Martin Sims is a music manufacturing renaissance man. His foray into the biz began with Sims Custom LED, the predominant source of instrumental LEDs, used for both position marking and overall stage vibey-ness. After five years, Sims began to expand, first with a custom spray shop and then with a turnkey custom shop for bodies, necks, electronics, hardware, and every other component in the typical bass. It’s this background that led Sims to develop his own line of instruments. Each incorporates the many innovations he discovered over his years in the OEM and custom-build business. Named for his father’s race-boat company, Enfield Marine (Sims used to work there), Enfield Guitars makes custom high-end basses with a unique and creative engineering touch.
The predominant technical innovation of Enfield basses is the Super 8 pickup. Sims sees the pickup as the primary tone determinant, so he offers maximum electronic flexibility to achieve sonic versatility. Through an ingenious switching system, the 8-coil pickup allows for up to 15 discrete pickup combinations. Front-to-back, both halves of the massive pickup can be used in a J-style, P-style, or soapbar configuration. Governed with dual 3-position switches, the tri-color LEDs denote the setting, with red indicating P-pickup, green indicating a J-style coil arrangement, and blue denoting the humbucking soapbar setting. Each polepiece is height adjustable to further tailor the tone.
Both Enfields were beautifully constructed, with an attention to detail commensurate with their high price. Their lovely finishes accentuated the figured tops, although the rainbow-burst 5-string’s palette was definitely not my thing. It’s no matter, though, as Enfield has extensive custom finish options. The 4-string incorporates an intriguing carbonfiber-wrapped neck. With it, Enfield wraps a Brazilian cedar core with a thin carbonfiber layer to improve rigidity and capitalize on the resonant characteristics of cedar, a wood not usually used in necks.
The Enfield’s hardware goes beyond the typical outsourced stuff. The custom bridge is massive and fully adjustable, plus it looks great. The rubber-ringed domed knobs are another proprietary design. They’re visually appealing, but I found the concentric design tough to operate in practice. The contiguous slope of the dome shape made it difficult to differentiate the two rings on the fly, so I found myself often inadvertently turning the wrong knob. This would be solved somewhat if they were more resistant.
Each bass was comfortable and ergonomic, despite their broad Wal-ish body contour. The sides and back were well contoured to mesh better with my body, and the treble-side cutout allowed for unimpeded high-fret access. My biggest playability gripe was with the sharp V-profile neck, which I could never quite get used to.
The Enfields feature a custom John East preamp with a boost-only bass control, a boost/cut treble filter, and a semiparametric midrange. The control cavity has trim-pots for each filter’s knee frequency. Pulling up on the blend knob engages a passive tone control. I love tone controls, although it’d be even hipper if it were always available, even with the preamp engaged. Given the Enfield’s flexible pickups, it’d be especially cool to see a totally passive version. Again, this is something Enfield will do on a custom basis. The basses also have a balanced output for direct interfacing with a mixer.
The Enfields each had a clear, precise, and articulate voice. There was a pleasant bounciness to their low-frequency response and a full-throated complexity in the midrange that proved especially compelling in the high register. Neither was particularly sizzly with the EQ set flat, but the abundant EQ ably added the appropriate airiness for extra definition. The Super 8 pickups add extraordinary flexibility to what would otherwise still be a pretty- and precise-sounding bass. Everything from J-pickup skronk and bite to pillowy P-pickup roundness was available, with the soapbar settings yielding the most elegant, broad-spectrum tone. One advantage of the system is the ability to try unusual pickup combinations, like a blended P-P configuration, or a J in the neck/P in the bridge setting. The Bstring response was tight and precise on our 5-string tester.
I dug the Enfields, and was wowed by the Super 8 pickup concept. I especially appreciated the basses’ left-of-center design philosophy and their remarkable sonic flexibility. Anyone looking for a unique high-end instrument with a potent array of solid tones should seriously consider these British imports.
Street Approx. $4,000-5,000, depending on options
Pros Awesome flexibility, excellent construction, innovative design
Cons Knobs are a bit finicky
Finishes Extensive finish options
Made in England
Warranty Lifetime limited
Contact www.enfieldguitars.com ; www.thelowend.net