Mike Lull has been flying under the mainstream radar and making superb basses and guitars for almost two decades now. His basses are revered in the low-end community and
Mike Lull has been flying under the mainstream radar and making superb basses and guitars for almost two decades now. His basses are revered in the low-end community and are the go-to for a number of top players because of how well he fine-tunes features to yield instruments that feel like upscale variations of basses made famous in Fullerton. Lull does all the designing and building himself, and in doing so, has made his name synonymous with tone and reliability.
Those familiar with Lull’s work tend to know of his P- and J-style offerings, while his T-bird-style designs are popular in a more specialized niche. The mad scientist in all of us can dream of combining the favorite characteristics of classic designs, but with the JT5-24, Mike Lull actually takes that plunge with a nod to Dr. Moreau.
On the surface, the JT5-24 is a simple, elegant instrument with clean lines and a gorgeous tobacco-burst finish, but something is amiss—in a good way. Are those T-bird pickups on a J-style body? Are you even allowed to do that?
Ain’t That Tough Enough?
The notion of modding a production model in-house is nothing new—Henry Ford probably lowered a Model T and put in a bigger engine way back when. Lull’s “engine” comes in the form of a pair of custom T-Bass pickups, and the “chassis” is based on the J-style bodies used for some of his other models. But two subtle differences also make this bass special: It’s a 5-string, and the 35" scale allows for a 24-fret, twooctave neck.
The JT5-24, like all of Lull’s basses, is handsomely designed. From its Hipshot Ultralite tuners to the strap locks and its aluminum bridge, every detail has been given proper attention. The low-profile, C-shaped neck is constructed of beautiful quilted maple that’s reinforced with graphite, and up top it sports a bone nut to boot. As an added bonus, all Mike Lull basses feature frets that are precision leveled using a Plek machine, which ensures better intonation and lower action than manual dressing.
When I flipped the JT5-24 over, I noticed a couple other notable things, too. The first was the single ferrule for the low B string. The second was the battery compartment above the control cavity. Since this is a passive bass, I was puzzled by the latter and had to immediately have a look. It turns out Lull was thinking of expansion when constructing the bass: Players who wish to add active tone circuits will have an easy time of it thanks to the included compartment (the JT5-24 can be ordered with Bartolini or Aguilar active circuits from the outset, too). While the layout of the control cavity was clean and soldered perfectly, I did notice that the electrostatic shielding was flaking in spots—not a huge issue, but it could pose a little trouble with cleanup later on. Lull states that the shielding paint is actually underneath the finish paint, so as to not have any flaking problems. Any visible shielding paint would have been put on afterwards—just around the ground lug—as a safety measure for grounding.
Fun, Fun, Fun, till …
After a slight setup (the bass arrived with the action at a finger-touch level), I was ready to hear this JT5 and get my T-bird on. The dual T-bird-style pickups are wound to the same specs as ’60s-era pickups, and they’ve reportedly been reverseengineered to faithfully reproduce the originals. And you know what? They sounded pretty damn good.
Tested through an Eden 115XLT cab pushed by either a Gallien-Krueger MB800 or an Eden WTX-500 head, the T-Bass pickups produced a punchy, thick tone that was absolutely reminiscent of another era—which was definitely strange, since the meaty T-bird-like sounds were coming from a J-shaped instrument. While I had to spend a little time getting comfortable with the string spacing, which was just a touch wide for my taste, I was ready to find out what the JT5 could do.
What I found out was that this bass was built to rock. Hard. Starting with the neck pickup’s volume and the tone knob at the halfway mark, the bass sounded fantastic. The warmth and roundness of each note hit a soft place in my heart—the JT5-24 wonderfully captures the essence of a bygone time—but the addition of the low B string yields an instrument that goes beyond the limitations of the past. The low B was tight, sustained for days, and added a modern twist to the T-bird-esque sound.
When I pushed the bridge pickup to join its twin, the tones became more modern and pronounced—but not to the point of losing the classic vibe. Even with the tone knob cranked, the bass did not get out of control. The overall tone was more mainstream, and that flexibility is nice—especially if this were to be your only instrument.
Both fingerstyle and pick players will feel right at home with the JT5-24. The 35" scale and string spacing—which you’ll recall I thought would bother me initially— ended up not being an issue at all, and the neck was lightning fast. Although I personally don’t play with a pick, the low B just loves the plectrum, and I could imagine the resulting sound all over rock records. The only drawback I could possibly foresee for thumpers out there is that the massive T-Bass pickups and the limited space between the neck pickup’s housing and the neck might make it difficult to get under the strings and really dig in without banging the pickup covers. That said, I haven’t seen a lot of bassist slapping away on a T-Bird lately, so it’s probably not a big issue.
Mike Lull has been improving on traditional designs for years, and with the JT5- 24, he has taken some of those “what if ” questions and moved the ideas into reality. The craftsmanship is undoubtedly topnotch, and the appointments are fantastic. It’s like a T-bird, but without the T-bird elements that some players dislike. The contoured, J-style design will please players looking for that tone in a more traditional and ergonomic body shape.
In the end, I concluded that the JT5- 24 is most at home with the beefy tone from the neck pickup. While I appreciated being able to add a midrange spike with the bridge pickup, I found myself rolling it off more often than not. But in this case, that’s not a bad thing at all.