How Do You Make a Cheetah Purr?
With a decidedly unique design, this cool and quirky short-scale bass appears to have the answer. The PG Nordstrand Acinonyx review.
Recorded direct using PreSonus FireStudio and PreSonus Studio One 3.
Clip 1: Both pickups engaged. Flat EQ.
Clip 2: Bridge pickup soloed. Flat EQ.
Clip 3: Neck pickup soloed. Tone rolled off.
Modern-meets-vintage design. Fast neck. Multiple tones on tap.
Would have liked one of the EQ buttons to be a mid or high boost.
Ease of Use:
There are a handful of people—fixtures in the bass building community—who have made a name for themselves by simply doing great work and achieving cult status in the process. One such builder is Carey Nordstrand, who has been supplying pickups to your favorite manufacturers for many years, as well as making quality pickups for players with a more small-batch approach. Nordstrand’s preamps, pedals, and NordyMute are all extremely popular. Building and repairing instruments has always been part of Nordstrand’s life, and after an inspiring visit from a friend—Juan Alderete, no less—to rehab a vintage Goya Panther bass, his design wheels started turning and the idea for the Nordstrand Acinonyx was born.
It’s Pronounced … Oh, Never Mind
To say that short-scale basses are here to stay is an understatement. They have become a big part of the bass universe, and with so many design options from the ’60s coming back into vogue, the possibilities are virtually endless.
Out of the gig bag, the Acinonyx—the scientific name for the cheetah—is like walking through time, but it also provides a look into the possibilities of short-scale building. From the single chicken-head volume knob to the eight push buttons … wait, what? Yep. Eight push buttons and a 1-over-3 tuner design, so this bass is just begging for questions.
Big Name, Big Features
The Acinonyx measures in at about 30 1/2", which to some bassists would probably feel downright toy-like, but not so with this bass. The elongated headstock and balanced body design help give it a feel that boosts its stature. Our test bass was flawlessly finished in Lake Placid blue, but the Acinonyx is also available in Olympic white, black, and surf green. Its neck is super thin, measuring a scant 1.4" at the nut, which for me is a comfortable size to help cut down on fatigue. The Acinonyx’s body is carved from alder and its maple neck is topped with an Indian rosewood fretboard, which combine for a 6 ½-pound total weight that will certainly give backs a break during longer sets. Thanks to the lower bout’s cut, all 21 frets are super-accessible.
The inspiration for the Acinonyx—the Goya Panther—had a number of design issues, which Carey chose to tackle head-on and improve. So, the Acinonyx is not a reissue, but rather a reimagining: a supercharged version of a quirky vintage bass, but with modern-design fixes to address those factors that sometimes hinder the fun of owning a vintage instrument.
Ditching the traditional pickup selector and tone controls to manage the pair of proprietary CatPup single-coils, Nordstrand took inspiration from a treasured piece of studio gear—a classic Universal Audio 1176 compressor—to bring control and add a twist to the Acinonyx. The UA 1176 has push-button controls for its ratio settings and a secret “all-button” setting that, yes, utilizes all four buttons at once. In similar fashion, the Acinonyx’s eight push buttons are arranged in two banks and engraved with self-explanatory glyphs (a lá Orange) to let you know where to go. The first bank, located on the upper horn, handles pickup selection for the single-coils, and the second bank is our tone control panel.
Run, Cheetah, Run
I ran the Acinonyx through an Ampeg B18 and a Warwick CCL 210 combo, which provided options for a vintage approach and a modern approach, respectively, for my tone test. The offset inlays on the fretboard showed me the way as I turned the lone chicken-head volume knob to 10 and jumped in.
I selected both pickups to start, with the EQ set flat (both first-position push buttons engaged), and the tone was great. It’s big and robust, and the nuances of my playing came through nicely—not what I expected at all. The Acinonyx sits slightly in the low-mid range of things, so the tone is captivating, but not muddy. This changed as I moved down the tone buttons in succession. The tone did feel a bit like it had a wet blanket over it with the next two push-buttons settings, which was expected since these controls were designed to roll off the high end. The notch setting (button 4) was better, but I found myself gravitating back to the first-position flat setting.
When shifting to the neck pickup only, my ears were delighted by the fantastic vintage tone that hit me. While exploring the other tone options, the same low-end dive scenario happened, although this time I liked the vibe a lot more, as it was giving me some great reggae and dub ideas. But ultimately, the flat EQ option won out again as my go-to setting.
Soloing the bridge pickup, I found the overall tone to be more powerful than that of a traditional tail-slot pickup. The bass speaks nicely with power and articulation with this pickup set flat, but it lost some steam for me with the high-end roll-off. The mid-scoop push button helped the tone a little with this pickup setting, but it still felt somewhat choked. The winner again? The flat EQ setting.
The not-so-secret “all-in” setting—pressing all four buttons in at once—places the pickups in series mode. When I did so, the bass popped to a new level with not only the volume hopping up a few dBs, but with a more dynamic timbre. Putting the pickups in series gives the vibe of a bigger instrument with a hint of more low-mids. The flat setting is rich and full with this pickup selection, and the mid-notch setting is a pleasant alternative, with a more mellow tone that would play out nicely with a felt pick and a vintage soul track.
I really like the design of the Acinonyx. It’s a short-scale hot rod with style and tone to boot. The push buttons are a fantastic callback to include in this time machine, even though the middle two settings fell a little short for me. In the same spirit as the pickup selector, maybe there could have been a secret “all-in” setting for EQ as well? All that said, most basses have only one good tone. The Acinonyx has several, which places this 4-string in a different category. The Acinonyx also plays lightning fast, is very well made, and, at well south of 1K, the price won’t dent the savings account beyond repair.