Ever since 1978, when Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson laid down big riffs like “I Want You to Want Me” and “Surrender” on his Hamer Quad on Live at Budokan, the 12-string bass has been a force to be reckoned with. If you’re ready to commandeer more than just the low end, grabbing a bass with a couple extra octave strings for each primary “fundamental” is definitely one way to go.
Musicvox built its first 12-string, a custom Space Ranger, for Petersson in 1998; the Space Cadet has been the company’s flagship 12 since 1999. Though the MI-5 shares many of its predecessor’s specs, the MI-5’s double cutaway, longer horn, slotted headstock, and staggered tuners are all its own.
The first MI-5 we played was in rough shape: The frets had sharp edges, the slots on the brass nut were sloppy, screws were difficult to turn, and several spots on the headstock and under the truss rod cover were unfinished. Our second tester looked and felt better—the frets, thanks perhaps to inclement weather, were still sharp to the touch, but the strings vibrated well and most of the screws turned just fine.
Once we got the MI-5 up and running, we checked out the rest of the bass. Front to back, the neck felt comfortably wide, like that of an early ’60s P-Bass, though we found the string spacing a bit tight. The MI-5’s distinctive horn makes it more comfortable to sit and play, a nice option for those who might wince at its 11-lb. weight.
The Musicvox’s controls consist of a 3-band EQ, a 3-way toggle switch pickup selector, and a push/pull master volume knob, which engages the active circuitry when pulled out. In what seemed a departure from the usual stereo, one-output-per-pickup configuration on two-jack basses, the MI-5 has one output for passive tone and a second output for both active and passive signals. Passive, the bass sounded fine, but engaging the active EQ brought the MI-5 to life. When we used both outputs simultaneously, however—the chrome active/passive output going to an Epifani Piccolo 600/Euphonic Audio VL-108 1x8 practice rig and the black, passive output going to a tiny Ibanez BT10 bass amp—we were able to appreciate the MI-5 in all its wide, ringing glory. It wouldn’t be exaggeration, in fact, to say that you haven’t really experienced the MI-5 until you’ve heard it through two amps.
Twelve-strings are best suited to big notes and thick lines, so the MI-5 seemed a natural fit for classic riffs such as Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and P-Funk’s “Up for the Down Stroke.” We were tempted to try alternate tunings on the D and G octave strings, but even in standard tuning, the bass sounded big and nasty. Tuned down a half-step, the MI-5 sounded richer and fuller: With the strings looser, it was easier to fret, and its chugging rumble and sparkly top cut through while laying down the law as only a full-bodied 12-string can.
Pros Thick bottom, sparkly highs
Cons Tight spacing
Bottom Line Looking for something different? There’s no ride like the MI-5.
Construction Neck-through body
Nut width 2"
Strings D’Addario EXL170-12
String spacing ⅛" between strings
Neck Maple, neck-though
Fretboard radius 16"
Fret size .118
Truss rod Twin double truss rods
Tuners Locking bass & locking mini
Pickups Musicvox special design active/passive
Bridge/tailpiece 8-saddle Musicvox custom-machined
Finishes White, Sky Blue, Metallic Red, Seafoam Green, Royal Blue, and Silver Sparkle, all with bound bodies, necks, and headstocks
Outputs Dual (one passive, one active)
Weight 11 lbs.
Warranty 2 years to original owner
Made in Indonesia at a Korean-owned factory