Fodera basses are particularly esteemed among bass players. Along with Alembic, Ken Smith, Tobias, Wal, F Bass, and a few more, Fodera was an important part of the first wave of boutique bass building—the vanguard of a movement with an aesthetic commitment to high-quality materials and meticulous craftsmanship. The company’s enduring popularity is built on its superb instruments, and energized through its lineup of iconic endorsing artists, including Anthony Jackson, Victor Wooten, and Matthew Garrison. The fact that Foderas are highly coveted is not lost on the company’s business managers, as its eye-popping price list is an object lesson in supply-and-demand economics.
As a vigilant observer of bass trends for almost 15 years (it’s my job), I can confidently say that the bass world is in the midst of a vintage-vibe renaissance. When I started at BP, there seemed to be a ton of enthusiasm for what some call “coffee-table” basses: boutique instruments with intensely figured tops. Fodera was an exemplar of the trend, with many of its instruments laden with enough burl, flame, spalt, and quilt to impress a carpenter on acid. On the other side lies the Fender-esque aesthetic: solid colors or sunbursts over subtle ash or alder bodies—and while it never went anywhere, that kind of visual simplicity is hip again. To cater to the many customers who wanted a Fodera (but didn’t want a Hey-Look-At-Me top), the company announced its Standard Classic line at this year’s NAMM show. The basses are the perfect answer for those wondering what the Fodera fuss is about, but who aren’t wooed by the basses’ oft-flashy look.
The Emperor arrived in a lovely teardrop-shaped hardshell case, which I promptly added to my stack of cases that never get used (gig bag guy here). Peeking in the case revealed extensive accompanying literature about our tester’s accouterments, heritage, preamp, and a set of high-quality tools for all the essential adjustments. When someone is spending this much on a bass, every little touch helps rationalize the decision, so kudos to Fodera for creating an endearing experience out of the box.
I loved the Emperor Classic’s subtle-but-sophisticated look. On some gigs a flashy bass just isn’t the right look onstage, and to have an instrument with a high-end feel cloaked in Fender-esque clothing is the best of all worlds. The Classic’s fit-and-finish and general attention to construction detail was faultless. This isn’t hyperbolic, but even the tuning machines seemed to turn with a gentle resistance that just felt high-end. Fodera’s proprietary brass bridge is a thing of industrial-design beauty, and although adjusting it is a little complex compared to a standard design, it also offers class-leading solidity.
Like almost every Fodera bass, the Emperor Standard Classic combines Seymour Duncan/Fodera dual-coil pickups with a Pope/Fodera preamp. The Pope preamp is a precise and effective system, and I’m a huge proponent of passive tone controls running concurrent to an EQ. The curve of a tone knob’s lowpass filter is different from that of a treble EQ band, and it’s a super-speedy way to dial in darkness. The control cavity was gorgeous, lined with conductive copper shielding foil and a metal cover to help eliminate RF interference.
Play It Again
Since its arrival, I’ve played the Emperor on a number of gigs with rigs from Aguilar, Demeter, and Markbass. Its playability is superb. Strapped and lapped, the Emperor exhibits excellent balance and inviting upper-register access. Its neck profile is on the shallow side, and the fingerboard is fairly flat; these qualities, along with its 19mm string spacing, make it an especially fun bass to play fast, particularly if a variety of plucking-hand techniques are in order. It’s one of those review basses that immediately felt familiar and comfortable, despite my not being a frequent 24-fret player.
The Emperor’s wood cocktail is a vintage-inspired recipe that has proved itself on innumerable hit records: alder body, maple neck, and rosewood fingerboard. In the Fodera iteration, with the EQ flat and the tone full up, the combo spoke with a rich and remarkably balanced voice. There were no dead spots; each note, top-to-bottom, seemed to arrive with the same envelope and texture, allowing for differences in string length. Overall, this remarkable balance is the Emperor’s most striking sonic quality. The refinement of this coherence is reinforced with a beguiling midrange presence and smooth treble response. The Emperor never felt harsh and nasal; rather, it delivered tone with precision and immediacy, but not without a healthy dose of charm and personality. Soloing the bridge or neck pickup yielded the expected results, and exploiting the coil-split switch subtly thins out the sound in single-coil mode (it also introduces single-coil hum). The Pope preamp performed admirably, and I was especially glad that even with an 18-volt power supply, the knobs were effective and musical through a good range of their travel.
The Fodera Emperor Standard Classic is essentially a perfect bass in an objective sense, which it should be for the price. Yes, there are other boutique basses available for a lot less, but the Fodera makes the heady cost seem at least arguably reasonable. If Fodera’s typically wild look has been a turn-off, the Standard Classic basses (there’s a another body style on offer, the Monarch 4-string) represent a new excuse to drop serious dough on an instrument that’s sure to deliver a lifetime of good use.
Emperor 5 Standard Classic
Street $5,850 (left-handed available for 15% upcharge)
Pros Flawless construction; superb playability; beautiful tone
Bottom Line This near-perfect bass is the boutique bass for players who don’t want to look like they’re playing one.
Body Alder (review bass); ash optional
Neck One-piece hard rock maple
Fingerboard Indian rosewood (review bass); maple optional
Scale length 34"
String spacing 19mm at bridge
Pickups Fodera/Seymour Duncan Dual Coils
Preamp Fodera/Pope Standard 3-band w/coil-split and active/passive switch
Hardware Fodera proprietary chrome
Hardshell case Fodera Deluxe included
Warranty Five years on woodwork; one year on parts and electronics
Made in U.S.A.