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Who’s moving the needle in bass design, construction/manufacture today?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by ShawnG, Sep 20, 2020.

  1. ShawnG

    ShawnG Supporting Member

    May 2, 2020
    Ft Worth, TX
    The following was posted within the “Is Fender Aggressive?” thread, but is really an answer to a different question than the OP asked there. I thought that asking the question above in its own, separate, thread might generate some interesting discussion.

    In the “Is Fender Aggressive” thread @mattj1stc stated that he thought Fender “aren’t really doing much to move things forward around bass. They mostly rely on the long standing, traditional appeal of their Precision and Jazz models.”

    I am in general agreement and posted this:
    “So if Fender isn’t doing much to move the bass forward, who out there is?
    I think Mike Tobias’ MTD basses are a step in a different direction or at least an evolution, but they are what they are and have been now for some time (with all due respect), not a lot of “new” designs coming out of Kingston lately to my knowledge.
    Dingwall put multi-scale/fanned-fret basses into the mainstream.
    Alembic and Fodera basses are unique, but again not “new” anymore.
    I look back at BC Rich’s designs in from back in the day, they definitely took the “look” of bass design in a new direction. Weren’t my cup of tea back then (when I was in high school) and not my cup of tea now, but they were different.
    Steinberger moved the needle for a while with the body-less head-less design, but again, they tend to be an afterthought or at least a very “time-period” identifiable design vs. a “classic”, at least IMO.
    So who’s knocking it out of the park now? Who’s putting something out there that is revolutionary or at least evolutionary? I’m asking because I honestly don’t know. Status, Modulus and some others are/have been working with new materials (graphite) for a bass, but that is one of the few “new-ish” things I’ve seen lately, but I honestly haven’t been looking too hard.
    It appears to me that those who are recognized around here for putting out top-notch products are in many cases focused on “perfecting” well-worn, often Fender-based designs (@Sadowsky, Lull, @Nino Valenti, Nash, Sandberg, Lakin/Lakland, Olinto). No disrespect intended to any of those builders listed, they are producing exceptional instruments and all, IMO, are indeed an improvement over the “original” designs.
    Professional musicians, in my experience (especially those making a living exclusively from playing music) actually tend to be pretty conservative when it comes to the tools used to do their job (at least until they get to the point of not worrying about the next paycheck). There are tools out there (Precision & Jazz basses, Stratocaster & Les Paul guitars) that seem to do the job so well, it makes it tough to do a lot other than work around the margins to “perfect” an already great design.”

    I’ll note that both the Stingray and G&L MFD-equipped basses also “moved the needle”, IMO. The fact that Leo Fender had a hand in both doesn’t decrease their impact.

    A very long way of asking, if Fender isn’t being aggressive in moving the needle with bass design (and I think it’s pretty clear that they are not), who is right now?
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2020
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  2. abarson


    Nov 6, 2003
    Santa Cruz
    I think that as a company, Ibanez is taking the most risks and innovating the most. They certainly have made a point of introducing more really new models than any other company I can think of. Their headless EHB line might be a culmination of ideas brought out by other manufacturers, but I think it's unique in the mass market.

    The last really new Fender to emerge was the Dimension: everything else is just another slight variation to the same recipe. (Flame-retardant suit donned).
  3. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Dingwall, Strandberg, and Wing are the first three that come to mind.
  4. M.R. Ogle

    M.R. Ogle Supporting Member Commercial User

    Nov 5, 2004
    Mount Vernon, Illinois
    Backstage Guitar Lab owner
    I agree, Ibanez. I just bought a fretless, piezo SRH500F, and it's very good. They incorporated a lot of modern ideas in their bass lineup, and some beautiful finishes, too.
  5. Ibanez, from the standpoint that no other manufacturer, large or small, offers so many differing product lines that are successful, and are seemingly fearless to throw out new ideas to see if they'll get traction, all without offering obvious copies or lifts of others, like the way so many offer alternative versions (copies) of the two Fender classics.

    The wheel is rarely re-invented. Instead we've seen steady progress in electronics, build quality, and amps. The remaining problems could be simply solved as engineering problems (neck-heavy basses for instance), but innovate 5mm past what the vast majority of the market expects, and you're dead. It's no wonder that Ned Steinberger's most successful bass design is the NS Spectors, and not the XL's and all the brilliant (but outside the box) designs he's offered in the intervening years: The NS Spectors 'look like a bass'. Duhhhhhh . . . . . . .
  6. Sean150


    Jul 18, 2018
    Ibanez is definitely the most prolific in my mind. I’d say Yamaha does a really good job of refining their lineup to meet modern standards and design. G and L does some different things in design.

    I’d give an honourable mention to EBMM because the redesign on the Stingray, while visually similar, is actually quite a different and modern product. I’d also give a mention to.....

