Based on your interest: a throwback Tele, a Silver Sky steal, a pair of Boss powerhouses, a duo of diametrically different amps, and a shred machine topped this year’s list.
David Schecter started Schecter Guitar Research in 1976. In the beginning, the company did repairs and sold parts in their Van Nuys, California, shop (much like their contemporaries, Charvel). But Schecter quickly developed a solid reputation among SoCal players and started selling complete guitars in 1979.
Even though Ampeg has made amplifiers based on modern, lightweight technology for years, to many of us the brand represents the gold standard of vintage bass tone. When an engineer or artist asks you to provide an Ampeg sound in the studio or on a gig, they usually want the unmistakable low-mid thump of a B-15 or the unparalleled sub-lows and top-end grit of a ’70s era SVT with tubes that have been cooking for a few hours. So, whenever I try any new product from Ampeg, those sound standards are at the fore of my imagination. The 200-watt Rocket Bass RB-115, from Ampeg’s new Rocket line of combos, captures the essence of many of those foundational Ampeg tones in an amp that’s easy on the wallet, easy to use, and even surprisingly easy to carry.
The fact that small amps excel—and can sound really big—in studio situations isn’t news as much as it’s audio engineering gospel. But while little amps like the Fender Champ, Gibson Skylark, and Danelectro DM10 have been pulling feats of trompe-l’oeil on records for decades, some small combos still sound bigger and badder than others. And I feel pretty good about making the case for Magnatone’s new 5-watt Starlite as one of the biggest sounding—and most flexible—little amps that’s ever joined this club of overachievers.
If you’ve been lusting after Kemper, Fractal, or Line 6 amp modelers but fear they’d be overkill for your brain or wallet, the Boss IR-200 is among the most stacked—yet relatively simple and straightforward—alternatives you could consider.
Roland produced the first guitar synthesizer, the GR-500, in 1977. It was cumbersome—requiring multiple rack spaces or a tabletop stand, and a special guitar outfitted with hexaphonic pickups. Problems with latency and tracking were all too real, as anyone who tried bending a note learned. But, with the right coddling, they sounded heavenly. Check out David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” to hear the GR-500 at its best.
Fender’s most important gift to the effects cosmos is spring reverb. That legacy, however, tends to obscure other high points in the company’s effects history, which is dotted with a few classics—if not runaway commercial hits.
At appealing prices ranging from $79 to $99, the new Fender Hammertone pedals could easily be huge sellers. But what makes these effects extra attractive is that they don’t have the functional or operational feel of generic entry-level pedals. Most have a strong, even distinctive, personality—at least compared to other inexpensive effects. They each come with extra features and voices that stretch the boundaries of the foundational tones. And if the voices aren’t always the most refined or lush when compared to more expensive analog equivalents or expensive digital units, they are fun and prompt a lot of musical sparks.
One of the nice things about designing guitars for a company like Taylor is that you’re less burdened by tradition. Even though the builder is now nearly a 50-year-old institution—not to mention one of the biggest guitar makers in the world—to many acoustic traditionalists they are still very much the new kid on the block. While such fresh-faced “newness” may mean flattop classicists look askance at your every move, it also means you can introduce a design departure like the company’s V-Class bracing without risk of rebellion from your consumer constituency—or, for that matter, build a dreadnought with a top fashioned from big leaf maple.
The late Eddie Van Halen spent much of his early career in search of what’s now known as the “brown sound.” Years after cracking the code, he helped bottle various versions of the recipe into the 5150 line of amps. Various iterations of these amps are now studio and stage staples, and are often used in heavy genres that transcend Van Halen’s vision.
Budget renditions of established-model guitars used to make me skeptical. There was often a hitch: rough frets, pickups that were let-downs, funky pots, etc. But over the past decade-plus, the quality of guitars built in Asia by the major brands has continued to improve. PRS’s lower-priced version of their John Mayer signature model, the SE Silver Sky, is a premier example.
In the 50 years since their big, chrome covers first reflected a hot stage light, Fender’s Seth Lover-designed Wide Range humbuckers have gone from maligned to revered. The guitars built around Wide Range pickups are legends in their own right, too. Keith Richards’ Telecaster Custom is synonymous with the Stones dynamic and adventurous late-70s-to-early-80s period. Scores of punk and indie guitarists made the Telecaster Deluxe a fixture of those scenes. And Jonny Greenwood almost singlehandedly elevated the Starcaster from a curiosity to an object of collector lust. The fourth member of the Wide Range-based guitar family, the ’72 Telecaster Thinline, lived a comparatively low-profile life. Yet it is a practical, streamlined, uniquely stylish, and multifaceted instrument with a truly original voice—qualities that are plain to see, feel, and hear in this new American Vintage II incarnation.
This 30"-scale 4-string has a velvety voice, vintage vibes, and comfort for both the hands and wallet.
Recorded direct into Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 interface into GarageBand.
Clip 1: Tone knob at 50 percent. Picked.
Clip 2: Tone knob rolled all the way off. Thumbed.
Comfy build, cool look, and nice finish. Fat and full bass tone without floppiness.
A tug bar would have been cool to keep with vintage vibe. Test bass in need of an intonation tweak.
These are exciting times for fans of short-scale basses. Because of their increasing popularity, more and more options have been coming to market over the past several years. Shorties have long been a favorite of studio cats because of their fat and rich tone that sits nicely in a mix, but they’re also ideal for a range of other players. For those smaller in stature and/or hand size, beginners, or guitarists making the switch to a 4-string, less neck real estate to manage and quicker shifting and skipping are things few are going to complain about.
With close to 50 years in business, Schecter continues to be a force in the bass and guitar arena with their huge range of instruments and forward-thinking designs. For many, Schecter means metal, thrash, and hard rock because of the company’s legions of players who lean towards the heavy and dark side. But Schecter also has deep roots with more traditional instruments going back to their modest beginnings as a parts-only shop, and they’ve released their share of decidedly traditional-looking guitars and basses over the years. One such new addition is the Banshee bass, a 30"-scale monster that takes some cues from classic Fender style, but remains a 4-string go-getter all its own.
The Long and Short of It
As a P bass player, primarily, the short-scale Banshee’s classic single split-coil aesthetic spoke to me straight away. Like Schecter’s original Banshee guitar on which it’s based, the body cut somewhat resembles a Fender Mustang. The inspiration for the Banshee’s classic-looking 4-in-line headstock (not that common on most Schecters) also comes courtesy of the original Banshee, as does its shape and finish, which gives a flash of the natural maple underneath.
Other standout appointments on the Indonesia-made Banshee include offset/reverse pearloid fretboard inlays, a Tele-like control plate backing the volume and tone knobs, and Schecter’s stout high-mass bass bridge, which can be top loaded or strung through. Another nice touch is the spoke-wheel truss-rod nut (which I didn’t need to use), for super-easy neck-heel adjustments. Our test bass was finished in olympic white, and the Banshee is also available in carbon grey and vintage pelham blue.
What grabbed me from the get-go is the Banshee’s feel. I’m most at home with a standard-scale bass, but I do like mixing it up from time to time with a shortie, because, well, they’re fun and fast. The Banshee doesn’t disappoint with its thin, C-shaped 5-bolt neck and balance. When strapped on, there was little to no neck dive from my desired position, and at just a hair over 8 pounds, it’s easy on the shoulders and back. The Banshee’s neck is capped with a rosewood fretboard, its backside kissed with a fast, satin finish, and its nut width will be pleasing to Jazz players at 1.5". The smooth fretwork and action aided in easy shifting, and the construction overall was impressive. All the hardware was locked down clean and tight, and I didn’t come across a single ding, scratch, or glue miscue.
For electronics, the Banshee is outfitted with the simple, tried-and-true combo of a single split-coil managed by a volume and tone knob. I ran the bass through a GK 800RB/Orange OBC212 combination, and later plugged direct into a Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 interface to my DAW.
Get Width It!
