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Read what "The Critics" say about the Barker Vertical Bass!

Discussion in 'Barker Bass Forum' started by IotaNet, Oct 30, 2005.

  1. We think we make a pretty darned good instrument!

    It's no surprise that we'd say that, right? Well, some other people who know a thing or two about basses have also weighed in with their opinions. In order to provide an unbiased view, we've included those reviews below.

    Check out what they have to say -- we think you'll be suitably impressed! ;)

    Bass Guitar Magazine
    April/May, 2005
    Bruce Jacobs

    What is the Barker Bass? Truth is, it's much easier to say what it isn't. It isn't a conventional electric bass, an electric upright, or an acoustic knock-off. It isn't whimsical, it isn't a prototype, and it wasn't built for a specific style of music. Think of it as a bass guitar neck that is attached to a large, chambered body and totally supported by a heavy duty stand. As unique as it looks, however, Lee Barker's beautiful Frankenstein of an instrument is one of the best ‚sounding, most comfortable basses I've ever played.

    It's clear that Barker, a woodworker and cabinetmaker for over 20 years, pays close attention to details. The bass was so well-packed that the 1,500 mile trip to my door had no impact on its perfect setup. The maple neck, held in place by five large-head bolts, features a rosewood fingerboard. The fretwork was excellent. The headstock boasts a set of Gotoh machines arranged 2 + 2. A Schaller bridge completes the hardware package. The body is made up of a luscious 1û2 - inch thick cherry top on a chambered alder core and solid back; darkened maple accents the front. The woodworking, fit and finish are excellent. A tough polyester finish protects the body from bumps or sweat, and a long endpin accommodates players of virtually any height.

    Although I thought playing a vertical, fretted instrument would be weird, I was able to adapt quickly (though I'll admit that using a pick and slapping took a bit longer to master.) The familiar Jazz-Bass radius and scale felt great, and I found that playing "vertically" was much easier on the shoulders back and wrists than the standard horizontal approach.

    The Barker's eye-catching chambered body isn't just for looksóit adds fabulous personality to the tone, as is evidenced by the phenomenal sustain. The bass is equipped with passive Basslines Hot Jazz pickups selected for their warm yet articulate and versatile character. The pickups are closer to the bridge than they are on a Fender Jazz Bass, which gives a serious kick to the Vertical's tonal balance. The Barker came across broad and juicy in a blues four-piece, and everything I played at a crosssoverjazz/R&B quintet gig - from standards to Tower of Power funk - was a joy.

    To play harmonics on this bass is to experience a revelation; Jaco's "Portrait of Tracy" sounded better than I've ever heard. The Barker kicks ass for rock and metal grooves too, though using a pick is awkward.

    The Barker, a chameleon that always wore the right suit, was variously punchier, crisper, sweeter, or rounder than my standard 4- and 5-strings. It reminded me somewhat of a good, vintage Fender Precision: It sounds good by itself, but it sounds sooo right on the bandstand.

    The positive comments and questions I got from everyone who heard the bass were worth their weight in PR points. You'll not only be heard, but actually noticed with this ax at your side, which is more than half the battle. Barker may be new to bass manufacture, but the Vertical Bass is nothing short of a sonic and instrument-design home run.

    DownBeat Magazine
    Dave Zaworski

    Bass guitarists looking to start playing electric upright bass face the challenge of simultaneously adapting to a fretless neck while using new fingerings due to the scale length differences between most bass guitars (34") and electric upright basses (42"). Although many bassists do double on uprights and electrics, those bass guitarists who might not wish to relearn fingerings on a fretless upright but still yearn to play an upright are in luck with the Barker bass.

    Built by Redmond, Ore.-based bassist and woodworker Lee Barker, the handcrafted Barker bass incorporates the fretted neck of an electric bass guitar on a flat, 2-inch-thick, upright body. Barker developed the idea for a fretted upright after experiencing wrist problems while playing bass guitar, and subsequently has designed the Barker bass for playing comfort. The bass has a free-standing design, so players don't have to hold it up-that's taken care of by a heavy duty stand with an attachment that locks in to a socket on the back of the bass. This helps to keep a player's physical contact with the bass to a minimum; arms, hands and wrists are held in natural positions and are only focused on playing the bass, not holding it. The minimal physical contact also keeps the bass's resonance from being dampened; the sound rings clear.

    As a bass guitarist who doesn't play upright, I found the Barker bass easy to adapt to and comfortable to play on a big band gig. Normally, with the bass guitar, I prefer to use a pick because I have yet to find a comfortable position for my hands and wrists to pluck the bass. With the Barker bass, I was able to find a relaxed hand position within moments via the two thumb supports on its top, so there was no tension in my hands when plucking the strings. This helped to deliver a warm finger-on-string sound that swelled and sustained, supporting the big band sound with a rich bottom end. Many fellow band members commented positively on the bass's tone (it features Seymour Duncan pickups) and individual look.

