Overwater is renowned as one of the UK’s premier manufacturers of hand-built bass guitars. From a workshop in Cumbria, the company has launched some truly magnificent designs in its 30-plus years in business, and have now teamed up with specialist dealer Manchester Bass Lounge in the production of two unique instruments. One is a custom fretless edition of Overwater’s Inspiration, one of the finest contemporary production models around. However, MBL’s more significant challenge to Overwater was to create a ‘carte blanche’ contemporary update of the classic Original Series bass, using the old templates, but with all- new hardware and build materials. The Original was first launched as a production model over 30 years ago, but has for many years only been available on request as a custom build. Overwater is considering reintroducing it, so this one-off has been designed to test the waters. Let’s dip a toe in, shall we?
As cost was not a factor for the manufacturer, every aspect of the custom Original’s build quality is through the roof. The main body material is mahogany, and a quick look at the back of the bass reveals the rich, almost orangey-brown hue of this wood, selected for its lightweight characteristics. Beautiful as it is, Overwater fancied going one better, and added a secondary, bookmatched claro walnut top. The graining and colouration of this wood is stunning, with rich, chocolate browns blending into paler tones. Even the distinctively hooked headstock matches the overall look.
The 26” through-neck is constructed from five-piece maple, forming a pale streak that runs down through the mahogany,
with dark walnut stringers for effect. Yet another wood has been chosen for the fingerboard and binding, and this time Overwater has opted for a beautiful, deep ebony – quite a departure from the white plastic binding on the Original series basses of old. Silver diamond inlays have been tastefully set at the usual intervals, adding yet another layer of understated elegance.
The Original Series’ body shape resembles the love child of a Thunderbird and a P-bass, but even a reference to those two rock behemoths doesn’t really do justice to the craftsmanship here. The depth is spot on, with sumptuous chamfering allowing for comfortable right-arm positioning. The hardware is black, simple and classic-looking, including Overwater’s own bridge, set fairly high into the body work. So far, this bass is impressive in every department, and the price tag is paling into insignificance. For the sake of our budget, I hope we snap out of it.
The fretless Inspiration has a hard act to follow, but by no means looks ordinary compared with the Original. Indeed, it’s a very different bass, with a striking and unique design of its own. Long, slender and pointed horns give the bodywork a distinct and modern look, but it’s not garish or distractingly angular as some contemporary designs can be. The top horn in particular has a pleasing curvature, while the tobacco sunburst finish is dark, luxurious and inviting. Overwater has opted for white ash in the body, with a flame maple top and a rosewood fingerboard. There is plenty of nice graining visible through the transparent finish on the body and fingerboard, which features maple fret-lines to aid with finger positioning.
Elegant contouring and chamfering on the body allows for comfortable right arm placement, while the cut-outs enable easy access to the top end of the 26” bolt-on neck. The soapbar pickups – Overwater’s own – again display a slight bias towards the bridge. One slight let down is the knobs on the control panel. They’re made from knurled black plastic, a noticeable step down in quality from the Original’s all-metal hardware. Nonetheless, the ‘off the shelf’ spec of the Inspiration range makes it Overwater’s more affordable production model, so it’s no surprise that this fretless example, at almost £2000 cheaper, doesn’t quite exude the same wow factor as its colleague here. Placed next to many other basses, though, it would more than hold its own.
Sounds And Playability
MBL wanted this custom Original bass to appeal to rock players, and asked for a little more wood to be left on the neck than on typical Overwater models. The result is a solid neck profile that really allows you to dig in, with a rounded, chunky feel. However, it’s also incredibly smooth to glide over and move around on, getting the right balance between full-fat rock beastliness, and smooth, J-bass subtlety.
Interestingly, Overwater has opted to include the Scott Devine signature pre-amp here, and the decision is wholly justified. The controls are volume, pickup pan, active/ passive push-pull, stacked bass/treble and – the real ace in the pack – a stacked mid frequency cut/boost selector.
Plugging in, you feel a surge of power from the pre-amp, and before long the mind begins to boggle at the sheer range of tonal options available. With the pan pot set around the middle, you get a smooth, bass-heavy tone with a great deal of presence, while rolling it towards the neck pickup reveals a punchier, middy sound. The bridge pickup, meanwhile, offers thudding low end. It’s worth pointing out that the soapbar pickups are considerably more spaced out here compared with the Mark 1 Original Series bass, on which they were placed back towards the bridge. The new layout gives the bass more space to breathe tonally.
