A premium brand unveils a new model with an accessible price of entry.
Clip 1: Bridge pickup only, slight bass boost, tone dial almost off.
Clip 2: Neck pickup only, tone almost off.
Clip 3: Both pickups engaged. Passive mode, then active mode.
Lightweight, rock-solid construction, versatile electronics, and approachable price.
Three months before I moved to Nashville, in 1999, I ordered a Sadowsky bass. I knew Sadowsky’s 5-string basses were an industry standard in the studios and on the major tours there, and I had high hopes for work in both. It was the main bass I used to pay all my bills for the next several years, so given my long history with the brand, I couldn’t wait to check out the new MetroExpress. Built in Tokyo through a partnership with Japanese luthier Yoshi Kikuchi, the MetroExpress is the first factory-made model to carry the Sadowsky name.
When I first grabbed the bass out of its case, I could tell right away I was holding something incredibly solid and well built. I was also surprised with how light and balanced the 8 1/2-pound instrument felt. The curb appeal is there, too, with its visually striking sunburst, and the action was set perfectly. Available options for the MetroExpress are limited to keep the price affordable. The model is offered with an alder body and morado fretboard, or an ash body with a maple fretboard, like our test bass. Six different colors are available.
Upon closer inspection, I was also thrilled with the height of the pickup pole pieces, which followed the string radius properly. I’ve encountered quite a few 5-string J-style basses where I felt the foundation of the third string was not quite as strong as the others due to flatter pole pieces. This bass did not have that issue.
The MetroExpress comes equipped with the same Sadowsky preamp that’s used for the handbuilt basses from his New York shop. I’m in the camp that prefers basses in passive mode almost exclusively, but the Sadowsky preamp is one of the few active systems I’ll occasionally engage. The center points of the frequencies boosted are well chosen, and the passive tone control—which allows a player to cut top end from the active tone—makes the preamp a lot more user-friendly for those of us who generally prefer passive tones.
Express Train to Tone
When I pulled the MetroExpress out of my gig bag at a rehearsal space, I got a question from a non-bassist regarding neck size. Since the Sadowsky body is downsized slightly from a traditional J-style body, the appearance is somewhat deceiving as it makes the fretboard (1 7/8" at the nut) appear wider to someone who has spent a lot of time looking at Fenders. I found the MetroExpress to be a delight for slapping and popping thanks to its string spacing and maple neck.
Later in the week, after playing a set at Hollywood’s Viper Room through a Gallien-Krueger Fusion 550 and 8x10 cabinet, I had several people come up to me mesmerized by my bass tone. I explained to the curious audience members that it was simply a new, affordable Sadowsky with a new set of strings—no extra pedals or tricks. During that gig and most of the testing period, I kept the onboard preamp engaged with a slight bump on the bass boost and a little cut on the passive tone control. It’s a versatile setting that fits in most musical situations by providing Fender-style vintage warmth when played softly. And when played with a little more authority, it also invokes the tone Sadowsky is known for by showing off a solid low B and lots of personality in the upper mids.
During another rehearsal, when I played through an Ampeg V-4B and an Ampeg SVT-610HLF cabinet, I compared the MetroExpress against my almost 20-year-old Sadowsky Vintage 5. I found that I preferred the punchier, brighter tone of the MetroExpress for most up-tempo songs. My original Sadowsky has a pau ferro fretboard and alder body, so some of the tonal differences were typical to the characteristics of the woods, but in the end, I was in awe of just how competitive this new model is.
These really are parting thoughts, because I didn’t want to let this bass go. The look and feel of the MetroExpress instantly seemed like home, and even though my reviewer brain kept reminding me to focus on technical tidbits and gather information about the instrument, I found myself playing and noodling away for the sheer joy of it, and losing track of time. The feeling of familiarity with other J-style instruments is there, but also a feeling that this one plays a little easier and has a personality all its own. Roger Sadowsky may have created a bit of a monster, since players can now own something that feels and sounds like a Sadowsky for a fraction of the cost of one built in his NYC shop. In fact, if “MetroExpress” were not on the headstock, I don’t think a lot of bassists could tell it apart from a handmade model.
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