A bold fusion of Santa Ana and Fullerton styles yields a wide range of vintage-to-modern sounds.
Daring styling. Transparent onboard electronics. Powerful tone controls.
No passive operation. Hard to access upper frets.
Jackson X Series Concert Bass CBXNT DX IV
I remember the extreme reactions when the PRS Silver Sky was introduced. The mashup (some might say, clash) of two well-known and classic designs was an earthly manifestation of sacrilege to some. The Jackson X Series Concert Bass CBXNT DX IV could be the Silver Sky's bottom-end equivalent: design elements from two legendary instruments fearlessly thrown together to create something new. The mix already has folks talking. But the real question is whether there is more to this bass than the mix of Fender-style P/J and Rickenbacker visual cues?
What Comes From Where?
The X Series Concert Bass clearly takes inspiration from Rickenbacker's 4001 and 4003. The pickguard, neck profile, chrome bridge pickup cover, control layout, shark fin fretboard inlays, and Jacksons own "Bass Bacher" through-body bridge all nod heavily to Rick. The poplar body profile and pickups, of course, are a nod to Rickenbacker's old neighbors, Fender.
That's the breakdown on the most obvious style moves. But look closer and you'll find features that make this instrument unique. I immediately noticed that the Jackson seemed slightly longer than some basses in spite of the standard 34" scale length. One reason is that putting the Rickenbacker-style bridge on a Fender-style body situates the bridge further forward so the eye perceives the neck as a little longer.
The most unique aspect of the instrument's deign, perhaps, is the pickup placement. The J-style pickup in the bridge position is located further from the bridge than a standard P/J, and the P-pickup in neck position is located much closer to the neck than I am used to. Outwardly, the pickup positions may not seem to represent a huge change, but they make an audible difference.
The Jackson's departure from the two basses that inspired it become more obvious when you plug in. To start, the Jackson has active electronics and a flexible set of treble, mid, and bass tone controls. But the Jackson doesn't just thump in the hi-fi voice of a typical active-pickup-equipped instrument. The circuit also does a great job of delivering vintage feel in the top end, as long as the treble EQ stays below the 75-percent mark. Such tone-shaping flexibility is rare, and Jackson deserves kudos for being sensitive to the vintage-loving player via these tone controls. On the other hand, the Jackson could have featured a bypass that enables passive operation. That's a big plus for me in any active bass—especially one with such clear vintage ambitions—and it is missed here.
For anyone moving over from a Rickenbacker, or looking for a more affordable alternative, the flatter, wider neck will feel like home.
The X Series Concert Bass' very flat and wide 12"-16" compound-radius neck took some getting used to. I expect it will be an adjustment for anyone accustomed to slimmer, J-bass-style neck profiles. But for anyone moving over from a Rickenbacker, or looking for a more affordable alternative, the flatter, wider neck will feel like home.
The Old Door
The Jackson's voice exhibits a prominent and very honky midrange. And in spite of the P/J pickup configuration, the Jackson has much of the midrange of a Rickenbacker. The extra mids are especially noticeable when soloing the bridge P-style pickup. And getting something close to Chris Squire's tone is surprisingly easy with all that available midrange. The extra mids show up in the neck pickup, too, adding a pleasant woody bark to the output, and at times I could almost hear hints of an old door squeaking, which I mean in the most complimentary way. The laurel fretboard might also contribute something to this pleasant, woody personality.
The Jackson isn't all about midrange. Carve out a chunk of that midrange with the flexible 3-band EQ, engage both pickups at full volume, and it can confidently enter the sonic territory occupied by a more conventional P/J bass. The warm low end gets more room to speak, and that sound lends itself beautifully to playing with a pick. And even when digging in, the relatively transparent active circuitry never gets overbearing.
After living with this bass for a few weeks, it really grew on me. I love that Jackson green-lighted this fusion of design ideas—especially when some traditionalists on both of sides of the Rickenbacker/Fender aisle are bound to consider it a pretty wacky blend. But looks aside, the diverse sonics created by combining two legendary designs are interesting and fun to explore. I applaud big statements in general. And in the world of bass, this Jackson pronouncement is as loud and proud as they get.
With 500 powerful watts and an exceptional optical compression circuit, there’s nothing little about this Thing's tone.
Recorded using an Mbox and running Logic X.
Clip 1: Yamaha BB3000S - slap with light compression - treble at 1 o’clock, mids at 10 o’clock, and bass at 1 o’clock.
Clip 2: Yamaha BB3000S - old-school with heavy compression - treble at 11 o’clock, mids at 12 o’clock, and bass at 2 o’clock.
Clip 3: Spector Euro4 LX - modern pick-style with mid scoop - treble at 11 o’clock, mids at 9 o’clock, and bass at 2 o’clock.
Industry-leading onboard compression. Great parametric mid control. Tonal flexibility.
Front control locations. No character/contour one-stop EQ control. No pre/post or level options for the onboard DI.
Orange Little Bass Thing
Ease of Use:
The brand Orange is as quintessentially British as, say, Mini Cooper cars or Triumph motorcycles. Even during the few years when Gibson owned the rights to the name, Orange continued manufacturing in England. The brand has certainly come a long way from its humble small-shop roots in London, where it started in 1968. And while Orange holds iconic status in the guitar universe, many of us bassists, me included, have not been exposed to the brand as often as our guitar playing friends. A few years ago, however, the company made a noticeable push to boost their presence as a major player in the low-end world. More recently, Orange has released the class-D, 500-watt Little Bass Thing, which is quite a playful name from a brand known for some seriously mean, overdriven rock tones.
Using a Different Road Map
First off, it’s not orange. It’s mostly white! But my initial impression was that it’s a great-looking amplifier and has enough of the signature orange color to where there can be no mistake about its pedigree. The layout of the 6 1/2-pound amp’s front panel is quite unorthodox to those of us who are not frequent Orange users. The input jack is located on the far right, while the main volume control is on the far left, next to a second input jack for a footswitch (not included) to turn the onboard compression on and off.
The EQ section moves from right to left, starting with the bass control, which took me a little getting used to. The EQ also features parametric midrange, with one control setting the amount of boost/cut and the other selecting the frequency. As part of the company’s visual legacy, all the front controls are labeled with symbols rather than text. Another unorthodox visual touch is the main-power indicator light, which is located near the middle of the front section, between the EQ panel and the compressor/master volume panel. The only other feature on the sparse frontside is a -6 dB input-level pad switch for active basses, located next to the input jack.
The back of the class-D amp is also quite minimalist, with a DI out, an effects loop, two speaker outputs, the main power switch, and a power-cable input. The most noteworthy feature on the rear panel is a switch between voltages for worldwide travel. This switch is smartly covered by a piece of plastic which is screwed into place for protection from the potentially catastrophic results of unintentional switching.
Smash That Tone Some More, Please!
I plugged in my trusty 36-year-old Yamaha BB3000S and played some old-school slap lines to get the basic feel of the amplifier. Within the first minute, I started closely examining the compressor, for a couple reasons. First, I’m just very skeptical about onboard compressors in general, and second, when turning up the compressor dial on the Little Bass Thing, the amp’s volume increased pretty dramatically.
That said, my jaw dropped upon hearing the tone, because the Little Bass Thing’s onboard compressor literally produces a sound on par with some of the best studio compressors I have heard. It actually feels the same. What I mean by that is that it grabs the note, evens out the attack, makes the sustain improve, and, most important, adds warmth without necessarily adding low end. This was by far most noticeable in the upper register, where the onboard compressor quickly added body to melodies and rounded off pops beautifully when slapping, without sacrificing the directness of the attack.
