Aluminum has made quite a return to the guitar arena as of late. While the material did see some use in the ’70s for improving strength and sustain—most notably by Kramer—it never really caught on in the way that using different combinations of wood did. Despite not being embraced by the masses early on, guitars that employed aluminum garnered a cult following of enthusiasts, one of them being Jim Normandy. Normandy would eventually start working with the material, and in 2007, he released the world’s first aluminum archtop guitar, which he builds in Salem, Oregon. To complement his T-style Alumicaster and archtop lines, Normandy recently debuted the Alumicaster bass. This aluminum-bodied 4-string is quite the looker, as well as a fantastic instrument for holding down the low end.
The Aeroplane Flies High
The Alumicaster’s build is an interesting blend of unorthodox and conventional. With a body shape that gives an obvious nod to the Fender P, the Alumicaster’s hard-rock maple neck and P-bass-style Seymour Duncan Quarter-Pound pickups hint at its influence even more. Normandy doesn’t skimp on quality hardware either, as the Alumicaster comes standard with a heavy-duty bridge (the optional Gotoh bridge was installed on our review bass), Hipshot Ultralite tuners, a Normandy aluminum nut, and CTS pots for the volume and tone controls.
The Alumicaster already sounds like quite a nice instrument on paper, but the real star of the show is the bass’ unique aluminum body. Modeled after the internal bracings of jet airplane wings, the Alumicaster is a hollowbody instrument that uses aircraft-grade aluminum and a carefully designed truss system for internal support. And to amp up sustain, blocks of billeted aluminum are incorporated to individually anchor both the neck joint and bridge area to the front and back of the instrument. While our review model boasted a polished chrome body, the company offers a less expensive version in a raw, brushed-aluminum finish. Powder-coated and custom finishes are also available.
Metal Machine Music
The bass weighs in at a very svelte 9 pounds, and the aluminum top, back, and sides are joined so well that the body deceivingly looks and feels like it’s sculpted from a solid piece of material. Due to the lightweight qualities of the body, the Alumicaster is a little neck heavy when strapped up in the standing position, but just ever so slightly. The lightweight tuning machines certainly help with the balance, and the electronics and internal bracings add just enough heft to the body to keep the neck from taking a dive towards your feet.
Even before I plugged it in, the Alumicaster displayed incredible resonance and liveliness, along with a surprising amount of projection. Because the internal bracings are joined from underneath the bridge to the neck joint, the vibrations are transferred in an extremely effective and noticeable way. With each plucked note ringing out clearly, I could feel the resonance throughout the neck as well.
Speaking of the Alumicaster’s 34"-scale neck, it’s simply a blast to play. Topped with a vibrant-looking rosewood fretboard (maple is also an option if you prefer an even brighter tone and attack), the modern, shallow contour is comfortable and provides a snug fit in the fretting hand. And the area around the first five frets provides plenty of mass to hold onto for accurate fret work.
Plugging into a Verellen Meat Smoke head and an Ampeg Isovent 2x10 and 2x15 combo cab, the Alumicaster immediately displayed the rich and throaty tone of a nice P bass, with the aluminum body adding a noticeably sharp edge to the attack. Aluminum bodies tend to brighten up tone considerably and the Alumicaster follows suit by dishing out an interesting sound that may take some getting used to—especially for those who aren’t familiar with the metallic overtones this low-density material delivers.
To keep the Alumicaster’s highs from becoming overpowering, Seymour Duncan’s warm-bodied Quarter-Pound pickups were the perfect choice for this bass. The mids punched through the mix with a fat low end, and the highs were infused with a unique, metallic sharpness that sounded extremely detailed and round. In fact, the high end almost seemed like a totally separate signal. Each strike of the pick was revealed with enormous detail, as if they had their own hi-fi filter applied to them. Dropping the tone knob brings the sound to warmer territory, but with it fully open, you can hear every scrape, slide, and movement against the strings’ windings—which may or may not be a quality you appreciate.
Regardless of the unconventional attack, the Alumicaster possesses all of the well-loved thumpy and thick traits that make players gravitate to a P-bass-style instrument. And it delivers these sonic qualities with superb sustain, thanks to the bracing that makes the body so exceptionally resonant and lively.
Normandy’s Alumicaster is a great combination of vintage and contemporary. Its looks and tone will turn both eyes and ears indeed, and the old-school feel and vibe are enough to not scare off the vintage purists. Compared to other aluminum-based guitars and basses on the market—which are usually priced well over $1,000—the Alumicaster’s starting price of $899 is unheard of, especially considering its level of quality and tone. Players who aren’t used to hearing this level of detail in the attack and highs might need to spend a little time to get accustomed to it, but regardless of one’s opinion on that matter, the Alumicaster Bass offers exceptional sonic and visual quality.
Watch our video demo: