FOR ME, IT’S EXCITING WHEN A LUTHIER who’s best known for original boutique designs later decides to have a go at a Jazzstyle bass. Motivation-wise, I’m sure there’s the appeal of adding a proven seller to the product line, but I think the allure runs deeper for such builders. To take a nearly 50-year-old stalwart and improve it with something original must be an intriguing design challenge, and Woodstock’s Harvey Citron is a builder whose design impulse is accelerated when faced with a challenge—just look at his ever-evolving partnership with Steve Swallow (see my July ’06 review of the AE5 Swallow). The J4 may look Jazz-ish, but Citron has imbued it with distinctive and original features.
The differences between the J4 and a conventional J-Bass are not immediately obvious. The biggest but least noticeable difference is the J4’s body composition. The deep body is bored out like swiss cheese. One-inch holes are routed everywhere possible, but no two holes touch. Citron believes this is more resonant than a body with fewer larger holes. The body is capped with a t" maple top. Citron also includes his new hand-wound J-pickups, the “std” or “cb.” The std is designed to sound just like a vintage J pickup, while the “custom blended” cb combines multiple gauges of wire for a thicker, more bottom-heavy sound.
The J4s were expertly constructed, with top-notch hardware and electronics adding to the overall high-end vibe. I loved the pretty pearlescent finish, which is sanded and steel-wooled to a satin finish then capped in a veneer gloss, giving it a complex, three-dimensional quality. The electronics are Aguilar’s OBP-1 system. Kudos to Citron for preserving the traditional J-Bass vol/vol/tone arrangement while augmenting it with boost-only bass and treble controls. I love passive tone controls, especially on J-style basses.
Ergonomically, the Citron is in familiar territory, but for a few differences. First off, our testers were heavy. Citron sourced some particularly dense local ash for these first two J4s. (Going forward, new basses will be much lighter.) The J4’s deep body felt a little different against my body than a traditional J-Bass, but it was no big deal.
Hollowness is a funny quality in bass construction. I’ve played a lot of semi-hollow basses, some made to look like solid-bodies and some with ƒ-holes and fat Gibson ES-335-style bodies. Either way, there’s no telling whether I’ll hear the hollowness in terms of increased sustain, resonance, or air movement. Perhaps there are too many variables. Whatever those variables may be, with the J4s, Citron has unmistakably brought a unique sonic personality to the J-Bass, one grounded in rich airiness and resonance.
The basses were elegant and composed, not aggressive and throaty. They behave like J-Basses, in that tilting the pickup balance yields the predictable woody neck sound, burpy bridge sound, and full-bodied blended sound, yet there’s something more propulsive and roundsounding about their overall attack. There’s also an appreciable difference between the two pickup recipes. The std is perhaps a bit thinner in the low-mids but crispier on top, while the cb has a more authoritative low-end voice and spanky upper-midrange slice. Citron is offering the pickups on their own (std, $115; cb, $135), so you can bring some of the J4’s vibe to your J-Bass. The J4’s resonance was immediately obvious and palpable through the body—I could feel it in my belly. The basses were alive and musical feeling—the kind of instruments you want to milk notes from, plucking a string and moving around to extract maximum sustain and color.
There’s a ton of high-end J-Basses out there, but despite this, the Citron J4 manages to be unique. It’s worth a look if you like the J-Bass formula, but crave a bit more refinement, sustain, and elegance.
CIT RON J4
Street J4std, $3,000; J4cb, $3,050
Pros Rich and resonant tone; beautiful
Made in U.S.A.
Warranty Lifetime limited
T ECH SPECS
Weight 11 lbs
Gig bag $115