Curious as I am, I contacted Orange to get some more information about this particular compressor. I learned that the circuit in the Little Bass Thing is a simplified version of the same circuit found in the company’s Kongpressor pedal, an optical, class-A compressor. Once I turned my ear to listening to the rest of the sound, I was presented with a clean, punchy slap tone that did not get overbearing in the highs. The Little Bass Thing does not sound “vintage” by any means, but it stakes a tasteful claim to the land slightly less bright than many modern, more hi-fi amps.
With the same bass, I engaged the compressor to a much more drastic setting, dialed back the tone control on the bass, and cut some high mids on the amplifier. The result was a slightly less-dark version of a Motown sound, with the extra compression adding a drive and intensity that I enjoyed. It is worth noting that the Little Bass Thing does not have a control to actually add overdrive from the preamp, like many other models, but the simple volume control really helps set the Little Bass Thing apart from the pack.
Later, I grabbed a Spector Euro4 LX and played with a pick. It was simple finding the frequency that needed cutting in the mids with the frequency selection control. I added some lows on the amp as well, to give the modern, focused, active Spector a looser and more vintage feel. I found that the Little Bass Thing overall delivers a tone slightly firmer in the low mids than many other amps from traditionally rock-leaning manufacturers. This became especially usable when recording.
The Orange Little Bass Thing doesn’t sound like other amplifiers I’ve reviewed, mainly because it doesn’t try to be completely clean and transparent, nor does it place a very strong fingerprint/character on the tone. This amplifier lands in the middle, where it adds just enough personality to know your bass has gone through an amp. This will make the Little Bass Thing applicable to so many more styles than just traditional, groovy, British-style fuzz-rock. Yeah, baby!
Eastwood''s Airline Map bass is an old school funk machine
Let’s face it, many of us have bought a stringed instrument or three based largely on their looks. On one wall of my office, there’s a no-name copy of a Hofner Beatle Bass, not quite a real copy – somehow, there’s one f-hole – but it’s fun to look at, especially its 15-ply neck. And it cost less than a framed piece of art. Over the years, somebody pulled off the factory label – probably Kent or Kingston – to try and fool somebody else into thinking it was a real Hofner, or anything but a poor imposter.
Sometimes a recreation is a noble effort rooted in the spirit of tribute rather than cheap-thrill forgery or painstaking authentic replication. Among the companies keying in on this niche and carving out quite a reputation for blending modern appointments with retro cool is Eastwood Guitars.
Eastwood has turned out a slew of groovy tributes that can add nearly any kind of visual impact to your stage presence. Checking out their website will stir up memories of when you could go to a big department store, plunk down a Benjamin worth of scratch and head home with a new axe in its chipboard case. Many of us have fond memories of those old instruments (I miss my miss my baby-blue-with-vinyl-top-and-fake-speaker-grill Hagstrom bass) and thus, have a soft spot for these somewhat mutant creations.
Love At First Sight
|Like the look but play guitar? Check out our Eastwood Airline Map guitar review here.|
The finish is smooth, shiny and deep, with the paint flowing nicely up to the binding. The neck fits snugly in the body pocket and the other details of the build are tidy, too.
How About Some Action?
The balance and weight? Pretty good! Not neck-heavy like I’d feared (it’s a 30.5” short-scale) and certainly easy on the shoulder at under 9 pounds. The neck was roundish on the back and comfortable in the hand. On first impression, it’s clear that the folks at Eastwood did their homework in putting together this Korean-made eyecatcher.
Moving along in my inspection, I got out my little metal ruler and measured string height. It measured only 2/32” at the octave – it takes at least 3/32” to make a bass playable for all but the lightest touch. And yes, the strings rattled a bit under moderate attack. The nut was cut correctly, though, and the neck relief was right on, too. Pickup height was in the ballpark. All that was really needed was to raise the strings 1/32” and it’d be ready to go (and of course, raising the pickups to compensate). This string height adjustment made the Airline nearly rattle free, while still a comfy player. Short scale basses are a bit harder to set up, because their strings are under less tension.
