a thump, but still maintained plenty of sustain. This bass won’t recreate an upright bass flavor, but something more akin to acoustic bass guitar. Dialing in a little magnetic pickup to the acoustic element can bring definition to the sound.
Feedback resistance of a bass heading in the hollow direction is always of concern. Happily, the Zenith has little chance of feeding back, even at pretty high volumes.
The Zenith bass brings a different twist to the usual semi-hollowbody design. The build was good—other than the minor flaws in the f-hole binding—and the bass felt comfortable, if heavy, but very playable.
If your main interest is the Zenith’s acoustic potential, there is a fretless version of the Zenith that comes with Labella nylon tapewounds, which might draw out more of the instrument’s acoustic character.
you’re a nut for a bass with f-holes and you’re after something with acoustic character.
you might want to rely on the magnetic pickup or want a relatively light bass.
Street $799 - Epiphone - epiphone.com