I bought a Johnson f-hole scroll bass

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by LAKLAND011, Apr 6, 2002.

  1. Johnson f-hole scroll bass

    Well, I've always wanted to try one of these and always dug the asthetic vibe, but I figured they were more of a novelty than anything. I was thinking of buying an actual Ampeg Scroll Devil Bass that walked right up to me but when all was said and done it was just too impractical.

    In researching these, I asked Bruce Johnson (the formost authority on Ampeg Scroll type basses) a lot of questions. He was very helpful and never once even suggested I buy one of the re-issues he makes. He was going to make them for Ampeg but the demand was just too high for his one-man ultra detailed production methods, so in the end they mutually (Bruce and Ampeg) decided this was not a feasible venture. he makes them in his home shop. Aside from the strap buttons, half of the tuner parts and the knobs, Bruce mills every brass and wooden part of his basses.

    It just so happens I came across one of these in a local music store (used) and I had to try it. I was hooked immediately.

    The bass is a 35 inch scale with an ebony board. It's got a tru-oil quartersawn maple neck with the giant upright-like scroll headstock. The body is a beautiful red to black sunburst with the grain heavily highlighted with black stain. The fit and finish are equal to my US Lakland Joe Osborn bass if not better (I didn't think that was possible). The pickup is a split p style that is completely encased in a trapezoidal gaboon ebony block that is anchored deep into the body The body has tone chambers strategically placed to add to the upright tone circuit (there is also a more modern, but very warm tone circuit and a direct output that bypasses the tone circuits for recording straight to a console). The bridge and tailpiece are anchored together with thick brass rods that run through the body. This is done to eliminate isolated vibration transfer (which also helps to create upright tone). The neck is very thin from front to back but pretty wide at the nut from side to side. The fingerboard is ebony. The truss rod system is also a one of a kind setup. The truss is encased in a black epoxy filled channel. There is no air space in the neck whatsoever. The nut is a 1/2 inch milled piece of channeled brass. The neck is attached with a solid brass block finished with a gaboon ebony affixed plate and 4 hex bolts. Again, the neck features eliminate separate vibration and couple to the body in the most solid manner I have ever seen. This thing is freakin' SOLID!

    Sound: I tested this bass through an Acoustic Image Clarus head with everything set completely flat and a Berg 1x12.

    This bass has a LOT of tonal variations. It's got 1 volume, 1 tone and a three way selector that (as mentioned above) has a deep upright type setting, a warm but more modern setting and a straight to the jack output setting for recording purposes. I have a heavy right handed technique and tend to have to dial out some high end on my jazz basses to keep any clacking noise to a minimum when I really dig in. On this bass, the ebony block that encases the pickup eliminates this altogether. It also serves as a comfortably rounded thumb rest block (like a ramp). The bass comes strung with D'Addario Chrome flats (which I use on all my basses anyway) and it acheives some incredible upright, fretless-like tones (even though it is fretted). I used to be afraid of dialing in highs but this bass really retains a warm but focused voice when I do. Again, no clack factor or harshness of any kind.

    The bass balances perfectly regardless of the large scrolled headstock. This is because there are 2 pounds of brass that make up tailpiece/bridge assembly that is coupled together. The bass is not too heavy though (at least not for me, my 78 Jazz is WAY heavier but my Joe Osborn is a couple pounds lighter). I'm givin her a workout at the coffeehouse down the street tomorrow night.

    I can elaborate more at that time (like this wasn't long enough). Anyhoo, anyone can go check out these basses and all the specs at Bruces site:


    Its a really cool (but low tech) site that describes and illustrates his whole story and process in building these incredible basses. Every section contains pics galore. I'd take pics of mine but I have no digital camera.
  2. gweimer


    Apr 6, 2000
    Columbus, OH
    Thanks for the info. I've known about Bruce Johnson for a few years. He's also making a version of the SSB-1, Ampeg's short-scale bass. I ran across a Devil Bass locally a few weeks back. Interesting bass - the neck joins the body at the 12th fret (or somewhere near there up on the neck). Sounds like you're a happy camper! :cool:
  3. Very nice! I have looked longingly at these basses for a long time - just something about 'em.

    Let us know how the coffeehouse gig goes...

  4. gwiemer

    I came across an Ampeg Scroll Devil Bass recently also. That's what started this wholl Scroll bass obsession. You don't by chance live around Boston do you? I almost bought the Devil bass but it would have cost too much to bring up to usable condition to justify the purchase. Bruces bass is just (a lot) more practical and I can still get very similar sounds out of it if I choose.
  5. gweimer


    Apr 6, 2000
    Columbus, OH
    Nope, I'm in the Cincinnati area. The Devil bass here was listing at $2500, which I thought was reasonable, but a bit high. Someone I work with has his father's Scroll bass, and he let me try it out one day. Very different feel. I've been in love with the look of these basses since the late '60s when I used to see one in the music shop window near my house.
  6. Gweimer,

    $2500.00 is way too much according to market value unless it is in absolute PRISTEEN condition. Even then, it would be difficult to justify the cost in terms of practicality or resale. Bruces basses also have a MUCH more playable/stable neck (and everything else for that matter) than the originals and you can still draw very useable upright-like tones from them in addition to a wide range of quality modern tones.

    Playing/gigging reviews:

    Well, after a couple different gigs, I am even more impressed by the range of tones and the sound of the Johnson AEB-2 bass.

    At my coffeehouse gig, I used upright sounding tones to modern tones and everything in between. The AEB balanced great and actually brought people into the gig (I was playing in the window and actually saw people staring at the bass and the big scrolled HS before walking in for coffee). When first trying the bass I was intimidated by the 35" scale legnth but I am used to it now and the strings ring like piano strings - tight, focused, and BIG.

    I also used the AEB-2 at an electric gig since my initial post. I found it to hold up equally well. I have become completely at home with the scale and tension (1 week) and recieved a lot of comments and compliments on my tone from a lot of established and respected players who were playing the benefit with my band. This thing just kicks!
  7. gweimer


    Apr 6, 2000
    Columbus, OH
    Cool. I've said this in other forums, and I'll repeat it here. At a certain price level, I'd prefer to get a handmade reproduction of certain basses than go to the trouble of locating a pristine (and verifiable) original. The store where the Devil Bass was is typically over-priced, but I've never bought or negotiated with them. Given the cash to do so, I'd be very likely to get the Johnson over an original Ampeg, or a Sadowsky/Lull over an early Fender.
  8. I know what you mean but don't always agree. I have several jazz basses (varying years), and my Lakland Joe Osborn renders them all pretty much unplayed because the tone and feel are just superior to my tastes. Although, I have played some Jazzes that aged in such a way (wood, electronics) that rendered their sound every bit as good and they felt - like worn in shoes. I don't really like new basses because there is something sterile about them. They have no history and I usually feel that (in a bad way)
  9. jokerjkny


    Jan 19, 2002
    NY / NJ / PA

    very cool. i remember Johnny Colt during his Black Crowes days used one on "Southern Harmony" and holding one during the "Remedy" video. very nice basses. congrats!

    MAJOR METAL HARVESTER OF SORROW Staff Member Supporting Member

    Hi Steve

    How much were you able to score one for?, where do they come up used?.