GERMAN LUTHIER JENS RITTER BUILDS luxurious instruments that make very few concessions to price or design orthodoxy. To wit: the Flora Aurum bass we checked out in February ’07. To celebrate his company’s 10th anniversary, Ritter built the most blinged-out axe possible, slathered with high-end detail that sent the price soaring to $100,000. Besides its 24-karat gold leaf trim, diamond inlays, and 10,000-year-old Siberian mammoth ivory nut (because let’s face it, sub-Siberian mammoth ivory just doesn’t cut it), the bass featured a one-piece quilted maple body. One-piece bodies are rare (bodies are usually made from glued-together halves) and one-piece figured bodies are rarer still. Because of this, I remember being most struck by the Aurum’s body, despite the shiny stuff.
Our test Roya Concept is, in its own way, more distinctive than the Flora Aurum; the entire bass, except for the fingerboard, is made from one piece of flamed maple. It’s not a bolt-on or a neck-through. It’s an entirely new category. The only glued joint on the bass is between the fingerboard and neck. Ritter says pieces of uniformly figured maple large enough to make an entire bass are extremely rare, so this isn’t exactly an instrument you can just order, but as a showcase for Ritter’s singular concept, it’s worth investigating further.
The debate over the influence of a bass’s physical construction on its sound has no end. Many luthiers and players observe differences between the sound of different body, neck, and fingerboard woods. Similarly, some point to the sonic differences between neck-through and bolt-on joints as a critical element in a bass’s overall tone. Still others claim these elements pale in influence to the electronics, hardware, or construction of an instrument. These myriad viewpoints get even murkier outside the empirical realm, as their relevance to actual music making is considered. As for Ritter, he touts his one-piece bass’s “free vibration,” a quality that his custom 3D bridge seeks to expand upon. To underscore this “free” aesthetic, the Roya Concept places its controls, including volume, on rear-panellocated trim pots. While this does preserve the bass’s simple head-on look, my reaction to the utility of the hidden controls is mixed. On one hand, I can dig the concept: The bass is made from an almost unprecedented chunk of wood; let it do the talking (and the posing). On the other hand, it’s not like the bass is truly devoid of interstitial electronics, with the pickups hardwired to the output jack. There’s a preamp in there, it’s just a pain to adjust.
To further preserve the Roya’s unblemished visual appeal, Ritter placed the tuners on the bass’s back while maintaining a kind of quasi-headstock for visual balance and neck-side string anchorage. I found the tuning arrangement slightly annoying, as the blind reach-and-feel to the back is not as obvious as the standard method. Otherwise, the bass’s ergonomics and playability were exceptional. It balanced perfectly on a strap or in my lap, and the artfully contoured body hit me in all the right spots.
The Roya Concept features Ritter’s Slimbucker humbucking pickups in a J-bass-esque configuration. Opinions were mixed on the electric-blue covers, although everyone appreciated the continuity with the blue Ritter Swordsteel strings.
Needless to say, I was particularly anxious to hear the Ritter in action. Maple has a reputation for a focused, punchy, and even tone with a fast attack and bright frequency response. Would the ultimate all-maple bass reveal these qualities clearly? Yes and no. The Ritter was unquestionably an excellent sounding bass. Its transient response was immediate, without much front-of-the-note bloom. The instrument’s frequency presentation seemed focused and pitch-definite, with a strong and supportive fundamental without much high-register sheen. In fact, rather than being a spanky and bright instrument, the Ritter was a rich and throaty midrange beast. Perhaps its most impressive sonic attribute was the remarkable clarity and separation between notes— the three-dimensional air that the bass emanated—even with close-voiced maj7 chords way up the neck. It was also impressively even throughout the register, with nary a dead or wolf-y note to be found.
In keeping with the control-less concept, I paid particular attention to the impact my hand position and technique had on tone. The Ritter was indeed sensitive to a varied attack, although I would have liked at least a blend knob to further manipulate the instrument’s color.
The Roya Concept is a stunning instrument in every way. Its idiosyncrasies may not appeal to everyone, but many of them are avoidable via Ritter’s highly collaborative custom-build design process. Regardless, it’s a true work of art and a beautiful showpiece for Ritter’s undeniable skill.
RITTER ROYA CONCEPT
Direct Approx. $12,000 at press time
Pros Stunning construction and materials
Cons No-knob design and rear-mounted tuners not everyone
Weight 7.9 lbs
Made in Germany
Warranty Lifetime limited