Roscoe Century Basses

September 2, 2011
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Twentieth Century American philosopher and educator Mortimer Adler once said, “People value things in three ways: as useful, as pleasant, or as intrinsically admirable.” This quote came to mind this past month as I reviewed three basses from North Carolina luthier Keith Roscoe. It’s not often that I get a chance to review three instruments from the same company, and I discovered that I valued them in all the ways Adler suggests. Feeling a bit like Goldilocks, I sat down to test each one, but unlike our flaxen-haired bear-stalking youngster, I found all three to be “just right.”
 

Street Standard 5, $2,200; Standard 5 Plus, $2,500; Signature V, $4,450
Pros Superb workmanship, tonal variety, and ergonomics
Cons Concentric knobs can be a bit tricky to tweak

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 From top: Roscoe Century V, Century Standard 5 Plus, and Century Signature V
 
 
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
 
The Century Standard 5 embodies Adler’s comment regarding the value of usefulness. Its solid ash body, pau ferro neck, and nofrills electronics make it a perfect workhorse for the gigging bassist. It was the first one I grabbed and the one I played the most over the past month. The wood choice, appearance, and warm tone pleased the traditionalist in me, while the active electronics gave me that occasionally desired modern boost— literally. Like maple, pau ferro is dense and produces a bright response, especially when compared to rosewood, and I dug the punchy response I got from this bass.
 
Along with a stacked treble/bass knob, Century basses come equipped with a midrange cut/boost that allows players to adjust two different frequencies. Pushed in, you can alter your mids at 250Hz, while pulled out you can tweak at 800Hz. In a live band setting where the bass is getting a bit buried, I find that a boost at 250Hz can really push the bass forward in the mix; while soloing, boosting in the 800Hz range can bring some upper-mid punch and brightness. Having onboard access to both frequency sweet spots was nice. The treble/bass stacked knob provides additional tone-tweaking opportunity, although I prefer concentric knobs to differentiate in size a bit more. I tend to operate such knobs with my right pinkie, and found that I often inadvertently turned both while attempting to operate the bass control. Other players, however, may experience no problems, depending on how they operate their tone controls.

A SPLASH OF CLASS

The Century Standard 5 Plus adds a bit of fl ash to the base-level Century Standard. Our test model boasted a quilted maple top over an ash body. The layer of maple was quite thin—somewhere between r" and a" thick—so I didn’t perceive any sonic effect, but it did greatly enhance the look of the instrument. The wenge fingerboard, however, did make a difference in feel and tone, offering a nice, quick response, growly lows, and crisp highs—common traits of this wood. While testing the Standard 5 Plus, I explored the Bartolini electronics common to all three basses. Each of the Century models includes a gain control, accessible through a small hole on the back of the control cavity cover. With a small screwdriver, you can make adjustments to the output of the preamp. I find this feature incredibly practical, as it allows you to match the level of your bass with a particular soundboard, amp, or other bass.

INTRINSICALLY ADMIRABLE

The Signature V is the elite member of the Century series. Everyone who came by my place over the last month immediately wanted to pick up this exquisite instrument and play it. The koa top looks magnificent sitting atop a beautiful hand-shaped Spanish cedar body, and the wenge sapwood fretboard completes the exotic look. I’d place the sound of the sapwood fingerboard somewhere between maple and rosewood— it had a nice midrange pop. The Signature model has a beautiful five-piece neck constructed of wenge, purpleheart, and maple that tapers toward the headstock. Whereas the previous two models utilize over-thecounter Bartolini electronics, the Signature V boasts custom-wound pickups. Roscoe claims these pickups offer more top-end response and slightly less low-mids with a little compression. Though the difference is subtle, that assessment certainly rang true in testing. The action can be set wonderfully low on these basses, which I discovered when tweaking the action on the Signature V. The Signature V felt great at its lower ranges, and was a joy to play up high.

All three basses feature 35" scale length, but thanks to careful attention to ergonomics and balance, I could hardly notice the somewhat longer scale. Case in point: A local 12-year-old bassist dropped by my place this month, so I had him try it on for size. He had no difficulty in navigating the neck, which was quite impressive given his smaller stature. As expected, the extra inch aids in the stabilization of the B string, which on all three Century basses was like a lightweight prizefighter—tight and punchy.

Without question, the Century 5 series offers players some great options for holding down the low-end. I preferred the Standard model, both for its simplicity and its price point. But, if you want just a taste of flash, a few hundred bucks can buy you a fancy top that won’t affect that traditional tone. For those desiring an overall more modern and ornamental instrument, however, the Signature V is the way to go, although it will cost you quite a bit more. In the end, these Roscoe basses provide players with not one but three reasons to value them: their obvious utility, their pleasant tones, and their intrinsic beauty.


TECH SPECS

CENTURY STANDARD 5
Neck Three-piece maple
Body Ash
Fingerboard Pau ferro
Bridge Hipshot A Style
Pickups Bartolini soapbar
Preamp Bartolini NTMB
Controls Volume, blend, midrange, treble, bass
Scale length 35"
Weight 8.62 lbs

CENTURY STANDARD 5 PLUS
Neck Three-piece maple
Body Ash
Top Quilted maple
Fingerboard Wenge
Bridge Hipshot A style
Pickups Bartolini soapbar
Preamp Bartolini NTMB
Controls Volume, blend, midrange, treble, bass
Scale length 35"
Weight 8.75 lbs

CENTURY SIGNATURE V
Neck Five-piece wenge with purpleheart and maple
Body Spanish Cedar
Top Koa
Fingerboard Wenge sapwood
Bridge Hipshot B style
Pickup Custom Bartolini soapbar
Preamp Bartolini NTMB
Controls Volume, blend, midrange boost, treble, bass
Scale length 35"
Weight 9 lbs

Made in U.S.A.
Warranty Two years
Contact roscoeguitars.com

 
 The Century Signature’s wenge sapwood fingerboard felt and sounded like a cross between maple and rosewood.

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