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New Standard Basses

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by The Jazz Lawyer, Jul 8, 2003.


  1. New Standard Bass Review (in two parts)

    Part One

    In the market of “affordable” basses, there is a great deal of competition among bass-makers to produce basses that sell at or just below certain price points. Those price points appear to be $2,000, $3,500, and $5,000. At each price point, makers are challenged to balance certain cost saving compromises with the need to produce an instrument of suitable quality. The three criteria of quality are: workmanship, playability, and tone. Keep in mind that all compromises are not detrimental to the final product, but may help a maker lower its cost and therefore enable it to offer a bass at the targeted price point. Other compromises however are unacceptable robbing the instrument of tone and playability.

    At the $2,000 price point, there are numerous laminated, hybrid, and carved basses available from China, Korea, and Eastern Europe. Many are sold through reputable luthiers who have worked closely with a maker to design or improve on a maker’s design resulting in a decent beginning student bass. While there are new basses available today for as little as $600 or $700, it seems that for a decent instrument, one must approach the $2,000 price point and purchase from a reputable luthier. That said, fierce competition in this range has pushed prices of basses as low as $1,300. As a result, the overall quality at the $2,000 price point has suffered a bit from more unacceptable compromises made by some makers. Often the student walks out of a luthier’s shop saying “well, its better than no bass at all….” But, for most beginning students, this is the price point at which one begins and often, the student is not detrimentally affected by the compromises made until later in his or her playing career. Working with a good luthier is absolutely necessary to get a good bass which will be serviceable for the serious student for a couple of years in this range. A good luthier will not only work closely with the maker but will then properly set-up the bass for the student.

    When one is able to afford a bass at the $3,500 price point, there is sometimes not much improvement in the overall quality or sound of a new instrument. Although, in the case of a fully laminated bass, some of the compromises may be less, what this range seems to offer is more carved and hybrid basses over fully laminated basses. When introducing the intense labor necessary for a fully carved bass or even a hybrid bass with its carved top, additional compromises must be made in order to stay within the price point. Most of the basses in these two ranges are the same Chinese, Koprean, and Eastern European basses in the $2,000 range with the upgrade of aa carved top or carved top and back.

    In both the $2,000 and $3,500 range, makers compromise on wood quality, workmanship, or combinations thereof. Some bass-makers are using green wood which doesn’t produce good tone and often leads to warping, cracking, splitting, and opening of joints as the wood cures. Other makers employ cheap low-skilled labor resulting in instruments which are difficult to play or sound good or do not hold up well over years of use.

    At $5,000, we begin to see a few good new basses. Wilfer (Germany) for example produces a good entry-level bass at this range. Shen (China) is another maker who is producing some good basses at this range. These two makers and a few others are making some intelligent compromises to produce very playable and good-sounding instruments at affordable prices.

    Also, starting in the $3,500 and $5,000 price ranges, are many older basses available which can sound good. At around $3,500 (sometimes as low as $2,500 or sometimes as high as $5,000 depending on the condition) one can sometimes find a good Kay bass which may have been made in the ‘50s or ‘60s and is still in good condition. Kays are fully laminated basses and are much adored by bassists, especially jazz bassists. They are well made, durable, and amplify and record well. In addition to the Kays, Kings and Clevelands were popular and well-made during the same time period (and perhaps the same factory) and are also available at this range, as are some older carved basses if one looks hard enough.

    Speaking of the Kay bass, there are a couple of guys who are very fond of the old American-made instruments and have taken the time to develop a process to produce new instruments in the style of Kays at a very affordable price. Luthier Arnold Schnitzer and Importer Wil de Sola together created a design reminiscent of these old American-made instruments and then sourced the materials and labor necessary to produce the New Standard Bass. Driven by the need for a good bass at the $3,500 and $5,000 price points and their fondness of the old American-made basses, it seems they got the balance of costs saving and quality just right. The system they developed consists of licensing their design to a German maker then working with the maker to employ good quality woods and skilled craftsmen. White bass bodies and necks are then imported to Arnold’s shop where the basses are assembled and finished then set-up by Arnold’s skilled hand producing a very playable and very good sounding instrument.

    New Standard offers two models of two different designs which fit squarely into the $3,500 and $5,000 price ranges. The Cleveland model is modeled after the American Standard bass and features a 42” string length, broad shoulders, and a big sound. It is available in both fully laminated ($3,650) and a hybrid model ($5,150). The La Scala model is an Itlaian design with violin corners and sloping shoulders and a shorter string length (41½”) and has a more focused sound with more definition and growl. The La Scala is also offered in fully laminated and hybrid versions ($3,850 and $5,300 respectively). When I played both basses in laminated and hybrid at the ISB convention in Richmond I was so impressed I purchased a fully laminated flatback La Scala model. At the convention I was also able to play many other basses offered in the $3,500 and $5,000 price ranges and found the New Standard basses to be superior overall.


