FAQ / Frequently Asked Questions
This is the FAQ, written by our U.S./Canada distributor Greg Holmes. You can also find (partially overlapping) infos in the “Technology FAQ”.
What are they made of?
A : BassLab instruments are made of our own “Tunable Mixed Composite” material, which is the result of several years of acoustic and physical research. There are a lot of secret materials mixed together, to achieve the best sound. And of course, we use carbon/graphite in various forms for the highest stability and insensitivity to humidity and temperature. But the tone comes mostly from our Composite. For more, see our report on Tunable Mixed Composite vs Wood.
So your Composite is not wood, but is it like other graphite materials?
No. Our “Tunable Mixed Composite” is something else.
We don’t hate wood, and we know that wood works for instruments,
since wood instruments have been used for good music for centuries!
But wood is affected by weather, and the physical properties of wood limit instrument design.
On the other hand, the familiar carbon/graphite composites have been around now for just a few decades,
but they have the reputation of being harsh and sterile.
The properties of these two materials are often balanced by combining wood and carbon composites
(for example wood bodies with composite necks, or wood cores wrapped in composite),
or by changing construction techniques (adding acoustic chambers to solid wood bodies,
or even adding metal resonant blocks).
But BassLab’s aim is to improve upon the acoustic properties of wood and graphite,
and so to improve the instruments, the experience, and the music.
We believe that our “Tunable Mixed Composite” is a step in the right direction.
Do you make basses only? After all, your name is “BassLab”.
The “bass” part of our name refers to the tonal output, not to the type of instruments we make!
Our Composite material has been used for many different types of instruments:
guitars, the Chapman Stick®, violas, even traditional Japanese instruments.
All instruments benefit from our Composite material and construction methods.
Very responsive to dynamics and attack, both acoustically and amplified. Probably the most “alive” sounding bass I’ve ever heard (and I’ve owned two Modulus Quantums with EMG’s).
Sean Haider, Ohio, From “The Bottom Line” mailing list
How are they made?
We’re not telling – it’s a secret! Well, maybe just a few words…
The instruments consist of a thin “monocoque” skin, just a few millimeters (~1/4″) thick.
Monocoque means a strong shell that supports the string tension and provides acoustic resonance.
The body and neck of all models are one piece and completely hollow,
and Heiko inserts sound posts to connect the front and back surfaces
(exactly the same as on upright acoustic basses).
Some areas of the shell are a bit thicker for mounting hardware (under the tuners, for example).
Instruments are built up over a core piece, which is later removed.
They are not formed on some injection molding machine, and they do not
pop out at the push of a button! Each one is made by hand with care and skill.
You mean that even the neck is hollow?
Many luthiers have started adding “acoustic chambers” to their electric instruments,
and of course instruments like acoustic guitars and violins have always had hollow bodies,
but only the BassLab instruments are made in a single piece and are hollow throughout
the entire instrument with no internal bracing.
We even build the instruments with a hollow neck!
This is possible because of our Tunable Mixed Composite material,
which has high strength and great musical tone.
Is this like “neck-through” construction?
Well, sort of, but taken somewhat further!
The traditional neck-through method provides a supporting beam (the neck) that runs the length of the instrument, from one end of the strings to the other.
This enhances tone and sustain, since there are no discontinuities in the structure.
Traditional luthiers will attach “body wings” to the central beam, choosing from various woods depending on the desired tone.
Often the central beam will be made of several laminations to control tone (and strength).
The wood combinations can get very complicated.
In the BassLab construction method, the entire instrument is part of the “neck beam”, with no added pieces, and the
tone can be varied by changing the formula of our Composite material.
How is the neck joined to the body?
Well, it’s not joined to the body, it’s part of the body, or to be more accurate it IS the body! Traditional instruments, whether they have set (glued) necks or bolt-on necks, often have a pronounced “heel” where the neck joins the body. Classical (nylon string) guitars and Strats are obvious examples. BassLab instruments are distinctly heel-less, or even have a kind of “negative heel”. You can easily slide from first fret to last fret without interruption.
Are they graphite reinforced?
You could say so!
Many builders boast that their graphite reinforcement strips run all the way from the bridge to the head stock.
BassLab instruments actually have a layer of graphite throughout the entire instrument.
Besides the tonal benefits, like longer sustain, no dead spots, and greater resonance, this
layer provides electrical shielding for the electronics, even right up to the edges of the pickups!
But keep in mind that the BassLab magic is in the “Tunable Mixed Composite”, not the graphite.
Do they need a trussrod?
Because they are not affected by humidity, BassLab instruments do not need a trussrod to adjust to seasonal changes.
However, we include trussrods in many cases to allow players to fine tune the action,
specifically when the action must be very low, or if the player often changes tunings.
Trussrods are embedded in the Composite material of the neck,
so the additional material changes the balance of the instrument just a bit
and affects the tone very slightly.
It’s not a huge difference.
If I can hear all this on a tapping instrument, where lightly tapped, lower tension strings vibrate more freely over the pickups and interact less with the neck/body structure, then your acoustic effect must be dramatic on bass guitar!
Emmett Chapman, www.stick.com, About the sound of a Stick XBL36 prototype
The headless design contributes to better balance and eliminates the “neck dive” that most
traditional headed basses suffer from.
The standard slab of wood used to mount the normal tuners actually adds some undesirable sonic effects.
Also, in the headless design, each string is the same length,
so each string has similar tensions and physical properties.
What do they sound like?
They sound like musical instruments!
Despite their futuristic shapes and materials, they don’t sound sterile, plastic, or anything like that.
BassLab’s “Tunable Mixed Composite” (sometimes called “Tuned Mixed Composite”)
combines the best of wooden and graphite instruments and goes even further.
The basic premise is this: If an instrument doesn’t sound good when played acoustically, then it won’t sound good when amplified.
An instrument needs to cover a frequency range from approximately 50Hz to 20kHz,
and right away this is where problems occur with conventional wood instruments.
It is a physical principal that good sounding material should have the lowest possible
low frequency cutoff point (where it starts to roll off), which is determined by surface resonances.
In the case of a wooden construction, the material itself does not generally allow a low frequency cutoff point of less than 1.5kHz.
Our design brings the point down to 150Hz!
In addition, cavity resonance (from the hollow body construction) can be reduced by more than 2kHz.
This allows all frequencies to be naturally generated,
instead of artificially emulated by “blowing them up” electronically which gives a feeble, soft, and “unreal” sound.
The BassLab instruments are pretty loud acoustically, with the SOUL
model being the loudest as a result of its “flat top” design. The other
models have a curved body front, which tightens the mids and reduces the
acoustic volume a bit.
If they sound so good, why do they need an active preamp?
A : We don’t use the preamp to compensate for a bad-sounding instrument! The active preamp just adds flexibility and tonal control at your fingertips. A neat demonstration is to play a sustained note and switch between passive mode and active mode, back and forth. If the EQ controls are set flat, there is no difference in sound. This is because Heiko designed his BassXX (pronounced like “basics”) preamp to adjust the tone, not the volume.
The pickups are actually passive pickups, and a lot of tonal variety can be heard using
various pickup combinations (bridge, neck+bridge, series, parallel, phase, etc.).
If you want, you can order your instrument as completely passive, without the preamp.
Most of the basses we make are active, but most of the guitars are passive.
Plus, you can have any pickups you want,
or buy the BassXX preamp for installation in any guitar or bass!
Do the soundholes really do anything?
Yes. When they are added, they have the effect of softening and broadening the mid
frequencies, and maybe making the sound just a bit looser.
The familiar f-holes on a violin are cut to allow the top surface of the violin
to move freely under the influence of the bridge, in a rocking motion
around a longitudinal axis under the bridge.
But the BassLab soundholes operate differently, relieving some of the internal air pressure.
We have our standard locations, sizes, and shapes of soundholes, but we can
put them almost anywhere.
Changing the location of the soundholes would probably have some measurable effect,
but it may be so subtle that only Heiko can detect the difference. For the rest of
us, it might be just cosmetic!
Is feedback a problem?
A : Generally, no. But if you play very loud and stand in front of your amp, then anything is going to feedback (and you are going to ruin your ears)! Seriously though, since the BassLab instruments are more responsive than other instruments, you may experience string resonance, rather than true feedback. String resonance occurs when the strings react to external sound by vibrating sympathetically. You can solve it by using your left or right hands to dampen the strings that you’re not playing. This is a good technique anyway, since it makes your playing sound cleaner. Real feedback (squealing) can be controlled by using the sweepable mid control as a kind of notch filter, but is not necessary, even for very high volumes.
Why is there a “bow” on the L-BOW?
A : The L-BOW design was the first model that Heiko worked on. He asked himself: How does a body have to be purely theoretically designed, in order to get an optimal sound and to use the resonance areas as well as possible? The L-BOW is the result, and the “bow” is not there just for a futuristic design, but instead for the effect it has on lowering the cut-off frequency of the structure. As a result, the L-BOW model has a remarkably balanced tone from the lows to the highs, and is capable of many sounds through various pickup combinations and preamp settings. The L-BOW is an excellent choice for an 8-string or 9-string extended range custom bass.
The B-string on the BassLab sounded like it was one of the other 5 strings, there was very little difference in sound between the strings. Playing low on the B and E strings was extremely clear. I can’t imagine a B string any other way now.
J.S., New York state, STD-VI 35″ scale
Does the “bow” get in the way?
No, not for most people, male or female.
It lies below the plane of the fretboard, so it doesn’t block your view.
Some L-BOWs have several strap pins on the back side of the bow,
providing balance options for different playing styles.
And the bow makes a good handle!
How much or little do they weigh?
Our instruments are very comfortable to carry during long concerts.
Depending on the model and options, they weigh around 2.5kg to 3.5kg (about 5lbs to 8lbs).
Sometimes on custom basses, the hardware weighs more than the bare body!
The STD model is designed to feel like a part of your body, and
that’s what players say about it.
So, you won’t have trouble with your back any more!
Does the light weight help the sound?
Yes. The extreme light weight allows the vibrations of the strings to interact with the body more freely.
Imagine a heavy piece of wood weighing more than a few kilograms being influenced by a string weighing less than a few grams.
The BassLab technology evens out this imbalance.
By making a one piece lightweight body, we maximize the energy transmission of the string to the body with
its unique resonance possibilities, making it an integral part of the sound producing element.
For tone and sustain, a string needs to be mounted on a strong structure. With wood, that means more mass.
The BassLab Composite provides strength without the mass.
High response through sensitivity (using the string to energize the body) can only be reached by improving the
string-to-body mass ratio.
Why the crazy shapes?
There are three answers to this question.
First, we wanted to take instrument design a step or two beyond the Strat/Tele/LesPaul black hole.
(Everybody complains about mainstream music. Shouldn’t you do the same about the instruments, too?)
Second, we wanted to show some shapes that are impossible to do in wood, or at least very expensive.
But third (and most important), the shape really does influence the sound.
The surface thickness and contours and the formula of our Composite all affect the tone, from punchy to smooth, from bright to warm.
In fact, in terms of importance to us, sound is the most important thing, followed by feel, and then
(in a distant third place) the way they look.
Before building a new design or custom instrument, Heiko makes all of the calculations to determine how it will behave.
It is almost an afterthough when he builds the actual instrument, and finds that it matches his predictions.
That’s how technically skilled he is, but he also obviously has an artist’s eye!
What shapes can you make?
We can build (nearly) any shape, with any custom lacquered or airbrush finish.
If you don’t like what you see, you can design your own.
You can describe or sketch your own ideas and suggestions, or let us develop a design for you.
Generally, there are no limitations, but we like to step in with our expertise in our Composite
material so you won’t be unhappy with your new instrument.
Of course, a custom shape is more expensive than the series ones,
because it takes a lot of time to understand and build it from your description.
How do they feel to play?
A : Because of our light material and construction, your body is carrying very little extra weight and the headless designs balance well. Your fretting hand is not holding up the instrument, so it is free to travel the fretboard. The optimum position for guitar and bass playing is with the neck elevated and the picking hand in front of your navel. Then both of your wrists will be almost straight, and quite relaxed. This is similar to the classical guitar position, but players have found that BassLab instruments can be played in any position. And because the BassLab Composite material responds so quickly to your touch, the instruments feel like thoroughbred horses, ready to spring from the gates.
I was honored to display your basses in our AccuGroove booth at the NAMM show. Currently I’m using the L-BOW to test our cabinets before we ship them out, and of course on gigs. I’m writing to congratulate you on such an amazing instrument. Greg Holmes is a very good representative for your firm, and I look forward to helping in getting the word out about your fine products.
Mark Wright, www.AccuGroove.com, After NAMM January 2005
Why is the flat (no radius) fingerboard better?
Most of the BassLab designs feature a flat fingerboard, with stright frets (except on the
SOUL model which has a slight radius for the traditionalists).
When you bend a note on a radiused fretboard, the notes choke out as the string touches higher frets.
The flat fretboard prevents this; you could (if you were strong enough) bend the low string all the
way across to the other side of the fretboard and it would keep ringing.
The flat plane of the strings also helps with the picking hand, making it easier to do finger picking
and slap. And, of course, classical guitars have had no radius fretboards for hundreds of years.
But we can give your instrument a custom radius if you want it.
What’s with the extra angled fret?
The extra angled fret (found on most STD and L-BOW basses) is there because
we think that it looks neat as an accent to the body shape.
But it is also useful for slap technique, since it is positioned under the thumb.
If the frets are worn can they be replaced easily?
The frets are glued in with a special heat-activated resin.
Heat it up and pull out the frets.
We, or a skilled luthier, can do it.
This is exactly the same as with many wood fretboards.
The glue helps the fret to make a better connection with the neck, so the notes are better defined.
