Since its inception in the early ’90s, Brubaker has consistently brought a high standard of excellence to the boutique instrument market, while also demonstrating a consistently innovative design approach. Luthier Kevin Brubaker’s latest, the JXB 5, is a J-style 5-string. There has been a glut of souped-up J-esque basses these days, but the JXB’s subtly modified design and nuanced attention to detail make it a stand out in a crowded field. At first glance it looks a lot like other custom J’s out there, but on further inspection some differences emerge.
Traditional bolt-on necks often impede access to an instrument’s highest register. One of the JXB’s most well executed features is its remarkable neck joint, beautifully sculpted to deliver the unimpeded feel of a neck-through. Instead of the more typical wood screws, Brubaker uses hex-head machine bolts threaded into metal ferrules and countersunk into the heel, for a rock-solid joint. The headstock is a slight variation on the typical Fender design, and the neck is all ’60s Fender-like, with a rosewood fingerboard and block inlays.
Exhibiting the handsome finishes Brubaker is known for, the JXB’s pickguard adds a lovely aesthetic touch. Instead of the typical metal control-cavity cover and plastic pickguard, it’s made entirely of maple. The wood pickguard has a "durable catalyzed sprayed" finish, but it still seems more vulnerable to wear and tear compared to the plastic alternative. Nonetheless, it's a sexy addition.
While the JXB’s neck has a ’60s-Fender flare, its J pickups are configured with ’70s spacing, with the bridge pickup placed slightly closer to the bridge, giving the bass a punchier, more midrange-heavy vibe. The Aguilar pickups are wound in the ’70s Fender style and output through a trusty Bartolini preamp. The bass generally has a bright and modern zing, although a lot of low end is on tap courtesy of the well-voiced EQ. I was fond of the deep and authoritative B string, which exhibited excellent definition and pitch clarity. The pickup-blended tone was slightly compressed and full-bodied— just right for slap. Digging in fingerstyle with the bridge pickup soloed yielded an edgy and aggressive sound, while the soloed neck pickup was all bark and bite. Chords rang especially true, without the sort of inter-string muddiness that can mask crunchier voicings.
With its ergonomic neck and body contour, topshelf craftsmanship, fine ingredients, and attention to detail, the Brubaker JXB 5 is a beautiful option for those seeking a Fender-ish J bass that presents a singular aesthetic. It’s a variation on a theme, but with a distinctly contemporary sound—and just enough custom appeal to make you stand out in a crowded field.
Pros Excellent J-style bass with innovative neck joint and zingy tone
Cons Wood pickguard seems vulnerable to scratches; exhibits some neck-dive
Bottom Line A handsome, slightly left-of-center approach to a venerable formula.
Construction Brubaker "Bolt-Thru"
Nut Graph Tech TUSQ bone-composite
Scale length 34"
Preamp Bartolini 4.6AP
Pickups Aguilar hum-cancelling “single-coils”
Controls Volume (pull passive), blend, bass/treble (stacked), mids (push/pull for frequency shift)
Made in USA