    The Barker bass features a 34-inch select hard rock maple neck with rosewood, maple or ebony fingerboards. It's also available in fretless or lined fretless versions. The body, available in such woods as cherry, alder, maple and walnut, is 2 inches thick and made with a solid wood chambered core. The bass also has an adjustable endpin that accomodates players to 6'6".
  2. Andy Long

    Andy Long

    May 3, 2000
    Hi all,

    In February of 2005 I interviewed Lee Barker about the Barker Bass for the site at www.bassrocket.com. Sadly that site is currently down, but you can find the article archived at my site :


    (if you're interested...........)

  3. Sure you are! :)

    Diversity of opinion is what makes the world go 'round!

    We are aware that the Barker Bass isn't for everyone and not all bassists will find that it meets their needs - either practically or aesthetically. (Hey - some folks don't like Fenders!)

    That said, a lot of folks do like the Barker and a whole lot more become converts after hearing/playing one. :hyper:

    Stick around, Bruce - we welcome your ongoing participation in our forum!

    - Dwayne
  4. Much as it pains me to agree with Sir Bruce, ;) I think he has a valid point about the looks.... well, to a degree anyway.

    Looks aren't everything. But... guys do tend to run after the best looking girls, not the ones with a face like a bag of spanners :eek: This is not a good looking instrument, IMHO. Yet I feel it needs to be in order to succeed as anything but a niche market bass. I also kind-of feel it could be designed (redesigned?) to look more appealing, in line with it's claimed sound.

    As to that sound, many bass guitarists seem to strive for the upright sound. So if the Barker faithfully mimics the upright it might sell pretty well. Truthfully, I've not heard one so can't comment.

    I still think that, in a negative way, people will remember the Barker for it's looks not it's sound.

    Hmm... Just not sure about this bass...

  5. Andy Long

    Andy Long

    May 3, 2000
    One man's meat etc I guess. Personally I think the design of the instrument is breathtakingly beautiful. :bawl:

    I don't even own one - but I do have a poster of one stuck up on the wall.

  6. had the opportunity to try one @ the Christian Musician Summit..seemed a little intimitdating @ first but once I stepped up it was like no big. well, not being a fretless player, the lined f/less 5 was pretty easy to manuever.
    from a distance, the necks/headstocks looked vaguely familiar..are they "custom"? They almost looked like Carvin bolt-ons. Just curious. Thanks! :ninja:
  7. Scwwitt


    Nov 2, 2005
    Santa Cruz
    I own a carvin, and it is not the same neck at all. to be honest I am really not 100% satisfied with my carvin, but the barker.....oh yes I was satisfied....now if I could just get my hands on one. :meh: :meh: :meh:
  8. Lee Barker

    Lee Barker Labor of evident value satisfies the soul.

    Oct 25, 2005
    Redmond, Oregon
    owner, Barker Musical Instruments, maker of the Barker Bass, No Longer In Production.
    The best neck we could find for our instrument was--and is--from Warmoth. The four headstock is a custom shape; the 5 is the Warmoth Deluxe 5. And yes, the necks are bolt-ons. Thanks for the keen observation and the question!

  9. yodedude2

    yodedude2 Supporting Member

    I gig with a Barker. I use it all the time. Comments range from astonishment to amazement--never heard a negative yet. Everyone likes the tone. My Barker is fretted. Could I get a replacement fretless neck from Warmoth? thanks, ron
  10. modeshapes


    Oct 17, 2005
    NYC Area
    I agree, yodude2. When an instrument sounds and looks this good, what's not to like?
  11. Lee Barker

    Lee Barker Labor of evident value satisfies the soul.

    Oct 25, 2005
    Redmond, Oregon
    owner, Barker Musical Instruments, maker of the Barker Bass, No Longer In Production.
    Hi Ron--

    I love the "astonishment to amazement" comment. I think that's pretty typical of the responses our owners get.

    As for the neck, absolutely. I'll alert Eric Wylie about your question and I'm sure he'll have some helpful input.

    But speaking of astonishment and amazement: I had built numerous fretted Barkers before I did a fretless. I expected to hear the same tone. The fretless has a voice all its own. Astonished and amazed, I was!

    I have plonked around with theories, but that's here nor there. What's important is that we use the forum to help you get a handle on what the changes might entail. Andy Pfaff has a fretless and a fretted. IotaNet has played both extensively at the recent CMS. Likewise Todd Johnson. Doug Mancini has played both as well. Let's see if we can pry a few adjectives out of these guys so you'll know what to expect.


