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Burns Bison Bass Review, Club Model

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Thor, May 9, 2003.

  1. Thor

    Thor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I was asked by gfab333 to write a review on the Burns of London, Bison Bass, Club series, after he noticed my avatar with the Bison. He noted, which I was unaware of, that it had been reviewed lately in Bass Player Magazine (registered TM), which review is, unfortunately, unline. Burns has not updated their website with the review.

    All below statements are strictly the opinion of the author.

    Information on the Burns line is available on their UK website, www.burnsguitars.com or their USA website, http://www.burnsusa.com/ . Note errata, the Bison is actually 34” in scale, which is incorrect on the UK website, which I confirmed by email to dealer.

    I purchased the Burns Bison Bass, Club model in black from Rock City Guitars in Somerville, MA, USA. The purchase price I paid, for the bass, a Wings gig bag, and delivery from Massachusetts to Rhode Island USA totaled USD $420.00, off a Bass Player Magazine list of $845.00 for the instrument.

    My motivation for doing this was that it was always a style bass I wanted, since I was about 13. I’m a bit older now, so no time to wait anymore. I would have wanted the Custom Shop Bison Bass,
    but at USD $3500, that was out of range. During that period, the 1960’s, many British and European musicians acknowledged this line of instruments as having some of the finest woodworking, fit, finish, trim and workmanship available, as well as some of the most interesting new ideas in pickup technology developed during that time.

    The guitar, after being delivered and set up, with the associated service issues noted below, is playing beautifully. This is my first 34” scale bass, (having kids really damps GAS), and I am digging it. The finish is excellent, the fit and trim top notch, as noted in BPM, the shape is quirky, but I always liked that, a lot of basses are ‘quirky’ today. Balance seemed to slide down slightly, I found that if I adjusted my strap up about 4” on the adjustable nylon fastener, it brought the bass up about an inch, but it didn’t spool around when I moved.

    The Bison bass is a passive 4 string, with a bolt through neck, an ample pickguard, with a classic early ‘60’s 2 horn design, reproduced in Korea to the original Jim Burns' specification. Jim Burns brought many innovations into the London guitar scene as noted on their website above.

    The neck width at the nut is 1.625” and at the heel, 2.325”, with 22 frets, all playable, though there is no taper at the heel. The neck is refreshingly thin and comfortable.

    The ‘Tri-Sonic’ pickups are microphonic, tapping on them produces sound. According to BPM the pups are mounted to the pickguard, and shielded, so that there is resonance from the routed body cavity, as well as the guard, giving it a more ‘hollowbody sound’.
    I have not disassembled the bass to ascertain this. However, I was going to change the pickguard to hotrod the look, but I changed my mind on that, based on the construction.

    The PUP settings are wild, but weird. The basic setting knob says –
    Split sound –
    Treble –
    ‘Wild Dog’.

    The next control is A/B. Then Tone, Volume.

    After some investigation it turns out that, the settings for A setting are: {SIC}

    Wild Dog – Bridge P/U,
    Treble – Bridge P/U,
    Bass – Neck P/U,
    Split Sound – Bridge + Neck PUs

    B settings are:
    Wild Dog: Bridge + Middle P/Us, (out of phase)
    Treble : Bridge + Middle P/Us, ( filtered)
    Bass: Neck + Middle P/Us, ( filtered )
    Split Sound: All three P/Us + Filter
    {Filter specifications are not defined by manufacturer.}
    Source: Burns Bison Bass Instructions and Product Guide, Burns USA, PO Box 269, Bethel CT 06801

    BPM notes that the t/v/setting knobs are knurled metal, but mine are black plastic. The tuners are topnotch, the Gotoh style hardware and bridge are topnotch, and chrome finish seems impeccable.

    As you would expect with a 3 pickup bass, the range of tonality is impressive. BPM notes that using the A setting to choose a desired tone, and using the B setting to add the middle pup as a ‘fattener’ seemed to work well for them during the test ride. They seemed to be able to create every ‘60’s and ‘70’s tone they wanted as well as satisfy their modern tonal needs. With a price tag like I got, this represents a great value.

    I did find that after buying the instrument, it arrived to me from the dealer with no documentation, and without being setup at all. It sounded horrible. I tried to intone it to no avail. I took it to an excellent local luthier,
    Noll Guitars who set it up for $54 for me.
    Another phone call informed me the strings were Deadwound, not round wound, and were not intonable, so I sprang for a Ernie Ball roundwound set at $20 installed. Upon picking the bass up, it was perfect, and has been ever since. I played it there and noticed the sound was not quite as dynamic as my Gibson EB3, but with the 3 single coils, it didn’t surprise me. I could always turn it up a bit, I have the room.