The EQ itself opens up a wider arena of shaping possibilities. MBL wanted rock, and they got it – certainly if you equate rock’n’roll with volume. Pushing the preamp to its extremes reveals a thunderous bottom-end capacity, and an incisive, crystalline top. Rolling between pickups while adjusting the preamp, you can get crunchy, driving rock sounds, with a great pick tone, on to welterweight slap and pop sounds. Indeed, describing this solely as a rock bass doesn’t truly do justice to the variety on offer. This preamp and neck configuration produces some of the most perfect slap and funk tones you’re ever likely to hear. The variations are absolutely endless, and the mid pot adds the potential to further sculpt your active tone, to the extent that I don’t think there’s any bass guitar sound you won’t able to get with a bit of tweaking.
With such a range of frequencies to explore courtesy via the preamp, any player will be well catered for. If you want a middy, classic McCartney-esque sound, ease off on the bass control and roll the pickup pan towards the bridge. Perhaps you fancy some Steve Harris gallop? The treble control and neck pickup are your friends here. The list of tones is endless, when you factor in the three-band EQ and the various permutations of the pickup pan. Surely this is as diverse as it gets? Think again…
Another part of MBL’s brief was that they wanted the bass to operate in both active and passive mode – to cater for those players who don’t like an entirely active bass. Operating the preamp bypass reveals a tour de force of more vintage sounds. Indeed, with the tone level (operated by twisting the pull-up knob) set flat, the bass growls with a gritty trebly edge, while rolling it off reveals a more rounded, suppressed mid-tone – great for reggae playing and palm-muting. The bypass is actually a great option for those who feel a little overwhelmed by the sheer range of the preamp, and sometimes, active sounds just don’t cut it when you want to go old school.
Moving on to the Inspiration promises a different experience. As a fretless, much more stock is placed in intonation and the ease of note placement on the neck. As it happens, the fret liners help a great deal in this regard – and fingering the notes just behind each ‘fret’ is, as usual, the best way to achieve consistent intonation.
The D-shaped maple neck is smooth and easy to play, and the slick action is befitting of a top quality fretless. Plugging in and switching on reveals this bass to be very bright sounding. Using the pan control to roll between pickups, you can get either a punchy top-end heavy sound from the neck soapbar, or a more muffled staccato bass tone from the bridge. Blending the two offers plenty of scope for experimentation, and incorporating the three-band EQ brings out some particularly versatile traits. Rolling up the bass knob cultivates some serious boom, while the mid control brings out the nuances of the otherwise dominantly toppy tone. Indeed, the bass even features a brightness control (activated by pulling up the volume knob), which adds extra attack to the tone, ensuring that the Inspiration will cut through even the muddiest of mixes.
It is fingerstyle funk and slap that sound best on this bass: playing with mid control can bring out some really sweet pops to counterbalance the warm and mellow thumb-down tones you get from the lower strings. Interestingly, though, the neck doesn’t seem to coax out the throaty vibrato and warbling slides that are so intrinsically tied to the reputation of the fretless bass, thanks to the likes of John Giblin on Kate Bush’s ‘Babooshka’. It might not be as idiosyncratically ‘fretless’ as other basses, but it nonetheless sounds very sweet.
Sculpting a more vintage rock tone is difficult, however. Mind you, that’s not exactly a typical part of a fretless’s armoury, but it’s an important consideration when you’re dishing out more than a grand on an instrument. On balance, the Inspiration is less versatile than the Original – though with a bit of tweaking and the right playing style you can get a fair range of sounds. Tone is in your hands after all.
One disappointment, having sampled Overwater’s passive electronics on the Original, is the absence of a preamp bypass control. However, the kinds of players which a fretless bass like this would attract won’t necessarily be put off by an all-active bass – especially one that sounds this good.
When some top-end basses arrive at BGM HQ, we struggle to see their appeal. Mind- blowing aesthetics are one thing, but unless someone wants to buy the damn thing, what’s the point? Thankfully, no such worries crept in once we’d had a look at the custom Original and Inspiration.
Both basses have a real- world utility and a tasteful, but unique, design. The Inspiration will excel in funk, jazz and pop work while, despite its price tag, there is no setting in which I would feel ridiculous playing the Original. OK, when you’re bashing out Rolling Stones covers in the pub, it may seem a little excessive to have a £3000 bass round your neck – but if you’re prepared to take the risks, then this instrument is not too stuffy or flashy that it would be out of place. It’s certainly not a flimsy bass, and the rock sounds are more than up to it. Just remember your insurance.
Price | £3360
Manufactured in | England
Body | Mahogany with Claro walnut top
Finish | Satin
Neck | Maple through-neck
FingerBoard | Ebony, ebony binding, silver diamond inlays
Frets | 24 medium jumbo
Bridge | Overwater, black with chrome saddles
Tuners | Overwater hipshot type
Pickups | Twin Overwater soapbars
Preamp | Scott Devine signature
Controls | Volume, pickup pan, active/ passive push/pull, stacked bass/treble and stacked mid-frequency
What We Think
Plus | Stunning bespoke design, with a great, practical utility
Minus | None
Overall | A refreshingly unpretentious boutique instrument with real rock’n’roll credentials