Warwick occupies an unusual stratum in the bass market. The scope of its business is exponentially bigger and more diverse than any other high-end bass manufacturer, for one. Not only does Warwick manufacture insanely expensive instruments (including Framus guitars) in its German factory, it also has a broad line of inexpensive Chinese-made import basses and accessories, plus a surprisingly diverse range of amps and cabinets, and it also handles distribution in Europe for some of America’s biggest music-gear brands. Warwick also hosts a top-shelf bass camp each autumn (see my story in December ’15 for more on that) and involves itself in charitable and ecological campaigns. The company exists in a sphere occupied by mass-production juggernauts such as Fender and Gibson, but tries to maintain its carefully cultivated reputation for expensive, custom-designed instruments. It’s a difficult line to straddle, but having seen Warwick’s German production facility, I’ve learned first-hand how it works. By integrating the latest manufacturing technology, like CNC machines and a one-of-a-kind neck shaping and fret-laying machine (with a healthy dose of hand finishing), Warwick basses seek to combine the consistency of high-tech production with the old-world craftsmanship that their high price connotes.
Our review instruments here reflect two sides of the Warwick coin. The “$$” (double-buck, i.e., double humbucker) Corvette is a sleek and modern solidbody with burly active electronics, while the Star Bass is a semi-hollowbody with huge Hagstrom-like single-coils and passive electronics. Each was built in Germany, although like most Warwick models, close approximations of each are available via Warwick’s Chinese Rock Bass line.
MORE THAN A COUPLE BUCKS
When you’ve played a lot of basses, you start to develop a working familiarity with each builder’s concept. Warwicks have a few unifying qualities, regardless of the model, that strongly differentiate them from other brands, for better or worse. While many of these qualities can be altered through Warwick’s comprehensive custom-options list, they represent what the vast majority of users will find on their instrument. The chief differentiating characteristic of a Warwick, to me, is the neck. As our Corvette exemplified, Warwick necks can be chunky, with a deep C-profile and minimal taper at the nut. Warwick also uses some of the biggest frets around and a nearly flat fingerboard radius; coupled with the chunky neck profile, this makes Warwicks feel like a handful to me. It’s subjective, but not much like other basses out there, so before you buy a Warwick sight-unseen, be sure you’re down with this approach.
The Corvette was well made—as it should be, considering the price. It’s in the construction and fit-and-finish that Warwick’s extensive CNC experience comes into play. There’s nothing amiss in the body’s contour, the pickup and electronics routing, or the assembly; everything fits together perfectly in a sort of stereotypically German way. The only area that could use a little sprucing up, given the cost, is the control cavity. While I love the no-screwdriver-necessary cover, the wiring could be neater, and I’d prefer to see copper shielding foil, not conductive shielding paint as found in our tester.
The Corvette balanced exceptionally well—my hand didn’t need to support the neck when I played on my lap. High-fret access was also very good, although I’m not a fan of the neck profile, big frets, and radius. Whether or not you dig the unusual body contour, there’s no denying it’s a thoughtful shape with regard to playability.
A pair of MM-style pickups placed directly next to each other is another unusual touch on the $$. As one might expect, the resulting tone is strong and authoritative, with a pronounced high-frequency bite and, in the bridge position, a reasonably StingRay-like scoopiness. The two 3-position switches govern each pickup’s function, allowing selection between series-and parallel-wired humbucking modes and a single-coil using the outside magnets. These switches, along with the potent EQ, made the bass more versatile than its dominating pickup scheme might suggest. For example, with the neck pickup soloed in single-coil mode and the treble rolled off, I coaxed a reasonably thumpy P-Bass tone out of the otherwise aggro Corvette.
A STAR IS BORN
When Warwick debuted the Star Bass, it was an obvious departure for the brand, whose fame is built on exotically shaped, decidedly modern-sounding solidbody basses. Even without the not-so-subtle name, the Star Bass’ primary design influence is clear: the hallowed Guild Starfire bass, the single-coil secret weapon for many a session player looking for a thick-but-decisive tone with a pillowy air to the sound.
Our tester was gorgeous. There was a timeless sophistication to the black “high-polish” finish and chrome hardware. The bass also boasts dead-simple electronics, basically akin to a Gibson Les Paul guitar (volume/tone knobs for each pickup and a 3-position switch). One of the most celebrated aspects of the Starfire, its enormous Hagstrom single-coil, is duplicated on the Star Bass II, which uses MEC-branded versions of the same design.
As I had hoped, the Star Bass II delivers on its promise of semi-hollow thickness and funky honk. It’s a superb all-around instrument for those who like a ton of fundamental in their tone and don’t find themselves seduced by high-frequency sizzle. Moving into the high register for little fills revealed a sweet and mellow voice that never offended. Down low and palm-muted, the Star Bass oozed chocolaty gooeyness. Playability was also good for such a big-bodied bass, although I had the same quibbles with its super-chunky neck and frets.
In the end, Warwick basses are generally an acquired taste. There are many who love their solid construction, electronics versatility, and big necks and frets. To others, the German-made models (especially the fancy “Master-built” series) are too expensive, considering the mass production that goes into some aspects of their construction. Regardless, they are some of the most customizable and solidly built instruments out there. My suggestion is to go try one (they are widely distributed in the U.S., so that shouldn’t be too hard) and discover which camp you’re in. If you have the money and you’re on the team, you’d be hard pressed to find other instruments quite like them.
Pros Excellent playability; powerful and flexible tone; good construction
Cons Chunky neck, giant frets, and flat radius not for everyone; control cavity could be fancier
Bottom Line A superbly made bass that’s great for anyone who wants to cut through a big mix. Surprising flexibility courtesy the pickup-switching.
Star Bass II
Pros Thick and tubby with just enough cut to poke through a dense mix
Cons That Warwick neck/fret thing again
Bottom Line Easily as expensive as many vintage and contemporary alternatives, the Star Bass II still deserves a look if you’re after that semi-hollow thump.
Top Flame maple
Fingerboard radius 26"
Frets 24 jumbo bronze
Pickups MEC MM-style humbuckers
Controls Volume, blend, bass, treble; 3-position switch (series, single-coil, parallel)
Weight 9.5 lbs
Star Bass II
Construction Set-in neck
Fingerboard radius 20"
Frets 21 jumbo bronze
Pickups MEC single-coils
Controls Volume, Tone for each pickup; 3-position pickup selector
Weight 10.5 lbs
Neck Four-piece wenge
Nut Brass Just-A-Nut III (variable height)
Bridge Two-piece Warwick solid brass
Scale length 34"
Tuners Gotoh-style with wood knobs
Made in Germany