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ACG Skelf Single Cut: review

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by middlebit, Aug 18, 2009.

  1. middlebit


    Sep 10, 2005
    I received this bass, made by Alan Cringean of AC Guitars, a while ago, but I’ve actually been too busy to review it. Now I’ve had a few moments to sum up my experiences with the bass, so without further ado -Here is my review of the instrument:

    5-string Skelf single cut, tuned E-C
    33” scale
    White limba body/native walnut top
    5-piece maple/wenge neck
    Mac ebony fingerboard
    Head and back plates matching top and body
    Black accent line
    Satin finish
    Black hardware
    Pickups: humbucker @ neck, single coil @ bridge
    Preamp: EQ02
    Ramp made from epoxy to match pickups

    Customer Service:
    First of all, Alan was very open to my thoughts and ideas during the pre-build and build phases. Basically, I could have it any which way I wanted – and that’s what happened. I went through quite a few tops and fingerboards before making the final decision. Near the end of the build phase there was a problem with a new type of lacquer, and Alan reported this immediately and corrected the problem in a couple of weeks. He could have shipped the bass earlier, but because quality would have been compromised, he realized he had to strip the bass and refinish it. I could’ve had a fit over the longer wait, but coincidentally I’m not into that. That should tell you something about a builder’s integrity.
    Bottom line: as a customer you feel like you’re part of the build process, and you don’t have to worry about sudden, unexpected decisions being made, auto mechanic-style, without your consent.

    The Very Good

    Aesthetically the bass is unique – from the shape itself to the interplay between the different wood sorts. My heart skipped a beat or two when I first opened the case in which it came – my senses were practically overloaded; the sight and scent of “new bass” filled the room.


    The accent line really works – it’s showy in a subtle way, if that makes sense. That was the general aim with this bass, by the way. I like how the grain of the walnut and limba seem to match up around the edges of the bass.


    The neck joint looks gorgeous – the perfect synthesis between art and craft:


    Initially it took me a while to decide on the Skelf single cut shape, but once I “got it”, there was no turning back. At one point I actually considered ordering a headless model, but chickened out for a number of reasons. Firstly, I’m just not brave enough. Secondly, I feel there’s too much 80’s baggage associated with a headless bass – even if I have to admit that a headless Skelf looks damn tasty. Anyway, the headstock looks great from all sides. I especially like the maple squares at the end of the ‘stock. Looks kind of like molten, hard candy (not Madonna-related) or butterscotch


    The body is very compact though it doesn’t look it. I’ve found that the shape doesn’t really lend itself to being photographed. I don’t mean that it doesn’t take good shots – it just looks different in 3 dimensions. Not until you’re holding it in your hands can you *really* see it! Which is a good thing for me, I guess. Since I own it.


    It’s obviously a showstopper. I’ve flashed to a couple of groups of people, and even the usually musically non-interested have been very impressed by the bass. Comments have generally been along the lines of: “never seen anything like it”, “this is something else” and “unique instrument”.

    The “Not So Good”
    Having now recovered from the initial WOW-state, I’ve noticed some minor imperfections in the finish, though – some from “running” and others from uneven sanding or a similar process. Whatever has caused it, it looks like the satin finish is uneven in some places. In some spots, I’ll describe the finish as decidedly “rough”. Here’s a flash photo to illustrate (the flash exaggerates the unevenness) :


    This, of course, will become less obvious with time, as the finish is worn from being played and handled. In any case, I’m not too bothered by this.
    Another small issue is with the control plate not being entirely flush with the body. This might have well have happened during transport – the plate is very thin. It is hardly noticeable, but since “flush” is hardly a gradable term, I thought it was worth mentioning. Alan is aware of the problem and I understand he is considering options to prevent this sort of thing from happening to future builds.


    Somewhat more concerning is the lacquer covering the back of the neck. This has split in several places where the fret ends meet the neck wood, most noticeably by the 12th fret (macro lens alert objects may appear hella bigger than they actually are!):


    I can feel the slight cracks when running my fingers across the fret ends, so I’m a bit worried about how this will part of the bass will age. On the other hand, that area of the fingerboard (the top edge) won’t really be subject to wear at all, and if the finish should start to peel at one point, a refinish is both possible and relatively harmless procedure.

