WITH ITS EVER-EXPANDING ROSTER OF artist endorsees and swelling product lines of basses and amplifiers, Warwick seems to be capturing the zeitgeist of the bass world especially well as of late. Founded in 1982 by Hans-Peter Wilfer and based in Markneukirchen, Germany—a town renowned for its legacy of musical instrument making—the company’s tag line, “The Sound of Wood,” seems to perfectly capture its devotion to the craft of luthiery that stretches back to far before the birth of the electric bass. Though BASS PLAYER has reviewed a number of Warwick basses and amps over the years, we’ve never done a full examination of its flagship Thumb Bass, the instrument of choice for such players as Jack Bruce, Ryan Martinie, and Jeroen Paul Thesseling. When these 4- and 5-string Thumb Basses arrived at our office, I wasted no time in unpacking them and digging in.
In my years at BASS PLAYER, I’ve come to view some of the gig’s myriad perks—interviewing bass icons and analyzing my favorite bass lines among them—as everyday activities that, while still a thrill, aren’t much to get worked up over. It’s the arrival of certain pieces of gear that continues to render me gobsmacked. When the typical bass arrives, I’ll unpack it, play a few cursory licks, plug it in for a spell, and then get back to the more mundane tasks of magazine making. These Warwicks were anything but typical. Cracking open their cases, my eyes were instantly drawn to the beautiful wood grain of the basses’ bubinga bodies. Set against that wood’s rich reddish hue, the black hardware, brass frets, and dark ebony fingerboards lent the basses a rare degree of style and sophistication.
Since springing for my first neck-through bass in the ’90s, I’ve become a real fan of that particular style of bass building. Of course, there’s the sonic dimension of the design, offering singular sustain and dead-spot resistance. But beyond that, there’s something about that construction method that seems to make a bass feel more cohesive and whole. If there’s one aspect of the design that gives me pause, it’s that the juxtaposition of neck and wing wood can end up making a bass look like a rather unappetizing “hippy sandwich.” So I was pretty thrilled with the one-piece appearance these neck-through Warwicks achieved via their bubinga body caps overlaying their ovangkol/ekanga necks.
Picking up the 4-string Thumb Bass, I was immediately smitten with its organic vibe. The bass balanced well in my lap, its smooth oil finish felt fab on both body and neck, and the arc of its compact body was cozy against my mid-section curves. I generally rest my right forearm against a bass while plucking, but the Warwick’s relatively small body made that position a little uncomfortable. (No biggie—as a bass player, I’m nothing if not eminently adaptive!) There was nary a rough fret edge, the hardware was fit to perfection, and the neck was downright un-budge-able. Though I’m not usually one to go there, the upper reaches of the bass’s 26-fret fingerboard sat comfortably within reach. The control cavity was tidy and easy to access. Acoustically, the bass had a lively, resonant voice and fantastic sustain. The brass frets and nut seemed to impart chime-like brightness to notes across the instrument’s entire range, and the attack of each note sounded quick and clear.
Which wood you rather? The Thumb Bass’s bubinga wings sit on either side of a nack made of ovangkol and ekanga.
On a gig though an SWR Redhead 2x10 combo, the Thumb Bass had a tight, punchy low end and terrific high-end clarity. The upper-body mass I had missed while playing seated was a non-issue when the bass hung from a strap. The Thumb’s two concentric control knobs—one for volume/blend, one for bass/treble—took a little getting used to, but I could appreciate that such a configuration allowed for more wood to show. The Warwick took well to slapping and fingerstyle playing, but my favorite sound came from playing aggressively with a pick—the Thumb seemed to relish rough play, purring like blood-drunk tiger cat.
With its closely spaced J-style pickups, the 5-string Thumb appeared at first to be a different breed than its 4-stringed companion. But while I expected the bass to have a little more burp and bite, the impact of the pickup shift seemed subtle; the 5-string had every bit of the 4’s big bottom, and the largest difference in tone seemed to come from the shift in playing position when I rested my thumb on the neck pickup. The 5-string’s additional neck wood and fret wire made the bass more subject to neck-dive in my lap, but not in an extreme way. The Thumb 5’s B string felt taut and sounded massive. Both Thumb basses were equipped to weave a rich and varied tapestry of tones courtesy of their powerful, musical-sounding 3-band active electronics. Though I was able to dial in a dark, thumpy tone by rolling back the highs, I would certainly applaud the addition of a passive tone control to the Thumbs’ onboard preamps.
The height of the Warwicks’ brass Just-A-Nut III is easily adjusted with a hex key (included).
Two Thumbs Up
Judged on workmanship and style alone, the Warwick Thumb Basses would be winners in my book. Naturally, sound is what ultimately matters. With their terrific sustain and assertive, punchy voices, the Warwicks excel in that department, as well. In the case of the Thumb Bass, the “The Sound of Wood” is a wonderful thing.
WARWICK THUMB BASSES
Street 4-string, $4,499; 5-string, $4,749
Pros Punchy, assertive tone; classy look and feel
Body Bubinga pommele
Width at nut 4-string, 1½"; 5-string, 1¾"
Scale length 34"
Electronics 9-volt MEC preamp
Controls Volume (pull to bypass EQ), pickup blend, midrange (@ 800 Hz), bass (@ 100 Hz), treble (@ 8.5 kHz)
Frets Jumbo brass
Hardware Warwick Just-A-Nut III brass nut, Warwick 3-D bridge
Weight 4-string, 9.5 lbs; 5-string, 10 lbs
Includes Strap security locks, beeswax, polishing cloth, EMP strings, flight case
Made in Germany
Warranty Two-year limited