When Warwick decided to build a signature model for Leland Sklar, the company knew it would have to live up to the reputation of the man. Sklar’s work has influenced multiple generations of bassists to play with taste, impeccable groove, and melody, while Sklar himself is a style icon for his prodigious beard and love of work coveralls—so Warwick knew the bass would have to sound amazing and also look cool. Since Sklar has been a Warwick artist for many years, favoring the semi-hollow Star Bass, he had plenty of time to develop a wish list that turned this already-stellar instrument into a highly personalized axe.
As you would expect of a German-made Warwick Custom Shop axe, it ain’t cheap. In fact, with a street price of $8,000, it’s beyond the reach of most players. But Warwick’s philosophy on signature models is to give the artist what they truly want regardless of cost, with less concern about how many they may sell each year. For most of us, this bass falls into the “after-I-hit-the-Lotto” category, but those with enough scratch to bring one home will have the pleasure of playing a unique instrument that satisfies one of the most influential bassists on the planet.
The most noticeable aspect of the Sklar Bass is the atypical arm cut on the top. Players of semi-hollow basses are all too familiar with the crease you get in your forearm as you reach over the body binding. Built for comfort as well as speed, the Sklar Bass top angles back at the critical point, preventing the loss of blood flow to the hand. It also looks pretty cool. The body has been offset to allow better access to the higher frets, because one thing Lee Sklar has shown us: If you put the music first, there is in fact money to be made up there. Two punchy active MEC single-coil pickups sit in ’60s J-Bass position, and are completely devoid of the typical single-coil hum that plagues this configuration. While the Star Bass is passive in standard configuration, the Sklar Bass has an active bass-and-treble circuit that can be bypassed via the push/pull volume pot. Unlike the Star’s separate volume and tone controls, the Sklar has master volume, blend, bass, and treble knobs. Then there’s the true secret behind Lee’s Grammy Award-winning tone: the Producer Switch, a 3-way toggle. It allows you to effortlessly make drastic changes to your tone, at least one of which will create a hit record. The secret? The switch is a dummy, totally useless and unconnected to anything. The Producer Switch (which Lee had installed on his Star) earned its name from the many times producers have asked him for “a little something different,” or to “make it darker, but with sheen,” or to play “more purple.” With some of the best hands in the business, Sklar simply approaches the string differently to change his tone, but the switch is a way to convince the producer he actually did something. Here is instruction from Master Sklar himself: “It’s very simple. When you flip the switch, the only factor is timing. That is critical. It must be observed to function properly.”
The chambered body has an AAA flame-maple top with flame-maple arm support, with mahogany sides and back. Warwick Product Specialist Jon Giroux explains the unique construction method: “The body itself starts out as two solid blocks of mahogany. We then rout out the inside of the blocks to give it the semi-hollow chambering. The ‘chambers’ are glued together, and then the neck is glued in. Last, they add the maple top and back. Although it’s extremely difficult and time consuming to do this, the result is a real solid-wood instrument. It does not have laminated back, sides, or top. For the arm bevel, we glue a chunk of wood into that section and then rout it out.”
The Sklar Bass is outfitted with Warwick’s well-engineered hardware: a brass Just-A-Nut III, two-piece brass bridge, angled closed-gear tuners with sexy wooden paddles, and Warwick locking strap buttons. The 20" tiger-stripe ebony fingerboard is the resting place for 21 relatively flat (1mm tall) and narrow (2mm wide) nickel–silver frets, instead of the typical bell-brass frets found on most Warwick builds. Sometimes referred to as “mandolin frets,” they make sliding around the fingerboard easy, and offer the potential for more precise intonation. The Warwick-supplied toolkit is always a blast to play with, and the super-deluxe leather gig bag (included) is sturdy and heavy.
The Sklar’s design eliminates two complaints I have with semi-hollow basses in general: The armrest allows for right-hand comfort, and by attaching the strap button at the top of the bass-side horn instead of the neck heel, the instrument hangs with less neck-dive. Atypical of its breed, the sustain and clarity rivals any high-end solid-body, but the Sklar retains a woolly character that lets you know the internal chambers are involved in the tone as well. In passive mode, the pickups have that non-GMO tone that sits in a track like a true classic. I found rolling the blend knob toward the neck pickup gave an increasingly wide/open sound, but it never lost focus. In the middle position, you could compare it to a passive J-Bass, but with a little more depth—“darker, but with sheen,” perhaps. The bridge pickup gives a tight, articulate tone that still represents a full frequency spectrum. Pushing the Sklar into active mode transforms the bass into a different animal. You can reggae-blast the lows for earth-moving bottom, or balance the two controls for a sparkling, modern fingerstyle tone. While I don’t typically think of this instrument genre as useful for funk or slap, the Sklar is actually quite slap-friendly.
At a reasonable weight of just under nine pounds, the Sklar felt comfortable on the end of a strap, and it played like the champion it is. While not in everyone’s price range, the Sklar Bass is a top-notch bit of work from Warwick’s renowned Custom Shop. With its unique and well-conceived alterations to the Star Bass platform, the Sklar distinguishes itself as its own instrument, suiting Leland Sklar himself for the majority of his workload.
Sklar Bass I Signature
Pros Superb quality, versatile
Bottom Line A versatile, attractive update to the semi-hollow world.
Construction Set neck
Fingerboard Tiger-stripe ebony
Fingerboard radius 20"
Frets 21 small, flat nickel–silver w/Invisible Fretwork Technology
Nut Just-A-Nut III Brass
Scale length 34"
Neck width at nut 1.5"
Pickups 2 MEC active single-coil
Tuners Warwick machine heads w/wooden knobs
Bridge Warwick two-piece brass
Weight 8.8 lbs
Made in Germany