    The bass feels very solid. Everything is aligned and routed just right. The ramp can be lowered or raised like the pickups, which is a huge advantage compared to my two other basses, which both have wooden, non-adjustable ramps. The real advantage of this adjustable ramp is actually being able to order a bass where the ramp is an integral part of the original concept, rather than a custom modification. Since I didn’t really have the opportunity to drop by Alan’s shop to direct the build process, this feature proved most useful. I only had to raise it a couple of millimeters before it was perfectly placed.
    Great quality hardware all round. I find the Hipshot Ultralites very reliable (my other basses also carry these). Should I ever feel the need to change the setup, the bridge offers plenty options for adjustment.

    The 33” scale and rigid feel of the single cut (I suspect) took some time getting used to, but I think I’m getting there. The string tension feels very different from those of my other basses, and I’m still working out exactly where to “cut the string” when digging in. But spending time getting used to this bass can’t really be called a punishment, can it? I’ve played nothing but 34” B-G fivers for a number of years, so there were some moments of fretboard vertigo with the E-C tuning.
    Getting around is fast and smooth – chording is easy as is getting a grainy growl when I dig in a bit. Upper fret access is easy and the balance of the instrument is surprisingly even. Of course the setup was spot-on straight out of the case – I take it low and smooth, like my women. The overall feel of the bass pretty much invites 3- or 4-fingered picking techniques. I’ve been fooling around with extended picking (meaning beyond index+middle) for a couple of years, but now I’ve started to make real use of it.
    I feel like a criminal when confessing that I’ve hardly played this bass through a decent amp. I’m not kidding when I say I’ve been busy (struggling to complete my final thesis)! The bass has been experienced in full flight two on two extended occasions, though. The preamp controls are logically laid out. I had no trouble dialing in my “old tone”, and I even managed to quickly find something new and very useable. Pickups are actually quite close to the string, which means the tone is very responsive to the slightest nudge of a knob. I’m not done discovering its tonal possibilities. Hopefully I will soon be able to play this bass the way it deserves to be played – a lot!

    All in all, this is a great instrument for the money. Its minor flaws are by far drowned out by its qualities. Of course the couple of downers bug me a bit. On the other hand I wasn’t interested in getting a collector’s item to hang from a nail on a wall. Rather, I wanted something to put to good, long term use.
    I can’t believe that you can get something like this – custom made from scratch, to your specifications for roughly the same price, shipping included, as a Fender American Standard Jazz Bass (sorry to disappoint some of you, but I'm not bashing Fenders by bringing up their price range). If you’re interested in something truly unique in terms of design, playability and sound, I suggest you shoot Alan an email or give him a call. For all his eccentric tendencies (for example, to not appear in photographs, etc.), he’s actually a decent guy!

    EDIT: BTW the bass came with a sturdy Hiscox case. The bass fits right in there, with only a few modifications done to the interior moulding. The case also contained a tool (with woven pouch!) for adjusting the bass and an extra set of strings, no extra charge.

    Mr Mort

    (Since this is a quite a long post, I'd appreciate it if anyone replying would refrain from quoting the whole deal. We have to save some people from their own mouse arms!)
    blindrabbit and KramerDon like this.
  2. Thunderitter

    Thunderitter Bass - the final frontier! Supporting Member

    Jun 6, 2007
    Great looking bass - congrats on that.

    Do you have any shots of the full front and back?
  3. middlebit


    Sep 10, 2005
    Thank you. Here are a couple of Alan's shots:


    blindrabbit likes this.
  4. eude


    Apr 13, 2006
    Great review and a gorgeous bass mate :)
    I'm very jealous.

