THERE ARE HIGH-END BASSES, AND THEN, THERE’S FODERA. WITH AN ARTIST roster that is quite literally a who’s who of modern electric bass giants, the company has been a dominant force in the world of custom instruments for the past 30 years. Fodera’s craftsmanship, tone, and playability have set the highest standards, and along with that quality and prestige comes a hefty price tag. However, with an almost 13-month wait for a custom build, it seems cost is not a deterrent for those that must have a Fodera bass. The new Monarch 4 Standard bass is Fodera’s bid to make the spendy lumber more accessible, and while still not exactly cheap, it represents a significant bargain when compared to the custom models. But, is it worth it?
The Monarch 4 was Fodera’s first model, and is still one of its most popular offerings. A custom build presents a wide range of choices, but the Standard-series basses have set parameters, allowing them to be built in batches. They are still handmade by Fodera’s luthiers in Brooklyn, New York, and feature the same top-quality woods, hardware, and components as their more expensive cousins—in this case, “standard” does not mean bare bones. The Monarch 4 Standard is spec’d with a medium-weight ash body, AAAAA bi-color flame-maple top, one-piece quartersawn bolt-on Hard Rock maple neck (with a non-angled headstock), and an old-growth pau ferro fingerboard that houses 24 large frets. Two Fodera Dual Coil pickups and a Fodera/Pope Standard Internal preamp endow the M4S with a powerfully versatile system that can switch seamlessly between single and dual-coil modes. The gold-colored Fodera non-locking bridge, Gotoh tuners, and brass nut form a functional and attractive hardware package.
You can feel the expertise of Fodera’s woodworkers in the crisp lines of the contoured body, airtight neck pocket, and sturdy-feeling J-profile neck. The electronics package is equally first-rate—the preamp has master volume (with concentric passive tone), blend, concentric bass/treble, and mid-range controls. The factory default has the low-mids centered at 330Hz, switchable to 450Hz with a jumper attached to the circuit board. A high-mid board is optional, focusing the boost/cut at 1.8kHz, or a stackable high/ low-mid control is available as an upgrade. The EQ provides all the staple requirements we bassists need: bottom, punch, clarity, and sparkle—boost or cut, and with a degree of transparency that lets the wood’s voice come through. Fodera’s dual-coil pickups are perfectly matched to this system, and I particularly liked how switching from single to dual coil mode doesn’t cause a volume spike. This allows you to use the tonal character of each mode without having to make adjustments at the amp. Two mini-toggles switch between active/passive and single/dual coil operation.
I’ll admit, I’ve had persistent feelings of unrequited lust for Fodera’s stable of beauties for many years, but alas—on the salary of a humble bass journalist, they never seemed within my reach. And while the street price of the M4S represents many (many) articles for BP, it feels attainable. (Mr. Editor, is this a good time to ask about that raise?) Yes, the sub-$5K price point is still a big commitment for most of us, but if you’re content with the wood selections (specifically chosen for their time-tested performance and compatibility), you can comfort yourself knowing that this instrument is on par with custom Monarchs costing thousands more.
Cranking the M4S through my home reference system (a Genz Benz Streamliner 900/Uber 212 rig), I was struck with the axe’s immediacy. This baby has turbo-like response, and it plays with alarming ease. My first try felt similar to removing ankle weights after a few days and going for a jog—it was almost too easy. After acclimating to the instrument’s sensitivity, I found that even played with a super-light touch, gobs of lowend punch were at my command. While some boutique axes trade off sexy woods and bling for the pure fundamental whomp that you get from a “plain old” Fender bass, I was happy to find the M4S produced a satisfying thump reminiscent of a winning round of Whack-a-Mole. And while the M4S proved its worthiness as a workhorse, it also issues a challenge: “I can go wherever you want—can you hang?” Singlecoil mode activates the two outer coils, and placed in ’70s Jazz Bass territory, I heard the distinct, modern slap tone that launched a thousand hits. Switching to dual-coil operation, the tone got more complex and fuller in the low mid-range, but the high end still shone through with clarity. I was impressed with the precise articulation and evenness throughout the three-plus octave range. There are no bad notes to be found on this bass (unless you play one).
The Fodera M4S is a stunning handmade bass with a champion’s pedigree and a prizefighter’s guts. It’s not inexpensive, but when compared to other instruments in its class, it stands out for both its value and usefulness.
MONARCH 4 STANDARD
Pros Responsive, versatile, first-class build quality
Bottom Line The Fodera Standard series offers the same quality as the company’s custom models at a lower price, with a much shorter wait.
Top AAAAA flame maple
Fingerboard Pau Ferro
Pickups Fodera Dual-Coil
Controls Volume/passive tone, pickup blend, bass/treble, mid, passive/active switch, coil tap
Width at nut 1.53"
Bridge Fodera non-locking, gold colored
Strings Fodera Round Core
Hardshell case Included
Made in U.S.A.