I doubt anyone remembers, but I ordered a custom Sandberg bass earlier this year and had couple of threads about it. Well, the wait is finally over, my first-ever custom bass arrived last Friday! Was it worth the wait? Read on...
First, a quick recap on how the whole thing started. I had been looking for a good 5-string Jazz for some time, with little luck. I just couldn´t find a bass with a solid, clear B-string AND the classic J sound. About six months ago I had my first contact with Sandberg
basses. I had heard about this German brand before but had never seen them in person. After trying out couple of their J-models, I was completely sold.
Sandberg Jazz caught the sound and feel perfectly, and the price wasn´t too bad either. However, the colors and finishes of the basses on sale weren´t very inspiring, so I asked the store staff about possible options. They told me Sandberg takes custom orders and suggested e-mail the Sandberg boss, a guy called Holger, who could tell me more. Well, couple of days and bunch of e-mails later I placed the order for a custom 5-string "California JM" model.
Corresponding with Holger was a pleasure. He helped me out with my choices, sent me several pictures of different body wood pieces to choose from etc. Sometimes he could be a bit slow replying to my mails, but I did catch them at exceptionally busy time of the year: not only was Sandberg preparing for the Frankfurt Musikmesse, they were also rehauling their website and expanding their business in general. That is why the original 3-4 month waiting time became 6 months - which isn´t too bad in my book anyway. Besides, I had other things in my life to keep me occupied so waiting wasn´t as painful as it could have been.
So, last friday the German beauty finally arrived to Finland and as it happens, I had a wedding gig the very next day: a perfect opportunity for a test drive. But first things first, here are some takes from the first photo session:
As you can see the bass is blue, specifically blueburst. I wasn´t able to catch the burst effect on camera, but it is really beautiful. Body wood is alder, neck and fretboard are both maple. The pickups are Delano passive humbuckers in a MM+J configuration.
The Sandberg logo in the bottom of the upper horn.
The electronics are simple enough, knobs are from right to left: Volume (push/pull for active/passive mode), pickup blend, active EQ with treble and bass. The switch is for splitting the bridge humbucker.
The bridge has string spacing adjustment and loading from the top - both things that I appreciate. Notice the logo on the right.
The headstock is actually a bit smaller than Fender´s. Notice the zero fret and string tree. The neck is 45mm wide at the nut, slightly narrower than the Sandberg standard.
Six bolts. Should be sturdy enough, eh?
The beautiful maple fretboard was left unmarked, except for this simple inlay at 12th fret. It represents my initials, MM.
Cosmetically the bass is nothing short of perfect. The gloss finish on the body is gorgeous, I can use it as a mirror. Everything fits perfectly and all the hardware is first class. I was also positively surprised by the weight of the bass: the Sandbergs I tried earlier were a bit on the heavy side, but this one is quite manageable, not much heavier than my 4-string MIM Jazz.
The the setup and fretwork is flawless. Absolutely zero extra rattles, even though the action was actually a bit too low for my tastes. After rising the action slightly I can dig as deep as I like without any unwanted noise. The satin finish on the neck is incredibly smooth, a joy to play. The neck profile and width are a perfect fit for my hands.
And the sound... it´s there, oh yes its there! It´s not exactly what I imagined in my head, it´s better. The acoustic sound is incredibly loud and powerful, with sustain to spare. The sound is even all around the fretboard, nothing stands out or drops out, not even on the always critical B-string. And things don´t get any worse when I plug it in...
In the passive mode, with bridge pickup split, the bass has all the smooth roundness of a classic Jazz, but it also has extra beefiness and bottom that I havent encountered in other J-style basses. Reminds me of some G&Ls I have tried. I´d describe the sound a J-bass on steroids. With bridge pup "un-split", the sound gets a new dimension, especially nice when soloed.
The active mode kicks in another gear. I have preferred passive electronics in the past, but this baby might just convert me. With EQ knobs centered, the active electronics do not really alter the passive sound too much, just a little more clarity in the high end. The EQ is powerful but not excessive. I can turn on quite a bit of treble without the sound getting painfully screechy and piercing. The bass control is nicely even throuhgout the bottom end.
One thing I tried to bring out with my discussions with Holger was noise and my hatred of it. I just can´t stand unwanted hum or hiss. I was even ready to sacrifice a bit of the tone for silence. Fortunately no such compromise had to be made: the electronics, both passive and active are dead quiet in all pup positions. Even maxxing out the treble EQ only produces a negligible amount of hiss.
Then there was the field test: the wedding gig. No surprises here either. The bass sounded absolutely fantastic with my EBS rig and I was able to use many different settings and pup combinations during the show. I had no difficulties playing even the more demanding songs of our set. And perhaps the greatest testament for the quality of the instrument came after the show.
You see, my bandmates do not usually pay too much attention to my playing and I don´t remember them ever commenting my sound in any way. But after this gig they actually came to me and complimented my sound for the first time, saying it "really kicked ass". Our soundguy (whose opinion I value highly) was also very happy with my sound, he described it as being very tight and punching through like a hammer.
So there you have it, I have found a new love and it´s called Sandberg California JM. I´ll try to record some soundclips when I have the time, but until then you just have to take my word. If you ever come across a Sandberg bass, I strongly recommend you to check them out.
Wow, this turned out to be a long post! Here´s one more pic for those who got this far. The wedding gig was in a old lakeside villa and since I had my camera with me, I decided to do some nature photographing... "German craftsmanship in a Finnish landscape"