Let’s face it: The versatility and playability of the Jazz bass that Leo Fender gave us in 1960 have cemented its place in music history and made it the weapon of choice for a wide spectrum of bassists the world over. Since then there have been many would-be contenders to the original formula, though a good number of these basses have fallen into the pretender category. But over the years several companies have come up with J-styles that stand out, usually because of some sort of ingenious electronic or physical improvement.
Sandberg’s high-end J-styles are in the latter camp. These German builders have long been the darlings of the European bass scene, and in more recent years the company has garnered attention around the globe with its wide selection of vintage-style and modern basses. One of their most recent offerings, the Electra TT4, is a J-style that offers a lot of the features Sandberg is famous for but at a more wallet-friendly price.
Although most of the TT4’s components are made in Korea, Electra series instruments are assembled and quality controlled at Sandberg’s Braunschweig, Germany, workshop. While many elements of the test bass affirmed Sandberg’s reputation for skillful craftsmanship, a crack in the upper horn’s finish, slight exposure of the unfinished neck pocket, and a couple of unfinished fret edges did raise an eyebrow. In what was probably another cost-saving decision, Sandberg eliminated the 4-dot company insignia that’s typically inlaid between the upper horn and neck pocket on higher end basses.
Those familiar with Sandberg basses will notice that the Electra TT4 has a look similar to the company’s vintage-inspired California series. The basswood body of our review model has an attractive creme finish that’s complemented by a tortoiseshell-pattern pickguard. The satin-finished maple neck is crowned with rosewood and 22 frets, and it’s anchored by six bolts that provide plenty of stability. Sandberg kept the look classic with clover tuners and their take on the traditional headstock. While it’s commonplace to find string trees on the 1st and 2nd strings, the TT4 has Sandberg’s proprietary retainer, which puts the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd strings at an angle consistent with the 4th string. This uniformity may not precisely deliver the benefits of an angled headstock, but it is a much better alternative than the typical circular retainers.
The Electra’s chrome bridge hints at influences from G&L and Hipshot hardware, and the saddles offer plenty of string height and spacing options, along with a locking mechanism that keeps them where you set them. The cutaway for each string slot makes for convenient string installation, and players who have tangled with a broken string onstage will appreciate the quick-release feature. Meanwhile, the uniquely tapered strap buttons provide unforced fastening of straps in all shapes and sizes—and keep them securely in place.
The TT4’s wonderful low-end vibrations are transmitted by Sandberg-designed single-coils with alnico 5 magnets. Tones are shaped by a 2-band preamp that’s also designed by Sandberg. Aimed at the player who desires both modern and vintage tones, a push-pull pot in the volume knob allows toggling between active and passive operation.
Sparring with the Sandberg
My first impressions playing the Electra TT4 were quite positive. Its weight and balance were excellent, and there was never any hint of neck diving or shoulder stress, regardless of the angle. Speaking of the neck, it’s super smooth and is really the center of the TT4’s savvy design. Moving up and down the fretboard was virtually effortless, and on many occasions I found myself not even thinking about the instrument—focusing instead on just making music. Simply put, the Electra TT4 has one of the most comfortable necks I have ever felt on a bass at this price point.
I tested the TT4 by plugging it into a Phil Jones D-600 amp pushing a Glockenklang Quattro 410. One can most certainly expect some 60-cycle hum when soloing single-coil pickups, but the Sandberg units were particularly noisy—especially the bridge pickup. When I popped the volume knob into passive mode, the bass delivered a taste of characteristic J-style tones, though they were a little timid in the low mids. This was alleviated to some degree in active mode, where the bass knob could supply more lows and low-mid punch—but active mode also changes the Electra’s tonal characteristics to more of a clean, scooped sound. Boosting the treble knob provided ample brightness and put some teeth on popped notes, or warmed up the tone with a downward dial.
I tested the Electra TT4 in a few different live settings and styles. On a blues-trio gig, I boosted the bass and significantly cut the highs to deliver deep, round sounds with the neck pickup. The treble knob really came in handy at a louder rock covers gig: A slight boost provided a pick-like attack to fingerstlye playing, allowing my lines to cut through overdriven guitars and a bombastic drummer. A horn-band setting was where the Electra performed best, though. The TT4’s timbre was fitting for a wide range of R&B and soul classics—from barking bridge-pickup lines to snappy thumb-slinging fills.
In all of these settings, the Electra’s playability shined—sometimes outshining its tonal traits. On some occasions its sound lacked a little authority, and I shied away from soloing the pickups due to the hum. But the TT4's super-comfortable design definitely made for a very pleasing experience for my hands and back.
In the realm of J-style basses, there’s a lot of competition. And though the Sandberg Electra TT4 may not wow vintage purists with its tones—which could use more punch, and also suffer from some noise issues—this bass will work well for a variety of modern music, as well as for slappers looking for a nice, moderately priced instrument. Overall, the Electra TT4 plays better than many in its class, and it offers many of the great features and characteristics that have long made Sandberg a standout bass company.