Starting out with the tone at about 50 percent, I was introduced to the Banshee’s vintage-vibed timbre. It has noticeable P bass characteristics, with its solid lows, but the tone is certainly thicker, fatter, and boomy. The Banshee doesn’t feel or sound overly floppy, like some other shorties I’ve played, nor did I experience noticeable fret buzz. It should be said, however, that our test bass did have some intonation blips in the higher register and away from the money notes—most evident on the 4th string—but I think they could be easily remedied with a setup.
Rolling the tone down a bit and fingerpicking near the pickup produced a more old-school timbre, apt for Motown-inspired licks. And when taking the tone almost all the way down and thumb picking towards the neck, the Banshee showed that it will get along with reggae and dub, too. Its darker tones are certainly woofier and woolier here, but not to the point of being too muddy with little definition, probably also thanks in part to the new strings. And speaking of strings, I’m confident the Banshee would pair nicely with a set of flatwounds.
When I favored the other side of the responsive tone control by diming it and using a plectrum, the Banshee shined as a rock machine that was begging for more aggressive post-punk and power-pop runs. I’m typically a heavy hitter with a pick, but the Banshee was responsive for a short scale and held up to a stronger attack. The Banshee probably won’t win any slap contests, and, nope, the Banshee doesn’t have the same tight zing, snap, and top end of a standard-scale instrument. But, that said, my treble frequencies were plenty pronounced for a hard-hitting sound that worked especially nice with a good-sized dose of overdrive in the signal.
Banshees are known to wail, and the Schecter Banshee can do so, but it makes its mark with its thick and powerful low end. Its DNA couldn’t be much simpler, with a single pickup and single tone control, so I’ll call the Banshee elegantly simple thanks to its subtle but noteworthy aesthetic features that set it apart from the growing number of available short-scale basses. Its combo of deep-fat tones and smooth playability make the Banshee a blast to play, and, in turn, hard to put down. And while it’s probably a bit pricey for a beginner’s bass at 700 bucks, I think it still brings plenty of bang as a well-built, big-sounding shortie that would make a useful addition to a player’s stable.
The Banshee is equipped with the Schecter Diamond QPA pickup, lightweight vintage tuners, Graph Teck Black Tusq XL nut, and a dual action truss rod.
Sun Valley, CA (May 13, 2020) -- Schecter Guitar Research is proud to introduce the Ultra Bass Series.
Schecter is excited to reintroduce the Ultra Bass Series. Looking for a bass that has a unique shape and great feel with a thick dynamic sound? Then the Ultra is perfect for you. Bringing back the original Schecter Ultra body shape with upgraded EMG TBHZ pickups! Designed with dual volume and tone controls, a thin ‘C’ neck for comfort and the Schecter Custom bass bridge that allows string thru or top load capabilities. This bass has the features and style you have been missing from bass arsenal! Adding a classic look to a unique style Schecter has made these basses available in Pelham Blue, Satin Black and Satin White. The Ultra bass should be the next bass in your collection!
- Ultra 4 MSRP$1,429/STREET $999
- Ultra 5 MSRP$1,499/STREET $1099
Schecter Guitar Research is proud to introduce the Basnshee Bass Series for the 2020 Winter NAMM Show, which will be showcased upstairs in their Hall D Corridor D-1 & D-2 room. A throwback with a twist! Inspired by the original Banshee guitar, Schecter has taken this original design and turned it into a short scale P bass! Don’t be fooled by its size though. This short scale comes with some big features. Equipped with the Schecter Diamond QPA pickup, light weight vintage tuners, Graph Teck Black Tusq XL nut, dual action truss rod and, high mass bridge, that allows for string thru or top load set up. With a 30” scale, thin C neck, 16” fretboard radius and 20 narrow jumbo frets, this bass feels as good as it looks. Paying homage to the original Banshee guitars, the Banshee Bass is available in all the original colors: Olympic White, Vintage Pelham Blue, Carbon Grey.
- MSRP$999/STREET $699
- Carbon Grey (CG), Vintage Pelham Blue (VPHB), Olympic White (OWHT)
For more information:
Schecter Guitar Research