ESP LTD RB-1004SM Reviewed

August 15, 2014
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The Mt. Rushmore of bass probably has a few more faces than the four on the real one, and arguing who should be on it would make for an excellent barroom debate— but there are a few sure-things, and Rocco Prestia is undoubtedly one. The long-time Tower Of Power bassman has an immediately recognizable voice on the instrument: percolating 16th-notes that seem inhumanly locked to the equally bubbly syncopated drumming of David Garibaldi. His tone, bouncing under funk classics like “What Is Hip?” and “Soul Vaccination,” is no less distinctive than his style. His extraordinarily well-controlled fretting-hand muting combines with the big-bottom thump of a P-Bass for a sound that’s thick, round, and short on sustain. It’s a key ingredient in TOP’s complex uptempo funk.

Rocco parted ways with Fender some time ago, and his latest instrument is a far cry from the P-Bass of yore. Sure, it’s got four strings and a P pickup, but that’s where the similarities end. The ESP LTD RB-1004SM (um, how ’bout a snappier name, ESP?) is an ornate active bass with a figured maple top, opalescent inlays, unusual pickup placement, and extensively contoured body. Given all these qualities, I was excited to see not only if it were capable of that distinctive Rocco thump, but perhaps a little more, too.

 
 
The LTD is an immediately striking bass. The oval mother-of-pearl inlays positively sparkle in the right light, and the thick spalted-maple top and matching headstock are the sort of visual cues one might associate with basses costing much more. The instrument’s stretched-out, pointy proportions might not be for everyone, but there’s no denying that it cuts a distinctive profile. The neck also gets a high-end flourish, composed of alternating laminates of maple and walnut. Laminated necks are said to diminish vulnerability to shifting, and I noticed none in my time with the instrument.

The LTD is also blessed with some handsome “black nickel” hardware, and it’s high-quality stuff with tuners by Grover and a Gotoh bridge. The bridge also includes facility for through-body stringing, which some believe improves resonance and sustain. The LTD’s fit-and-finish was good, but not flawless. A couple of the oval side-position markers were a little rough, and there was a noticeable gap in the neck pocket. Removing the cavity cover revealed a fairly sloppy installation with a lot of excess wire length and a free-floating Aguilar OBP-2 preamp. Fortunately, the cavity cover was well coated in conductive shielding paint to prevent radio-frequency interference.

Aguilar is responsible for the preamp, but it also makes the pickups. ESP employed the AG 4PJ-HC set for the bass, which supplements a ’60s-style P pickup with a hum-cancelling J-style pickup. My only quibble is with the LTD’s knob arrangement. First, the whole four-knob cluster is too far rearward, making for an overlong reach to the volume knob. Second, the blend knob, parallel to the volume and closest to the bridge, is too far for a quick on-the-fly adjustment. A simple solution would have been switching the knobs, making the volume/blend row closer to the neck, not vice versa as in the current arrangement. [ESP Responds: “Rocco was very involved with the functionality of this instrument, and had much to do with where the knobs are positioned. Rocco Prestia’s expertise ... trumps our opinions pretty much any day of the week.”]

The RB-1004 is super comfortable to play. It’s light and svelte; all those contours worked their magic in my lap or on a strap. It has a quite shallow C-profile neck and a big neck radius, i.e., a fairly flat fingerboard. The bass also employs a remarkably thin neck joint for a bolt-on, making upper-range access a breeze. These factors combine to make the LTD an easy instrument to play fast. Fans of chunky P-style meat-and-potatoes necks best look elsewhere.

I played the RB-1004 through several rigs and in my home studio. With the P pickup soloed, the bass is seriously fat. So fat, in fact, that it’s downright surprising given the otherwise slim-and-trim vibe the bass gives off. Rolling back the treble a bit accentuated the booty even further, and I really dug palm-muting and laying deep into a groove. The bridge pickup, on the other hand, is a bit of an oddity. It’s pokey and punchy as all get out, but it’s also lacking enough supportive low-end response to give that punchiness authority. The fault is not in the pickup, though; I suspect it’s the placement. The LTD puts the “bridge” in bridge pickup—it’s really close. A standard ’70s Jazz Bass bridge pickup positions the polepieces about 6mm away from the saddle, give or take a little depending on intonation. The slanted layout of the LTD’s J-pickup puts the E string’s polepiece at just 45mm from the saddle and the G string’s at about 50mm. Given the huge impact that placement has on a pickup’s frequency response, I believe this is leading to the bass-shy response. [ESP Responds: “This is a purposeful design aspect that came directly from Rocco. He primarily plays the P pickup and blends in the J for the occasional top-end boost.”] When the pickups are blended, however, the bass has a pleasantly hollow and sizzly vibe, with that same big bottom, but with a little more upper-midrange thrust and high-end snap.

The LTD is an interesting bass. It looks sexy, if glitz and glam are your thing. Knob placement aside, it’s also a real joy to interact with, particularly if you want to get around quickly on a bass. Our test instrument had a few construction issues— nothing major, but in some ways, its boutique look belies a few of the measures any manufacturer must take to keep a bass like this affordable. All in all, the RB-1004 is a fine bass with a host of intriguing design elements and a genuinely booty-full neck-pickup tone.

SPECIFICATIONS

ESP

LTD RB-1004SM
Street
$1,200
Pros Pretty design flourishes; fast neck; huge neck-pickup sound
Cons Sloppy control cavity; awkward knob placement; thin-sounding bridge pickup

Contact espguitars.com

SPECS

Construction Bolt-on
Body Swamp ash
Neck Five-piece maple/walnut
Fingerboard Maple
Scale length 34"
Pickups Aguilar AG 4P-60/J-HC set
Hardware Grover tuners; Gotoh bridge
Weight 7.3 lbs
Made in Korea

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