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
Pros Pretty design flourishes; fast neck;
huge neck-pickup sound
Cons Sloppy control cavity; awkward knob
placement; thin-sounding bridge pickup
Body Swamp ash
Neck Five-piece maple/walnut
Scale length 34"
Pickups Aguilar AG 4P-60/J-HC set
Hardware Grover tuners; Gotoh bridge
Weight 7.3 lbs
Made in Korea