  12. modeshapes


    Oct 17, 2005
    NYC Area
    As Lee and many others have found, there is a major difference between the fretted and fretless sounds. To me, the fretted Barker Bass sounds quite a lot like a great vintage Jazz Bass but with even more "bark." Which is, of course, appropriate. :)

    The fretless Barker, however, has the sound I really love. I put it down to the difference between the string contacting metal on the fingerboard versus contacting wood. There is a slower attack when the string is stopped directly against the wood (what some fretless players call "mwah"). The string is actually reacting differently. The fingertip/wood combination is a wider point of contact, so when you get the string started it will "growl" a bit. In contrast, the fret/string contact is a more definite point, and the string is raised a little bit off of the neck so that it responds more quickly right from the start of the note.

    It amounts to a huge difference in the sound. I would say on the fretted, the notes "cut," while on the fretless they "blossom."
  13. Andy Long

    Andy Long

    May 3, 2000

    Fair comment - but surely this equally true when comparing a fretted and fretless model of any bass? Assuming that both basses have the same pickups and electronics, then the difference in the reaction of the string against the neck is the factor that gives each model it's distinctive flavour.

    :meh: :bassist:
  14. wyliee


    Jul 6, 2003
    South Hill, WA
    We can certainly provide replacement necks. They won't have the Barker logo, however.

    I must say it is *very* cool of Lee to point you in our direction.
  15. westland


    Oct 8, 2004
    Hong Kong
    Jeez Bruce, that's a bit rude (you received an unnecessarily polite response). Lee Barker has accomplished a radical design, and these things don't come easily. Whether or not you like it, it might be nice to encourage him a bit, and compliment him on being innovative.

    IMHO, I think his design is very attracitive, and this is an accomplishment given that the overall dimensions were constrained to those of a Fender bass.
  16. modeshapes


    Oct 17, 2005
    NYC Area
    I agree -- it is equally true for comparing fretted and fretless of any bass model. With regard specifically to the fretted and fretless Barker in my possession, I think that the comparison holds, and describes the difference well.
  17. yodedude2

    yodedude2 Supporting Member

    I have a comment to add about the looks/design of the Barker bass.

    The Barker bass is a more beautiful design when experienced in three dimensions. It doesn't translate as well to a two-dimensional photograph. It needs to be seen 'in the flesh' to be appreciated.

    This thought occurred to me at our gig last night when I wandered about on break and had a couple of bassists ask me about my barker. I turned toward the stage to look at it, and it sure looked pretty! later, ron
  18. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    Or maybe Lee is both confident enough in his work and has enough sense to know that not everyone's going to like this design, and that's okay. IMO, it looks great (check the black fretless one in the "Show Your Barker Bass" thread), and from the reviews, apparently sounds very nice. Also IMO, it's the perfect instrument for someone who wants to play at DB without having to take it seriously...and that's about it. I'll never have a use for it, personally, but there are plenty of people out there with the resources and the desire to pick one up.

    It's not the first niche market instrument and it sure won't be the last. If Lee can make a living doing the thing he loves, then good on him. I'd be interested to see a few Barker bass guitars in the future since these ones sound so nice.
  19. Lee Barker

    Lee Barker Labor of evident value satisfies the soul.

    Oct 25, 2005
    Redmond, Oregon
    owner, Barker Musical Instruments, maker of the Barker Bass, No Longer In Production.
    Thanks for the post, Aaron, and for your succinct and accurate analysis of the world of niche instruments.

    About Barker bass guitars: I was counseled by several to build some. There were marketing reasons to do this, of course, but there was also a certain curiosity of my own since I had come to accept that I had developed an instrument with a sound all its own. Would that transfer?

    I built three. The first was a clone of the clones, the instrument that any other bass guitar manufacturer could hold up in court and say, "Lee copied my design." (irony intended)

    It was a chambered body, however, but to the casual observer it was just another bass guitar and it played, well, just like it looked.

    Then I designed a "little brother" body which was also chambered as well as shaped much like the vertical. It even included a vestigial tailpiece about three inches long. The model was called B45 in house and, for a while, we even had a picture of one on the web site.

    So this instrument has the same neck, same electronics, same everything except for a much smaller body in every dimension. It is slung over the player's shoulder and rests against his/her abdomen.

    It played nicely enough. But sonically it didn't even come close to the quality of tone we get from the vertical. Not even close.

    So the project was set aside and I remain thankful for having done it. It helped affirm just exactly what is sonically superior about the vertical bass.

    One day we might revive the idea of a bass guitar--I've kept all the stuff to do it--but meantime our focus is on sharing with the bass playing community what Doug Mancini speaks about so eloquently when you ask him about TONE.


  20. Gregory Bruce Campbell

    Gregory Bruce Campbell

    Apr 14, 2002
    Helena, MT U.S.A 59602
    BEE basses, Morley pedals
    oooh oooh ova heer mista cotter...

    lee, you know what you should have done?

    .................................... :bag: