It stands to reason that a hand-built guitar, every detail of its construction overseen by – gasp – a real human being, will cost more than a generic factory knock-off, and it’s hard to imagine a mass-produced model coming close to the satisfying intimacy of a lovingly-nurtured, bespoke instrument. But it’s sometimes hard to reconcile the difference in price, which is often far greater than the difference in quality, and at over three grand this Mike Lull is expensive even by custom-built standards. Yes, you have a completely unique bass guitar, and it’s of exceptional quality, but the reality of it is that, for that kind of money, you could buy a decent bargain guitar, a decent bargain amp and a half-decent car to drive them to rehearsal in. Or guitars all round for everyone else in the band too! Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the ‘M’ is for ‘modern’ and the ‘V’ is for ‘vintage’, and the M4V makes a damn decent stab at being the best of both worlds.
The term ‘classic’ is bandied around willy-nilly these days, to the point of being redundant, but it’s definitely not out of context when used to describe the M4V. The subtly streamlined headstock is the only concession given to more modern lines, and it offsets the overall aesthetic rather well. Yes, it was hand built in the USA by Mr Lull himself, and the love and attention devoted to it is apparent from the second you lay eyes and hands on it. Sure, it looks like a Fender Jazz, and to an extent handles like a Jazz too – but a very good one. It has to be said that it doesn’t look like a three-grand guitar, but that sassy retro look is always effortlessly cool and never grows tired: it’s like an old friend, and always comfortable to be around.
The first thing you’ll notice when you pick the M4V up is how damn light it is – so light in fact that it almost feels like a toy, which is a bit disconcerting to start with given the price tag. Fear ye not, fellow pluckers, the lack of weight does not affect the tone or balance. In fact, the balance of this guitar is as good as any this scribe has ever played: you scarcely know that it’s around your neck.
The finish is fine too. And that’s not ‘fine’ as in ‘merely satisfactory’, that’s ‘fine’ as in a fine wine or a fine car. Let the word roll luxuriously off your tongue and tail off indulgently towards infinity, because that’s the kind of instrument you have here. There are lots of little imperfections in the wood that add to, rather than detract from, the indulgent vibes emanating from the body, reminding you that you have a genuine one-off in your hands, and the workmanship is superb: exactly as it should be for this price. Mr Lull obviously knows his stuff; this is a guitar built to be played. It nestles in tight to you and awaits your every command eagerly.
The 12” radius neck is silky smooth, and wonderfully sculpted to the palm, with the frets perfectly set – precision levelled, in fact – and tastefully understated with pearly side dots. The open-gear Hipshot tuning heads look like they mean business, and wind reassuringly tight to the touch. Although there’s little in the way of any fancy extras that you might imagine would come with such a costly bit of kit, it exudes a satisfying air of quality, and there’s a quiet confidence in its own playability that makes flashy gimmicks surplus to requirements anyway. Less is definitely more sometimes… both literally and financially in this case.
The M4V scores well on both counts. It’s a funky little number, boasting much warmer and more organic tones than your soulless modern rock and metal guitars, and plays like an absolute dream. It’s easy under the fingers, and possibly more fun to play that way than with a pick, and it slaps well… it slaps you back, in fact. The extremely ergonomic body shape allows the hand and wrist to be positioned very comfortably for pretty much any style of playing, plectrums included, and the big fat lower end will surely thrill reggae players.
The controls, one of them stacked, are versatile enough to tease some very distinctive sounds from this bass, allowing the player to dial in – or out – the active pre-amp with a pleasing degree of accuracy for when you need to cut through the rest of the band, or when you want to sneak some lively jazz tones into the low-end rumble. The four-bolt-on neck helps with bright clean tones too, but doesn’t empower any particularly memorable sustain. That two-band EQ might not sound too liberating on paper, but it allows enough scope to unearth most sounds once you’ve got to know the frequency interactions a bit. And if you can’t wring what tickles your fancy out of the controls, there’s always a pedal, and a SansAmp helped rev things up a bit, albeit at the expense of some high-end control. That said, pedals generally detract from the personality of a guitar and, at the risk of sounding like Ebenezer Scrooge, if you’re shelling out like this, you want a guitar with a personality that screams from the rooftops on its own merits. You don’t buy a dog and then bark for it, do you? The M4V might be a little too polite for its own good.
This is a nice guitar, to be sure – one that plays and sounds as pleasing as it looks. The plastic pickguard and chrome control plate may not be to everyone’s taste, but they’re in keeping with the old-school sensibilities at play elsewhere. It comes complete with a light-but-very- sturdy Protec Contego case, but let’s face it, at this pricetag, it needs some extras to soften the deal, because the guitar itself, when you get down to brass tacks, is pretty much a standard issue instrument – albeit rendered beautifully. In this day and age, can anyone really afford to lavish this much dough on a bass guitar that is essentially a top-drawer Fender copy? If you can, it will reward you with endless hours of tremendously responsive and satisfying playing. If you can’t, well, let’s talk some more about this guitar/amp/car combo mentioned in the introduction.
PRICE | £2200
COLOUR | Three-tone sunburst
BODY | Lightweight ash
NECK | Graphite-reinforced maple
NECK JOIN | Four-bolt
FINGERBOARD | Rosewood
SCALE LENGTH | 34″
WEIGHT | 3.6kg
FRETS | 21
TUNERS | Hipshot Ultra-Lite
BRIDGE | Top-loading
PICKUPS | Custom-wound Lindy Fralin single coil
HARDWARE | Chrome
CONTROLS | Two band pre-amp with passive tone
What we think
PLUS | A classically-designed guitar that plays exactly like it should
MINUS | You may need to remortgage your house to own one
OVERALL | A real delight to play, but very hard to justify the pricetag
BUILD QUALITY | 8/10
SOUND QUALITY | 8/10
VALUE | 4/10