Here at Bass Player HQ, we ponder many of the same things you do. We discuss the tones of various woods, ask ourselves if the world needs yet another Jazz Bass copy, and agree to disagree about certain aspects of the passive vs. active debate. And sometimes, we come across an instrument that answers a burning question or two.
Take San Francisco luthier Ben Lambdin’s distinctive new 35"-scale 4-string, for example. Put aside the 35er’s intriguing Fenderness for a moment (dig those Jaguar, Jazz Bass, and Telecaster Bass genes), and revel in the questions it inspires: How thunderous can a passive B string be? What’s the relationship between weight and tone? How do pickups inspired by Gibson P-90s sound in a bass? How much difference does an inch make in an instrument’s scale length? And just how useful is a bass tuned BEAD?
Hard rock and metal bassists have been tuning down a whole-step or more for decades, and thanks to the ubiquity of synth bass, we’ve become accustomed to hearing and playing notes well below E. But after years of wrangling wide-necked 5- and 6-strings, grabbing a good ol’ 4 can feel positively refreshing—which is one reason bass players as diverse as gospel icon Reggie Parker, Rage Against The Machine’s Tim Commerford, and Ross Valory of Journey have all dipped into the BEAD range.
The 35er is the result of Lambdin’s desire to build an instrument with the low end of a 5-string and the feel of a vintage American 4. Its contoured body, chunky Precision-like neck, 20-fret fingerboard, and volume/blend/tone controls do indeed conjure an old-school vibe; so do the strap peg on the inside of the horn and the occasional 60-cycle hum, courtesy of passive Ulyate B90 single-coils. For maximum low end, attack, and sustain, Lambdin pairs a mahogany body, bocote rosewood neck, and ebony fingerboard with a Hipshot A-style bridge and a bone nut, and to avoid floppy strings—the bane of down-tuned basses—Lambdin chose a 35" scale length.
Thick & Rich
The 35er’s pickguard and distinctive headstock shape aren’t its only idiosyncrasies. Turning the pickup selector toward the bridge highlights the front pickup, and vice versa. Its neck-dive is noticeable but tolerable. The recessed jack and ebony neck plate are nice touches, though, and the nut, higher than most, helps give the strings the “swing” they need.
If there’s one word that sums up the 35er, it’s “substantial.” This 12-pound beast does not take kindly to skinny straps and soft backs. Fortunately, it delivers tone that’s just as massive.
The 35er arrived strung with the low side of a nickel D’Addario XL 170-5 set (.065, .080, .100, .135). Plugged into an Epifani Piccolo 600 head/Euphonic Audio 108 1x8 practice rig at a living-room rehearsal, the 35er was clear and chocolatey all the way up to the 20th fret. The neck pickup, capable of octaver-like lows, flaunted a humbucker-like honk with the tone control wide open; the soloed back pickup, fat but focused, was too stout for Jaco-style bark.
Prepped with a new set of Xotic stainless steels (.065–.125) and pumped through TecAmp Puma 900 and Black Jag 500 heads, as well as a Virtue 4x10 cab, the 35er delivered authoritative tone when played with pick, thumb, or fingers. The sustain was intoxicating, and although the tone knob and the B90s showed plenty of range, the 35er seemed better suited to aggressive lines and big notes than “Teen Town” or slap fests. The B string was tight and yes, thunderous.
With a vibe all its own, the 35er is certainly not for everyone or every situation. Few instruments, however, own the space between 4-string and 5-string with such muscular authority, and if you’re open to the myriad possibilities of BEAD tuning, you just might fall in love.
Price $2,500 street
Pros Rich, powerful tone due largely to heavy, high-density woods
Bottom Line A seductive mix of clarity and deep tone in an unusual package.
Fingerboard radius 14"
Neck width at nut 13/4"
Bridge Hipshot A-style
Scale length 35"
Pickups Two Ulyate B90 single-coils
Controls Volume, blend, tone
Tuners Hipshot HB-1
Weight 12 lbs.
Finish Spirit varnish
Made in USA