The 6-string bass is often misunderstood. Guitarists tend to wonder why you wouldn’t just slap on a heavier set of strings and tune down, or use a baritone guitar to help cover the lower registers. But the 6-string bass offers a truly unique voice with a range that’s between a baritone and a standard bass. For decades, it’s been an essential tool for country players, who use it to fatten up bass lines tracked by upright basses. And famous players as diverse as Jack Bruce, John Lennon, and Robert Smith have made 6-string bass a part of their arsenal.
The luthiers at Lakland are fans, too, and they’ve spent the better part of two years developing and refining the prototype they first introduced at Winter NAMM in 2012. Called the Decade 6, Lakland’s 6-stringer features the same short scale, narrow neck, and triple-pickup configuration as the 6-string bass most of us are familiar with—the Fender Bass VI. But Lakland also instituted a few changes that make the Decade 6 much more than a high-end clone.
The Low Down
Dressed in a striking candy-apple-red finish, a faux tortoiseshell pickguard, and black pickup covers, the 30 1/4"-scale Decade 6 is a thing of beauty. Our review bass has an alder body, but ash and mahogany are also available, as are several other finish options. The Decade’s “Shorty J” maple neck has a 4-bolt joint, and it’s topped with an 18-fret rosewood fretboard adorned with bird’s-eye-maple dot inlays. Tuned one octave below standard tuning, the .024–.084-gauge strings are anchored by open-gear Hipshot tuners on one end and a custom bridge on the other.
The three JP-90 pickups are made in-house by sister company Hanson Pickups, and they feature alnico 5 magnets for crisp highs and tight, warm lows. With outputs of 8.6k for the neck and middle pickups, and 9.6k for the bridge, they’re very close to vintage specs. While the 5-way blade switching is more akin to, say, a Fender Strat, the single volume and tone controls are similar to the Fender Bass VI. That said, I would have liked to have seen Lakland include a version of the Bass VI’s bass-cutoff slider (aka the strangle switch)—a fan favorite that expanded the versatility of Fender’s already-expressive instrument.
Plugging the Decade 6 into a Verellen Meatsmoke tube bass head driving an Ampeg Isovent combo cabinet, I started out the way many 6-string bass fans would: I set the amp with lowered mids, turned down the lows slightly, pushed the treble, and palm-muted a spaghetti-western bass line. The resulting tic-tac tone was spot-on with the sound of cowboy film soundtracks that Ennio Morricone made famous in the ’60s, but with noticeably more midrange muscle and bite. More traditional bass parts had an extremely detailed attack and upper midrange, with the thick, rubbery response that short-scale basses are known for. In fact, the tones were so full and robust that, had I been blindfolded and listening to someone else playing the Decade 6, I would’ve been convinced they were playing a traditional 4-string.
Each of the five pickup-switch positions offers a wealth of distinct tones, from the scooped midrange in positions two and four to the bolder mids and highs when soloing the bridge and the bowel-rattling subs from the middle and neck pickups. The instrument also handled overdriven tones with aplomb—a fact that should prove appetizing to players hungering for heavier sounds. Playing full chords through the Meatsmoke’s roaring overdrive channel yielded a monstrously powerful wall of sound that still managed to retain clarity. The note separation—while not as defined as an electric guitar’s—was light years beyond what most standard basses can produce. And this gives the Decade 6 unique abilities to add contrasting textures within songs, such as using overdriven broken chords and fuzzed-out melodic interludes above the 12th fret.
The Lakland Decade 6 is a marvelous instrument that not only nails the time-honored 6-string bass tones of yesteryear, but also has its own unique voice. It combines the warm, syrupy lows of a traditional 4-string with the bright attack of a P-90-equipped guitar. Though the low end doesn’t quite reach the depths of a P- or J-style bass, the tones are expansive enough to cover a wealth of musical applications. Everything about the Decade 6—from the solid build to the even weight, attractive looks, and knockout playability—is tailored to near perfection. And then there’s the huge fun factor.
Bassists who eschew picks or think the narrow string spacing is just for guitarists might be tempted to pass by this Lakland, but they’d be doing themselves a serious disservice. The Decade 6 brings the timeless tones of the 6-string bass to a new generation, and its superb quality alone deserves the attention of even the harshest skeptics.