Bass Player Magazine, January, 1997
Here at BASS PLAYER, we’re always on the lookout for the finest instruments available on the market. They don’t have to be the most expensive ones, though; our Shootout of 4-Strings Under $500 (September ’96) showcased 13 of the most affordable basses on the racks. This time, though, we were out to find the best 5-string money can buy. (We are gluttons for punishment!) The Ultimate 5-String Shootout was born.
This roundup’s a bit different, though. Since it’s hard to put a dollar value on perfection, we didn’t set a maximum list price for the basses to be submitted. We soon had more than 50 5-strings filling every corner of our offices. But we didn’t want companies to simply send their most expensive models (we’d be considering value, too), so we set up three price categories: UNDER $1,500; $1,500 TO $2,499; and $2,500 and Up. Not every bass we received would be included, though-only those with the best blend of tone, playability, uniqueness, and craftsmanship. We were after the cream of the crop, which is why you’ll see lots of 4’s and 5’s in the scores. (It’s important to note not all of the invited builders-including a couple of major manufacturers-were able to get a bass to us in time.)
“A versatile bass with a killer B.”
HOW MUCH OF A DIFFERENCE CAN AN INCH MAKE?
In the case of a 5-string, it can be huge. The Lakland Deluxe 55 (USA Series 55-94) has a 35″ scale-and after hearing the natural sustain and depth of this instrument’s B, we have to wonder why more 5-string manufacturers haven’t switched over to a longer scale. Lakland also places the B string’s tuner 2 1/4″ from the nut and runs the string through the body; this doesn’t add more tension, but it does change the feel of the string slightly.
Our test bass’s lightweight swamp-ash body was capped with a bookmatched quilted-maple top, and its translucent-teal finish made the quilt look like a jewel-blue swimming pool. (The chrome-plated Lakland brass bridge looks cool, too.) A graphite-reinforced, quartersawn maple neck with a flatsawn bird’s-eye-maple fingerboard joins the body at the 16th fret. The neck joint was so tight we couldn’t slip in our smallest feeler gauge on either side. Twenty-two medium-profile frets are slip fit and epoxied into oversize kerfs. Because of this (and a good leveling job), the frets in our Lakland were perfectly seated, with no high spots. They could have been cleaner, though-there were file chatter marks on a few ends.
The flattened-oval neck shape is very comfortable to play. In fact, some players didn’t even notice the extra length of the 35″ scale. A tung-oil neck finish, combined with low setup at the nut and bridge, makes this one very fast 5.
Bartolini pickups-one Music Man-style humbucker and one J-style humbucker-are connected to an NTMB-L preamp with an output trim pot. Controls include master volume (with pull passive mode), blend, and 3-band EQ. There’s also a 3-position coil switch for the bridge pickup, which allows for bridge-coil, both, or neck-coil settings. Both pickups have a split 3+2 configuration to cut down on 60-cycle hum. A superb shielding job (even the output-jack cavity is covered) means there’s zero noise. The 9-volt battery is held in a clip inside the control cavity; removing the four screws on the cavity cover from their threaded inserts provides access.
The USA Series 55-94 has a supple tone with a slight edge ideal for fingerstyle, slapping, or picking. The EQ is great, too – but the treble can get a bit hissy at higher settings. The Lakland’s sound appealed to fans of traditional bass tones, and it also sounded mighty commanding in our guitar test. Comments: “The B has amazing focus.” “Has an old Music Man vibe, but it’s much more versatile.” “Active mode sounds like the same bass but louder.”