    I contacted Barry Gibson, CEO of Burns of London with my concerns. In a very polite email, he directed me to their US affiliate {franchisee, or subsidiary, relationship undefined…}. After 2 emails to a Mr. John Coates, outlining my dismay at having to pay for the initial setup, and requesting the original documentation for the guitar, I did receive a package with all the appropriate documents for the guitar. I also received a promotional pen. Included was a free set of Rotowound strings. Upon inspection, the string set was a set of 6 strings, flatwound, at .018,.030,.035,.050,.075,.085. What relationship these bear to the EBall Hybrid Slinky Bass Roundwound 45/65/85/105 I have on now I am not really sure. They must have thought I had a 7 stringcheese bass. Then I remembered there was a NAMM show recently. If anybody needs a set of fluff strings, let me know. I’ll lay them on you for the price of postage, PM me.

    Before dissing the service here, fyi I’ve kept copies of all the correspondence on email. I will make them available with an edit if appropriate. I never got any of my extra setup money back, but I got a promo pen, a nice letter, and some strings I can’t use.

    I did ask if I could purchase some custom accessories, like the scrolled headstock neck separately, but the reps alluded to the fact that the custom guitar was expensive, and they were unable to ‘support’ any custom purchases. IE, they didn’t want to sell me the hot rod parts, but politely avoided the issue.

    I did get an excellent guitar, with wide range and versatile tone, which I like a lot. It did cost me extra to set it up, but once set-up I still have a great bass for $494.00 total. You could do worse, but you have to lock down that part of the purchase, as I assumed it would be set up, as the manufacturer said it should have been, though it wasn’t.

    I avoided the gold hardware/white, as gold hardware has always tarnished as I live in a high humidity area.

    I like this guitar a lot. Once again, all this in my opinion only.

  2. Ben Mishler

    Ben Mishler

    Jan 22, 2003
    San Jose
    Thanks for the great review. Very informative.
  3. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    Thanks for the review! It looks great. I picked one of these up in a store, and it seemed pretty heavy. How about yours?

    That's funny, when I was about 10 I fell in love with the same instrument, even though I probably didn't know the difference between a bass and a guitar at the time. The only difference was that I saw it in a Baldwin catalog. At that time, Burns was being sold as Baldwin in the US, with Baldwin on the headstock IIRC, by the Baldwin piano company.
  4. Thor

    Thor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    It doesn't seem to be any heavier than a J bass to me, but I am a stickler for accuracy, so when I get home, I am going to weigh it and find the weight of the Fender as well, and post it in response.

    Feel wise, I have no problem. Keep in mind, I hate the Les Paul line for strictly that reason, shoulder

    I believe you are correct. At the time, I was living in Iceland, and the ones I saw were marketed by Burns London. I still have the original brochure
    with the Shadows and Bison basses depicted.

    The Burns web site, after a little digging, revealed this historical note:

    'But Jim Burns was an eccentric person whose forte was guitar design and technology and not business and financial management. Despite the good times for guitar selling, Jim was deeply in debt to suppliers and creditors and in desperate need of rescue. In 1965, Jim decided to sell the company to Baldwin Piano & Organ Company, and it was sold on the condition that Jim must make no more guitars under his own name for three years ...'

    Apparently he tried to revive the company two or three times unsuccessfully. The current owner, Barry Gibson, reopened it in 1992.

  5. So its not just me who owns one of these beasts? Good good!!! :)
    I love my bison, its THE best bass ive played period, sounds bold but ive played pretty much everything. It wiped the floor with a 1962 P bass that was in mint condition. I think its a hard job to find out the exact switching options on this bass, Ive emailed burns a few times and they dont/wont find out lol. That aside their pretty helpful.

    The Split Sound is actually the top 2 poles of the neck pickup and the bottom 2 poles of the bridge pickup, but thats all i can add to the review at the top of the thread.

    To be fair for recording this bass kicks, for live work it does what you want, everytime.
    I'd fully recomend these to anyone who wants good solid tone thats quite a hot (active) sounding passive bass. Plenty of sound engineers have asked me if ive modded it, I guess its them badass tri sonic pickups.. I find it a good reliable, comfortable (its a lil heavy but what are we? bassists or wusses?) My BTB is the same on the shoulder lol it kills after a 4 hour rehersal but so what lol..;p

    Everyone loves the look of the bison, it does make a statement, and a handy weapon with them horns hahah seriously get one their MINT!!!!
  6. I love Tri Sonics, I have two basses that have a trio of them... They are definitely my fave single-coil pickups for bass.
  7. lankycharlie


    Sep 11, 2009
    i love the burns bison basses, i have one from 1981-83 (struggling to pinpoint exact year) and it plays and sounds amazing ,
    i always get comments on how good it sounds (and how loud), and how amazing it looks, as it is pretty unique looking.
  8. steve_rolfeca

    steve_rolfeca Supporting Member

    This takes me back. In the mid-sixties, my dad left his job at a local music store in Birmingham (England, not Alabama), to go on the road as a salesman for Burns. Needless to say, a lot of their guitars and basses came through our house during my childhood. My favourite was an emerald-burst 12-string g****r.