I should add that height adjustment was a little inconvenient. The two adjuster wheels on the bridge don’t have knurled sides, so adjustment must be done with a screwdriver. In addition, the strings need to be loosened before the wheels can turn freely, so string height is a bit experimental. Loosen strings, turn wheels, tighten strings, test. Rinse and repeat.
Time For The Ears
What about the Airline’s sound?
This little bass sports a pair of passive humbucking pickups, a 3-way pickup selector, and volume-volume-tone controls. I first played the bass through my home rig, an SWR Workingman’s 12, starting with my usual choice, the neck pickup. Pretty good. Full and round. A bit on low output side. The bridge pickup sounded similar, but brighter, not as deep, and not quite as loud – as expected, since the pickup is quite close to the bridge. The middle setting on the selector switch didn’t quite do it for me, with not much sound coming out. In all, the neck pickup is a decent choice, though.
After playing awhile, I wasn’t sure that this bass with its short-scale neck and chambered mahogany body was right for roundwound strings. Playing in the band would be the real test, I decided.
Voices In The Night
I set the Airline back in its case and planned to give it a second listen at practice. But while I was at work, the little bass started calling to me. “Gimme flatwounds… flatwounds,” it chanted. I thought nothing of it. A bass just can’t have telekinetic powers.
Or can it?
I got home that evening, and the Airline’s power over my mind grew stronger. “Flatwounds! Flatwounds!” it called out again.
I dug out my box of old strings from various bass experiences. The dozen or so sets of strings were, as usual, a tangled mess. But I remembered that somewhere within there was a set of Thomastik flatwound bass strings I’d cut down for another short-scale bass project several years ago. These are low tension strings with an even response and warm top end. I yanked them out of the box, strung up the bass, and stuck my little ruler down on the neck again. One more tweak to raise the D and G strings just a bit.
I gave the Airline another listen.
Now, it was a different bass. Those Thomastiks gave it the old school warmth and plunk I was looking for. Nice attack and definition, better bottom end. Smoother sound. I still preferred the neck pickup over the bridge or combination of the two. But with the change of strings, I could imagine the possibilities.
I turned the tone control. Instead of just rolling off some highs, the voice of the bass actually seemed to change. Half way down, kinda fun – a muted sound from long ago. All the way down, really interesting – more nasally. Playing over the neck pickup brought out different voices than playing in-between the two pickups as well. It was an old-school funk machine!
I needed to test this new working hypothesis. Instead of the modern, hi-fi SWR, I went for my 1971 Fender Bassman Ten. You probably know what I’m talking about – a 50 watt tube combo powering four 10” speakers in a closed-back cabinet. Two channels, Bass/Normal and Bass/Studio. The Studio channel is the money input for bass. Yes, there it was. Old school funk – not too deep, not too bright, thick in the middle.
Muddying The Waters
I put the Airline back into its case yet again and went off to band practice to see how it would perform under actual playing conditions. And got a surprise!
The strings that sounded so nice at home through the Bassman combo seemed a bit muddy against drums, guitar, and harmonica in our studio. Combine a mahogany body with a chambered body and that’s what you get – low-mid emphasis without a lot of top.
I was able to change the whole set while the others were working out their parts on a new tune. Quick change, indeed!
In the mix, the Airline now had a bit of bite to its sound, but certainly not edgy. As we played together (the guitar was the matching Eastwood model!), our R&B tunes began to take on a new flavor. Sort of earthy and organic, a bit low-tech. Our singer dug it.
I’d have to say that if soda-fountain art deco is your style – and if you love green – the Airline might just have to join your stable of basses (but it does come in black or white, too, if your style is more low-key).
In all, it’s a funky sounding little thing, nice for blues, R&B, and roots music. But if you’re looking for an aggressive slapmeister or a bass for grindy metal, this bass isn’t it. Somehow, those funky, old short-scale designs take to the old stuff naturally, as if they were speaking to you in the night.