TWELVE-STRING BASSES, WHICH ADD TWO THINNER “TREBLE” strings to each of the standard-gauge E, A, D, and G strings, are an attractive option for rock trios and other situations where we bass players are allowed (or required) to commandeer a larger-than-usual chunk of the frequency spectrum. Legend has it that Cheap Trick’s Tom Petersson convinced Hamer to build him the first 12-string bass in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the ’90s that 12-strings, mostly imports, became affordable. New Jersey-based Musicvox, who specializes in distinctive instruments built in Korea, first offered the Space Cadet 12 in 1999; they stopped production in 2001 and began re-introducing the Space Cadet, with refinements, in 2011.
Our tester was an older model without the words “Space Cadet” on the headstock, and it has a wider neck than the first Space Cadets, but in many ways, it’s essentially the same instrument as the original Musicvox 12. It shares the original’s neck-through body construction, alder body, maple neck, rosewood fretboard, brass nut, pickup selector, and proprietary pickups and electronics. It differs slightly from the company’s latest models, which have a newly designed bridge and tail assembly, but it has the new generation’s cool binding on the neck, body, and headstock.
The body is small and comfy, but I couldn’t help wondering if a slightly heavier, bigger body might balance the headstock a little better. Adjusting my left hand to deal with the wide neck while pressing down on three strings at once took some getting used to, but neck dive on a 12-string is to be expected. Sitting down made things a bit easier, and after an extended tuning session, the bass was ready to go.
Once I plugged in, I finally understood the appeal of this massive bass. Sure, players like Petersson, dUg Pinnick, Jeff Ament, and Allen Woody have opened our ears to this instrument’s possibilities, but there’s nothing like plugging in, turning up, and hitting three notes at once with big bottom and bright highs. I could imagine spending years discovering new flavors of alternate tunings, double stops, and chord voicings. The Space Cadet has two outputs— one passive and one active—and I preferred the active output and the three-band EQ, activated by pulling up the master volume knob. It was fun to run separate signals to my Ampeg Micro-VR/EA VL-108 1x8 practice amp and a little guitar amp, putting a chain of effects on the highs, but it’s highly unlikely that I’d take two amps to a gig, so the Space Cadet spent most its time plugged into my Alembic F-2B/Bergantino IP112 1x12/Acme Low B 2x10 setup. It took a little longer than I expected to dial in EQ settings that allowed for the perfect fundamental, clear mids, and highs that were chime-like and not glassy, but in general, I ended up using more highs than usual.
I don’t regularly play with a pick, but the .045– .105 fundamental strings on our tester were on the bottom (closer to the G string), which made it easier to play fingerstyle. Newer models have a different twist on the three-course idea: Standard- gauge E, A, and D fundamental strings on top, an intermediate-gauge string tuned in unison to the fundamental, and a thinner-gauge string tuned to the octave; two octave-tuned thin strings accompany the G fundamental. Apparently, this makes it easier to play with a pick while easing up the string tension on the neck. I had fun experimenting with Wedgie, Fender, and Dunlop picks, but mostly I played fingerstyle, developing new calluses while enjoying the rich sound of single notes and simple intervals. Something about the 12 seemed to inspire Middle Eastern and Indian scales and modes, especially when the treble strings were slightly detuned. I’ve certainly gained new forearm muscles and a healthy respect for folks who can slap authoritatively on a 12-string.
As much as I liked the Space Cadet’s complex tones, though, my ears preferred to put some space between my 4- and 5-strings and the 12; going back and forth too quickly made me miss the creamy low end of my basses or the sparkly fullness of the 12, which really is in a category of its own. With a direct price of $1,500 and occasional sale prices that are substantially lower, the Space Cadet is most likely the best compromise between price and quality. Plug in, hit a note or three, and step back. It’s about to get loud.
MUSICVOX SPACE CADET 12
Pros Exciting sound, interesting possibilities
Cons Neck dive can be a deal-breaker
BottomLine If you can deal with the neck dive, a world of ringing tones and guitarless fun awaits you.
Width at nut 2 1/8"
String spacing 1/8" between strings, 1/4" between notes
Fingerboard radius 16"
Truss rod Double
Tuners Locking bass, locking mini
Electronics Musicvox active/passive
Pickups Special design active/passive
Outputs Dual (passive/active)
Weight 11 lbs
Warrantee Two years
Made in Korea