    A few years later, we were back in Canada, and of course we made a point of being a Burns/Baldwin dealer. My first gigging bass was a hollow-body Baldwin, featuring Rotosound tapewounds.

    These modern "reissues" are interesting. AFAIK, Jim Burns never built a long-scale bass. The Bisons, etc., of my youth were all short-scale...
  9. cmacdesign


    Nov 8, 2010
    I can get my hands on a red Bison here in Canada.. Thing is, it's in a shop that has been sitting on it for a while and may have lost touch with it's value. Most posts and reviews I've seen show list pricing around $800 and used in the $400-$500 range. I can't get this bass for less than $1000. Granted, North American distribution is non-existent and these seem hard to come by, but the price still seems kinda high for a bass made in China (Burns moved manufacturing from Korea to China a few years ago). Should I just suck it up, or can anybody give me something I can use to persuade a fair deal? :meh:
  10. CJ_Horror


    Aug 6, 2010
    What's the action like on these? I can buy one on eBay but I don't want it to get here and require hectic setup.
  11. Bell407


    Sep 27, 2011
    Hi All, I am new to this forum, I recently went into a pawn shop in South Africa and got a 1965 Jazz Bass, Burns of London for a steal, She works perfect, a few scratches and dings but none the less all good, the serial number is 10934, She has 3 pick ups, inscibed is Burns Tri- Sonic. Selector indicates Contra Bass, Bass, treble and wild dog. Everything is original on the bass. I was wondering if any one would be able to tell me what it is worth, who might have made it if it was hand made etc, dates so and so forth. I would appreciate the info.

    Kind Regards Bell407.
  12. bazzanderson


    Oct 7, 2002
    Austin, TX
    I'm buying a white one from a friend of mine here in Austin this Saturday. I've played his Burns Bison (club model....Korea) before and the action is LOW LOW LOW with no fret buzz and a killer thin (ala jazz bass) neck. Very playable and speedy fast neck comparable more to a Gibson Thunderbird / Jazz bass neck. I can't WAIT to get it.
  13. I love mine..

  14. bazzanderson


    Oct 7, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Nice man.....I can't WAIT to get mine tomorrow! Rehearse with it on Mon and Wed and gig with it in January.
  15. bazzanderson


    Oct 7, 2002
    Austin, TX
    Do you play fingerstyle with yours? Doesn't matter finger or pick but could you post some of your settings on the Bison?
    Last time I played it at my friends house....I remember there were many possible combinations of settings.
  16. Hi,

    It's most effective for what I play with a pick. I generally use the 'treble' setting.
    All knobs on full. Just experiment when you get one.
    You can also make it as deep and rich as you like. It's wonderfully versatile.
    The bass always cuts through nicely, as it has lots of treble.
    I own 3 Ric 4003's and none of them have a growl like this one.
    The only thing's I'd say are an "issue" with it are the weight (It's heavy) and the long reach to the nut, which you quickly get used to.
    The gold hardware can tarnish if you don't keep on top of it. Mine has a bit, but that's not a problem.

    My rig's graphic is usually a gentle 'smile' shape. Tones full on. My rigs are set up as below:

  17. bazzanderson


    Oct 7, 2002
    Austin, TX
    got mine Saturday night. Spent approx 2hrs setting it up and relocating the horn strap button to the neck heel (makes it balance MUCH better this way), installed strap locks, didn't change the strings but did do a full set up including truss rod tweak, action set up and intonation. Once that was all finished I plugged it in and jammed for another two hours (wife wasn't happy ;-). I'm very impressed with the range of tones. My favorite two settings are Split Setting (without the middle pickup) and Wild Dog (with the middle pick up added). Both were GREAT for fingerstyle....leaning toward the Split Setting without middle pickup as this reminded more of Fender Jazz tone. I did add the middle pickup on this setting and while it did sound good I noticed a drop in upper mid clarity. This might be good for our slower ska-ish / reggae kinda stuff. The Wild Dog setting with middle pickup was interesting. I'm sure I can use it on some of our more aggressive, punk songs. Oh yeah....the neck is comparable to my Gibson Thunderbird as far as playability. It's very thin and easy to get around. I was able to get the action lower than my Thunderbird which I didn't think would be possible. So far....very happy with it. Can't wait to rehearse with it tonight and I'll definitely be gigging with it in January.
  18. bazzanderson


    Oct 7, 2002
    Austin, TX
    oh yeah...forgot to mention this is absolutely the largest bass I've ever had. The body is huge. Mine is heavy but no more than 10lbs. Once I relocated the strap locks the neck reach became a non issue. It pretty much rests exactly like my Thunderbird (which is perfect).
  19. Hopper


    Sep 24, 2008
    I can confirm this. This is HUGE instrument, bulky, heavy, awkward dimensions. It's nice to have around at home for recording and sounds great but there's no way I'd strap one of these things on for a gig.
  20. Hopper


    Sep 24, 2008
    I'd also agree with some of the other comments about it being most effective played with a pick.

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