    Now go get that thing played through a decent amp!

    blindrabbit likes this.
  5. The shot of the neck joint is something else. Enjoy your bass. Regardless of the minor imperfections, it's still extremely nice.
    blindrabbit likes this.
  6. mikezimmerman

    mikezimmerman Supporting Member

    Apr 29, 2001
    Omaha, Nebraska
    The subtle elegance of that bass strikes me more each time I see new pictures of it! Nice review, and I appreciated you not glossing over issuess in addition to singing the praises of Alan's work. I'd guess that applying a good finish is probably the biggest PITA for most builders...

  7. Jared Lash

    Jared Lash Born under punches

    Aug 21, 2006
    Denver, CO
    Nice review, though I was hoping to hear some thoughts on the pickups. I've got the commercially available ACG preamp in my fretless so I have a feel for that aspect, but I don't know how the ACG pickups sound.

    I've got a six string Recurve headed my way in a couple months


    blindrabbit likes this.
  8. That bass is going to turn out amazing. I can't wait to see the final product.
  9. middlebit


    Sep 10, 2005
    Yeah, sorry about that. I'm not a big fan of describing the sound of pickups in words, but I'll do some proper sound clips of the bass at some point, so people can hear for themselves. But I can't commit to it at the moment, though. Hopefully in a couple of months...
    That IS a great looking bass you have coming, btw.
  10. middlebit


    Sep 10, 2005
    Thanks, Mike. I had concerns that mentioning the flaws would produce an overall negative vibe, so I worked hard at balancing the review. Of course I wanted the review to reflect how much I love the instrument, but at the same time I had to be honest about its downsides. There should be no doubt in the reader's mind how I feel about the bass. Above all I think it's a fair review. Glad you appreciate it.
  11. Jared Lash

    Jared Lash Born under punches

    Aug 21, 2006
    Denver, CO
    I'd love to hear soundclips of your ACG. My electronics are a bit different, single coil (SB) in the neck and MM style (RFB) in the bridge, but still it would be nice to get a feel for the general tone of the Aaron Armstrong wound pickups.

    Oh, and thanks for the compliment on my bass. I'm pretty excited about it.
  12. Hoover

    Hoover Banned

    Nov 2, 2007
    New York City
    That just might be one of the most fair & balanced, yet thorough reviews I've ever come across...bravo!

    Good looking bass too (though that's no surprise, I've been impressed by nearly every ACG I've ever seen).
  13. junerig


    Sep 12, 2005
    Been waiting to see what happend wit this bass! good review, very thorough. sounds clips wouldve been good but I completely understand your reasons for not including em. will you eventually post them in this thread? Id like to hear some!
  14. middlebit


    Sep 10, 2005
    I think I will, and maybe in a seperate thread in 'recordings' and on youtube etc. A friend of mine owns a proper studio, so hopefully we can do the bass justice by recording its sound faithfully with decent equipment. I just hope I'll be able to play it by then!

    By the way, I've added a short bit at the end of the review. Forgot about the case...
  15. junerig


    Sep 12, 2005
    okay, keeping an eye out a couple months from now!
  16. tombowlus

    tombowlus If it sounds good, it is good Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2003
    North central Ohio
    Editor-in-Chief, Bass Gear Magazine
    Great review! And some darned nice photography, as well! Well done. :cool:

    As long as we're talking about ACG single-cuts, forgive me if I show off mine a little bit:



    blindrabbit and KramerDon like this.
  17. Thunderitter

    Thunderitter Bass - the final frontier! Supporting Member

    Jun 6, 2007
    ^Alan does a great job with his fingerboards. That with the wood combo looks fab.
  18. middlebit


    Sep 10, 2005
    Thanks - you'd be surprised what you can do with an underwater camera!

    So that's your bass. I've studied it well...cool stuff :cool:
  19. eude


    Apr 13, 2006
    Many years on, I still come back to drool over this thread!
    I've currently got 4 ACG basses and one ACG guitar, and have bought and sold 3 more, but I've still never owned a Skelf!
    If you ever move this bass on, please let me know!

    blindrabbit likes this.
  20. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    I realize this is a bit of a zombie thread, but in case OP is still around: Is that a full neck-through design, or is it a set neck that is inset partially into the body?

    Bloody gorgeous bass, btw!

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