THE FIRST FENDER BASS DESIGN, IN 1951, had a body much heavier and larger than a normal solid-body guitar, so Leo Fender gave it cutaways for better balance. In doing so, he locked in what would become a traditional look for almost all electric basses in the future. Since that time, many bass manufactures have stuck to some form of this conventional look, but occasionally a company pushes the envelope of design with a mass-produced instrument, and such is the case with Lace Music’s Helix basses.
BASS PLAYERS WHO HAVEN’T SPENT much time in a recording studio—or just aren’t that in to recording gear—may not be aware of the “channel strip” gear category. It’s a pity, because rackmount channel strips open up a world of geeky hipness for the truly tone obsessed. Channel strips are so-called because they emulate a single channel’s “strip” of functions on a mixing console. In its most basic form, a channel strip pairs a mic preamp with EQ, although most now include an instrument-level input and compression. Prior to the emergence of channel strips, preamplification, EQ, and compression would be handled by a mixing console and/or rack of discrete outboard gear. Though channel strips are used for every instrument in an ensemble, they’re of particular utility for bass players, who can both benefit from their tone and dynamic sculpting in the studio and use them as preamps for a live rig.
RELATIVE NEWCOMERS SOURCE AUDIO made an initial splash with its Hot Hand technology, which pairs proprietary “motion controller ring technology” with effects so that hand movements are translated into real-time control over effect parameters. It’s fairly sensational and fun, but certainly of limited use to those of use not inclined to wave our hands around mid bass line. Honestly, I initially thought the Hot Hand represented Source Audio’s main contribution to the effects landscape; a cool idea that definitely was not for me. But after spending some quality time with the Soundblox Multiwave Distortion (in its Pro and abridged incarnations), I’ve happily been reminded of the danger of hasty generalizations.
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.