In the olden days, you only ever saw an acoustic bass guitar at the monthly folk noggin and natter, usually being played by a beardy bloke singing about ships leaving Liverpool and poor souls a-perish’d. With bands like Mumford & Sons currently filling the airwaves and the festivals, there’s definitely a vibe of renewed interest in acoustic music of all genres. Every bank advert on telly now seems to feature a ukulele in the soundtrack, and I hear there’s even been an increase in the sightings of feral banjos…
It wasn’t always the case, but it’s now almost a given that a budget instrument made in China will be as well put together as one made anywhere else, and so it proves with the CB100. Although the back, sides and top are all laminated woods, the accuracy of the machining and fitting are excellent, as is the thin satin finish. It’s plainly a mass-produced instrument, but care and attention to detail have obviously been important in the manufacturing process, and it shows. The book-matched top, for instance, which only really has value in terms of appearance, is a sure sign that thought has been given to how the instrument is perceived by the player. Inside too, it’s just as smart, with neatly cut and scalloped spruce bracing, and not a sign of excess glue or sawdust anywhere.
What little this bass has in terms of decoration is limited to the tasteful double binding around the top, and the simple acrylic mother-of-pearl inlay around the sound hole. Other than this, it’s just as a traditional dreadnought-shaped instrument should be, with a standard black scratchplate, simple dot markers and two-a-side chrome M4 type tuners. The headstock is faced with rosewood to match the fretboard and bridge, with its angled compensating saddle. Apparently, the nut and bridge saddle are made from something called ‘synthetic bone’. It looks just like cream-coloured plastic to me, though, and while I’m being picky, it’s a shame they didn’t make the string anchor pins from the same ‘synthetic bone’ too (perhaps they ran out of synthetic skeletons?). They’re a very bright white, which, added to the fact that – out of necessity – they’re quite large, tends to overwhelm the look of the simple and elegant rosewood bridge.
One of the real highlights of this bass is the solid mahogany neck. Its profile is based on that of a standard Jazz bass, which means it feels slim and comfortable. Top marks too for the rosewood fretboard: it’s a lovely piece of close-grained wood, and the 22 frets are accurately fitted and filed with neatly polished ends. The decoration on the fingerboard is as simple as that on the body, with tiny white dot markers giving the neck a clean,functional appearance.
The Fishman Isys lll preamp has a simple Bass, Middle and Treble EQ with a volume control and low battery indicator, but the cool feature is the built-in tuner. Press the tuner button, play an open string and a small, coloured LED display shows you the note played and whether you’re sharp, flat or in tune. This is a really neat design and it means that even when you’re using the bass without amplification, you can tune up without carrying around extra cables or a separate tuner.
Sounds And Playability
The first thing you notice when picking up the CB100 is just how light it is, and this, coupled with the slim, familiar feel of the Jazz profile neck, immediately inspires confidence. From a practical point of view, having a single cutaway seems rather unnecessary to me – after all, acoustic bass guitars aren’t usually used much for soloing. But it does look great, and of course means that the odd foray up to the dusty end is much easier than it might otherwise be.
Acoustically, the sound is bright and open: not as loud and deep as an instrument with a full-depth body would be, but the slightly mid-biased acoustic sound actually works in its favour when playing unplugged with other musicians, allowing the bass to be heard rather better than it might be had it a deeper, more bassy tone. It doesn’t produce a huge sound, but it’s certainly loud enough for playing with, say, another acoustic guitar and an unamplified vocalist. Plug in and you’re no longer limited to just playing acoustic music.
Another advantage of the shallower body depth is that feedback doesn’t occur until you’re playing at impressively high volume, even when you’re standing close to the amp. The three-way EQ may be simple, but it’s quite versatile, allowing you to compensate for the slight lack in acoustic low end, and perhaps cut those dominant upper-mids slightly. The high-quality Fender phosphor bronze strings and that Fishman piezo pickup allow every last little bit of frequency range produced by the bass to be faithfully reproduced, giving you a warm, plummy bass tone that works well with traditional instruments like piano, woodwind and percussion. However, this is a versatile instrument and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try in a normal, amplified band line-up: I can imagine it sounding great in, for instance, a small blues band. The important point here is that, because of the quality preamp and piezo pickup, however you set the EQ you never lose that distinctive, grainy acoustic tone.
For just over a couple of hundred quid you get a really good instrument here. For that sort of money, many gigging bass players could perhaps afford to buy one as a second instrument, adding an extra sound to their sonic toolkit. Of course, there are other acoustic bass guitars available at this sort of price, and some of those might even be equally as good in terms of their acoustic sound and construction. But few will be as well made, or have the quality of pickup and preamp that the CB100 has, and when you factor in the kudos of that Fender logo on the headstock, I’d say this not just a great bass, but a real bargain too.
PRICE | £229
TOP | Bookmatched laminated spruce
BODY | Laminated mahogany
BACK/SIDES | Laminated mahogany
NECK/HEADSTOCK | Solid mahogany
FRETBOARD | Rosewood
TRUSSROD | Dual action
FRETS | 22
FINISH | Satin
PICKUP/PREAMP | Fishman, built-in tuner
TUNERS | Chrome
NUT WIDTH | 54mm
SCALE | 34”
What we think
PLUS | A proper bargain; elegant and simple in terms of design, quality Fishman pickup and preamp – and that name on the headstock
MINUS | Hardly anything – but the anchor pins could easily and cheaply be changed for cream coloured plastic ones
OVERALL | One of the best deals around today. If you haven’t played an acoustic bass guitar, this is a great place to start: the Jazz profile neck and scale plus the cutaway means it’s much more comfortable when swapping from electric. You might find yourself using it a lot more than you thought you would
Build Quality | 8/10
Sound Quality | 7/10
Value | 9/10