    For more information see

    AES Fine Instruments
    New Standard Bass
     
  2. Part Two

    New Standard Bass Review


    In the couple of weeks that I have had the bass, I continue to be very impressed with the overall quality of the bass. The workmanship is very good, the bass is very playable, and the tone is very good indeed. New Standard begins with a good design but in reaching its goal to stay within the price targets, employs a few but intelligent compromises in construction. First, good European wood is used which has been properly cured and laminated. A very pretty spruce veneer is used for the top and a nice maple veneer is used on the back giving the instrument beautiful look reminiscent of a fully carved instrument (no compromises here). Most importantly, the wood resonates well and produces a warm, woody tone. The ribs are true maple ribs not laminated (no compromises here). The neck is carved out of good quality piece of maple and the carving of peg box has some nice character to it. The neck feels good in the hand and is very playable. The fingerboard is ebony and has sufficient thickness to allow proper dressing by the luthier (the only compromise here is a less than perfectly straight-grained piece of ebony which the player will never feel). A boxwood tailpiece is used which is stained black and matches very nicely with the ebony (a good costs saving here which is again unnoticeable to the player).

    Second, good European workmanship is employed to laminate the veneers, bend the ribs, carve the neck, and assemble the body. All of the joints on the body are well made and finished and the “f” holes are nicely cut and shaped. The top and back have nicely done inlaid purfling and inside, proper cross members are set and the bass bar is properly fitted and attached to the top (no compromise here).

    Third, and perhaps the most important, upon arrival at Arnold’s shop in Brewster NY (AES Fine Insturments), the process continues with one of the best luthiers around. Great attention to detail is paid to attaching the neck, endpin, and fingerboard. Wil then applies a very nice oil-based varnish to the body and pegbox while the neck is finished with an oil finish. Finally, Arnold dresses the fingerboard, sets the tailpiece, tuners, strings, bridge and soundpost and puts his finishing touches on the set-up. This last step by my measure is where the greatest attention to detail is paid and where the most beneficial effect is realized by the musician. Arnold’s set-up is without compromise and near perfect. The rounded fingerboard is well dressed with the right amount of scoop adjusted to my playing style. The action is set to the desired height and is adjustable up or down by the adjustable bridge. The bridge is of good quality maple and is shaped perfectly for bowing and pizzacato playing styles. The spacing between the strings is uniform from string to string and allows easy bowing from string to string. The fit of the bridge to the top is flawless.

    A very serviceable endpin is provided which locks and stay in place well. The tuners are set in the French style which reduces the sharp angle of the E string over the nut. Tuners are of good quality and are easy to tune.

    My bass is strung with Tomastik Spirocores and has lots of sustain and growl. The sonority of the sound from string to string is even and consistent both when bowing and pizz’ing. Each note rings clearly with a nice woody full sound. The tone on the upper register is clear and pure while the low notes sound warm and full. The bass has a nice tight but loud sound which blossoms to fill the room. The bass amplifies well too.

    The fully laminated models compare well to some carved basses I played in the $5,000 range while the hybrid models easily compare to and in many cases sound better than basses in the $5,000 range. The craftsmanship of both the hybrids and the laminated models are in line with basses in the $5,000 range and higher. When compared to basses at the $3,500 price point, the fully laminated models exceed other in the range in quality of craftsmanship and tone. To exceed the quality of the New Standard basses, one must jump up to a bass costing $7,500 and higher.

    Arnold and Wil have created a very good bass, made only intelligent compromises and ended up with a very good looking, very playable and very good sounding bass at any price point.

    For more information see
    www.aesbass.com
    www.newstandardbass.com
     
  3. Any room here for rebuttal?:D
     
  4. Marcus Johnson

    Marcus Johnson

    Nov 28, 2001
    Maui
    Oh, thanks a lot, J.L....just when I was thinking that my Meisel was good enough! Guess I'll be visiting Arnold and Wil next trip East....
     
  5. All comments welcome. No pride of authorship here and always interested in what others have to say. Even if you said you hated the New Standard, I'd still love mine.
     
  6. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    AL/GA
    I'm schemin' hard...real hard. The $$ isn't the problem, it's the transport/conveyance from yon distant luthier to my domicile. Long drive from AL to NY and back.
     
  7. Monte

    Monte

    Jan 9, 2001
    New Albany, MS
    It's not THAT bad....

    Rent a minivan online from Budget.com for about $39/ day, unlimited mileage. Leave on a Friday after work, stay in motel 6 type places, and you can be back Monday with less $$ being spent than shipping it. I drove from Virginia Beach to OKC, and I know that AL to NY is not further than that!

    Monte
     
  8. tsolo

    tsolo

    Aug 24, 2002
    Ft. Worth
    I notice you didn't make it back to Virginia Beach...
     
  9. FunkySpoo

    FunkySpoo Supporting Member

    Feb 6, 2002
    I think I'd rather fly up and drive back
     
  10. tsolo

    tsolo

    Aug 24, 2002
    Ft. Worth
    I notice you didn't make it back to Virginia Beach...
     
  11. Monte

    Monte

    Jan 9, 2001
    New Albany, MS
    It's a long story, but in a nutshell:

    Friend and I went to VA Beach for Spring Break. Having so much fun, we decide to stay extra day, and I'm going to drive the 1st half at night and friend drive the second half. Around Jackson, TN, friend gets deathly ill with flu, to the point of hallucination and I drive all 23 hours.

