Review by David Etheridge,
Bass Guitar Magazine.
An upright bass that solves all the gigging problems with unusual and innovative solutions.
Gigging with a double bass can be wonderful in principle, but fraught in the extreme in practice. Many fine old basses get dinged and clouted over the years and wear their scars of battle with honour. Actually heaving one around, and trying to amplify it is another matter altogether; getting a full size bass in and out of the car is one thing, the 'rabbit in the headlight' stares of people as you try to make your way through a crowd (and the yelps of pain when you hit them on the head with the top pegbox as they forget to move out of the way) are one thing. The problems of feedback and the choice of a suitable pickup and sound are another thing. So what the aspiring gigging upright player needs is a hi-tech version of a double bass, that's built like a tank, that feels comfortable when playing, that sounds and feels like the original....and won't need a second mortgage!
If you're in that position, you need to talk to Alan Hatswell. Alan is the creator behind the Bassix range of electric uprights, a man who always takes the unconventional path when solving the problems that beset bassists. As a gigging player of many years standing, he's come up with some innovative instruments, the most unusual (but very practical) of which is his folding double bass -don't laugh, it works and works well. Alan's approach is to make the highest tech instrument possible at an affordable price, that meets all the requirements that a player could want.
The Hi-Tech R'L' is Alan's latest model, designed for portability in mind, but still remaining familiar to any player who's been using an acoustic bass. All the playing reference points are derived from a traditional 3/4 size bass, even down to a bolt on side moulding which means that you can sit down to play it with the bow without too much of a culture shock. For portability, the side moulding is unbolted and slips over the body, then re-bolted securely before inserting into a gigbag.
I can't believe it's not butter.....Looking at the R'L' you might wonder what the Hi-tech fuss is about. After all, the neck and body are wood, there's a nice ebony fingerboard, it all seems traditional to me. Except that you'ld be completely wrong. Modern composites are used throughout in the body construction. They make look like exotic hardwoods, but they're not. The various components are made from Alan's own (carefully guarded) mix of fibreglass, carbon fibre, polyester and GRP. This gives a wonderfully unique result of traditional look and feel with incredible strength and durability in the body. This is added to by the addition of an aluminium rod for the backbone of the bass, and Alan also admits to using aggregates as part of the filler! The fingerboard is notorious; it looks, feels and sounds like ebony, but Alan once had an interesting argument at a trade show with a old skool bassist who couldn't believe that it wasn't ebony. My review model comes in a natural blonde finish, even down to woodgrain markings. This is the most popular finish, although it's also available in Natural Cherry, Black and Ivory as standard. Any finish you like is available for a small extra cost. Any number of options are available on the R'L'; a fixed bridge comes as standard, although my review model has a fully adjustable South American hardwood bridge for an extra £100. Most players realise that with an electric upright they can dispense with high actions and adjust things down to an action similar to a bass guitar; I found the G and D were a little high for my tastes on this instrument. It was the work of a minute or so to lower things to my tastes, and then I was off and away with comfort. The end pin is an 18" cello endpin with an aluminium socket extension. On my review model this is fixed, but future R'L's from Bassix will have a detachable model that brings it into the size category for standard Royal Mail of £8.92 postage! The machines are Fender style, and reversed in position to the normal setup of an acoustic bass: G and D next to your ear, A and E on the far side of the headstock. This seems eccentric, until you realise that the nature of the tuner design dictates this. That said, existing users have very quickly got used to it! Strings as supplied are American Supersensitives.
You have a number of options of pickups on the R'L'. There are Piezos fitted as standard on the bridge feet, which are unbranded Far Eastern models. However, they are fully enclosed and shielded, so they simply will NOT feed back, no matter how close to the amp you stand. I've tried other electric uprights where this simply isn't the case. Added to that are dynamic sensors under the fingerboard as an option, which were fitted on my review model. Here, the top of the fingerboard acts like the diaphragm in a dynamic mic (although the details, once again, are Alan's own idea) which sense the string movement. On the side of the neck are the electronics. The fully active EQ module comprises a volume slider and two band EQ. Here the bass end boosts the signal for completely earth shattering bass tones, while the high slider cuts the treble. Alan has found this system to actually give better results than proprietary 4 and 5 band EQ systems; his suggestion for the most natural sound is 7/8 boost on the bass slider, and the high end cut completely. Added to this is a blender control for the piezos and dynamic sensors. This gives different settings, summarised as 25/75, 50/50, and 75/25% combinations of each pickup system. The jack plug socket is on the other side of the body to the controls. When a jack is inserted, a red LED lights up on the control panel: this is a battery check telltale. Battery life is described by Alan as 'enormous': battery life of up to a year is not entirely unknown!
Okay so now we've seen the spec; how does it work out in practice? In a word, excellently. The Bassix R'L' is surprisingly light to pickup and handle, but the substantial nature of the construction promotes great confidence as soon as you start to play. It's very comfortable to play standing up or sitting down, as the side and back moulding is based on a 3/4 size flatback bass, although if you're used to the bass facing directly away from you a change to a slight angle will be needed. Above all, this bass resonates wonderfully, with Alan's secret mix of composites giving the type of sounds that you would expect from quality mahogany or maple.....but the weight (or lack of it) is the give away. The fingerboard has a superb curve right across the strings and feels perfect under the fingers, being immensely strong yet responsive in playing. The electronics are the ace in the hole for authentic acoustic sounds. I think I can put hand on heart and say that this is currently the most 'realistic' sounding electric upright currently on the market. It's woody, round and resonant in all the right ways, with the onboard combination of piezos and dynamics providing plucky attacks and rounded tones in any combination. There's none of the tinny and harsh sounds that I've occasionally come across on other instruments here. It's warm and beautiful sounds are just what you want if your preference is for a truly acoustic sound, amplified as much as you want, with no feedback, and all in a handy portable form. While other manufacturers offer uprights, in my experience none so far has equalled the purity and authenticity of sound of Bassix, and at an exceptionally competitive price. Add to that the seemingly limitless range of options and upgrades (talk to Alan and he'll provide whatever you want), and you could have TWO custom built R'L's with all the trimmings for the price of ONE of the competition's instruments!