Bunny Brunel is well known as an early progenitor of fretless electric bass in fusion, but he has also been involved in instrument design for many years. His previous signature model was one of Carvin’s most popular instruments, and his electric-upright design is a unique and effective contribution to the EUB genre. But even before that, Brunel helped to design prototypes with Gibson that never hit the open market. Now teamed up with ESP Guitars, Brunel brings out version 2.0 of his signature instrument, in fretless 5-string and fretted 4-string models. The new BB1005FL and 1004 basses bear a close resemblance to their predecessors, but a detailed look reveals changes to the platform that could make this the best Bunny bass yet.
Brunel’s design goal has always been an instrument that gives unfettered access to all the notes, is well balanced physically and musically, and provides a wide variety of tones. The ESP models certainly live up to those ideals, and they stand out in the crowded import field as a real alternative to higher-priced exotic models. While you don’t have to be a fusion player to appreciate the Brunels’ playability, those who use the entire range of the fingerboard will find the necks very player-friendly. The fretless 5 felt roomy, but not too spread out. The asymmetrical neck profile gave me better access to the lower strings in high positions and fit my hand’s shape naturally. The fretted 4-string model has a nicely rounded C profile that reminded me of a mid-’70s Jazz Bass. The ebony fingerboard looks great and provides plenty of snap for the slap lover, and the fretless 5 is unique for its polyester- coated fingerboard. Ever since Jaco slathered marine epoxy on his Jazz Bass fingerboard, fretless players have been fascinated by this idea. Brunel himself has always preferred this on his personal instruments, but his previous signature model did not offer this option. To be fair, applying the coating is a messy, toxic, and painstaking job that most luthiers try to avoid. It is unusual for a production line instrument to come with this feature, so kudos are in order. The main purpose behind the coating is to protect the wooden fingerboard from damage inflicted by roundwound strings, but it has a sonic influence as well. The high-frequency response from the string against the super-slick surface is definitely present in the final tone—it’s the icing on a very substantial cake. The fretless board was dressed to perfection, allowing each register to sustain naturally. As for mwah? We’ve got your mwah right here. The spreading, vocal-like articulation is easily produced in any spot on the 1005FL lined fingerboard. One feature held over from previous models is orienting the 5-string’s position dots as if it were a 4; if you’re new to 5-string, it’s comforting, as the dots are easier to see.
The new ESP BB basses are powered by Aguilar electronics, with a MM-style humbucker in bridge position, and a hum-canceling J-pickup in the neck slot. The Aggie OBP-3 preamp provides plenty of gain, a 3-band EQ implemented with a concentric pot for bass and treble, and a separate control for the mids with a push/pull pot to switch the frequency from 400Hz to 800Hz. While I’m not opposed to concentric controls, they can be tricky to set up properly, and I found that on both review instruments the stacked knobs tended to stick together, making it hard to adjust just one band. A push/pull pot for the volume control accesses passive mode, and the Aguilar pickups have all the output you need for a more old-school tone. Both instruments come with Hipshot hardware, and the traditional clover- style paddle tuners look extra cool in the flatblack finish. Both instruments also come standard with the Hipshot Bass Xtender. While the previous incarnation of the Brunel signature model offered a wide range of wood choices, cosmetic options, and pickups, ESP has decided to limit the finishes for now to Burnt Orange or Black Aqua for the 5-string and a Black Burst for the 4, both over nicely figured quilted maple veneer.
As a Carvin endorser back in the ’90s, I owned several Bunny Brunel models, in 4, 5, and 6-string versions, fretted and fretless, and while the ESP bears a strong resemblance, it feels very different. The ESP neck profile is a bit fuller, and the area around the body/neck joint is beefier, creating rigidity where it most benefits the sound. While I don’t typically describe neck-through-body instruments as “punchy,” these Bunnies can definitely thump. The fretted 4-string invites the thumb to slap it around, and the pickup configuration covers the classic MM-fueled spank tone of Louis “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson with ease. But the pickup blend produces a thicker texture with depth and clarity. The hum-canceling neck pickup let me fully explore the hollow chunk of a ’51-style P-Bass without 60-cycle dreck spoiling the fun. The preamp made it easy to conjure up virtually any tone I desired, but the nature of the beast is clear articulation. The tone of a bass line will pop while still being supportive in nature, but if you are a soloist, the BB basses are definitely your friend. With the bridge pickup favored, the BBs provided the punch and directness that brings a bass solo to the front. Approached passively, I could get a whole palette of more traditional Fender-like tones from the Bunny, making it applicable for pretty much any type of gig.
As Brunel is highly regarded as a fretless player, his fretless model is predictably dialed in to perfection. I was impressed with the consistency of the fingerboard dressing—I’ve paid hundreds of dollars to get my fretless boards feeling this good, and on an out-of-the-box import? Very nice. The BB11005FL responds to touch like a much more expensive bass; it can burp, hit, spread, and whine if you’ve got the hands to make it happen. Playing moving runs on the BB, it seemed all I had to do was stop on a note to get a lot of sustain. The glassiness of the coated board provides a little edge that gets you heard, and adds some finger mojo to the overall tone.
The new Bunny Brunel signature models are well suited to the demands of hardcore jazz fusion, but their playability and versatility make them a great choice for any gig.
BB1005FL & BB1004
Street BB1005FL, $1,400; BB1004, $1,300
Pros Well balanced, versatile tone, better-than-average build quality
Cons Concentric tone controls “stick”
Bottom Line Basses that play well and sound great for any style of playing.
ESP BB1005FL, BB1004
Neck Three-piece maple
Fingerboard 1004, ebony; 1005FL, acrylic-coated
Fingerboard radius 1005FL, 16"; 1004, 12"
Frets 1005FL, 24 fret lines; 1004, 24 XJ
Neck width at nut 1005FL, 1.75"; 1004, 1.5"
Bridge Hipshot A-style; e" string spacing
Scale length 34"
Pickups Aguilar MM & humbucking J
Tuners Hipshot w/Bass Xtender
Weight 1005FL, 9.2 lbs; 1004, 9 lbs
Made in Korea