    You're only young once.

    Monte
     
  12. Monte

    Monte

    Jan 9, 2001
    New Albany, MS
    Well, except for rental companies don't give you deals if not returning to the same place you rent from. At that point, you are cheaper getting it shipped in a flight case and sending back the empty case.

    Monte
     
  13. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    AL/GA
    Yeah, driving would definitely be cheaper in terms of monetary cost; I have 2 suitable vehicles for the trip, so no rental necessary. I'm thinking more in terms of "cost" to my decrepit 40 yr old body. But, I know anything worth having is worth the effort...

    ...actually, I was hoping Arnold would post something like "y'know Mike, I could bring it down on my way to Florida" (I'm not holding my breath). :D
     
  14. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    Jazz Lawyer--Whew! What an essay! I think you got a lot of it just right. But I'd like to address the issue of compromise. Our goal in the New Standard project was twofold: 1) Fulfill a percieved need for excellent, durable laminated basses, and 2) Simply make the highest quality laminated bass ever. Compromising was never part of the equation. But, of course, as production became a reality, there were decisions to be made that affect the pricing. For example, we decided to use ebony fingerboards which are one step down from the best available. Frankly, the best quality fingerboards belong on Gaglianos and Lotts. There is a conservation issue as well as a monetary one involved. Also, we needed to devise a varnishing method that allowed a quality oil varnish to be applied in less than the customary two months time-frame. Wil devised, through trial-and-error, a method that takes about two weeks. (Most laminated basses are spray-finished in a few hours, mainly with tone-robbing polyesters, acrylics, and the like.) The fittings we supply as standard issue with the basses are good quality and appropriate for the instruments' value. We offer upgrades at nominal cost, including tuners, endpin, etc. But we don't feel these issues are really compromises; rather, that they are appropriate decisions. By the way, we had no intention of getting into making hybrids. We had sent an early Cleveland model to Scott Reed in Memphis. He went to pick the bass up at the shipping company and they had destroyed the top--the soundpost was sticking right through it! Wil came up with the idea of replacing the top with a carved one, as an experiment, and to recoop the loss (the shipper had gone bankrupt and there was no hope of an insurance payout). So we had our shop make us a carved spruce top, installed it, varnished and set-up, and VIOLA! The thing sounded so good we decided to expand our line. And it sold immediately. But I digress. In summary; our instruments are priced at a level that allows us to make a reasonable profit while providing good value and quality. Jazz Lawyer; Thank You for your excellent comments. Everybody else; if you get the chance to meet Todd, make sure he has baby Ella with him. She has to be the cutest little thing I've ever beheld. There I go digressing again...
     
  15. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    We've experimented a lot with different tailpieces. To my ear the boxwood sounds best on the fully laminated bass, and the heavier ebony sounds better on the hybrid. We've also been using a composite tailpiece made by Wittner, which seems comparable to the boxwood type. In general, I think heavier tailpieces work best with more flexible bass tops, lighter with stiffer ones. And many arco players prefer the damping qualities of a heavier one. It's really a matter of personal preference. Many players percieve more of a difference in feel than sound.
     
  16. Very interesting topic here, fellows. My first upright, and the one that currently handles the amplified gigs, was and is American Standard bass #93. This bass is fully plywood--no solid ribs here (not OEM, anyway). And the scale length is a little over 43", if I'm remembering correctly.

    It's lived a lot. Maybe next year I can persuade the wife that I need a new plywood bass...
     
  17. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    Donosaurus has # 87. The two of you should check each other out. Don's is great; one of the basses which inspired the New Standard project.
     
  18. Buddy Lee

    Buddy Lee

    May 5, 2002
    Arnold, do you eventually consider distribution of the New Standard basses in Europe?

    Though I'll possibly never be able to afford one, I'd love to own a La Scala. :rolleyes:
     
  19. LouisF

    LouisF Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Los Angeles, CA
    Hi,

    I think I'm the first person on the West Coast
    (LA) to own one of Arnold and Wil's new standard basses. It's terrific and if anybody wants to test it out (I've got it set up for orchestra playing), I'd be happy to try and accommodate. I'd been looking for over a year and a half for something really playable in the $3-5,000 range, and had been using a Christopher 403 in the meantime (which was/is a surprisingly good bass, but with not quite enough 'character' for me (it's for sale if anyone is interested).

    I tried one of the AES basses at David Gage's and then had to decide between an 7/8 Jusek and of Wil & Arnold's. They shipped the bass out to Steve Azola, (who was very gracious and helpful in all of this) I went down and tried it out and it was love at first sight. The bass will make its "solo" debut in late November/December in LA when I use it in Patrick Suskind's play THE DOUBLE BASS. Otherwise, I'm just having a ball playing it right now.
     
  20. arnoldschnitzer

    arnoldschnitzer AES Fine Instruments

    Feb 16, 2002
    Brewster, NY, USA
    Unfortunately, we are not in a position to sell through dealers. There is too much handwork involved in the assembly, varnishing and set-up. To make a reasonable profit, we only sell direct at this time. But we can always ship a bass to Europe, as long as the buyer is willing to pay its way...