In a country that already boasts some incredibly skilled luthiers, German boutique builder Marleaux is responsible for some of the nation’s finest instruments. They exemplify what a custom boutique bass is all about: exquisite wood and craftsmanship, high-end electronics, innovative and thoughtful design, and a price that’s just as high as all the above would suggest. I took a look at two markedly different-looking models, the single-cut M-Bass and the neck-through Consat. Interestingly, the two models utilize identical wood combinations, so I was intrigued at the semi-controlled experiment into the influence of design on tone.
Fresh out of the groovy Marleaux-branded gig bag, each bass just screams expensive. The effect continues in the hand. No fret is left unfiled. No hidden corner of wood less than perfectly smooth and finished. Speaking of the wood, the two Marleauxs each flaunt some gorgeous dead tree. Both basses’ deeply figured amber-stained tops come courtesy flamed pear wood—who knew the trunk was as tasty as the fruit? Behind the tops are alder bodies. The pear wood reappears on the basses’ rear, with the control cavity and battery covers (the M-Bass’s battery is in the control cavity) incorporating the top wood, presenting a handsome visual contrast to the much more modest alder. Thick slabs of dyed ebony are used for the fingerboards, and the headstocks each get a top-matching pear wood veneer.
The construction, hardware, and finish of the basses were faultless. Beautiful details abound, from the brass ferrules for the control-cavity cover screws to the unique knobs to the perfectly sculpted complex body contours. I was especially enamored of the bridge, which is made specially for Marleaux by ETS (another small German company). It has a solid heft, an intricate stable system for locking down the saddles, and an easy-release for the strings’ ball ends. Plus it just looks cool, if you’re into beautifully machined metal.
Each bass differs substantially in its construction. The M-Bass is a single-cut with a set neck, while the Consat is a traditional neck-through with a more conventional dual-cutaway design. Playability was excellent on each instrument, although I’d give a slight nod to the M-Bass. The Consat felt chunkier overall, with a slightly deeper profile neck and a more massive body. The M-Bass, by contrast, felt a little more lithe and supple. It also balanced better, requiring minimal left-hand effort to keep it supported.
Delano makes the Marleaux’s pickups, but the company builds its own preamp. The Consat uses Delano quadcoil pickups and a BC3 preamp. The well-voiced EQ has a gentle 6dB/octave slope, which helps make even relatively extreme settings musical and not overly dramatic. The M-Bass’s V2 preamp is a bit more intriguing; it matches a bass/treble EQ with a passive tone control and also provides 3-position switches for each pickup to choose between humbucking in parallel, single-coil, or humbucking in series modes. Also, the preamp’s treble control is not a shelving highpass filter as is normally the case, but rather a broad high-frequency bandpass filter that tapers before it reaches the highest frequencies. The effect is that boosting the treble doesn’t result in excessively edgy bite, while cutting it darkens the tone, but retains a little clarity to cut through. I do have a few qualms with the implementation of the M Bass’s preamp, though. First, the tone control is only available when the bass is in passive mode. As someone who really digs tone controls on active basses (F Bass and Fodera have them, for example), I’d like to see it available in both modes. Also, bass and treble adjustments are made via a concentric knob. This is generally okay, but the ring for low-end adjustment on the M-Bass is so small in comparison to the treble knob that making adjustments is a little finicky.
I played a few gigs on each bass, as well as recording a couple tracks at my home studio. The Consat sounded more broad, with deep lows, a clear and precise B string, and shimmering but throaty highs. Its bridge pickup tone is punchy, but not in an aggressive J-Bass style. Blended, the Consat is a killing slap bass. I especially dug the Consat’s consistent string-to-string clarity— chords and quick melodic passages all rang with exceptional pitch definition and balance. The M-Bass is a different sort of animal, and again, one I preferred. Rather than the full-on sonic breadth of the Consat, the M-Bass sounded richer, darker, and more colorful. I loved its syrupy midrange; I felt inspired to play sweet and dynamic lines. It also can growl with the best of them, especially with the bridge pickup soloed in the series humbucking mode. The M-Bass also had an excellent slap sound, but something about its construction and buttery mids made me eschew that technique in favor of fingerstyle and palm-muting.
Either way you slice it, the Marleauxs are stunning basses. Each ably demonstrates the kind of attention to detail and thoughtfulness that one would expect from a boutique builder. Whether you dig the all-around utility of the Consat, or the more midrange-focused M-Bass, you can’t really make a bad choice here.
Pros Perfect construction; beautiful look; superb balanced tone
M Bass 2012
Pros Flawless fit-and-finish; gorgeous; sweet and supple midrange
Cons Concentric knobs for bass and treble make adjustment a little tricky
Construction Neck-through (Consat); set-neck (M-Bass)
Top Pear wood
Neck Five-piece maple/ebony
Scale length 34"
Pickups Delano quadcoil
Hardware Schaller tuners; Marleaux bridge
Weight 8.6 lbs (Consat); 9.1 lbs (M-Bass)
Made in Germany