Anyone who’s played a lot of bass has experienced the bizarre spectrum of pain, discomfort, and general physical weirdness that’s an inescapable consequence of the repetitive motions our instrument demands. My struggles, while disconcerting, have never been too severe—just the occasional jolt of a pinched nerve or the muscle soreness that hours of fine finger movement entails. Others aren’t so lucky, though. Carpal tunnel syndrome, severe back pain, and a spectrum of debilitating repetitive stress injuries have even forced a few friends to quit. The Artisan Bass Works (ABW) True-Tone reviewed here is the result of a multi-year R&D process aimed at designing a bass that addresses some of the instrument’s ergonomic shortcomings, specifically the tendency for us to use our fretting hand to counter-balance neck dive, thus wasting energy and increasing joint and muscular stress. This also frees up the fretting hand to do just that: fret. The “ANSIR Technology” primarily consists of reorienting the neck, and offsetting it, so that it naturally lies at what ABW calls the “Industry Standard Playing Angle.”
The ABW’s unique look is the result of altering the plane of the neck relative to the body. On most basses, the body and neck lie along similar horizontal planes. The ABW, however, orients the neck at a 42-degree angle relative to the body, which is still oriented along the horizontal plane. It’s as if the strings, pickups, bridge, and neck of a standard J-style bass were all pivoted at the neck joint, and slightly offset.
Artisan Bass Works didn’t cut corners in service of the ANSIR concept, sourcing a nice collection of high-end hardware and electronics for the True-Tone. The venerable Aguilar OBP-3 provides buffering and EQ, and it’s linked to a pair of equally tried-and-true Seymour Duncan Basslines Hot Jazz pickups. The cool aluminum KSM bridge is a nice choice, as are the retro-styled Hipshot HB-1 tuning machines. I didn’t love the choice and layout of the knobs, however. The chrome knobs are Hipshot O-ring knobs, to improve grip; works good, looks funky. I found the bottom ring of the two concentric pots a little difficult to grip and adjust confidently and quickly.
With a bass like this, it’s all about the playability. As promised, the ABW does put the neck in a more natural playing position than on a standard bass. In the sitting position it isn’t as noticeable—the neck dove a bit—but on a strap, the ABW design comes into its own. The angle of the neck relative to my body made 1st position seem closer than normal, which resulted in a smoother and less potentially problematic break angle for my left wrist. When you let go, the neck stays in playing position. There is an adjustment phase when moving to the ABW; it’s up to you whether your search for a more comfortable instrument makes that worthwhile.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the bass’ intriguing design, but it is an instrument after all, so I was happy that it proved a capable J-style bass, regardless of its funky aesthetic. The ABW has the sizzle and sheen many associate with hot-rodded J basses, with enough woody texture and low-midrange detail to give it a solid and sophisticated voice in many styles. I was able to coax the whole gamut of active J-style tones out of the instrument, from back-pickup bite to neck-pickup thump. The blended pickup sound was slightly scooped, with a forward low-end response—perfect for slap. I wish ABW had included a passive tone control and made use of the OBP-3’s passive function to expand the instrument’s palette further in the vintage direction when required.
It won’t be for everybody, but for folks who find standard bass design leading to nagging discomfort, the True-Tone could be a salvation. One of the beautiful things about our relatively young instrument is that it continues to evolve; the electric bass is not yet fully baked. Kudos to Artisan Bass Works for their noble effort to help players.
ARTISAN BASS WORKS
Pros Intriguing ergonomics designed to mitigate injury; solid construction and hardware; nice array of active J-style tones
Cons The ergonomic design will be hard for the J purist to accept
Bottom Line The look isn’t for everyone, but the ABW’s potential health benefits, playability, and solid construction are compelling.
Neck width at nut 1.5"
String spacing 19mm
Tuners Hipshot Vintage HB-1
Bridge KSM Foundation
Pickups Seymour Duncan Basslines Hot Jazz
Preamp Aguilar OBP-3, 3-band EQ
Scale length 34"
Weight 9.5 lbs
Made in U.S.A.