    Fender? To justify this I am going to have to borrow a bit from guitars but they have started experimenting with designs under the Squier name and there has been some pretty cool stuff. I am also vert impressed with the Flea Active Jazz bass which is unlike any Fender I have played and they have added a lot of modern features to the Ultra (i.e. Contoured Neck Heel). The question will be do they continue to move forward or if this is just a short spurt of innovative ideas that will all be discontinued.
  7. ShawnG

    ShawnG Supporting Member

    May 2, 2020
    Ft Worth, TX
    The mentions above of Ibanez has caught me off guard. I’ll be honest, they haven’t been on my radar at all. Most examples I’ve seen in the wild have been Soundgear or Mikro models, which appear to be perfectly fine designs, but nothing that turned my head. I’ll have to pay more attention. Thx.
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2020
  8. ShawnG

    ShawnG Supporting Member

    May 2, 2020
    Ft Worth, TX
    The fact that a contoured neck heel counts as a major innovation for Fender pretty much proves the point.
  9. Sean150


    Jul 18, 2018
    As a fan of contoured neck heals I would counter that it is not a common enough feature to prove the point (although that why I classified it as a mention, not even honourable :D). I have chosen to not buy a few modern looking or featured basses because they did not have the contour.

    I also just bought the active Flea this week so I am still in a pro Fender mood. I’ll be cured in a few weeks:roflmao:
    ShawnG likes this.
  10. Ritter, although with their prices I doubt many of us have ever seen one.
    Green Knight, HolmeBass and Jesuguru like this.
  11. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I couldn't care less who's moving the needle. IMHO, the needle hasn't moved since the 90's, and that's fine by me. I just want basses that play well and sound good, and I couldn't care less if the tech is 2020 or 1950.
  12. ClusterFlux

    ClusterFlux Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2018
    Move the needle? It's already pegged. There is very little left to innovate.

    A company like Strandberg might be classed as innovative, but most of what they're doing has been done before. Chambered? That dates back to the 50s. Headless? Steinberg in the 80s. Fanned fret/multi-scale? Novax invented that in 1989. The most innovative element is the body and neck shapes, and perhaps putting it all together into a very light instrument.

    Along those lines, I see Ibanez less as "moving the needle" and more as "mass-producing less common designs." Note that it's riskier than knocking out yet another P-style bass, and requires R&D, but it's not like they are inventing something new from scratch.

    Overall, a lot of R&D efforts these days are going less into making something new, and more into replicating something old. I'd say that extends to pedals and amps as well.
    ejaggers, 4andnomore, DirtDog and 5 others like this.
  13. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    This bandora from 1620 would like to have a word with you. .
  14. BAG


    May 5, 2014
    New Zealand
    Ibanez certainly appear to be more willing to try different things as basses like this SRAS7 show.

  15. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I've seen them. Wasn't allowed to touch them but I have seen them :D Gorgeous basses. Would I consider them needle movers? Not really.
    Lesfunk, mngnt and Mili like this.
  16. ShawnG

    ShawnG Supporting Member

    May 2, 2020
    Ft Worth, TX
    I think this is the crux of the matter and don’t disagree with you.

    “There are tools out there (Precision & Jazz basses, Stratocaster & Les Paul guitars) that seem to do the job so well, it makes it tough to do a lot other than work around the margins to “perfect” an already great design.”

    Unless someone is trying to invent a “new sound,” I think the envelope for innovation may be pretty small. I am very willing to be proven wrong.
  17. luciens


    Feb 9, 2020
    Agree with Jimmy. I think the needle banged against the stop in 1958, and then banged again in 1960... and that was essentially the end of that. It then started its long slow trip down to the starting point. It maybe convulsed a little on the way when they started adding strings, whenever that was by whoever it was. When Anthony Jackson started playing a 6 string, it probably bumped up a little more noticeably than other times.

    After that, not really any needle slammers, but I don't think that's really a bad thing. Maybe needle ripplers or tappers ever since. There've been tons of those, and that's a good thing too.

    But the ultimate limitation is the human body, so it has to fit in those constraints and there's only so wild you can get before it just loses its appeal as a bass to humans.

    Ultimately all our electric basses today generally grow out of the ol P and J. The Rickenbacker is probably the only exception that wasn't derived from the Fender, but survived alongside it as its own basic design to become as much of a classic. There are others but those basses are probably at the bottom of the (inverted) pyramid....

    Last edited: Sep 20, 2020
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  18. bass12

    bass12 Say "Ahhh"...

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    Steinberger started up in ‘79 and Status in ‘81, so not exactly recent. I’m fine with the needle where it is. What I mostly see from companies trying to stand out with something new is basses with wilder aesthetics (more so than any big change in sound or playability), and often that just seems to result in something I personally find unsightly).
    Lesfunk, StayLow and legalbass like this.
  19. bluesblaster


    Jan 2, 2008
    With the exception of the number of strings the only thing really required is good construction and electronics so the instrument plays and sounds good regardless of what design is used. We could have stopped in the early 60's and we would probably have been just fine. That being said with todays ERB's there are many that utilize that to create but again music didnt suffer at all before that era either.

    There will always be designers pushing the design forward but the basic fundamental will always work.
  20. Sean150


    Jul 18, 2018
    I agree as well and I guess it’s why my bar for innovation in guitars is so low. I have also been a gamer and photographer and have gotten stuck in the trap of always trying to have the best and newest. The worst part is that when a new Nikon comes out the resale price of the old one tanks.

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