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One-Piece Molded Hollow 5-String With Active Electronics
BASSLAB STD
By Bill Leigh

Like to go against the grain? Try stepping onstage with a BassLab STD. I did, and the instrument´s radical design inspired all sorts of strange looks and bandmate comments at a funk gig. With its long, curved horns and ballooning body bouts, the BassLab STD truly looks like no other bass,but it´s also built like no other.

BassLab handbuilds each bass from a resin, carbon-fiber, and secret-ingredient composite, adjusting the ingredients´ ratio for each instrument´s desired acoustic quality. According to BassLab, the one-piece body also maximizes energy transfer from the string, allowing for bass-body resonance to play a greater part in tone generation.

Scale length: 34"
Weight: 7 lbs, 12 oz
Body & neck: One-piece hollow composite
Options: Left-handed (no charge); choice of two humbucking pickups or three stacked humbuckers (no charge); acoustic soundholes ($50); integrated thumbrest ($50), ramp between pickups ($80); small cosmetic headstock ($50)

Made in: Germany
List price: $2,825
($2,875 as tested)
Gig bag: Included
Warranty: Two years limited
www.basslab.de
Distributed by GH Services:
www.ghservices.com

Constructed of molded composite, the STD is a one-piece instrument that´s completely hollow, even along the length of the neck. Heiko Hoepfinger, a German musician, physicist, and former acoustics consultant, bases his hollow composite BassLab designs on the idea that using acoustically tuned synthetic materials maximizes both resonance and string-energy transfer into the instrument body. With the STD, his main goals were to enhance clarity, sustain, and frequency response while providing good acoustic and ergonomic qualities. Though the STD´s resulting visual aesthetic suggests strange science and a cold, metallic future, the musical result tends more toward a rootsy, acoustic sound, with some distinctive characteristics.

Hoepfinger placed the BassLab´s strap buttons in a position that encourages the headless neck to hang more vertically, allowing the fretting-hand wrist to be straighter. The curved body forms an easy armrest for the plucking hand. Additional gig-worthy elements include light weight and easy balance, a passive/active switch, and quick-change battery compartment,though I found the plastic compartment tough to open without tools. Three pickups and sweepable mid EQ promise sonic versatility, and the curved placement of the five knobs make them easy to reach.

Breaking The Mold
While familiarizing myself with the STD´s rich acoustic qualities before plugging in, I realized the unusual looks and tailpiece tuners weren´t the only aspects that would take getting used to. First, there´s the ultra-flat fingerboard and neck, whose relief can´t be adjusted since there´s no trussrod. (BassLab notes that trussrods are now a part of the production process, but can be omitted if the customer chooses.) Fortunately, string-height adjustments at the bridge are a breeze, although when trying to install a beefier B string, I encountered several that the tiny string slot wouldn´t accommodate. The next thing to get used to is the three pickups. Though the five-position pickup switch offers hip sonic flexibility, the closely placed neck pickups, combined with the downward body slope at the neck´s treble side, make finding comfortable slapping-and-popping positions a challenge. (BassLab responds: We will place pickups anywhere for no additional charge. The test instrument´s neck pickups are closer to the neck than usual.) The hardest thing to adjust to is how far away the end of the neck seems. Though the scale length is a standard 34", the bridge saddles are placed so that the whole scale is shifted skyward, putting the first few playing positions at an uncomfortable distance. Nearly every staffer who played the bass found themselves one or two frets off from where they thought they´d be. On the gig, I found myself having to think too much about where my hands were, and my arm got a little tired from reaching toward first position. (BassLab responds: The STD is optimized for classical guitar´ technique, with the right hand in front of the stomach and the neck elevated. BassLab will gladly build a different apparent neck length´ instrument to the customer´s specifications.)

Outer Space Bass
Despite the looks I received when I stepped onstage, no one questioned how good the STD sounded. Having previously found mostly resonant, big-bottom tones and a markedly nasal bridge-pickup sound, I combined the bridge and middle pickups and added low mids for a good all-around, meaty gig tone that sat well with the kick drum and spoke well in the house with an Aguilar DB 750 and GS 410 cab. The BassLab has a distinctive attack with a sharp, articulate punch followed by an airy warmth as the note blossoms with plenty of sustain. Another staffer got a favorite tone using the two neck pickups, which accentuate the STD´s natural warmth and huge bottom end, but bandmates complained that the bass lacked presence. He also suffered feedback, but even at high volumes I never had that problem.

The BassLab STD is a lively-sounding instrument with a variety of sounds. It excels at round, resonant tones that would be great for rootsy or small jazz settings. Just be sure it matches your tux!