I was wrapping up this review when I happened to visit the office and ran into Guitar Player Senior Editor and gear guru Art Thompson. He had just returned from a weeklong trip with the top brass at Taylor Guitars to tour the company’s sustainable wood operation. We quickly pivoted away from his travelogue into a more general discussion about wood, a topical lodestone for gear geeks. Not to paint too dystopian a picture, but our shared conclusion was basically the following: some of the most desirable woods for building instruments are among the most threatened on the planet, with the supply of some tropical hardwoods essentially dwindling to zero. With information about the environmental devastation caused by unfettered logging so abundant, any informed player with a conscience should at least ponder the environmental impact of their instrument.
Which is all to say that the Aristides 050, a bass made from an exotic amalgam of synthetic materials (except for the fingerboard), could potentially represent one vision of the future. While the 050 isn’t the first bass to use composites—the Ibanez Ergodyne and Cort Curbow did years ago, to name only a couple—it’s perhaps the most sophisticated. And while the Aristides certainly looks the part, I was keen to discover whether a composite bass actually sounds like the future, or at least a passable version of the present.
MOSTLY NOT METAL
What looks like brushed metal is actually a finish on the 050’s composite exoskeleton. The first part of the construction process is the creation of two halves of a hollow shell that constitutes the instrument’s exterior. This shell is made from a composite of glass and carbon fibers formulated to achieve the ideal level of stiffness. Once joined together, the shell is filled with a proprietary material the company calls “Arium.” Consisting of resins, solid additives, and microscopic glass bubbles, the liquid material hardens after it’s filled the empty cavity. With Arium, Aristides aimed to develop a highly resonant material, claiming that the “mixture of resins and particles ... together create millions of tiny sound chambers that can resonate freely in all three dimensions.” The carbon-reinforced neck is topped with a rosewood fingerboard, small frets, and Hipshot Ultralite tuners.
The electronics are all Seymour Duncan Basslines: Quarter Pounder J pickups and an STC-2 preamp. The pickup positioning is almost ’60s Jazz like. The STC-2 includes a “Slap Switch,” accessible by pulling up on the neck pickup’s volume knob. A broad mid-scoop/bass and treble boost, the Slap Switch is a super quick avenue to markedly different tone. Pulling on the bridge pickup’s volume knob switches the 050 true-bypass passive mode, so a dead battery won’t lead to a dead bass.
The Aristides’ ergonomics were a mixed bag for me, especially when I played the 050 on my lap. The contour of the lower bout puts the bridge fairly far away, making for a slightly awkward stretch when I played fingerstyle over the bridge pickup. The Aristides also doesn’t have the typical tummy cutout on the back, and I found that I missed that nestled-in feeling. On a strap, though, the bass was hard to fault. Suddenly everything just fell neatly into place. Either way, though, the bass must be commended for its excellent balance—it doesn’t neck-dive. The neck and string spacing are a matter of taste: The neck is a beefy shallow-C profile; to me, it was too deep, although Aristides is moving to a slimmer neck in current models. The strings are tight at the bridge (17.5mm), a boon to pick players, but a bit tight for the fat-fingered or thumb-happy. The Aristides boasts some of the best high-fret access I’ve encountered, a true advantage of a contiguous body/neck design.
Unplugged, the 050’s resonance was immediately noticeable. It sounded hollow and loud, and I could feel vibration through the back. Plugged into a Sonic Farm 2di4 tube direct box, the Aristides quickly proved itself a beguiling amalgam of traditional tone, hollowbody-like airiness, and modern sizzle. It’s not a familiar sound, but it’s also one that would be immediately at home in most any mix. Soloing the bridge pickup yielded all the expected punch, but there was a little fluff of air on the back end of each note’s attack. It wasn’t too much to undermine the burpiness, but enough to quickly reveal the instrument’s ever-present resonance. The neck pickup was woolly, and benefits perhaps most substantially from the throaty sound of the bass’s design.
I was going to mention this above, but further reflection told me it deserves its own paragraph: The 050 is crazy even. I’ve never played a bass that has so much consistency between notes in different registers, across strings, and in different regions of the neck. It’s remarkable; there were no dead spots or fret-dependent quirks, just insanely accurate and precise gobs of evenness. It seems to be a bass after Anthony Jackson’s own heart. And this evenness won’t disappear when the bass travels: The Aristides’ composite construction means it’s immune to the vagaries of humidity and temperature.
The Aristides 050 is an unusual bass, and that isn’t a bad thing. Overall, it conveys the coherent attention to detail that characterizes good engineering, and it is every bit as resonant as the designers intend. Instead of an evolutionary step, it’s perhaps best to think of the expensive Aristides as a parallel approach to a common goal. It’s the Wankel motor to a wood bass’s piston engine. Each couldn’t look more different, inside or out, but each ends up getting the job done right.
Street $3,520 (black finish); $3,947 (as tested, metallic finish)
Pros Incredibly even, resonant tone, high-tech design
Cons Lap ergonomics could be improved
Bottom Line A forward-thinking bass that could ably fill any traditional role, but with a unique stamp.
Construction Body & neck one-piece
Body core “Arium”
Fingerboard radius 12"
Scale length 34"
Neck width at nut 1.85"
String spacing 17.5mm
Pickups Seymour Duncan Basslines Quarter Pounders J-style
Preamp Seymour Duncan STC-2
Hardware ABM bridge; Hipshot Ultralite tuners
Weight 9.6 lbs
Made in Denmark