Since the frets are installed before the final coats of lacquer are applied (also like many wood
instruments), removing the frets might cause slight damage to the lacquer. If so, then it is easy
to touch up the lacquer.
By the time your frets are worn (maybe 25 or more years?), we think that your instrument could probably
use a bit of lacquer touch up anyway!
Or, we can build your instrument with stainless steel frets…
What pickup combinations are available?
A : You can have any pickups in any combination, but the most common for bass has been two Rough Crystal soapbar humbuckers, while we recently switched to Delano. For guitar, it’s usually two Seymour Duncan or EMG humbuckers. These can be controlled by separate volumes (one for each pickup) or a master volume and multi-switch arrangement. The default 6-position pickup selection switch for three pickups is wired ike this: 1, 1+2, 1+3, 2, 2+3, 3 (“1” is the neck pickup). By the way, the pickups are levelled with foam under them, not springs. So there’s no rattling.
What’s the difference between the BassXX and the DaCapo preamps?
A : The most obvious thing is that the BassXX features a sweepable (parametric) mid frequency control, whereas the DaCapo has a fixed mid frequency. The BassXX has three control knobs: stacked treble/bass, mid amount, and mid frequency. DaCapo has: stacked treble/bass, and mid amount. However, the center frequencies of the bass and treble controls are also different, and the BassXX circuit itself is better. Heiko designed the BassXX and, of course, prefers it. Some players prefer fewer controls, so the BassXX can be configured with a fixed mid frequency or an internal trim pot, to match the DaCapo control layout.
Why are the strings angled down so much over the bridge?
The sharp angle increases downward contact pressure on the bridge saddles,
which improves the transfer of vibrations between the strings and the body.
Often, the bridge is installed at a slight angle to increase the
downwards pressure on the lower strings.
The mass of the tuner block is placed at the edge of the body, with the bridge
resting on the face, so the strings only have to move the light bridge.
The fairly large distance between bridge and tuners (about 3″) softens
the strings, making pitch bending a bit easier,
and the extra length also adds some subtle harmonic content to the sound.
These are exactly the same principles found on orchestral string instruments.
The BassLab has the best clarity and warmth and records the clearest, so it basically has become my workhorse for any bass lines I need to record.
Kenneth W., California, STD-V
Do I need to use double-ball strings for the headless basses?
A : No. Standard long-scale bass strings will work. Most of the BassLab basses use tuners at the bridge end of the instrument, with about 3″ of space between the bridge and tuners. The ball end of the string goes into the tuner, and the other end is clamped at the head with a single headpiece (for STD models) or with separate hold-down clamps (for L-BOW models). From the tuner to the zero fret or nut, you need 37″ of playable string. On shorter scale strings (and usually the lower-pitched ones), the silk wrap might start too soon and fall within the space of the 1st fret. We are developing our own custom strings that have a long bare core passing over the bridge and no silk wrap at the head end. The bare core allows the strings to vibrate more freely and clearly. We will make the strings available at reasonable prices soon. Stay tuned for more on this.
Is the lacquer tough?
We use automotive lacquers, so you tell us!
We put a ground coat on the raw composite material, then usually add a color coat (or two) and then
a clear coat, then the logo foils and fret markers (decals or hand-painted) go on, followed by a final clear coat or two.
The lacquer reaches final hardness after a month or so, depending on whether additives for hardness
or flexibility have been added.
For example, fretless fretboards get a harder clearcoat applied.
If you get a mild scratch, you can buff and polish it, using the same techniques and tools that you
would use on a car.
What colors can I choose?
Go to your local car dealership to see the choices. Ask to see the color chips or look
at actual cars in the lot or on the street.
It helps to give us the make, model, and year of the car, and of course the color code.
One of our most popular colors is Ford Imperial Blue (XSC 2681 pearl effect). This
usually is made by DuPont, but it is also available from other suppliers.
Another one is Satin Silver Metallic, code LB7Z, used on Volkswagen Golf cars.
We’ve also used some special paints, like metallic flakes and multi-layer candycoats, as well as
lacquers with a “flip-flop” chameleon or harlequin effect. These effects cost extra, due
to the special materials in the lacquers or the time required to apply them.
You can also change the look by using either gloss or satin clearcoat. While the gloss
finish really shines beautifully under stage lights, the satin finish has a kind of quiet elegance.
Can I afford a BassLab?
A : We dont know! Our basses and guitars start at about US$2500. Each instrument is handmade, and basically custom-made just for you. We feel that our prices are lower than most other custom builders and even some of the production (factory-made) instruments. We design our own electronics and we use high-quality solid German-made hardware. Our prices include deluxe gig bag, warranty on electronics and hardware and once you get a personal offer, this also includes shipping and duty!